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Jerusalem Seminar reveals bedrock of history and faith

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by Melanie Zuercher

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Participating in a three-week Bethel College interterm trip to Jordan, Israel and Palestine, Jan. 2-23, was a dream come true for Ben Kreider and Sara Regier, both of North Newton, with the added benefit of getting to do it together.

Bethel Professor of Bible and Religion Patricia Shelly, who leads the course every other year, has often seen family groupings take this trip (there were parent-child and sibling ones on this trip), but this may be the first time for a grandmother-grandson pair.

Not only that, but they carried on a family tradition: When Ben was about 2, his parents, David and Heidi Regier Kreider, and grandparents Lois and Robert Kreider took the Jerusalem Seminar together. 

“I knew I’d better do it now if I’m ever going to,” says Regier. “It’s been sort of a lifelong dream of mine.”

“The vibe is that this is Bethel’s best travel trip,” says Kreider, a Bethel sophomore majoring in social work and Bible and religion. “There’s a legacy of people coming back and saying [Jerusalem Seminar] was a life-changing experience.

“I [wanted to do this] as a Bible and religion major,” he says, “but also as someone who’s interested in history, and modern conflicts, and what it means to be a peacemaker.”

Regier has considerable travel under her belt, especially after living for significant periods of time in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1960s and ’70s and in Botswana, Mozambique and Zimbabwe in the 1980s and ’90s, but she had never been to “the Holy Land.”

“I had an interest, from biblical studies, in being in those places mentioned in the Bible – in seeing them and getting a better understanding,” she says. “There was also the challenge of seeing a setting other than I’d seen before where people are dealing with long-held beliefs that create conflict, similar to the southern Africa apartheid context.

“People said, ‘Go while Patty is still taking this trip,’” Regier adds. “Her connections are amazing, and one thing that makes this trip so outstanding – connections with the kibbutz [where we stayed], with rabbis at the Jerusalem synagogue, the Muslim friend who got us into the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Although Kreider and Regier planned the trip independently of each other, each was pleased to discover the other was going.

“It was fun to be with Ben,” Regier says. “We were together more than we’ve been for years. He was a reliable support and hand when I needed it for walking – he had the strongest arm. And I enjoyed watching him interact with other students, the laughter and energy.”

“I liked spending a lot of time with Grandma on this trip,” Kreider adds. “We had long, lingering breakfasts or suppers or tea and a lot of discussion. It was neat for me to see her adventurous side and her willingness to interact with others in the group and to make friends. The younger ones, the college students, not just me, appreciated that about her.”

Regier notes that the older generation was “glad to be able to go to bed and not have to go out on the town at night,” while Kreider appreciated “the intergenerational perspectives on the trip but also the youth and energy to go out, or bound around on the sites we visited.”

There were 41 people on the trip – nine Bethel students, including Kreider; two Tabor students plus 11 more connected to Tabor College, including faculty members Doug Miller (seminar co-leader) and Holly Swartzendruber, and two Taylor University students; four couples from Bethel College Mennonite Church; and 10 others, including Regier.

Favorite times and places on the trip, for Kreider, included a planned free day in Bethlehem that happened to be in the middle of “the biggest snow in the region in 20 years, 4-6 inches. We got into snowball fights with Palestinian kids and lost – they had way more experience throwing things.

“The roads and the whole city shut down. Just us and the kids were out. It was powerful to be [playing with kids] in the city where Jesus was born, while also seeing the reality of the separation wall.”

“That was the first real impact [we saw] of the Palestinian-Israeli divide,” Regier adds.

“The other one was being at the Sea of Galilee from sunrise to sunset, the beauty of it,” Kreider says. “It was cool to have read so many of the stories in the Gospels about the Sea of Galilee – this is where Jesus hung out with his friends and went swimming like we did.”

His grandmother nods in agreement when Kreider adds, “Now hearing Scripture being read, all of a sudden things jump out, because ‘I’ve been there.’”

Regier recalled a visit to the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. “You felt like you were at the pinnacle, the center of the world, for Judaism and Islam, and it was dazzlingly beautiful.

“Another highlight was riding into Petra [an ancient Nabatean city in Jordan] on the cart, and then on a donkey coming out,” she adds, “and seeing the young people riding on the camels. Petra was right at the beginning of the trip, and it was an awesome day.”

For both, the visit to Hebron, a Palestinian city under Israeli military control, was one of the heaviest times of the trip.

“Hebron was physically and emotionally difficult,” says Regier, “because of the proximity of the conflict. Walking down those narrow streets and seeing the market that had been closed [for so long] and the checkpoints, I felt surrounded by the conflict.”

“We talked in the morning with [an Israeli] settler,” says Kreider. “Then we went to Hebron, where everything was shut down in the old city, and talked to [members of Christian Peacemaker Teams] in Hebron. Then Combatants for Peace – one Israeli soldier, one Palestinian fighter – shared with us in the evening.

“After that I just crashed. I wrote four lines in my journal, and that night I had bad dreams.”

Regier expressed appreciation for the variety of guest speakers throughout the time in Israel/Palestine.

“[They] tried to objectively give their point of view – as being Israeli, a kibbutz member, Palestinian, a peace worker. It was wonderful to hear their life stories.”

Kreider was struck with “the multilayered dimensions of the land. There are current things that are fascinating and complex – wonderful food and rich culture and religious traditions, as well as the current conflicts. But stacked underneath is all the history of these important religious sites for Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Then there is ‘deep history,’ even older than that.”

“The word I think of,” says Regier, “is ‘bedrock.’”

Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2012-13 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2012-13. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.

The Bethel College students who took the 2013 interterm class Jerusalem Seminar, with Patricia Shelly, professor of Bible and religion, were Leah Bartel, Golden, Colo., James Goerzen, Goessel, Katrina Horner, La Junta, Colo., Bryce Hostetler, Dodge City, Jenae Janzen, Newton, Ben Kreider, North Newton, Koki Lane, Newton, Luke Loganbill, Moundridge, and Andrew Walker, Newton. Tabor College students were Kamron Ewald, Fairview, Okla., and Sarah Wyckoff (recent graduate), along with Doug Miller, a professor in the Bible, religion and philosophy department, Holly Swartzendruber, music faculty, Bruce Heyen, chemistry faculty, and his daughters Elise and Emma Heyen, Taylor University students. Others on the trip were Harald and Lotte Boschmann, North Newton, Dena Braun, Newton, Jim and Lois Brubacher, Walton, Lois and Robert Corbin, Ponca City, Okla., Karlea and Keevan Ewald, Fairview, Okla., Pam Frase, Olathe, Lou Gomez and Elizabeth Raid, Newton, Nick and Ronda Suderman King, Hillsboro, John Lohrenz, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Gene and Sharon Miller, Wellsville, N.Y., Abram Peters, Winnipeg, Cheryl Quiring, Colorado Springs, Colo., Sara Regier, North Newton, Howard and Marilyn Schmidt, Newton, and Keith and Sharon Waltner, Parker, S.D.

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