ATW reroute! Concordia students navigate conflict in the Holy Land

The Concordia Courier


By Greta Jones | 12/8/2023

For many “Rounders,” the most anticipated portion of the Around-the-World semester is the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For two weeks students get to walk where Jesus walked, learn where Jesus taught and commune where Jesus spilled His blood. Our team was no exception to that excitement. 

Every day leading up to our flight to Tel Aviv, someone would express enthusiasm for climbing into the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, or for attending mass in the Holy Sepulchre. Perhaps the most discussed event was our upcoming appointment at Razzouk Tattoo in Jerusalem, where we would have been inked with the same images that Christians have worn as symbols of their conviction for over 700 years. We constantly sketched crosses, olive branches and bible verses in Greek or Hebrew onto one another in black sharpie - trying to figure out the perfect placement for a permanent profession of faith. 

On October 6, we went to sleep in Athens, eagerness for our future travels still intact. We did not know that we would be waking up to the beginning of what has now become the largest conflict that the Holy Land has seen in decades. For a few days, the Rounders were glued to news updates as Professor John Norton answered our innumerable questions with, “We have to wait and see.” After a week of active war, the answer became, “We’ll let you know where we decide to reroute when everything is booked.” 

Visiting Professor Paul Elliott was one of the Lord’s greatest blessings to us during this time of uncertainty. When asked about the decision process for where ATW would divert, Dr. Norton said, “I really wanted to keep Paul as long as we could. We were just looking for some place with some Biblical history.”

Dr. Elliott’s deep and knowledgeable pockets allowed us to experience a detour to Rome that was just as spiritually and educationally enriching as Israel would have been. He also remained a constant reminder of God’s word and comfort to our doubting spirits while we waited for decisions to be made. In Mykonos, he led us into a greater understanding of our role as Christians during political strife and turmoil. Through a sermon on Psalm 45 we learned that while, 

“The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;

He utters His voice, the earth melts.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

He burns the chariots with fire.

“Be still and know that I am God.”

  Psalm 45, ESV

 Dr. Elliott told us that “being still” is not a passive thing that Christian’s are called to do. Being still and knowing who God is means actively trusting in God’s provision for His children - even during extreme darkness. To pray fervently and without ceasing for the victims of war, for civilians who died and to reach out to strengthen those that we know on the ground. Many previous Rounders were able to make deep connections with both Israeli and Palestinian people through service with Mitri Raheb, a Palestinian Lutheran. 

As we continued into Poland, we were gifted with another wise angel while visiting the genocide memorials at Auschwitz. Father Manfred Deselaers explained to us that what happened during WWII is intimately connected to the creation of Israel. The state was formed from a desire for Jewish people to have a place where they could be safe and not exist as guests of other nations. While he admits that this arrangement offers protection to Jewish peoples, he also says that, “the fact that Jews were victims here does not mean they can make victims of others. If you say, “We have been treated like animals,” our answer cannot be to become animals.” He also instructed us to learn lessons from Auschwitz so similar atrocities are never committed. “It is important to listen to the voice of this soil,” he says. “The people who died here should have been respected. So what do I learn? That I have to respect the people that I meet.”

Although ATW VII was kept physically out of the Holy Land, we threw our hearts and spirits into prayer and contemplation of the ongoing combat. To be still and to find a way to respect and love both sides of God’s creation was painful. It was only through the help of Him who melts the earth with the sound of His voice that we were able to work through the political tension and sadness that accompanied this devastation.




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