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Jerusalem Seminar gives insight into stories of past, realities of present

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Six Bethel College students spent three weeks in January traveling in Jordan, Palestine and Israel as part of Bethel’s interterm. The course was also open to students from Tabor College, Hillsboro, and interested community members. Patricia Shelly, professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College, and Doug Miller, professor of biblical and religious studies at Tabor College, co-led the group of 18.

In addition to visiting sights of biblical significance, the seminar emphasized learning about the region’s three main religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and gaining a better understanding of the present Palestinian/Israeli conflict.

Our trip began in Jordan with visits to Amman, Mt. Nebo (where Moses viewed the Promised Land), Madaba and the Crusader castle of Karak. In Amman, we spoke with local representatives of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) about their work in Iraq and Jordan. We also spent a day hiking in the ancient city of Petra, whose rock-hewn buildings were made famous in recent years by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

After crossing the Jordan River, through the border checkpoint, we arrived in Jerusalem. With our hotel along the Via Dolorosa (the path Jesus walked to his crucifixion) as a base, we explored the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding sites. Because Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7, we attended a Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

We also spent several nights in Bethlehem (West Bank) and witnessed life on the Palestinian side of the Israeli “security fence.” The “fence” proved to be one of the most significant sights of the trip. It is actually a 24-ft tall concrete wall, complete with razor wire and guard towers. The wall not only turns the site of Jesus’ birth into a ghetto, it separates farmers from their crops, families from their loved ones and employees from their jobs. Even though it has been declared illegal by the United Nations, the wall cuts deep inside Palestine’s borders.

Another memorable part of the trip was our journey north to the Sea of Galilee. We spent three nights along the sea and enjoyed trips to Capernaum, Tiberius, the Golan Heights, Dan and Bannias Springs. This portion of the trip gave me a new appreciation for many of Jesus’ parables and miracles.

After we returned to Jerusalem for the last week of our trip, a representative of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions took us on a tour of an Israeli settlement and a Palestinian refugee camp. A delegate from Christian Peacemaker Teams also took us on a tour of Hebron – one of the most conflict-torn towns in the region – and the site of the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah and numerous other biblical figures (a holy site in Judaism, Christianity and Islam).

As we drove into Hebron, the Israeli military confused our tour group for peace protestors and detained us in an attempt to block our entry into the city. In Hebron, like much of the Middle East, it is difficult to separate stories of the past from the realities of the present. This trip provided much helpful insight into both.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

Peter Miller, Partridge, is a senior majoring in Bible and religion.

Other Bethel students participating in the Jerusalem Seminar:

Omar Hasan, sophomore, Halstead

Ben Kliewer, senior, Inman

Caley Ortman, junior, Marion, S.D.

Tyler Stutzman, senior, Hutchinson

Max Wedel, sophomore, Tucson, Ariz.

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