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GRTS Students Return From Journey to the Holy Land

News Jan. 30, 2020

In January 2020, students from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, including those enrolled in the Urban Cohort program, traveled to Israel and Jordan for a two-week study abroad trip.

The annual trip is led by Dr. Jonathan Greer, associate professor of Old Testament, and Professor Jennifer Greer, adjunct professor of Bible. This year, 15 Urban Cohort students—the most in attendance in the program’s 10-year history—attended the trip. The students were able to go due in part to a grant provided by The Zondervan Foundation and contributions from individual donors.

Among those in attendance was Leticia De la Paz (M.A. ’20). De la Paz recounted that being able to see the geography of biblical lands was integral to her studies. By exploring key locations in the Holy Land, De la Paz was able to contextualize what she has learned in the classroom.

“Capernaum was one of my favorite places because it was one of the cities where Jesus ministered, healed and taught the most,” De la Paz said. “It was definitely a transformative experience in all aspects.”

Tamara Gurley (M.A. ’21) also traveled with the group. “It was a beautiful thing to see God bring together such a diverse group of students. We broke bread together, and at times, we were moved and broke down together.” Gurley reflected that being able to see the landscape beyond the “black and white pages of the Bible” brought things into perspective for her.

Students who have gone on the trip often reflect on how impactful it is to their learning experience, and students and faculty alike are grateful that more students were able to go this year due to financial support.

“Five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be stepping foot in Israel,” Melvin Burns (M.A. ’20) said. “The trip taught me that nothing is coincidental or accidental. You can see it all in the ordination of God’s plan and that translates to all of our lives. God has an intention for us.”

“It was exciting to hear about the ways the experience enriched understandings of the Bible in terms of geography, history and culture,” Dr. Greer said after the trip. “We were able to witness the beauty of the breadth and depth of what community can and should look like when we get outside of our often homogeneous contexts.”

The trip is designed to deepen understanding of historical and cultural context for seminary students. It is an option for all students to fulfill course credit and also experience the Holy Land. The students leave the trip with a better understanding of their field of study and a stronger grasp of Jesus’ life and work.

“You no longer read the Bible the same,” said De la Paz. “I experienced a church of Christ united in a different setting but all with the same heart and spirit.”

Gurley was also deeply influenced by the trip, not only on an educational level but also on a spiritual and personal level. “In a world where educational disparities abound and access to trips like this are a privilege,” Gurley said, “God’s word can still be a lamp to the feet of those whose feet may never walk where He once did.”

The annual trip occurs over J-term every year and is open to GRTS students and friends of GRTS.

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