When Chris Curia ’17 boarded a plane for Mérida, the capital of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, he was beyond excited to spend his January interim class in a culture so different from his own. And as a Spanish minor, he looked forward to the challenge of relying on his second language for the first time.
As often seems to happen, the international experience changed his life—but, as often seems to happen, not in the ways he expected.
Three hours from Mérida by bus lies the village of Tekax, the kind of place adventurers dream of, where you can still explore dozens of Mayan caves and pyramid ruins, and it feels like you might just discover something both ancient and new.
As part of his study abroad, Chris visited Tekax for a short weekend.
"It was just two days, but I felt a real connection to the people there," Chris said.
"I experienced a sense of belonging with them that by any normal standards was almost nonsensical. I immediately felt that I had known them for years. There was something about their community, their fellowship, that I had been missing out on. When I left, I already knew I was going to come back."
The only question: How?
Every year, twelve Calvin juniors are selected for the Jubilee Fellows program. In 2016, Chris was one of them. At the core of the program is a 10-week summer internship that sends Jubilee Fellows to serve at churches throughout the United States. Before Tekax, Chris had already chosen his internship location: a church in southern California near where he planned to go to seminary.
But that Mexican village changed everything.
"I'm lying there one night in Tekax and it comes into my head that I could actually come back here—and I could do it through the Jubilee Fellows program. I just had to convince the program to let me do an internship in Mexico instead of California. Then a lightbulb went off: What if I made a film about the people here? What if I told their story?"
Only a few small problems with that. First, it is uncommon for a Jubilee Fellow to complete an internship outside the United States (and no Jubilee internship had ever been made into a film). Second, film production is expensive and challenging. Even the most skilled filmmaker can't do it alone. Third, Chris had approximately twelve weeks to figure everything out.
"It was quite a process," Chris admits. "The faculty worried that the production work would overshadow my responsibilities as a Jubilee Fellow. Given that we had to finance the film ourselves on top of coordinating every little nuance of the trip, let's just say this was a lot to entrust to one student. Yet, somehow, they did. They thought it was crazy enough that it just might work."
While Chris was dreaming about Tekax, Chris's friends (and fellow Calvin juniors) Daniel Teo and Brittany Padilla were busy forming international plans of their own. As film and media production majors, they shared a dream of spending the summer of 2016 in Singapore, possibly making a film.
But their plans fell apart—just in time for Chris's plans to come together. "Right from the start, Daniel and Brittany were the people I wanted to do this project with," Chris said. "I saw them after class one day, told them about it, and they got it. They came back to me a few days later and said, 'Our plans to visit Singapore got canceled right before you talked to us. We didn't know what we were going to do—and then you brought us this. We're in'."
Simple. Producing a film—in a small Mexican village, no less—requires resources. Supporters. Champions. There's no official 'turn an international internship into a film' program. No map.
But Calvin's a place where even the boldest ideas can come to life—so it was no surprise that this crazy-sounding plan became reality. With three passionate students leading the way, the Calvin community made it happen.
Jubilee leaders helped manage the logistics of Chris's internship. Film professor Sam Smartt consulted on all the practical details for the film. Chris, Daniel and Brittany were in the middle of it all—praying, planning, spreading the news, even holding a bake sale in the library lobby to raise money for the film. The trio launched a Kickstarter to cover travel and production costs, setting an ambitious $3,500 goal. They raised nearly $10,000.
A few months later, this small team was on its way to Tekax.
Today, Chris, Brittany and Daniel are back at Calvin, beginning the creative process of editing a full-length feature film. Jubileo: A Parable of Christian Fellowship follows Chris's summer as a missionary in a small Tekax church. It tells the story of a group of real people living in true Christ-centered fellowship. It tells a story worth sharing.
And for Chris, that story has become the start of something else: A change within himself.
"A lot of my time at Calvin has been about chasing dreams, not about chasing God. But after spending this summer in Tekax, the idea of vocation looks different for me. It's a lot more about obedience than it is about having everything perfectly lined up.
Thank God that he gives us passions and abilities and gifts, but we can't expect that we're going to use those all the time. This idea of vocation and calling is more powerful in those moments when we are ill equipped, but we are obedient. Those moments show who God is. I didn't know that before.
"Whatever I do moving forward, I always want my work to be about lifting up people who have been treated unjustly. I want to show the light of Christ through them. Whether it's film, ministry, something with Spanish, or none of those things, that's always what my life is going to be about. I don't have such a clear plan anymore, but why would I want one?"
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