Calvin Seminary Students Visit Israel
Published by Calvin Seminary
This past January, I had the privilege of being a part of a group of Calvin Seminary students who traveled to Israel for two weeks. I myself am not a seminarian; I am a staff member working in the development office at Calvin Seminary. That meant that I was the only person on the trip who was neither a professor nor a student preparing for ministry. This meant I was the ultimate layperson and fly on the wall for observing not only the Holy Land itself, but also how it affected the hearts and minds of the students in real time.
It’s unusual for me to visit a place that I have read about for 25 years of my life, perhaps because it is a real place, and not something in a fantastic adventure story or a magical creation of an author. Every one of us paints pictures in our heads about the stories we read in the New and Old Testaments. Some of those painted pictures line up with what the land looks and feels like, but many are surprisingly different from reality.
Some call the land “The Fifth Gospel” because the landscape itself is telling you a story. Some things like the Sea of Galilee remain resiliently the same as they were from the first century and even before. Other things require some excavation and archeology to uncover. Both of these types of sites can be categorized as “dead stones” or “stones of history” as they are rooted in the past and tell us what was. We visited countless sites where we were able to step back into a first-century world and open our Bibles to begin reading with a whole new way of understanding.
One of the unique elements of the Calvin Seminary trip to the Holy Land was that we not only spent time with the “dead stones,” but we made a real point of interacting with the “living stones” of the land. The people and the stories that are alive today.
Israel is a complicated country. Many argue it always has been, but that’s exactly why the modern conflicts and tensions are important for us to understand and wrestle with. The past 72 years of conflict between the Arabs and Israelis have left two very traumatized and deeply conflicted groups of people. These people and their stories are worth listening to, and listen we did. Hearing from support groups of parents who have lost children on both Arab and Israeli sides, hearing from Israelis who have spent 70+ years living in the country, and visiting farms owned by Arabs who are completely encircled by Israeli settlements were just a few of the ways we were able to open our ears and minds to the conflict that shapes the land today.
My perspective as a layperson observing those being formed and shaped for their ministry was unique. Witnessing the change in our students as they wrapped their hearts and minds around the “living” and the “dead stones” of the Holy Land was amazing. I could physically see the changes on their faces as they made connections to first-century locations and how it changed the way they look at the Gospel. I could also see how they reacted to conflict, injustice, cultural differences, and discrimination; all things that leaders of the church will absolutely deal with in their ministry!
In this way, the trip is an incredibly holistic experience for the students. They are flexing their ministry minds and muscles as they begin to contemplate the texts of old and the contexts of today in order to better prepare themselves for their own ministry. I am thankful that I was able to be a part of this trip in so many different ways, but most of all I am blessed to be a witness to the next generation of ministry leaders as they were being formed in this place. It is inspiring and uplifting to contemplate how their experiences here will affect the way they bring the Gospel to individuals, congregations, and communities in the future.
By Mitch Schroder
Gift Officer and Annual Fund Leader
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