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A dozen Christian graduate and undergraduate students are visiting Israel as part of a unique tour designed to help them grasp historical, modern and spiritual perspectives of the Holy Land and to be able to take that outlook back with them to their universities and their countries.
The Eagles Wings’ Israel Experience is underway right now for its seventh consecutive year with 12 students touring the country and meeting with government leaders, Holocaust survivors and people from the various cultures represented in the nation.
The tour “allows them to see the complexity facing Israel and the Middle East and the reality of Israel’s working democracy and continual efforts towards peace,” according to Michael Onifer of Eagles Wings, who is leading the group. “It also allows them to see the contrast between treatment of women, and religious and ethnic minorities in Israel in contrast to other nations in the Middle East.”
Onifer said the program supplies “emerging Christian leaders” with an experience that will help them present Israel’s story from a firsthand perspective when they get back home. So far, 100 students hailing from nations such as the United States, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Venezuela, China, Kenya and Brazil have gone through the program.
Havilah Mendez, 20, of Baltimore is in Israel for her first time. When she joins Messiah College in the fall she will be a sophomore political science major. Seeing for herself the rocket battered city of Sderot on the Gaza border in southern Israel and the Western Wall -- two controversial places in the headlines -- helped her form her own world view, she said.
“These two places are something I will remember when I go back to school,” she said.
“Israel has a lot to offer especially to my own generation,” she added. “Israelis are so welcoming and so tolerant, something I think that people in my generation don’t necessarily know. Israeli young people are like American young people. It is an energetic and lively environment. I would encourage people to come travel and visit, not just the spiritual sites, but cultural ones as well.”
Amely Schneider of Rodgau, Germany has a similar message to bring back to Christians in her country.
“First I’m going to tell them what I saw on the spiritual side, like for example the Golden Gate or the Western Wall,” the 22-year-old math and chemistry student said. “On the other hand it is important for me to show the political side, that Germany should stand up for Israel and support the Jewish people.”
Seeing life in Sderot, she said, opened her mind to a completely different world in which some people live. On the spiritual side, Amely said touring the tunnels under the Western Wall was like going back in time.
“It is such a holy place for the Jews and we, as Christians, have our roots in Judaism,” she said.
AJ Bennett of Toronto, studying international business at at York University and the University of Phoenix, is the campus coordinator for Christians United for Israel. Although this is his first trip to Israel, Bennett grew up with stories about the Israelites while living in a town rife with racism and anti-Semistism.
Now, he said, simply walking the streets of Jerusalem has been an affirmation of his faith.
“The world has been blind to Israel’s justice and I felt that confirmed being here,” he said.
His visit has also confirmed another goal: to bring groups to Israel and engage communities not necessarily interested in making pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
“Jerusalem is pivotal, central to the Bible,” he said. “It makes no sense to not visit a land that is mentioned from Genesis to Revelation and the story is not finished yet, so to have the opportunity to step into the story, where the story will finish.”
Just as Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca every year, Christians should rise to the challenge to visit Israel instead of just blessing the nation from afar, Bennett said.
Students have gone on to use their experiences in Israel when they got back home. One helped write a speech for Sen. Sam Brownback to Israeli parliament. Another worked at the White House during President George Bush’s administration. Recently, an Israel Experience student interned with Jerusalem’s deputy mayor and another is now the national coordinator on college campuses across the U.S. for Eagles Wings’ Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.
The Eagles Wings’ Israel Experience is possibly the only Christian zionist program of its kind that operates on a collegiate level focused on academics and advocacy. Applications are accepted at www.eagleswings.to. The scholarship program is open to all university and graduate students with college-level English.
By Nicole Jansezian, Travelujah
Nicole Jansezian writes for Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Travelujah is a vibrant online community offering high quality Christian content, user and expert blogs, travel tours and planning services for people interested in connecting with or traveling to the Holy Land.