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ETBU students follow Jesus’ footsteps in Israel

May 31, 2019

The East Texas Baptist University School of Christian Studies traveled to Israel as a part of the Global Study and Serve Program on Monday, May 13 through Saturday, May 25. Students earned credit for either Introduction to Old Testament, taught by Assistant Provost and Associate Professor of Religion and Leadership Emily Prevost, or Lands and Cities of Israel, taught by Dean of the School of Christian Studies John Harris. Led by ETBU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Sanders, the group of 32 students, faculty, and staff walked where Jesus walked.

“It’s been said that one does not go to Jerusalem, one returns,” Dr. Sanders said. “For Christians, who have lived with the stories of the Bible for a lifetime, going to Israel is like a homecoming that provides vivid images and depth to those familiar places and people.”

Throughout Israel, the group visited historical sites mentioned in the Bible such as Mt. Hermon, Mt. Nebo, Sea of Galilee, Mount of Beatitudes, Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Valley of Elah, and Jerusalem. As students studied the associated Scripture passages in the context of these significant locations, the characters and stories of God’s Word came alive around them.

“I connected the Bible to a physical location for the first time and gained a fresh perspective,” ETBU junior Morgan Little shared. “During the two-week trip, we discussed the common theme throughout Scripture about who people said Jesus was. At Mount Precipice, the Nazarenes rejected Jesus and tried to throw Him off the mountain because He did not fit their mold of what a Messiah should be like. On the Sea of Galilee, the disciples lost sight of who Jesus was. The people’s actions reflected their perspective of Jesus, and when we have the right view of God, our response changes.”

ETBU graduate Kimberley Attaway added, “One day, our schedule centered on the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Beginning on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, we followed a path similar to the one Jesus walked on Palm Sunday. We entered the Garden of Gethsemane before visiting Ecce Hommo, walking on the stones where Jesus was beaten. We also went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb, where Jesus may have been crucified and buried. Taking communion at the Garden Tomb is a moment I will cherish forever. There, we remembered and rejoiced that Jesus is not in Jerusalem. He is alive!”

In addition to learning the biblical and historical significance of Israel, students learned about the current culture with visits to neighborhoods, governmental facilities, and museums. The local guide instructed students to notice five elements that separated Israel from all other places: location, history, religion, modern day Israel, and the celebration of Shabbat.

“Our tour guide took us to a kibbutz, a community built around the ideals of sharing responsibility and maintaining equality,” ETBU junior Wendy Torres explained. “Seeing the kibbutz, gave us deeper insight into who the people of Israel are and how they live. Each day of the trip brought me closer to understanding Jesus and why He chose to do His ministry in these specific locations. My experiences made the words of the Bible more meaningful because it made these chapters tangible.”

ETBU graduate student Jerod Gann commented, “This Holy and ancient city has many layers of history and culture beneath it, but we also had the opportunity to be immersed in relatively recent history of the Jewish people. At the Knesset, the Parliament of Israel, our guide explained the importance of transparency between the government and its people. On our visit to the Israel Museum, a model of the city helped me see the significance of the temple mount to the people of Israel. One of the most impactful sites I have ever visited, the Yad Vashem museum told us of the Jewish Holocaust. As we saw pictures, read journals, and heard from survivors, their stories became real and personal to us.”

Connected to the culture, the ETBU group conducted a community workday at the Magdala synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in Israel. Students cleaned floors and windows of the building and curated the landscape. The team also led children’s games at the Migdal Community Center, engaging with and sharing God’s love to local families.

“After a day of community service and hiking Mount Arbel, we had the privilege to spend time with children,” ETBU senior Audrey Staples said. “I helped a group of 12-year-old girls put bags together with books and candy for an upcoming library party. It was a joy to help them finish this job and have some time to play with them. When we were done with the bags, we joined a group outside playing basketball. Everyone cheered each other on, and we laughed and had an incredible time sharing God’s love with them.”

From experiencing biblically significant sites to connecting with the current culture and community, many ETBU students expressed that the Global Study and Serve trip to Israel was transformational. ETBU provided them with a new perspective to take into their careers as Christian servant leaders.

“At Mt. Nebo, we read Deuteronomy 34, where Moses climbs the mountain to look on the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants,” ETBU Master of Arts in Christian Ministry graduate Lacey Crenshaw shared. “Before his death, Moses told the people of Israel to be strong and courageous. We read later that Joshua reminds Israel again to be strong and courageous. These verses show the importance of bringing others up and are personally meaningful for me. Although Moses did not enter the Promised Land, he brought up Joshua as a leader who did. As a recent graduate of ETBU, I plan to serve as a children’s minister. In this role, I will strive to bring up children in the way of the Lord with strength and courage as well as pass these biblical truths to those, who come after me.”