A little SALT goes a long way

A 40-year journey of learning

A man and a woman stand in front of a brick church

In the summer of 1982, 20-year-old Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike was about to get on a plane bound for Zimbabwe. She didn’t know it yet, but this trip was going to change the trajectory of her whole life.

She was going to Zimbabwe for a year-long term with SALT (Serving and Learning Together), an MCC program that was in just its second year. This year, SALT is celebrating 40 years of sending Christian young adults from the U.S. and Canada to serve alongside MCC partners around the world. Since its start, more than 1,300 young adults have served terms in 58 countries, encountering an immersive and communal cross-cultural experience.

And as the first SALTer in Zimbabwe, Tiessen-Eigbike remembers her time as exactly that.

A group of 9 people pose for the camera on a jungle gym. This photo is from the 1980s
Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike (bottom right) poses with some of the second SALT cohort of 1982 during orientation in Akron, Pennsylvania.Photo courtesy of Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike

“One thing that stuck out so much in my first month were the different smells,” she says. “I remember we were doing this big conference for all the BIC (Brethren in Christ) folks. This is gathering for well over a thousand people in one place, so they're doing all the cooking. And they would be slaughtering cows, and they'd be cooking them, and the smell of cow cooking — you can smell that for like, five kilometres.”

New and different food is just one part of an entire culture. And over the year she spent in Zimbabwe, Tiessen-Eigbike says the mosaic around her began to inform every part of her worldview, especially her faith.

An old photo of a large group of people
Members of Brethren in Christ Church-MPOPOMA gathered to bid farewell to Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike at the Bulawayo Airport as she ended her SALT term there on Sept. 1, 1983.Photo courtesy of Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike

“I started to read scripture a little bit more through the context of an African village,” says Tiessen-Eigbike, who grew up in Vancouver, B.C. “I experienced Christmas, out in the open in 100-degree weather and it made me think of some of the biblical stories in a whole different way.”

I would say my biggest takeaway from SALT was the concept of walking alongside — that it wasn't about doing stuff for people. It wasn't about saving people."

Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike

What started as another lens through which to view the Bible turned into wider and deeper questions. Questions that led to answers in places she might not have thought to look before.

“How do we value time? How do we value death? How do we value a family? How do we balance what the Spirit actually really means? Looking at that through the trajectory of a worldview and translating that into a theological worldview was really very pivotal.”

A man and a woman stand in front of a brick church
In December 2018, Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike and her husband, Christopher Eigbike, visited the church she had served at while with SALT in 1982, Brethren in Christ Church-MPOPOMA in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.Photo courtesy of Sophie Tiessen-Eigbike

Before she’d left for Zimbabwe, Tiessen-Eigbike’s plan was to become a secretary. But now that she was finishing her SALT term, she knew she wasn’t the same person as when she’d left home. She’d changed, and so had her dreams.

Over the next 40 years, Tiessen-Eigbike would take on a dozen or so different roles around the world for MCC, both overseas and locally, and make time to return to Zimbabwe to reconnect with her community there. But there was one immutable bit of foundation that she learned through SALT that has guided her through all those different roles.

“I would say my biggest takeaway from SALT was the concept of walking alongside — that it wasn't about doing stuff for people. It wasn't about saving people. It wasn't about ‘Oh, these poor people.’ It was about walking alongside. Jesus walked with people saying, what can we learn from one another?”

To learn more about SALT, visit mcc.org/salt or contact your local MCC office.