By Julie Cole
It was a Bible history lesson in 3-D.
This last May, 27 people were deeply impacted by the sights and sounds of many Biblical landmarks during Briercrest College and Seminary’s second study trip to Israel.
“I picked up five smooth stones from a riverbed near the battle of David and Goliath,” John Ottens, tour participant said. “I recited poetry in an old outdoor Roman theater and listened to the echo of my voice. I swam in the Sea of Galilee. I listened to people speaking Hebrew. It was almost like living in the Bible for a couple of weeks.”
“Trying to explain two weeks in Israel . . . it is indescribable,” Gayle Hagan, another group member insisted. “Being able to share this experience with my kids and my mom feels like such a gift – three generations of Jesus followers breathing in that place together.”
Tour group leader Cal Macfarlane agrees.
“Israel is one of those places where I thought, ‘Yeah, you know, I could take it or leave it’ . . . But I’ll tell you, after being there I went, ‘Oh my goodness!’ I just had no idea. It really is remarkable.”
Macfarlane, who is also a potter, found some places of particular interest.
“I kept on finding these (pottery) handles,” he said. “(I also found) pieces of Roman glass, and little bits of jewelry. The kind of access they give you there is really something,” he said. “So many times in North America when you’re at important sites, you have barriers. There you’re walking on these roads and you’re picking up pieces off pottery that are 3,000 years oId. They don’t seem to mind if you keep a couple of shards.”
The Briercrest group travelled with a licensed Israeli guide throughout their trip.
“He was a fabulous resource,” Macfarlane exclaimed. “He was a warm-hearted believer who was able to take us places that normal tour groups don’t get a chance to see.”
Hagan says having a local guide who understands the culture increased her understanding of the Middle East.
“(Our guide’s) knowledge of the region, his faith and the experiences he has been brought through by Jesus helped us to see the land not as a Bible story or the place where Jesus walked but also the place where God continues to work out His redemption plan for each person . . . today.”
Participants of the tour had the option of completing assignments and receiving college credit for the tour. Some of the sights the group took in had a particular appeal to students of biblical history.
One of those was Cave 1 at Qumran. The group got to climb up to this landmark which was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found – a discovery which changed the study of the Old Testament.
Such a first-hand experience of historical places felt a bit surreal for group participants.
“We visited the Church of the Annunciation, a huge, beautiful basilica constructed on the site where the village of Nazareth once stood,” Ottens said. “I could hardly believe I was standing there being added to the numberless multitude of Christians who have been visiting that place for 2,000 years to remember and worship.”
“The wealth of history and experience we saw there continues to stop me in my tracks,” Hagan insisted. “Whether it’s about chunks of marble washing up on shore from Caesarean columns carved over 2,000 years ago or walking down 2,000-plus year old paved city streets where horse- drawn carts wore deep ruts so similar to our modern day tractor/trailer ruts on Canada’s Highway 1.”
Israel is a hotbed of political activity, but tour participants say they felt safe throughout their trip.
“There’s a military presence for sure,” Macfarlane admitted. “You see it all over the place. At first it’s disconcerting when you see (the soldiers) there with their sub machine guns. But even the soldiers we met and talked to were all very engaging and very competent. We felt really safe.”
Participants say the experience is well worth it. If another Briercrest tour takes place in two years, they encourage people to consider taking the trip.
“For others who may be contemplating signing up for the journey – just go!” Hagan exclaimed.
“I found it transforming the way I was reading Scripture and being able to picture things,” Macfarlane said. “You feel this particular connection. You don’t read your Bible the same way again.”