Concordia visits the Holy Land

Israel trip 1Nineteen 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.

Israel trip 2

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 juIsrael trip 3st 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.





9 responses to “Concordia visits the Holy Land”

  1. pete lange Avatar
    pete lange

    thanks for the update rick. my dad and i are going in 2 weeks, so it was great to read about some of the things we will soon experience. 23 sites will be tough to beat, but we’ll sure try our best!

    1. Rick Marrs Avatar
      Rick Marrs

      Pete, I hope your trip is as edifying for you and those you teach as it was for us.

  2. Arnie Voigt Avatar
    Arnie Voigt

    It sounds as if the students experienced the ancient stones but not the Holy Stones (1 Peter 2) Over ninety percent of people who go on a Holy Land tour never connect with the Christians in either Israel or the Occupied Territories. Lutheran travelers leave without connecting with or even knowing about Lutheran Christians and their ministries in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, and even Amman. Palestinian Christians feel deserted by the western church just because of trips like this. They learned the importance of the International Coastal Highway but not going through a checkpoint with Palestinians. There is much yet to learn.

    1. Rev. John Standley Avatar
      Rev. John Standley

      Arnie, Thanks for your comments. I have been on two trips to Israel with Rev. Dr. Zelt. Let me say first say that there is only so much you can see or do in 10 days – 2 weeks. As Rick noted, Tom takes his groups to many more sites than what you will see on a typical tourist tour. He also incorporates several class sessions covering geography and Biblical history before departure. One of several Lutheran Churches that we visited was Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem where we met with the pastor, staff and members. We did travel through several Palestinian checkpoints. We had to switch to a Palestinian bus and guide to go into Bethlehem as well as Jericho. One of the highlights of this last trip was standing at the boarder of Syria talking with a Druze fellow who was waiting for family to return from the hospital in Damascus.
      Arnie, it sounds like you have had some extensive interaction with the people of Israel. I pray that I will be able to return to this wonderful part of the world.

      1. Rick Marrs Avatar
        Rick Marrs

        Thank you for the additional input John. And for those who haven’t heard, another group of Concordia Seminary students is going to the Holy Land with Rev. Zelt and Dr. Saleska (not me this time) in late May and early June. Blessings on their travel. It should be an outstanding trip.

  3. Rick Marrs Avatar
    Rick Marrs

    Rev. Voigt, I am glad you brought this up and I’m glad to say that our trip was one of the 10% that DID connect with other Christians while there. I just didn’t emphasize it in my brief blog. For example, we did visit Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (as I did three years ago when I went on a visit/archaeological dig with Dr. Mark Schuler of Concordia, St. Paul, MN). While there this time, one of the deacons spoke to our group about the challenges of being Palestinian Christians in that place. We sang Christmas hymns in their sanctuary. We also were blessed to see the cave/stable discovered underneath Christmas Lutheran. It felt much more like how we imagine where Jesus was born than the ornate Chapel of the Nativity, as wondrous as it is. Also our Israeli guide, Dicko, is an Armenian Christian, so we heard much from him about being a Christian, and were introduced to others through him as well. I had to leave a few days before the trip was over, so some of the students or Pastor Zelt may be able to tell readers about more interactions they had with Christians that I’ve either forgotten or didn’t get to have with them. My taxi driver back to Tel Aviv was also a Christian, so I was mutually encouraged in my faith through him and I hope he was with me. Perhaps future trips, if funding becomes available for them, can visit other Christians and their ministries, but I’m glad I can assure you that we did connect with some in the Church there.

  4. Rick Marrs Avatar
    Rick Marrs

    Pastor Zelt also had a response that he sent to me and Rev. Voigt, but gave permission to post here as well:
    Hello Brother Arnie,
    I understand and appreciate the concern you speak to in your comment, so let me explain a little more of what we did in the class and on the trip. Pastor Mitri Raheb is a friend of mine. He has spoken at Prince of Peace more than once and we connect with him every time I have a group in Bethlehem. We tour the facility at Christmas Lutheran Church and we make a point to have his staff share with us what life is like behind the security wall and what they are doing in ministry to the Palestinian community, both Christian and Muslim. We learn of their work through the Diyar Consortium and the Dar Al-Kalima schools and health center. Since Dr. Raheb is the bishop for all the Middle East Lutheran Churches, it provides a good opportunity to connect with more than that location as well. Beyond Lutheran Christians, our experience in Jerusalem is a wonderful chance to expose believers to expressions of the Christian faith in many cultures. That is equally true in Nazareth. We also had experiences of crossing into the West Bank at places like Jericho (where the crossing has been de-activated) and Beth Horon – and the crossings always leave an impression.
    While we were there the Gaza war was on, then off, then on again. This provided much opportunity to talk about the Palestinian situation. I had many conversations with students regarding this. It comes from a very personal stand point as one of the families in my church have family there still who are Christians. Nadir Ayad (our family) keeps me regularly in touch with life there for his Christian family.
    This all being said, the focus of the trip was to equip new pastors with an understanding of the biblical account in its geographic, historic, and cultural setting, and to pick up tools to be able to teach it effectively. While that was the focus of the article, it didn’t mean that we ignored the present day situation of the Christians who struggle daily in difficult situations.
    If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.
    In Christ,
    Pastor Tom Zelt

    1. Arnie Voigt Avatar
      Arnie Voigt

      Thank you for these replies, and I am most glad to hear the fuller explanation. The Living Stones are the important ones! I first met Pastor Raheb twenty years ago on the first of many trips there, and he has spoken here as well. I also did a three month sabbatical in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Before I retired my congregation raised significant funds for equipment and after school programs,and two of the nurses from my parish helped initiate the parish/mosque nurses program there. Now I work in support of the Dar al-Kalima schools through Bright Stars of Bethlehem, as well as work with Sabeel, a Christian Palestinian human rights advocacy group, co-leading annual peace/justice awareness trips. And I am a co-author of a proposal to Rick Steves to film vidoes in Is/Pal and one of the script consultants for the now finished Public Television Special. My prayer, then, is that the students who walked where Jesus walked will also step forward and walk with Jesus’ sisters and brothers who live there now under a brutal occupation. Thank you. Blessings…

  5. Rick Marrs Avatar
    Rick Marrs

    Thank you Rev. Voigt. One of the many blessings of serving our Lord Jesus here at Concordia Seminary is the ability to meet and be mutually encouraged by fellow Christians from literally every continent around the world. Faculty and students get to rub elbows and hear from men and women who study here to be pastors and deaconesses in order to return to their countries to teach the Gospel there. Faculty also get to travel and see first hand the blessings and struggles that our Christian brothers and sisters have. Next month I’m blessed to be able to travel to the Philippines with LCMS Disaster Relief and teach a group of pastors there just after the one year anniversary of the Typhoon Yolanda. The Lord has blessed us with travel and communication options to be able to mutually encourage each other around the world. May we remember to use those options.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *