Encountering Israel

Moody students experience the gospel in the Holy Land

by Andrew Flores staff writer

Standing on the Mount of Olives, looking down the valley and seeing olive trees still growing today; walking where Jesus once walked on the Via Dolorosa; hearing the sounds of a bustling city and the Muslim call to prayer: These are some of the experiences 30 Moody students shared in
early January.

This $500, ten day, word-of-mouth trip to Israel was first announced in several of Dr. Rydelnik’s classes in early November. Sophomore youth ministry major Josh Aarum said, “I heard people who were in Rydelnik’s class talk about it and asked one of them. I signed up and got in.”

Scott Phillips, the executive director of the trip, currently called Israel Encounter, said, “[This is] a new organization sponsored by the Philos Project and Museum of the Bible. Israel Encounter’s goal is twofold: One, to connect students to their biblical roots of their faith and to strengthen their faith. Two, create informed voices on behalf of Israel, taking students to not only the Biblical sites but also expose them to modern Israel.”

Phillips credited Rivka Kidron, a special advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the inspiration for the program. He said Kidron had many interactions with Christian leaders who had come to Israel but she noticed that many of them were not seeing modern Israel.

“[She] also noticed that the next generation of Christian leaders needed to be engaged,” Phillips said. “So she began to set out and look for partners. She had a relationship with Museum of the Bible founder Steve Green, who is also the president of Hobby Lobby.”

Museum of the Bible funded the pilot trip in early 2015 and later a partnership was made with the Philos Project president Robert Nicholson. With these two main sponsors, they created Israel Encounter.

In January, Israel Encounter took 120 students and faculty from Moody, Hillsdale College and Beeson Divinity School to Israel. They heard from prominent speakers, such as Herb Keinon, American-born Israeli journalist for The Jerusalem Post; Dr. Faydra Shapiro, professor at Yezreel Valley College as a specialist in contemporary Jewish-Christian relations; Dr. Tal Becker, a senior member of the Israeli peace negotiation team and senior policy advisor to Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs; Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab-Israeli journalist; Pastor Steven Khoury, pastor of the largest Arab Evangelical church in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories; Rabbi Binyamin Lau, Israeli rabbi and head of the Human Rights and Judaism in Action Project; and Michael B. Oren, former ambassador to the U.S.

Participants described the trip as a whirlwind of touring historical sites and hearing what is happening on the ground in Israel today.

“I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know what Israel looked like and went with no expectations and was ready for anything,” Aarum said. “The biggest takeaway for me was a new knowledge of what the biblical land of the Bible looked like and where these stories take place. What is currently going on there made me realize that it’s essential for us to support Israel. So many people want to destroy them and want to see them not exist. They’re doing great things, they’re great people.”

Alison Blunk, junior evangelism and discipleship major, said, “My number one highlight was going to the Kibbutz in Kfar Aza that is a mile away from the Gaza Strip. We could stand and see over to the Gaza Strip that is controlled by Hamas. It was a place that these people live and are in the midst of constant terror. As we were walking through the Kibbutz, seeing the bomb shelters and hearing stories of rockets hitting the property, it was like walking through a nightmare and it’s the reality of these people’s lives.”

Now back at Moody, many of the participants said they have a new perspective on Israel and their faith.

“Nothing has changed me more as a woman and as a believer in Christ as going to Israel has,” Blunk said. “God has a heart for the Jewish people and God is faithful. We as believers need to be aware of that. The trip was an incredible opportunity and an amazing privilege to understand the roots of the Christian faith but also learn about the modern state of Israel and the implications it has on us as young people and believers in Christ.” 

“This trip was a blessing not only because of the things you get to do, and all the incredible things you learn, but the people behind it and how much they care about informing Christian college students about Israel,” Aarum said.

Future trips are being planned for summer 2016.

“We’ll be accepting applications starting in the spring for the summer trips. We have a limited number of spaces that will fill up quick,” Phillips said. “We definitely want to continue working with Moody. I would encourage anybody from a pastor, ministry leader, to a business leader, political policy, whatever it may be. We encourage you to apply!”

Senior communications major Andrew Flores was among the participants on the Israel Encounter trip.

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