Fanchon Kelley served as a global intern at Immanuelskyrkan (Immanuel International Church) in Stockholm, Sweden, last summer. The Global Internships program through Serve Globally provides opportunities to learn, serve, and gain intercultural experience as interns work alongside national partners and missionaries. In June Kelley is returning to Stockholm for her second internship.
Why did you want to do a Global Internship?
As an undergrad, I had an international opportunity, but I didn’t pursue it. Later I went to Puerto Rico—something about being in another culture in a different context made me think, “God, you are in these places and I want to see more of you.” So when Tim Johnson, the director of field education at North Park Seminary, told me about this opportunity I said yes.
What was your experience of adjusting to life in Sweden?
It was my first time ever leaving the U.S. I didn’t know what to expect, especially traveling that far by myself. I thought it would take me a while to get used to the culture. But I was able to adapt pretty well—maybe that was partly due to the Swedish influence at North Park. Most people in Sweden speak English, but the first time I went to do laundry I didn’t know what the words on the machine said. At the grocery store, I didn’t realize they use the metric system so at first I had to calculate everything in my head. I used my converter everywhere.
Stockholm reminds me a lot of downtown Chicago—very fast-paced. But the people are not like the people in Chicago. The first time I walked into a mall bathroom a man walked in with me. I thought, “What’s going on?” I quickly realized that the bathrooms were co-ed. Everyone is equal there. There’s no dominance when it comes to gender, especially in the urban areas. I loved it.
How was the church similar to or different from your experience of church in the U.S.?
There are four different churches within Immanuelskyrkan—the Swedish church, a Portuguese church, a Korean church, and the international church, which worships in English. The culture is definitely international with much influence from African countries. It was good for me to experience so many different cultures because I’m from a predominately African American context. Growing up in the North Lawndale area of Chicago, I was primarily familiar with the black church. Moving to the north side to go to North Park was like going to an entirely different city.
What I loved about the church was how inviting they were. When I first got there, they all prayed for me, welcomed me, and then they asked me to lead small group Bible studies. I didn’t know what to expect, but a lot of people came to those studies excited to learn.
There are many refugees in Stockholm now, and one of the ministries of the church is to welcome refugee boys to stay at the church on Sunday nights. The church has beds and showers where they can clean up. I was able to serve with the refugees one night. To literally open your church and let someone stay there is a unique way to share the gospel through hospitality.
Why did you decide to go back for a second summer?
A lot of Swedish people go away on vacation in the summer, which meant I wasn’t able to reconnect with some people I met at the
beginning until they came back at the very end. I was finally establishing connections and then it was time to go. This summer I look forward to going deeper into those relationships, learning more about different cultures, and seeing how God is working in people who don’t look like me or come from my background or context.
I had diverse exposure serving there, but I only had a limited time. This summer I will have more responsibilities. The lead pastor and associate pastor will be away for two weeks, so they asked me to lead worship during that time—which is kind of terrifying. I’ve never led a worship service by myself in that capacity before. But they have confidence that I can do this, so I trust them.
Can you tell us one takeaway you gleaned from this experience?
The world is so much bigger than our own bubbles. When we get outside ourselves, we may become frustrated because we can’t use a washing machine. But God is constant. I probably wouldn’t have learned that so deeply if I had just stayed with what I knew. When I stepped out in faith, I got to see God in a mosaic image. He showed me the beauty of his work in the many different faces of people I met.
You are graduating with your MDiv in May. What are your plans after the internship?
This experience has sparked a desire in me to see God in different contexts. I’d like to be connected to international communities. The time I spent with refugees in Sweden was so fulfilling because I felt like I was actually serving the community—both outside and inside the church. I don’t know what God will do with that, but I am open to where he wants to take me next.
What else do you want our readers to know?
People of color, women in particular, don’t always have the opportunity to do something like this—we often don’t even know these opportunities exist. Being a girl from the west side of Chicago, I never thought I would go to Sweden. I didn’t know I could do any of this. Finances and resources will come, but if you don’t know the possibility exists, how do you know what to ask for? God opened doors, and I don’t take that for granted.
For more information on Global Internships with Serve Globally, go to covchurch.org/global-internships.