Editor’s note: This interview is part one of a series honoring President Joseph M. Stowell as he retires from his position as university president and takes a new position as president emeritus. In this article, Dr. Jonathan Greer, associate professor of Old Testament at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and Professor Jennifer Greer, adjunct professor of Bible at GRTS, reflect on Dr. and Mrs. Stowell’s involvement in the early years of the Israel and Palestine study abroad trips.
CU: What years did the Stowells join you on the trip? Where did you travel?
Jonathan: The Stowells joined us in 2015, 2016 and 2017. At the time, the trip was only to Israel and Palestine. Later, we added Jordan to the itinerary. This study tour is designed as a course within the Master of Divinity curriculum as a required course. It’s an optional course for students in other programs. In this trip, we incorporate archaeology, historical geography and visiting sites that pertain to biblical stories.
CU: Why did the Stowells go on these trips?
Jonathan: When we launched the initiative for the study tour, we wanted to give them an opportunity to connect with students. It gave the Stowells the opportunity to spend time with students in an intense experience in foreign lands and to get to know them personally. Dr. Stowell also presented a few teachings at different sites, which gave students a pastoral perspective. It was great for students to see him interact with the context of the land.
CU: What was unique about having them on these trips?
Jennifer: Definitely the pastoral ministry piece. Jon and I are not pastors—we approach the trip from an academic perspective. Dr. Stowell brought pastoral expertise and had interactions with students as an older, wiser pastor who’s been in ministry a very long time.
CU: How did Joe interact with students throughout the trip?
Jonathan: Full of warmth, positivity, and humor. Both Joe and Martie are very personable. From our perspective, we appreciated getting to know them as a couple and really enjoyed our time with them.
Jennifer: The interactions on a trip like that happen on the bus and around meal tables. The Stowells were always mingling with students and rotating tables at all three meals. Onsite, when we were walking to and from places, they were part of the group. They were certainly in the mix all the time, all day.
CU: Were there any specific moments on the trips that stuck out to you?
Jennifer: Several messages of his stood out to me. One of his messages was at the Sea of Galilee talking about being fishers of men. Another was a message when we were at Caesarea Maritima. The weather that day was horrible. It was stormy and rainy and the waves of the sea were crashing over the ruins. We tried to find a place where everyone could hear him. He gave a beautiful message about Christian martyrs who had been killed there. That was a very memorable experience.
Jonathan: I agree. I remember at Masada, Joe and Martie often led the way for this crack-of-dawn hike up a very steep path in the barren wilderness. They put many of us to shame with their athletic prowess in scaling the rocky heights!
Jennifer: If I remember correctly, Martie came in second fastest and Joe came in third!
CU: In what ways were you transformed by Joe and Martie’s involvement in the trip?
Jennifer: I have several personal memories of the four of us being around a dinner table in the evening. They were so interested in asking us questions about our families and our kids. They truly wanted to get to know us. They still ask us about our kids when we see them. I have another memory of talking at the waterfall at Engedi after a hike. They both just exude warmth and welcome. It was interesting to see the president of a university being so personable. He and Martie were such an encouraging presence.
Jonathan: Indeed! We keep hoping they will join us again soon!