I write these words from somewhere over the Atlantic as 23 students and three professors from Johnson University return from a study-tour to Israel-Palestine. The group is composed of faculty and students from various JU communities. Residents in the Master in Strategic Ministry program in Indianapolis comprise the core.
Given this ministerial focus, attention has been given in the last 12 days to issues of biblical interpretation, communal worship, and spiritual formation. Professors Jody Owens and Daniel Overdorf led with clarity throughout, encouraging learners in the practice of personal reflection. Drawing from deep Christian traditions, prayers and liturgy were brought forward in a fresh way.
The trip started awkwardly but recovered quickly. A storm across the northeast United States closed several airports and initiated a shuffle of flights. As a result, a handful of students arrived late as did some personal luggage. On-ground agents responded nimbly and our travelers rolled with the punches. Apart from this logistical wrinkle at the start-up (and one incident with the bus!), the trip went smoothly.
Stops in-country were made at many historic sites including Caesarea-by-the-sea, Megiddo, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. In each place, the relevance, interpretation, and application of specific biblical texts was discussed.
All participants were required to complete reading and writing assignments. These included a daily log of observations, a review of Tom Wright’s book on pilgrimage today, a paper on the use of archaeology in biblical studies, and a paper on the contemplation of ministry.
Finally, engagement with local folk was encouraged.
Feedback suggested that spending three nights in Bethlehem offered new perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Driving through the gate of the nine-meter barrier wall was an eye-opening experience for many. Issues of political power and social justice were lively topics around the dinner table.
Perhaps the most powerful moment, however, came as several Arab-Israeli Christians from the Christian Holy Land Foundation spent an evening with the students. Conversation centered on ministry strategies in difficult environments. At the end of this evening, it was rewarding to watch as Arab and American Christians prayed for each other in Arabic and English. There even a few tears.
Contemplating the study-tour one student wrote in the end: “To be honest, I had no idea what to expect . . . but it has been an absolute blessing.”
From my side it has been a joy to journey with this exceptional group of people.