Surprise trip to Israel was tremendous gift

Dr. David L. Chancey's picture

Sunday, May 4, seemed like a normal day. Pretty good attendance. Great spirit. Two new members. After final comments, I asked our minister of music to lead us in singing our closing song, but, instead, he turned things over to our chairman of deacons.

Suddenly, something was very different. In total shock, I watched the tech crew project a video showing a jet leaving Atlanta, crossing the Atlantic and Mediterranean, and landing in Tel Aviv. Then they showed a picture of the Western Wall in Jerusalem with the caption, “Where is Dr. Chancey?”

Next, he explained that the church wanted to send me to Israel this summer. When he shared that the love offering goal had been met in only two weeks with more gifts coming in, there was a standing ovation.

Man, did I feel loved and affirmed. It was a very humbling moment. My church family pulled off the biggest surprise, and I didn’t have a clue. And I’m sure my face showed it.

My brother Mark is a New Testament professor in the religion department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He has gone to Israel previously to participate in archeological digs at Seppharis through Duke University and to research Roman era sites in Galilee. He has written two books on Galilee and needed to return this summer to do research for a third book. He has been inviting me to accompany him, and it finally worked out.

We traveled June 25-July 9. We were based in Jerusalem for one week and visited sites in and around the old city. The second week, we traveled to Tiberius, where we toured northern Israel. We went at a torrid pace.

After visiting at least 70 sites, driving who knows how many miles, and attempting to connect Biblical passages with historical sites, there are some stories to tell. I’ll be sharing a report Sunday morning, Aug. 24. As I reflect on the trip while it’s still pretty fresh, here are some highlights:

• The gift itself. Many of our people are facing financial challenges in this tough economy. Yet, they gave generously. This was a very wonderful gift for their pastor, and I’m very grateful.

• Time with my brother. I’m 11 years older. These two weeks were the most time I’ve spent with Mark since I left home to transfer to Georgia Southern University in 1977. It was time well spent.

• Walking the walls of Jerusalem. One hot, sticky afternoon, we walked the top of the walls. We began at Jaffa Gate and walked the entire sections until we reached Stephen’s Gate. Walking the top gave a different view of the old city as we saw homes, backyards, laundry hanging on the line, kids kicking the soccer ball and other glimpses of daily life.

• Seeing the first century Galilee boat at Ginosar on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Discovered by fishermen during a drought in 1986, this boat is the real thing, a fishing boat like Jesus would have ridden in during his ministry.

• The trip to Bethlehem. Getting through the wall closing off the West Bank and then negotiating a taxi ride into Bethlehem were something else. We saw the Church of the Nativity and traveled into the desert to see Herodium. Seeing the place where Jesus was born was quite moving, along with hearing a tour group sing “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” in German.

• Walking into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. We took a taxi ride to the top, and then walked the route Jesus would have taken into the city, passing the Garden of Gethsemane at the base and entering the city through the Lion’s Gate, the beginning of the Via Dolorosa.

• The hunt for Khirbet Shima. We spent probably eight hours over three days hunting for the ruins of this synagogue that Mark’s professor excavated over 20 years ago. The directions were poor and the map was useless, but we finally found it after some pretty rugged hiking along eight different routes. When at first you don’t succeed . . .

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