An exceptional experience

Image above: Bible Land Explorer Adrienne Griffin stood in many places in the Heartland. Undoubtedly, she also walked where Jesus walked. 


Our recent study-tour of Israel-Palestine was an exceptional experience.

"How so?" you ask.*

  Michaela Wood (L) and Ciarra Chiusano (R) sort through seashells at Caesarea Maritima. The breakers of the Mediterranean Sea roll in softly behind them. Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Adrienne Griffin.

Michaela Wood (L) and Ciarra Chiusano (R) sort through seashells at Caesarea Maritima. The breakers of the Mediterranean Sea roll in softly behind them. Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Adrienne Griffin.

For starters, the mix congealed early and well. It is not unusual to explore the place where faith begins with students. We do this all the time. What made this experience different is that the group was composed primarily of postgraduates involved in one of two of residency programs of Johnson University. One cohort hailed from Indianapolis, Indiana. A second journeyed to the biblical Heartland from Orlando, Florida. Spouses and undergraduates were sprinkled between them. Counting faculty, there were 22 in the group.

  Learners engage the Heartland with all their senses. Moving the educational process out of the box is one of the goals of the program. 

Learners engage the Heartland with all their senses. Moving the educational process out of the box is one of the goals of the program. 

You think: "Would mixing a 'cold weather' crew with a 'hot weather' crew, or stirring undergraduates together with graduate students, or merging couples with singles, or even grouping students with non-students mess with your recipe for success?

Nope.

Fact is, the diverse points of origin, age, and educational experience provided an added value. You could see it at the dinner table. You could feel it on the bus. I heard about it after the Bedouin tent experience. (Yes, the group actually slept on the ground in the Judean desert. In one tent! Talk about a team-building exercise!)

Group solidarity formed early and well. That was part of what made this an exceptional experience.

A second part was the effort given by the group to keep it in focus.

You ask: "What do you mean by it?" 

Well, I do many trips a year and it seems like there are always a few dingos who come along for the ride (or the food or the fun or the foreignness), but are not really into it. It, in this context, refers to the trip target. The syllabus cast it best for this group:

  The Western Wall (or Kotel) in Jerusalem is a Jewish place of prayer, bar-mitzvah, celebration, and study. Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Brad Campbell.

The Western Wall (or Kotel) in Jerusalem is a Jewish place of prayer, bar-mitzvah, celebration, and study. Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Brad Campbell.

"This course offers a 14-day study-abroad experience in Israel and Palestine, regions integral to the historic development of biblical literature and home to three text-oriented communities of faith, namely, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Observation, engagement, and contemplation within these contexts--whether focusing on archaeological reconstructions of the past or theological interpretations of identity and action in the present--allow learners to explore Christian ministry in an increasingly complex world."

The ability of this group to keep it in focus was exceptional, especially given the competing distractions of commercialism, foreignness, and (at times) survival.**

  This descent carries the walker down from the "Dome of the Rock" plaza in Jerusalem. This place ranks third among the holy sites of the Islamic faith. Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Adrienne Griffin.

This descent carries the walker down from the "Dome of the Rock" plaza in Jerusalem. This place ranks third among the holy sites of the Islamic faith. Photograph by Bible Land Explorer Adrienne Griffin.

There is no doubt that solidarity and focus helped produced an exceptional experience. But one more dynamic may be added to the list: facing down obstacles.

Research suggests that "social glue" develops when a group collectively responds to a mutual challenge.*** Anyone who has participated in a sports or music team knows this. Despite the unpleasantness of the moment--stress, obstacles, or pain--adversity (in manageable portions) enhances group experience. Or at the very least, makes memories!

  Prayer, liturgy, and worship were regular activities. Richard Clark (far left), Vice-President of External Relations/Chief Advancement Officer, of Johnson University was part of the study-tour leadership team.

Prayer, liturgy, and worship were regular activities. Richard Clark (far left), Vice-President of External Relations/Chief Advancement Officer, of Johnson University was part of the study-tour leadership team.

International travel can provide one level of stress. But beyond this, our group faced other issues. One participant lost a mother-in-law immediately prior to the trip. His grief was palpable. Another participant developed health conditions along the way that required a hospital stay in-country. A rare dog-attack put me out of commission for two days** and required a scramble to find a substitute guide. These were just some of the unique challenges that set this trip apart.

Rather than folding under the weight of these obstacles, the group responded as a team of leaders. I was so proud of them! They prayed, cared for the sick, collected themselves, and moved forward. Likewise, our sponsoring organization, the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies, responded to these challenges quickly and efficiently. It was really something to watch this unfold!

  Jody Owens of Johnson University was a part of the teaching team. Here on Mt Carmel he offers comments on the story of the contest between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal as described in the biblical book of Kings.

Jody Owens of Johnson University was a part of the teaching team. Here on Mt Carmel he offers comments on the story of the contest between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal as described in the biblical book of Kings.

You ask: "But did these obstacles take anything away from the trip?" 

I would suggest just the opposite. While it wasn't exactly the excursion that we had planned, the Johnson University study-tour ended up being a real world exercise. The real world requires us to work in teams with others, often different others. The real world requires us to maintain focus amid distractions. The real world challenges us to respond to challenging situations when the script goes out the window.

This was not your ordinary tourist gig. By means of this journey to the place where faith begins, the residents from Johnson University's Master of Strategic Ministry program continued to build their resume. It was truly an exercise in practical ministry.

  The group visited the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Many famous manuscripts of the Bible are housed here.

The group visited the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Many famous manuscripts of the Bible are housed here.


Johnson University's Master of Strategic Ministry program involves online coursework in strategic ministry, a research trip to Israel, and a 9-month ministry apprenticeship at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Peoria, Arizona, at one of several churches in Indianapolis, Indiana, or at Real Life Christian Church in Orlando, Florida. 

To learn more see the link here or call 800-827-2122.


*Note how the tactic of this article follows the dialectic pattern of communication. This is best seen in the literary strategy of the prophetic book of Malachi.

**Future blog seed.

***See here for example.


Dr. Mark Ziese, Dean of the School of Bible and Theology at Johnson University, manages the website Bible Land Explorer and teaches regularly in the Biblical heartland. You are invited to join Mark and Vicki for a Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Celebrity Reflection in October, 2018. See the link here for details.