The chandler

As I write this, fourteen persons are winging their way home after participating in our 2017 familiarization (or “fam”) trip to Israel/Palestine. Fam trips are common to the travel industry and are excursions offered at a deeply discounted prices to develop future trip leaders. The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (or JCBS) targets professors and pastors who are considering bringing their students/congregants to the lands of the Bible. In other words I have become a chandler, a candle-man whose tallow is ideas.

Our 2017 Fam Group at the Israel Museum.

Three colleges or universities, four congregations, and three different Christian traditions were represented in this year’s group. Spouses were welcome and fully participated in all activities.

This year’s Fam Trip was compressed into an eight day experience. Sites visited included the desert fortress of Herod the Great (Herodium), the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Qumran, Jericho, Jerusalem, the Israel Museum, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the Mt of Beatitudes, and Capernaum. Beyond sightseeing, tactile activities included sailing across the Sea of Galilee in a squall, walking the Via Dolorosa, swimming in the Dead Sea, wading with flashlights through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and singing Shalom Alechem at the top of our lungs multiple times on the bus!

Josanne captures a moment with Steve and Dodie on the Sea of Galilee. 

I enjoy the role of candle-man. Traveling with ministry professionals is a particularly rewarding opportunity. None of this year’s participants had visited the Holy Land before. Each brought unique skills and backgrounds to the collective experience. Dialogue formed a regular part of our work from dawn to dusk as we hashed out questions of ministry, textual understanding, and spiritual formation. There were “Ah-ha moments” aplenty.

Taking in the view to Bethlehem. Image by Mike Kennedy.

Taking in the view to Bethlehem. Image by Mike Kennedy.

“Words cannot express how grateful we all are for our Holy Land experience,” read a note signed by the group at trip’s end. “Your investment in us all will forever imprint the way we approach the biblical narrative as well as our walk with Jesus.”

While we did not seek to make archaeologists out of our participants, we did seek to introduce them to the archaeological process and the ways by which archaeological data may be incorporated into teaching contexts. How to build a themed trip, pilgrimage, or study-tour was also discussed.

A subtext for all of our Fam Trips is an introduction to social struggles of the region. Three overnights in Bethlehem meant that we passed through the “Separation Barrier” daily. Realities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and issues of social justice were raised. For our first-time travelers, it was an eye-opening experience.

“We’ll not soon forget this,” the note continued.

Every group has its quest, for this one, sampling the best of local cusine was one of them.

The Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies facilitated this trip while George Garabedian and Company provided on-ground transport. Overnights, buffet breakfasts, and buffet dinners were provided by the Angel Hotel in Bethlehem and the Olive Tree Hotel in Jerusalem.

A Fam Trip for January 2018 is already in the works. While is is uncertain if the price will remain at the exceptional mark of $1,498 for this year’s experience (this number included flight from New York, lodging, breakfast and dinner buffets, transfers, as well as the guided experience), it will remain an economical way for professionals in the biblical field to engage the Land of the Bible in a fresh way.

The brochure for our 2017 Fam Trip is available here.

If you or someone you know is interested in participating in next year’s trip, contact me at and subscribe to

Packing to leave the Angel Hotel in Bethlehem.