How do I even begin to tell you about the life-changing journey I went on this summer with The Master’s University?
On May 21, 36 alumni gathered on a 14-hour plane ride to a place that would change our lives forever. For some of us, it was the first time ever stepping foot in the Holy Land. For others, Israel is a place of great memories from a semester at IBEX or a summer Chorale Tour. For each of us, this two-week journey was full of wonderful new adventures. The goal of the trip was to meet and get to know alumni from a range graduating classes and stages of life. From LABC alumni to TMU Class of 2018 graduates, we all shared a love for The Master’s University. I couldn’t wait to hear about each person’s life story over the next few weeks. I graduated in 2015 and didn’t have the opportunity to go to IBEX (the Israel Bible Extension program), so when I received an email from Alumni Relations Manager Shayna Anderson about a TMU trip to Israel, I didn’t even think twice about it. My exact words were, “Sign me up. Where do I pay the deposit?” Every day leading up to our trip I thought about what it would be like to walk down the streets of Jerusalem. What would the food taste like? Would I really be able to float in the Dead Sea? But, I didn’t really ask myself what God would do in my heart in two weeks? Well, I was about to find out.
As we landed in Tel Aviv, I could immediately feel the dry heat. My first thought was, “Find the nearest drinking fountain, because you’re going to need a lot of water for the next two weeks.” We met Dr. Varner and his lovely wife Helen, in addition to our Israeli tour guide Matthew and a few other alumni who had flown in from the East Coast a few hours before.
Before we reached the hotel, our first stop was the city of Jaffa. This coastal city gave me my first glimpse of the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. Later that night, a group of us walked to the beach to enjoy the softest sand I’d ever stepped foot on and the Mediterranean’s cool and refreshing waters. We spent the first week in Northern Israel, visiting sites like Caesarea, Mt. Carmel, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Nazareth, Caesarea Philippi and Tiberius. We also scaled the side of Mt. Arbel. Our days were packed with ancient ruins, excavations of sites both biblical and historical, and opportunities to try amazing new food.
During the first part of our trip, I personally began to experience complete amazement at the faithfulness of God. He chose a people and has continued to preserve them to this day. I could recognize His hand in everything as we saw: excavations of ancient cities so carefully preserved, artifacts, exact biblical locations, and inscriptions.
Another special moment for me that week was standing in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. The account of Jesus walking on water and Jesus calling Peter to trust Him has always been a favorite of mine. We can all probably identify pretty closely with Peter as he takes his gaze off of the Lord and begins to drown. Not only that, but God’s Word tells us that the seas obey Him at His word. Being on the Sea of Galilee and thinking about these things was incredible. Tears began flowing. How was it that I was in the same water that my Lord walked on to demonstrate His power and complete sovereignty?
The second week of our trip began as we made our way down to Jerusalem. It was everything I wasn’t expecting: so many different types of people everywhere, from the ultra-religious to the secular working professional.
The first day in Jerusalem was incredible. We walked around the Old City for 13 hours! It was the longest day of touring but it was well worth it. From the Western Wall to the Temple Mount, where the Dome of the Rock sits, to all four quarters of the Old City, we received such a great insight into life in Jerusalem. We saw a first-century street market close to the Western Wall, walked through the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and got our first look at the Arab shopping markets where you can buy virtually anything. The city was buzzing with people and things to do.
While we were in Jerusalem, I went to the Western Wall almost every night just to take it in; it grabbed ahold of my heart. During this part of our trip, I realized a few things. First, the Jews and Muslims are so passionate and devoted to their worship. It was personally convicting to realize how much I lack in my love and devotion to Jesus. I also came to appreciate the freedom we have in the gospel that these beautiful people desperately need. I grew in my desire to learn more about this place and its people. I remember our bus driver Itzik saying, “Israel isn’t what CNN tells you is it?” He was totally right. Being able to see and experience it for myself opened my eyes to this part of the world.
As a momentary side note, I’d like to point out that Dr. Varner is the best guide to visit Israel with. This trip marked his 50th tour of Israel. AMAZING! Not only that, but we also celebrated his 71st birthday in Galilee. This man of God is an amazing testimony to all of us. He knows the land and God’s Word so remarkably well. I’d also like to point out that Dr. V and his wife scaled the side of Mt. Arbel like it was a walk in the park. I was pretty scared on our hike to the descent, until I saw them begin scaling. All I could say to myself was, “If Dr. V can do this, so can I!” I am beyond grateful for their guidance and shepherding on this tour. Some of my sweetest memories are the prayer times and devotionals led by Dr. V. His pastoral heart came through in moments when my soul needed it the most. I know that each one of us benefited so deeply from spending two weeks with our guide, pastor and friend.
Over the next few days, we moved from the Old City into the outskirts to visit the City of David, the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, Bethlehem, Masada, Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), Jericho, the Herodian and of course the Dead Sea. As the days went on, our group became more and more close knit. We barely knew each other when we landed in Tel Aviv, but we had the chance to spend long hours together—long bus rides and long hikes through the beauty of Israel. It was neat to see the married couples take some of the singles under their wings and invest in their lives through conversations along the way. As a recent graduate, I appreciated hearing about the lives of the older alumni.
I felt a crescendo coming as we made our way the Mount of Olives, which overlooks Jerusalem. I began to think about the night Jesus spent in the garden, praying and awaiting His arrest. He would soon after walk through the streets I’d just walked the day before and make His way to Golgotha to die. The biblical account came to life. We then walked over to Gethsemane and a cave where they believe our Lord slept the night He was arrested. Together, we sang one of my favorite hymns:
“Man of sorrows, what a name, For the Son of God who came. Ruined sinners to reclaim, Hallelujah, what a Savior! Lifted up was He to die, ‘It is finished’ was His cry. Now in Heaven exalted high, Hallelujah, what a Savior!”
Our friendships grew stronger in those two weeks than I expected they would. I didn’t want to leave; a piece of my heart will forever be in Israel. Every day, I stared out the window of the bus and saw the beauty of this place. Every day I prayed for Israel—for the salvation and protection of its citizens. Psalm 122:6 calls us to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May they be secure who love you!’”
Visiting Israel is something I will never forget. It changed how I read my Bible.
It changed how I perceive Jews and Arabs, Judaism and Islam. It changed how I view my life in America and how thankful I need to be for salvation in Christ alone. Not only that, but it renewed in me a deeper desire to keep learning about the Bible to seek after God, and to keep learning about these cultures that are in such need of a Savior. I knew that visiting Israel would impact me in a spiritual way, but I had no idea it would change me in the way it did, and I am forever grateful.
If you ever have a chance to visit, do it! If you ever have the chance to go on a trip with fellow alumni, do it! If you have an opportunity to pray and support the IBEX program, do it! God sovereignly brought us together to study at The Master’s University/College/LABC. May we continue to have this bond as the years go on, and may we always seek to glorify the Master no matter where we go.
By His Grace Alone,
Lizzie Morales TMU ’15