Criswell students have the unique experience of participating in a Global Learning and Service project in Israel during their sophomore year as part of the Criswell 360°, our common student experience. They experience firsthand the significance of both Scripture and diverse contemporary cultural perspectives. Beyond being a mere sightseeing journey, traveling to Israel offers a transformative cross-cultural educational experience. While there is significance in walking where Jesus walked and viewing the land as the “fifth gospel” (per Saint Jerome), traveling to Israel empowers students to gain insights into the lives, cultures, and worldviews of individuals whose everyday realities differ from the norm in the United States.
“This summer, our trip included typical visits to biblical sites like Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, the Dead Sea, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, and other locales. This is an important aspect of deepening our students’ understanding of Scripture and their role as disciples in God’s story. What is not typical during a Holy Land tour, but is emphasized at Criswell College, is spending time with the ‘living stones of the land’ (i.e., the diverse peoples who reside in the land), not just the ‘dead’ stones (i.e., the archaeological sites),” said Dr. J. Scott Bridger, Professor of Global Studies & World Religions and Director of Global Learning and Service. “In this regard, we were blessed to meet and worship with local believers at an Arabic-speaking Baptist church in Nazareth and a Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation in Jerusalem. We also heard from numerous voices about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Israeli Arabs, Palestinian Arabs, and Israeli Jews, both believers and non-believers. But the high point of our trip by far was conducting summer camps around the theme ‘Living from the Inside Out’ among Israeli Arab Muslim teenagers. Everyone came away with a deeper understanding of the importance of knowing our neighbors as a foundation to loving our neighbors.”
It is this “deeper understanding” that Criswell students Abby Lacalle and Jenna Coombs were able to experience. Jenna shared her thoughts, saying, “Experiencing Arab Muslim culture and then visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem during Shabbat was true culture shock. Witnessing Jews from diverse backgrounds gathering at this historic site was truly amazing.”
During their visit to the Messianic congregation, Criswell students had the chance to partake in worship outside of the United States and came to a clearer understanding that the Lord’s work extends across the globe. Abby expressed her gratitude for this transformative experience, stating, “I can’t express how thankful I am that my worldview changed. It was integral to my education.”
Jenna and Abby found the most profound aspect of the trip to be their interactions with local high school students. The relationships they formed in such a short time were truly transformative. When they visited one of the villages, they were cautioned that some of the kids might harbor resentment toward Americans due to the ongoing political turmoil. They had expected indifference from the teenagers but were pleasantly surprised to become attached to them by the end of the first day. Abby reflected, “I told the girls that I would learn Arabic and be back to visit them. No one expected the impact of these relationships.”
The primary significance of the visit to Israel lay in immersing students in its vibrant cultures, forging meaningful connections with its people, and having them gain a profound realization that Jesus’ work transcends geographical boundaries.