NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The time we spent in Israel, Palestine and Jordan was anything but idle.
Our group, consisting of seven Bethel students led by Campus Pastor Peter Goerzen, five students and two faculty from Tabor College, and 17 community members, spent each day traveling through the Holy Land – visiting the places where Jesus had walked, John had baptized and Moses had wandered.
Beyond the traveling, we spent time with the people of this land, from all walks to life. We heard the pain, struggle and hope that fill their lives every day.
Our trip began in Jordan where we visited Petra, an ancient civilization dating back to as early as 300 BCE.
The rose-colored canyons were littered with cave dwellings, streets paved by the Romans, the remains of a city infrastructure and, most incredible of all, the tombs and temples. The Treasury is the best-known of these – some may recognize it as the final setting for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
As we moved west from Jordan into the West Bank, we crossed the natural border of the Jordan River. While here, we stopped by the spot on the river thought to be the place where Jesus was baptized.
It was an incredible feeling to wade in (or in my case, fall in) to the water and imagine what happened there thousands of years before.
Our first main stop in the West Bank was Bethlehem, where we visited the Church of the Nativity and Shepherd’s Fields. Being in the West Bank also provided a place to engage in conversation with people and organizations in the area.
At Wi’Am, a peacemaking center, we learned about how oppressed the Palestinians feel, living in restricted areas crawling with armed soldiers. It was a sobering moment for everyone as we walked along the wall that divides Israel and the West Bank, stepping over garbage, rubber bullets and empty tear-gas canisters.
Moving through these sacred lands gave us many opportunities to worship. A highlight for many was being able to sing in the many beautiful churches, chapels and cathedrals scattered through the land, filling the spaces with the sounds of four-part harmony.
The Sea of Galilee was the next stop on our journey. Highlights here included the Mount of Beatitudes, walking through a recreation of first-century Nazareth, sailing across the sea itself, and sharing in a Communion service on the shore.
After two weeks of constant traveling, it was nice to settle in to our hotel in Jerusalem, where we would stay for the remainder of our trip.
One of the biggest highlights for us while in the Old City was to go out and explore for ourselves. From shopping and bartering with local shopkeepers to stuffing ourselves full of shawarma and kanafah., it was a prime place to experience the diverse and unique culture of the land.
Other stops in Jerusalem included the Holocaust Museum, the Western (or Wailing) Wall, the Mount of Olives and the Israel Museum.
While in Jerusalem, we also attended a Kabbalat Shabbat service, a traditional Jewish service welcoming in the Sabbath. Before the service, we had the chance to speak with some members of the synagogue about Shabbat and their Jewish faith. Immediately, we saw how important family and heritage is to these people and how important returning to this land is for their faith and their lineage.
Reflecting on the trip, Cassie Voth said, “This was a really meaningful trip in terms of better understanding my faith and widening my world perspective. My most significant learning in terms of the conflict was not to ‘import’ the conflict to the United States, as in: Don’t be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine; rather be pro-peace.”
This idea of being an advocate of peace was echoed by many, regardless of nationality or religion. Since coming back to the States, the stories we heard and the injustice we saw are still fresh in our minds, but stronger than that is the message of a hope for peace in a troubled land.
Alec Loganbill is a sophomore from Hesston. Other Bethel students in the 2017 interterm class Jerusalem Seminar were Nate Kroeker, Augusta, Nick Preheim, Peabody, Ryne Preheim, Reedley, California, Randall Schmidt, Lawrence, Cassie Voth, Littleton, Colorado, and Sutton Welsh, Wichita. The course was co-led by Peter Goerzen, Bethel campus pastor, and Tabor College faculty Doug Miller and Holly Swartzendruber.