Rebecca Agner, Caroline Parrott, and Victor Pereira were among a group of 48 students and chaperones who traveled to Germany with the University of North Carolina’s Lutheran Campus Ministry program during spring break in March.
During a four-year cycle, students visit Germany, New Orleans, Costa Rica and Miami, explains Fred Black, a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chapel Hill, and frequent trip chaperone.
“This year was the time to go to Germany,” he says, “so it was perfect.”
Here are the St. John’s students’ reflections from this memorable trip:
Germany was amazing! As a Lutheran, visiting the cities where Martin Luther was born, lived, and preached was a surreal experience. Since 2017 is the 500th year of the Reformation, there were even more Luther-related memorials and shops to visit than there normally would have been!
We brought a very large group of about fifty people, mostly UNC students, but three students from that “other blue school about 8 miles down the road.” Having a travel group this big posed many challenges, especially in the airports. However, we broke into smaller travel groups, which made the large size more manageable, and helped us become closer to the students in our travel groups.
One of my favorite experiences was exploring and living in the Mansfeld Castle for two days. Luther’s parents lived in Mansfeld, and he visited this castle often. There is speculation that the castle inspired the lyrics to the famous hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” since Luther would have seen the castle that overlooks the city of Mansfeld below. Assuming this speculation was true, our group sang the hymn about five different times while living in the castle, which was so much fun!
I am very blessed to have been able to explore Germany with such a wonderful group of UNC family. I am very thankful to my St. John’s family as well, since St. John’s was where I first learned about Luther and experienced the joys of Christian fellowship.
By Rebecca Agner
I appreciate how God gives us signs in our life, such as the signs He gave me that I was meant to travel to Germany with an excellent group of fellow Christians this year. This semester, I have two classes based on medieval literature — highly centered around the Protestant Reformation — and we, Carolina Choir, are singing the Verdi Requiem, a piece sang by a group of imprisoned Jews in Terezin. I perceive these events not as coincidences, but signs that God nudged me toward learning about Luther and heading to Germany.
Being in Germany during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation felt to me like an experience discerning efficacy. In other words: anybody in our time could be, like Martin Luther, an important laborer in God’s work that might affect how Christians worship centuries from today. 500 years ago, Martin Luther did God’s work to combat the corrupt system of indulgences and to conceive the notion of a personal relationship with God.
Presumably, he would not have known how significant his contribution to Christianity would be today, how much he would have influenced us to worship God with a true love that, arguably, might not exist today. We must learn from Luther’s life and focus on our faith-based efficacy.
Learning about Luther’s life was wonderful, but my favorite site was the Mansfeld Castle where our group stayed for two nights. It was in this place where I realized how traveling in such a large group would usually prove overwhelming, but not with LCM. When we arrived, we quickly packed our luggage in our rooms and explored the castle. It felt like everyone was in tune with one another on how extraordinary our experience was so far; I mean seriously, we were in a castle.
We had the open yards and ruins to ourselves to play Ultimate Frisbee, build a bonfire, and sit cliffside watching the sun set over rolling fields and 10 different church steeples. That mighty fortress overlooking the land of Germany, all to ourselves. But most importantly, it felt like God was there giving us His grace by providing such an irreplaceable experience with each other. I thank God greatly for having given us all such a beautiful place to stay, as well as excellent tour guides and castle keepers whom I consider royalty.
Lastly, traveling with a large group did prove difficult when flying between countries. It was especially difficult in London, the midpoint between our Germany and U.S. flights. Again, I strongly believe that this would have proved unbearable were it not for our LCM group that stuck together and fought through such a trying delay in our travels. Our first flight cancellation was difficult because we had to stay in London-Heathrow all day. However, the second time we were stuck in London-Heathrow, everything worked out for everybody; some of us went straight home, others stayed overnight in different U.S. cities, and a few of us stayed to explore London, an unforgettable city.
Each different situation had one thing in common: a group of people, led by God, that provided each other with a comforting presence. As always, things are OK at the end.
I cannot express how blessed I feel to have been a part of this unforgettable experience. Not many people get the chance to make a trip like this in their lifetime. To travel and learn about Luther’s life during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a solidification of my Lutheran faith through God. Yes, the Lutheran faith is centered on God, not Martin Luther, but to learn about a person that so loyally followed God’s will is to learn about how we, as people of today, can advance the notion of a personal relationship with God.
Thank you to all who made this trip possible for us.
By Victor Pereira
Being in Germany during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation was an incredible experience that I will never forget. The most powerful moment for me was standing in the room where Luther translated the Bible and knowing that coming out of that room would be millions of followers and my faith practices.
My favorite moment was staying in Schloss Mansfeld, the castle on the hill in Martin Luther’s hometown. Many people believe that “A Mighty Fortress” was written based on Wartburg Castle, but Martin Luther grew up seeing Schloss Mansfeld every day from his home in Mansfeld. It is feasible to believe that “A Mighty Fortress” could have been inspired by the castle where we stayed. Naturally, our group chose to sing “A Mighty Fortress” in the fortress, which left me speechless.
Our travels did not go as planned, thanks to the strike at the airport in Berlin. Due to our large group, we crashed the computers in London, and it took seven hours to get new boarding passes to Hannover. We were all very stressed, irritable, and anxious, but we became pros at all of the card games you can imagine — after playing for 15 hours straight! When we thought we would have zero troubles coming home, our group crashed the computers again in Berlin, thus delaying our takeoff time to London. We missed our flight from London to Raleigh, so our group was divided into eight groups and flew into four different airports across the United States. I was selected to stay an extra night in London and fly to Raleigh the following day, which led to a spontaneous trip into the city and viewing as much as we could before heading to bed for our early flight. Even though I had no luggage or toiletries, that ended up being one of the highlights of my trip!
I look forward to going back and revisiting all of the beautiful cities that contributed to shaping my faith journey.
By Caroline Parrott