By: Seth Gatewood
Every year, Union University takes an educational trip to Israel to help students better understand key concepts in the Bible. Receiving college credit from the trip is optional. Before the trip, students usually take a six-week course examining and studying the places they will visit in Israel.
Rebbeca Powers, a sophomore at Union, said knowing more about these places before she arrived was beneficial because it helped her understand them better.
The trip almost didn’t happen, though.
“It was kind of freaky,” Powers said. “The week leading up to the trip, I was at the beach with my college ministry and I was getting emails from the company we were going to be traveling with about all the rockets and missiles that were going on [between Israel and Palestine]. I think almost 2,000 rockets and missiles were shot in the six days before we left. The conflict ended the day we left to go there.”
“For a second, I thought our trip was going to be canceled, but in the end, it didn’t.”
Powers and her group left Jackson on May 13, and their first flight was out of Nashville. They arrived in New Jersey and spent some hours there. They were supposed to leave later that night, but things didn’t exactly go as planned.
“Something was wrong with our plane. I think it was something with the computer systems of the plane. So, it got delayed a couple of hours and then got pushed back and back until we finally boarded the plane at 1 a.m. Still, it took so long to try and fix the plane that we weren’t able to go anywhere because the flight attendants were going to be past the legal amount of hours they were allowed to work. So, the flight ended up getting delayed till the next day at 11 a.m.,” said Powers.
“By the time we got off the plane and back in the airport, it was four A.M. The airlines said they would pay for people’s hotels if we wanted to get a room, but we ended up sleeping in the airport because, by the time we got to the hotel, we would’ve only been able to sleep a couple of hours before we had to get back to the airport. So, it was just easier to sleep in the airport, and that’s what we did.”
“We left New Jersey at 11 a.m., and the flight from New Jersey to Tel Aviv, Israel, took ten and a half hours to complete. The Tel Aviv airport is huge. That’s something that surprised me, Tel Aviv especially, but also, in general, Israel was a lot more modern than I expected it to be. Our guide told us for Israel’s population size; it’s the most technologically advanced country in the world. I never expected it at all.” Powers said.
Israel shares many similarities to America. Many people wore the same clothing as you see in America though more skirts were worn in Israel than in America. The city itself was very modern.
“Tel Aviv is right on the Mediterranean Sea, so honestly, it felt like we were in Flordia,” she said.
But there were also some notable differences between Israel and America. All the buildings In Israel had the same tan color and were made of concrete. It’s the kind of uniformity someone wouldn’t expect to see in America. Street signs in Israel have three languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and English because the people in the country spoke all three languages well. The group could also see signs of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“It was very heartbreaking,” Powers said. “Just a different experience that we don’t have in America. While we were there, we went to a lady’s house. She lived in a community right off the Gaza Strip, where the main conflict happens. We pulled up, and at all bus stops, there were bomb shelters. The civilians had painted them and graffitied them to look prettier than they were. All the houses had bomb shelters because by the time the red siren goes off [a missile warning system], they have ten to fifteen seconds to seek shelter before the missiles hit. After the last conflict ended that Saturday [the one that happened before the group took the trip to Israel], everyone returned to school and worked like it was nothing. Which is terrible.
“It was heartbreaking knowing this is how they live. We’re fortunate to live in America where we don’t personally experience war and violence like that in our everyday lives.”
After getting off the plane, the group left Tel Aviv and went straight to Nazareth. Through the following days, the group would also visit Bethlehem, Temple Mount, and other holy places. The whole experience was very strange to Powers, she said.
“It was surreal. I think that’s something many of us struggled with the whole trip. It was hard to wrap my head around the fact that this is where so many important things in my faith happened. This place was something I’ve read about my whole life. And it’s such an important place to me, and my faith and I think just experiencing that was so surreal,” she said.
“One day, we went on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. I think that’s one of the moments where it really did hit me where we were. That this was the place I’ve read about my whole life.”
After the boat ride, she and her group went to a restaurant right off the sea and had some local cuisine.
“We could either get fish or chicken,” Powers said, “and I’m not a big fish eater either. My whole family is allergic to seafood, so I didn’t grow up eating a lot of fish. While we were there, though, I was always going to try the fish because I’m never going to eat fish from the Sea of Galilee again. But we [her and her friends] got the fish, and they brought it out, and it was a whole fish- eyeballs and everything. I was not expecting that. The fish was pretty decent, but I was done once I got past the first layer of meat and had to dig through the bones. I just ate the fries after that. It was not for me.”
The trip ended after ten days in Israel. The group was scheduled to leave Israel on the night of May 22, but complications arose.
“I think there was something wrong with the plane again. We finally got on the plane at late 1 a.m. and, from what I understood from what they were saying over the intercom, there was a 2 a.m. curfew in Israel,” Powers said. “So, they spoke over the intercom that it was past the flight curfew and that we had to get off the plane because the flight was canceled. We got off the plane at three and got hotel rooms in Jerusalem. We drove to Jerusalem, got booked into the hotel, and slept there for most of the day.” said Powers.
“Then we got up and went back to the airport that night. The flight was canceled again. Apparently, an air controller strike was happening in France, and they couldn’t get people to approve the flight plane going over France. By the time they made a new flight plan and got it approved, we didn’t have enough fuel. The people said we could go and get more fuel, but by then, it would be past the curfew. So, they canceled the flight.”
“We were supposed to leave Monday but didn’t get home till Thursday. It was very frustrating at the moment. In the end, my group got split into two. Half of them got flown out on Wed. night to New Jersey, and the other half, which I was a part of, got flown out on Thursday at one in the morning to Chicago. We got back to Nashville at 9 a.m. later in the morning. About 15 of our group bought their own flights and had to pay 2,000 extra to get home. That’s almost as much as our trip cost,” she said.
“The trip was already memorable, but the delays made it more memorable.”
Now that Powers is back home, she feels she better understands Jesus and has a deeper connection with The Scriptures.
“I think, personally, it helped me understand the humanity of Jesus. Of course, I’ve always believed he was a real person, but I think this has truly helped me understand that. Just being able to walk in his footsteps and walk in the places he walked,” she said.
“So now, reading my Bible, I can picture what it actually looked like. I can experience it on a deeper level and better understand what I’m reading.”