Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A dangerous place

Guest post by Dr. Randy Keeler, associate professor of religion

Dr. Randy Keeler
What keeps you going to Israel/Palestine again and again?

I get asked this question often as I head to Israel/Palestine once again in May 2013 with a student group, and then look forward to leading an Alumni and Friends of the University group from Dec. 26, 2014-Jan. 7, 2015. Frankly, my initial response to this question is, “Why wouldn't I?”  I then want to ask, “Who wouldn't want to go?”

My primary initial interest in going to the Holy Lands was sparked by my Christian faith. I wanted to see where Jesus had walked and also where the biblical stories occurred. At the time of my first trip there (1993) I was the campus pastor here at Bluffton and I figured it would enrich my speaking to and interaction with students.

Being able to make connections to the biblical stories has proved invaluable. To see the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent most of his time in ministry adds perspective to any and all of the stories that are referenced as being from there.

To spend time in Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem helps me to envision Jesus’ life from his birth until his death. Even 2,000 years later, with all the modernization and commercialism of that region, one can still gain a sense of “what it must have been like.” I never tire of visiting the Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem), the Church of the Annunciation (Nazareth) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Jerusalem). In some way, each time I am in those places it feels as if I am meeting Jesus for the first time again.

Understanding the Jewish experience has been a significant outcome of my visits as well. Seeing modern Israel, visiting Yad Veshem (Israel’s holocaust museum), and climbing up to Masada where the Jewish resistance in the late 7th decade of the first century took place, helps me to appreciate what the Jewish people have had to persevere through over the years as a people. Of course, it’s always fun to float in the Dead Sea, and even though I do not always do it when I visit, it is always fun to watch others experience it for the first time!

But perhaps the most endearing experience of the trip for me is visiting our Palestinian brothers and sisters I have had the privilege of making friends with on my various trips. Getting to know the struggles of the Palestinian people has given me a new perspective on the political situation in the region and helped me to have a more informed perspective on the Palestinian history and culture. The Palestinian people are the “living stones” in that region faithfully following Christ in the midst of very difficult conditions.

But, you may ask, “Is it dangerous?” I've been asked that question often also, but the best way I know of answering that question is to say the following:  I've never felt myself in any physical danger, but I am always in danger of changing my worldview when I go. So, in that sense, perhaps it is dangerous for me. Every time I go, my views of the world get expanded a bit more. I like, or should I say need, that kind of danger.

As long as I am able and have the opportunity I will continue to go back, and each time I go back I experience something new.

Randy will share more about his previous trips to Israel/Palestine and answer questions about the alumni tour during an information meeting Dec. 2 on campus and online.

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