Criswell professors Scott Bridger and Steve Hunter led a team of 16 students on a mission trip to Israel during the summer. The trip afforded the students and faculty members the opportunity to connect with members of the Israeli community and build relationships that would extend beyond the duration of their trip.
“In order to love our neighbors in this global village well, we need to know them,” Bridger said. “Criswell College’s Israel trip gives students an opportunity to learn about and experience the land of the Bible, which is an indispensable part of their growth as disciples. At the same time, what brings the gospel to life in Israel is meeting, interacting with, and serving alongside believing Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab followers of Jesus in a difficult part of the world.”
Criswell Senior Dustin Kleinschmidt said that he waited for a long time for an opportunity to visit Israel.
For him, the sites were encouraging, and the interactions were eye-opening. With his peers, Kleinschmidt was able to walk through the old city of Jerusalem, hike up the Mount of Olives, and explore the city of David.
“We learned in our practicum class leading up to the trip more about the complexities and tensions that exist in the region politically, religiously, and socially. It was interesting to see how truncated and simplistic my understanding of the region was,” Kleinshmidt said.
Hunter said the trip was both “life transformational” and “impactful” as he observed the students working tirelessly each day to prepare lesson plans and presentations.
“They learned about the culture, the factions, the conflict, and see the holy sites and walk where Jesus walked. At the same time, the purpose was to also lead leadership conferences for Muslim high school students living in Israel, going to a public school. And we were the first Christian presence in this particular village in history,” Hunter said.
Pastor Bishara assisted the crew of Criswell with gaining access into the village to teach, plant a church, and assist in laborious clean-up for a ministry called House of Light, where Jewish and Arab drug addicts come to get clean.
“The purpose was to open the door for a Christian presence so that [Bishara] would be able to follow up and lead subsequent conferences and be able to share Christ in that village,” Hunter said.
The student-led conference, “Leading from The Inside Out,” was an opportunity to share biblical principles without proselytizing directly. Two of the students taught conflict management with a biblical perspective, and Kleinshmidt was also a part of a group teaching biblical ethics.
“We started the trip in Nazareth, spending our first week visiting sites throughout northern Israel as well as getting the opportunity to put on a leadership camp with Muslim high school students in a town called Fureidis where we taught leadership values based on biblical ethics,” Kleinshmidt said.
“We got a new perspective on who these Muslim high school students are and more about their culture and life experiences. Our preconceived notions were reshaped, as was their view of Americans and Christians. They got to experience Christ’s love through us as well as hearing Jesus’ way of leadership.”
Hunter said one of the goals of the trip was for the students to do the majority of teaching and planning. When the group returned to the hotel at the end of each day’s activities, the students would stay up to prepare lesson plans for the following day.
During those times of preparation, Kleinschmidt and the rest of the Criswell students not only developed an appreciation for the region, but a closer fellowship with each other.
“As much as we all loved the sites and experiencing places with such rich biblical history, it was our experience of the people that was truly transformative,” Kleinschmidt said. “We were amazed and encouraged by the believers who live in Israel, doing the hard work of proclaiming the love of Jesus in one of the most challenging places on earth.
“We also grew close together as a team. We were able to experience everything together, wrestling through the implications of each experience to our understanding of Scripture and our relationship with Jesus. In the evenings we would hang out together, playing card games, laughing, or just talking about our lives and what God was doing in us. There was a bond that was formed and friendships that developed that will last long after the trip.”