Amidst tensions with Iran, School of Divinity returns from Israel enriched both spiritually and academically

School of Divinity students and faculty members arrived back in Lynchburg Tuesday, Jan. 14, after an “Academic and Spiritual Enrichment” trip to Israel.  

The group consisted of 81 students and faculty members, including both residential and Liberty Online students, many of whom went on a $2,000 scholarship from the Keesee Foundation to go towards covering the cost of the trip.

“For students, it’s not just an opportunity to learn, but for them (it is) very much a spiritual experience as well,” School of Divinity associate professor John Cartwright said.  “To walk where Jesus walked and to see the place where He did ministry. This is about giving our students that opportunity.”

The team made trips to several biblical sites including the Sea of Galilee, Mount Carmel, David’s tomb, Shepherd’s Field, the Mount of Olives and the Church of the Nativity — where many historians believe Jesus Christ was born.

“I’ll never read the Bible the same again after seeing those types of things,” graduate student Tim Cockes said.

Each site tour was followed up by a devotional, led by one of the faculty members. The students were then divided into small groups to pray and discuss what they learned.

Photo Provided
FLOATING — Liberty students swam in the Dead Sea.

“I give a lot of credit to the professors who led the trip, I feel like they were a huge aspect in making our time together what it was,” Cockes said. “There were so many times where they were helpful in answering questions and just being available and being willing to learn, but also being able to teach at the same time.”

Despite initial concerns before the trip regarding the recent conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Dr. Cartwright said he felt no hostility. 

Specific meetings were held with the LU Send office Global Security officer and Risk Management Department to discuss the potential risks involved with taking a trip to Israel. The decision was made to carry on with the trip and take extra precautions. 

“We took specific precautions,” Cockes said. “We didn’t wear anything Liberty while we were there. … We were cautious about not wearing any USA stuff. We had chaplains there and no one wore any uniforms or anything that would draw attention to us. We were definitely cautious.”

With a group of 81 students and faculty, Dr. Cartwright said that they were very focused on keeping everyone in groups.

“One of the things I think people may or may not realize is that Israel is very pro-America,” Cartwright said. “(Yet,) there are definitely greater risks there than what we often experience here. However, when we were there, even spending some time in Bethlehem, which is Palestinian territory, it did not feel threatening at all.”

Tarr is a news reporter. You can follow her work on Twitter.

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