Concordia visits the Holy Land
Nineteen Concordia Seminary students toured and learned about biblical Israel from August 13-28, led by Pastor Tom Zelt from Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Fremont, CA. I was privileged to be able to travel with them.
Our Armenian Christian Israeli tour guide, Dicko, has been leading tours for 30 years. His previous high for visits to National Park historical sites was 12 for any one tour; he believed that the record for any tour guide in Israel was 18. By the end of our tour Dicko (and the rest of us) had 23 brochures from the various sites that our group had visited…and we visited numerous sites that didn’t have brochures. Our students had, arguably, completed the most historically, biblically concentrated two-week tour of the Holy Land ever. Pastor Zelt had designed a tour that unwrapped the geography and history of the land. We experienced anew where Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Samson, Samuel, David, Solomon, and all the other Old Testament kings and prophets had been called to follow Yahweh. We saw how Herod the Great transformed the region with his building projects. Most importantly, we walked where Jesus was born and walked and taught his apostles. We realized how seeing the land changes the way we hear Jesus’ words in the Gospel. We entered the Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher and meditated at the place that our Lord Jesus gave his life for us on the cross and conquered death through his resurrection. I had been to Israel once before and began to fall in love with the Holy Land; Tom Zelt revealed so much more to us of the history that when we now read Scripture, the words (English, Greek and Hebrew) pop with even more clarity and meaning. Thousands of pictures were taken; many put on Facebook. One student even kept a daily blog of the experience.
But this tour was not just for a new “spiritual experience” for the students. It was a seminary course that combined exegetical and pedagogical theology. Pastor Zelt, who has been to Israel more than 25 times, had sent pre-course assignments of various books (e.g., Josephus translated by Paul Maier) and 20+ hours of map work. Tom led two days of classroom instruction at the seminary, supplemented by several faculty, before our plane took wing. Students knew where, for example, Elijah had trod and the importance of the International Coastal Highway before we ever set foot in Israel. And on every stop and bus ride, students were challenged to develop “mini-lectures” and lesson plans about how they would teach “the Word becoming Flesh” to their future parishioners. They were graded on the quality of their lesson plans and tested on their knowledge of the land.
This tour was made possible by the gracious generosity of an anonymous donor. Student costs were kept low. Future tours like this are possible if additional donors see the value for future pastors experiencing the Holy Land while studying at Concordia Seminary.