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Student's Faith Invigorated by Christian Union Holy Land Tour

BY FRANCINE BARCHETT, CORNELL '20

Next to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and writing a book, visiting Israel was at the top of my bucket list. Because my grandparents had an unforgettable experience, they would often tell me, “Francine, if you ever get a chance to go to Israel, by golly go!” Like King Arthur questing for the Holy Grail, like an intrepid explorer journeying to his ancestors’ homeland, this would be my once-in-a-lifetime, spiritually awakening, Christian pilgrimage. Little did I know this trip, which I imagined occurring decades in the future, would happen this past summer, following my freshman year at Cornell!

In June, I joined 83 students and four Christian Union ministry fellows for the Passages: Experience Israel trip. We drew on the nation’s biblical foundation and modern development. We traveled far and wide, from Christ’s ministry headquarters in Capernaum to the Dead Sea, sampling rich Middle Eastern foods, wandering traditional marketplaces, and hearing guest speakers from around the country. While what I learned those 10 days could easily fill a novel, I thought of five main takeaways:

Israel

Takeaway 1: Israel revels in history 

When we trekked up a mountain on our first day, we were greeted by biblical views from every direction. Adrian, our tour guide, pointed out Nazareth, then the mountain where Deborah attacked Sisera’s troops, the place Saul consulted a witch, Gideon’s battlefield, and even Armageddon! The artifacts we encountered seemed endless, too. “Did you know that archaeological finds have never disproved the Bible?” Adrian posed. “The more we dig here, the more critics ditch their anti-biblical theories.” This was the underlying motivation for the archaeologist we met at Mt. Precipice, who  showed us the largest unexcavated site in the country. 

Takeaway 2: Israel is culturally vibrant 

This trip made me realize how strongly Jewish culture and the Bible overlap; as we read Bible passages at each site, this recognition became all the more poignant. At Old City Jerusalem, we learned about Jerusalem’s temple tax tradition, which led us to discover that Peter was the only disciple over 20 years old. We went to a synagogue and learned about the Jewish schooling system, finding that Jesus’ disciples had been unworthy of a rabbi’s prestigious mentorship before He appointed them. Did you know that Peter’s denial rooster was actually a peacock? Men were nailed on crosses at the eye level rather than up high? And that the honey that describes the Promised Land comes from figs, not bees? This all goes to say that my professors’ entreaties to approach my studies with a culturally cognizant mindset is correct!

Takeaway 3: Israel fights to exist

While our trip’s faith-based components spiritually motivated me, uncovering its past and present conflicts intellectually challenged me. Visiting the Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, forced me to confront the graphic reality of anti-Semitism and some of Christianity’s past grievances against Jewish people. As for the Israel-Palestine conflict, nearly every day a new lecturer shared their insights, concluding that peace is but a dream. Their words seemed to come alive when we visited a Jewish, farm-based community near the Gaza Strip. A humble, yet resolute woman showed us the bomb shelters her people flee to every time the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas launches a shrapnel in their direction. Over the past three years, 16,000 shells have landed.

Takeaway 4: Israel embodies community

Despite the disagreements between Jews and Palestinians, Israel continues to embrace multiple ethnicities and religions. Orthodox Jews, non-practicing Jews, Muslims, Christians, and thousands of refugees demonstrate impressive diversity for a nation barely the size of New Jersey. Not only did I observe such diversity, but from our tour of Israel’s Knesset (Parliament) I learned that various perspectives are welcomed here as well. With Palestinian representation and a significant female political presence, Israel recognizes that unity does not mean sameness.

Takeaway 5: Israel endures

After 2,000 years of separation from their homeland, the Jews returned to Israel and have transformed their adversities into opportunities. As an agricultural major, I was fascinated how Israel’s drip irrigation helps countries worldwide obtain higher crop yields with less water. I again admired Israel’s ingenuity when we visited Olea Essence, a company that converts olives’ toxic black water into cosmetics. And I cannot forget our discussions with Israel Defense Forces soldiers.

I love Israel. Thanks to my experience, I grew more familiar with the Bible, realizing its Jewish roots are deeper than I had ever anticipated. Yet, Israel is more than a taste of the past; it is a vibrant step into the present that no one could have imagined nearly 70 years ago. As I cross Israel off my bucket list, I feel an amalgamation of joy, liberation, and gratefulness. And do you know what else I feel? Veneration of God for keeping His promises to the Jewish people… and to me, even today.