When Susan Wunderink was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, most of her friends were international students. "I wanted to see things from their perspective," she says. "I wanted to be a foreigner." On graduation, it was a small step from there to applying to the Peace Corps and some missions agencies. The Peace Corps had the best language training, so she chose that option and asked to be assigned to Eastern Europe. In the Peace Corps's wisdom, it sent her to Central Asia.
Life is full of networks—at least for journalists. Going to Kazakhstan brought Susan into contact with a local church whose pastor had been converted by a missionary from Ukraine. This sparked her interest in Ukraine's churches and their missionary-sending activity. "Ukraine sends more missionaries than any other Slavic country," says Susan. The fact that Russian is the first or second language of everyone in the former Soviet Union is one of the gifts of Soviet colonialism. Thus, Ukrainian missionaries can have a much greater impact than evangelists from the West.
Ukrainian Christians have another advantage: Their country is so located, geographically and historically, that they are able to train Christian workers from other Slavic countries and facilitate church life in the region. One member of parliament Susan interviewed for "Faith and Hope in Ukraine" is a ministry leader for the All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christian Baptists. They sponsored a youth congress last summer for Christians from Central Asia and Central Europe, raising scholarship money for non-Ukrainian teens. "They really wanted these kids to know each other," Susan says, in order to build up the international nature of the church.
The Ukrainian story is also about politics. This issue's cover package is designed to help Americans cast a more informed vote. Free and fair elections are still relatively new to the Ukrainian people. American observers Susan talked to expect greater movement toward freedoms in general, and religious freedom in particular. "But democracy is chancy," says Susan. Who knows what it will bring?
Zimbabwe is a country where free and fair elections are even more elusive. In July, Susan helped a Zimbabwean pastor tell ct's online readers about his country's political and economic turmoil. This fall, Susan is transitioning from her old job, which kept her busy with daily web publishing, to a new role designed to enhance CT's international coverage. "I'm hoping we can catch the stories that are shaping the church as they develop," she says with enthusiasm.
Her new role is made possible in part by a grant from John Stott Ministries, the American partner of the Langham Partnership International, which helps scholars from the developing world get advanced degrees. This opens another journalistic network: the Western-trained scholars who return to live and work in cultures often invisible to Americans. I'm happy to be working with them, says Susan, "because we must understand the feelings and sensibilities of the people we are talking to." That empathy is what drove her to "want to be a foreigner," and what drives her approach to international journalism.
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