Traveling to Israel with Emmaus was an amazing experience. When I got on the plane in Chicago, there was the thrill of stepping out into the unknown. What would the dig be like? Who would I meet? How would it feel to read the Bible where events actually happened? What would I learn? All these questions and more swirled through my head as I embarked on this adventure with Dr. Sanchez and seven other Emmaus friends.
In London, we missed our connecting flight but no one was terribly disappointed. With a ten hour layover, we got on “the underground” and headed for the British Museum. Seeing artifacts that we could potentially find at Gezer whet my appetite to get out in the field. We took the time to study the pottery at the museum and began to get a picture for how individual fragments fit together into a whole vessel. Little did we know just how many pottery sherds we would find when we got out to the dig site and began moving dirt. When we landed in Tel Aviv we hit the ground running. There’s no rest for students who have so much to see and only a month in which to see it. There was so much to soak in and I enjoyed every minute of it. The first weekend after we dropped off our luggage at Neve Shalom we headed straight to Jerusalem and the “old city”. We started out on the Mount of Olives across the valley from the old city of Jerusalem. It was amazing to think as I walked down the Mount of Olives and up again towards the old city that I was walking where Jesus walked. I was standing on the Mount of Olives where Jesus came to get away from the crowds and pray.
Each weekend that we toured we hit a different section of Israel’s diverse landscape. The first weekend was spent touring the old city of Jerusalem. The next weekend we went to sites in the dry, barren Negev and the Judean Wilderness. And the final big touring weekend we went to the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding area. I can say that I have been “from Dan to Beersheba” – and even farther south to Elat – and to both the western (Mediterranean Sea) and eastern (Jordan River) borders of Israel. Some of my highlights from touring were: Hezekiah’s Tunnel, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea and the Dead Sea, reading the story of David & Goliath on the hillside overlooking the valley where the events took place, visiting the sites of Herod the Great’s crazy building projects (Masada and Caesarea), and getting a glimpse of Biblical times through the ruins of ancient cities.
Our weekdays were dedicated to our volunteer work at Tel Gezer. Participating in an archeological dig was a new experience and not something I came to with a lot of background knowledge. You know it is going to be hard work when you sign on for the trip but you really don’t realize how hard, dirty, or tiring the work is until you get out in the field. However, you don’t realize how much you are going to enjoy all that manual labor either. You forget all about waking up at 4:30 am when you find your first M.C. (artifact) in the field. The relationships you build with the other volunteers as you work together is also priceless. Many of the volunteers come because they are going to school for archeology. However, when you come with a desire to learn and grow, even if archeology is not your area of study, you discover a love for the work and a deeper understanding of how archeology impacts history. The combination of an archeological dig and touring the Holy Land may not be for everyone. In my experience though I felt that both aspects of the trip enhanced and complemented each other. If I wasn’t participating in the dig I wouldn’t have understood the ruins we visited and the archeological nature of those sites. Also, when we visited museums after working at the dig for a few weeks, I was able to appreciate the nature of the finds presented and the impact those finds have on the historical data. And maybe someday I will visit one of those museums again and see one of the artifacts or pottery that we excavated at Gezer.
The trip to Israel was an amazing experience that has impacted my life dramatically. Being in the land of the people that God has chosen made me reflect on how he has moved throughout history to keep a remnant despite unfathomable odds against them. Even today, there are many that would choose to erase Israel from the map and harm His people. However, God is doing in Israel and I can only pray that the hearts of His people would be moved to recognize Jesus as their Messiah. Another way that the trip has impacted me is in how I read the Bible. The trip gave me the ability to better understand the geography of the land in a way that maps and pictures can only begin to. Reading the Psalms of Ascent as we drove from the plains, through the Sphelah (the foothills), and up towards Jerusalem will be a memory that stays with me.
Finally, the trip was a great time to embrace learning. You get out of the trip what you are willing to put into it. As a group, we decided to be students who loved learning. On the weekends we soaked up all that Dr. Sanchez taught us, didn’t complain about the heat, and enjoyed the history of the land. During the weekdays we worked hard, took every learning opportunity offered by our square supervisors, and supplemented our field learning with reading assignments (that we asked for and were not required). No matter what knowledge you come into the trip with, if you are willing to embrace the role of a student, you will come away with a depth of understanding that is irreplaceable.
If you aren’t afraid of a little dirt and grit, love learning, and are ready for a life-changing experience… sign up for an archeological study tour with Emmaus! You won’t regret it. – Nichole Dirks
Apart from Emmaus, coming to Israel has been the best investment I have made in my spiritual life. While at Emmaus, I did not take Bible Geography or any other classes emphasizing Old Testament books apart from OT Survey; I had much to learn when I got off of the plane in Israel. Instead of learning in a classroom, staring at pictures and memorizing maps, this trip allowed me to learn everything through experience. I walked down the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, just like Jesus. I stood at the top of the Elah Valley and read the story of David and Goliath. Experiencing the geography firsthand changes the way that you read the text. We traveled throughout the entire country and saw the drastic changes in geography and topography.
Israel was the first time I had ever been overseas and experienced different culture and food and jet lag. Experiencing Jewish culture enhanced my understanding of the Lord's chosen people. Experiencing Israeli culture helped me to empathize with the conflict in the Middle East. The food was one of my favorite parts of the trip. The food in Israel is fresh and delicious!
I had no particular interest in archaeology before I signed up for the dig, but it seemed fun and it was a reason to go to Israel. Archaeology is a giant puzzle that combines scientific data tracking, human history and culture, and hard sweaty work. Archaeology is delicate and yet rough; it is detail oriented and yet requires global thinking. Joining the dig for a month with challenge you in many ways, no matter your background.
Physically this trip is exhausting, but completely worth it! You will be dressed and ready to dig by 4:45 am every morning. You will be doing physical labor until lunch everyday; moving dirt and using a pickaxe will be daily duties. The weekends are not for resting and recharging during this trip, but they are packed with touring and sightseeing. Pack your sunscreen because you will be outside digging and touring ancient sites, and you will get an awesome tan! – Jilli Roberts
Seeing Israel makes the Bible stories come to life. And it addition to being a great learning experience it is a ton of fun. It is definitely worth the money it costs to go. As we visited different cites I could image the stories playing out while looking at the locations where they happened. For example, in the desert of the Negev you can imagine what it would have been like for Hagar when she was out in the wilderness and though she and her son were going to die or being in the Judean wilderness and picturing what it was like for David hiding from Saul.
For me it was so excited to see the things I had been learning about in Biblical Archaeology and Geography class. It helped me to have a better understanding of what things really look like; as when seeing the walls of ancient cities and gate structures. Sure you can look at pictures but there is nothing like seeing the real thing. We went to see several water cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13 sticks in my mind). I enjoyed reading the stories of Jesus life that take place around the Sea of Galilee and being able to better picture them seeing the size the lake and land around. Of coarse it was also a highlight to swim where Jesus walked :)
Several time scripture mentions going UP to Jerusalem and we did go up to Jerusalem. Being there fixed in my mind the layout of the city as we started on the mount of olives, went in and out of all the gates of the city, to the old city, in Hezekiah's tunnel and on the temple mount. All these things and more were highlights of the trip but touring wasn't the only thing I got to enjoy.
I also really enjoyed working at the archaeology dig. I don't plan on being an archaeologist but it still was a lot of fun to be able to take part in digging up history, find cool things, and learn new skills. If I got the opportunity I would go again. – Esther Scott
It is great to travel Israel with a leader that you know and trust. There are a lot of holy and historical places and everyone has a different opinion on where things happened and when they happened. Dr. Sanchez is invaluable while traveling Israel. You can trust that what he tells you about the places- he's studied them. It was great to be able to ask many, many questions and have them answered honestly, sometimes with an "I don't know."
There is a lot of hype about walking where Jesus walked and the whole country is filled with people trying to make a shekel off of tourists by claiming "Jesus was here!" I wasn't expecting to get any thrills or meaningful experience from being where Jesus was. I didn't expect it to feel real. But it did! Seeing the temple doorways that were there during Jesus' lifetime, the house of Peter, the valley where David fought Goliath, the pool of Siloam and the Dan high place was spine-tingling and exciting. It has helped the way I read the Bible, I can see the geography in my mind as I read. Seeing Israel really helped the maps come to life. You can study and read all you want about geography, but standing there is really the best way to understand what it is. Being at the bottom of the Kidron valley makes you understand what a steep valley it is.
One of the best results from the trip was that the Bible and the stories are real to me now in a different way than they were before... I have seen the place where it happened. It really happened. It's not just another story that happened once upon a time in a land far, far away. I've been there. It's not a fairy tale. The places are there, it's a fact. Seeing the town of Capernaum and Galilee made Jesus' life more believable. You realize that He was a real person that lived in a normal place. It gives my life more hope knowing that Christ lived in the ordinary and mundane like I do.
Being part of the archaeology dig really helped in understanding the sites we saw while in Israel. Archaeological articles are no longer filled with as much foreign language when I read them. I know the terms and methods because I lived with them for a few weeks. Also I now understand why there is so much debate on the dating of artifacts and events. Archaeology is a subjective science.... the interpretation of the facts seems to be merely opinion at many times. I am better equipped to weigh the evidence and opinions and arrive at a conclusion of what or when events happened.
The best part of my trip to Israel was not the learning I did, however. I desperately needed time with good Christian friends and away from the responsibilities or worries of my life. I was so refreshed and joyful. More peaceful and alive than I have feel in way too long- several years maybe. God gave me an amazingly good, good gift and I reveled in it. – Heather Quincy