As far as tour coaches go, it is hard to top a Mercedes. The 53-seater is the luxury liner of the road. Some might take issue with its looks (preferring the sleeker Volvo or Man), but the Mercedes is strong, comfortable, and dependable. Moreover, its high clearance means I have a better chance of encouraging the driver off the beaten path. For these reasons I am always delighted when I am met curbside by one of these marvels of German engineering. I know that our students can expect safety and comfort.
However, an experience this week has shaken my confidence. Consider this reconstruction of a recent series of events.
Our Johnson University study-tour group had just finished visiting Deir al-Mukhraqa. This Carmelite Monastery is located on the summit of Mt Carmel and is commonly associated with the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19). I love thinking about that story on-site and emphasizing the flash of lighting and the corresponding explosion of fire. Shezzzit Ka-BOOM!
Still jazzed up from this stormy experience, we wound our way down the mountainside in our sturdy Mercedes. Then, out of nowhere, came a still small thud.
The driver looked at me. Our eyes locked. What was that?
I peered out the door window expecting to see some dangling fang, fur or antler. “Did you hit an animal?” I queried. I thought maybe a cat or dog had darted out in front of the bus. It sounded like it came from below my feet.
“No,” our driver responded. “I was watching the road. There was no animal.”
We listened. Nothing seemed amiss. Our passengers, who filled half the bus, continued to chat happily. We shrugged and moved on. We wouldn’t think about it again until later.
Stopping in town, we ate lunch with the Druze. Afterwards visited two more sites in the area.
Finally, we made our way back to the hotel, passing through the Jezreel Valley.
In Afula, we pulled up to an intersection. A car slipped in beside us. A woman honked, leaned out her window, and hollered something in Hebrew. I looked at the driver again. Our eyes widened.
Blinkers flashing, we pulled to the side of the road. My friend walked down the aisle to the back of the bus to investigate. He returned, astonished, and whispered. “It’s gone. All of it.”
"All of it?"
“Where did it go?”
“I don’t know.”
I went back to see it for myself. Sure enough, the entire back window on the Mercedes bus was missing. The curtains were blowing in the wind. How this could have gone unnoticed for half a day, not just by us, but by the passengers seated in the rear, was beyond me.
Could it be that the still small thud we heard on Mt Carmel, hours before, was the sound of the window letting go? Did it happen at some other time? Were some of the students sucked out?
But I am wondering if that still small sound was the voice of God encouraging us to go Volvo?
Anybody got a little plastic and duct tape?
If you are a pastor, church leader, or educator who is interested in leading a trip to the lands of the Bible, let me hear from you. I partner with faith-based groups to craft and deliver academic experiences. Leaders receive the same perks that other agencies offer, at competitive prices, and without the self-serving interests that often derail pilgrim priorities.