Trinity Western Magazine

No. 25

A Passage to Israel

Student-intiated trip to the holy land fosters passion for the global church

by Wendy Delamont Lees

l-r: paul robinson, kristin sikkema, leanne jeffrey (‘14), and anna hayashi on campus before embarking on their missions trip to israel


For most North Americans, knowledge of this land, where Christianity, Islam, and Judaism converge, comes from what we read in the papers or see broadcast on television. There seems to be a disconnect between the Israel of today and the Israel of the Bible—where Christ was born, performed miracles, suffered the cross, and rose again.

Yet for those fortunate enough to experience it, this troubled region—steeped in history and scarred by centuries of conflict—has the power to bring the scriptures to life.

Students look out over the city of Nazarethstudents look out over the city of nazareth

Spices, herbs, and pita in the Nazareth villagespices, herbs, and pita in the nazareth village

For the third consecutive summer, five TWU students are currently serving in Israel as part of Trinity Western University’s Global Projects program. “What strikes me most,” says third-year geography major and team co-leader Anna Hayashi, “is how sacred the space feels. The land itself seems both alive and ancient.”

For four of the trip’s six weeks, Hayashi and the student team—including co-leader Paul Robinson, a fourth-year Christianity and culture and biblical studies major; third-year nursing major Kristin Sikkema, and sociology major Leanne Jeffery (’14)—are volunteering at SERVE Nazareth’s Edinburgh Medical Society Missionary Hospital, also known as the English Hospital, in Nazareth. Their placements include working in occupational therapy, the psychiatric ward, the medical ward, chaplaincy, and in sterilization.

Situated in the Galilee region of Israel, the city of Nazareth has long been celebrated by Christians as the childhood home of Jesus. Today it is the most important Arab centre in the state of Israel.

While many tourists visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem, far fewer visit Nazareth. “In Israel, there is a dual economy,” says TWU Associate Professor of Political and International Studies Paul Rowe, Ph.D., “and Palestinians often suffer for lack of connections with the major Israeli tour companies. It’s ironic that Jesus spent most of his life in Nazareth, but tourists spend so little time there.”

Chelsea Ayers (‘14) initiated the global projects trip to Israel

chelsea ayers (‘14)
initiated the global
projects trip to israel

An expert in Middle East politics, Rowe has served as an advisor to each of the three Global Projects teams that have travelled to the region, educating them on what to expect.

“This is not like typical missions trips where you go to build something,” says Hayashi. “The body of Christ is all about sharing burdens and joys. This trip is about the power of face-to-face interactions and honouring a person’s humanity by looking them in the eye and sharing presence with them.”

It’s exactly that type of interaction that compelled psychology major Chelsea Ayers (’14) to propose the initial Israel missions trip, which took place in 2012. Ayers, who as a high school student travelled to the region with Living Bread International in 2010, pitched the idea to TWU’s Director of Global Projects Johannah Wetzel. “I wanted other students to discover the truth I found in Israel,” she says.

To qualify as a Global Projects trip, students must partner with existing organizations or churches. With internships lined up with SERVE Nazareth (which connects volunteers with ministries in the region), and Musalaha (a non-denominational organization that builds bridges between Christians over divided lines), Ayers’ request was approved.

“We’re passionate about doing short-term missions with long-term vision,” says Wetzel. “As students go on these trips, we challenge them to go as learners and to come back as world-changers.”

“Christ walked and spoke and grew up where these people buy their groceries, go to school, and sleep every night.”

Deeply influenced by her overseas experience, Ayers is now considering doing her graduate degree at the University of Tel Aviv, where she has been accepted into the Trauma and Crisis Studies program. In the long term, she plans to pursue trauma and crisis counselling, and perhaps a Ph.D. for teaching research and practice in trauma and crisis. “Israel feels like home,” she says. “I found a bit of myself there.”

Kristin Sikkema with “Hannah,” a local weaver

Kristin Sikkema with “Hannah,” a local weaverkristin sikkema with “hannah,” a local weaver

“It’s a privilege to foster and empower student initiative and passion in such a manner,” Wetzel says. “When students return from these trips, they come back more aware and discerning about global issues, more passionate about the global church, and more sensitive to the needs of others.”

Part of that sensitivity means resisting the temptation to take sides. “We encourage students to see their role as helping strengthen the Church among Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians,” says Rowe, who, while not part of the 2013 team, was in Israel at the same time last summer.

As a researcher, Rowe put together a project that some of the 2013 team members were part of. The project, which examined how Christians contribute to their societies through civil organizations and social concern, gave one of those students—who wrote his thesis on the project—the opportunity to do groundbreaking research.

When talk of the 2014 trip came up, Hayashi—who had applied to be part of the 2013 team but gave up her spot so a graduating student could go—knew this time it was meant to be. The experience thus far has given her opportunities to explore, discover, and observe the land and its inhabitants.

Wearing first-century costumes to serve at a special event in Nazareth villagewearing first-century costumes to serve at a special event in nazareth village

“Christ walked and spoke and grew up where these people buy their groceries, go to school, and sleep every night,” says Hayashi, who has been appointed as the 2014-15 Global Projects summer missions coordinator. “Regardless of religious stance, the fact that Christ literally, physically walked before them in their daily lives affects how families and individuals move within their space here.”

“The weighty reality of Christ’s universal love is embedded in the powerful sanctity of what it means to have had His real, human feet tread these rocks,” Hayashi says. “The people may fight, but the land does not chose sides.”


by Wendy Delamont Lees

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