From tourists to pilgrims

Divinity students, alumni journey to Holy Land

For Anna Moxley, the emotion hit hardest in the West Bank at Wadi Qelt, which calls to mind the “valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23, a passage that has played a huge part of her faith journey. She recently lost her grandmother to ovarian cancer, and during the year she fought it, Psalm 23 was a source of comfort for not only Moxley, but her family as well.

“Seeing a visual representation of that valley overwhelmed me,” says the Divinity School student. “I was reminded and reassured that we have hope beyond the pain of this life. But even in the midst of our pain, God is right there beside us.”

Moxley and 50 other students, faculty and alumni from Campbell embarked on a 12-day journey to the Holy Land in May, taking in historic sites like the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Beatitudes, the stone city of Petra, the Dead Sea and the Mount of Olives. Their trip ended with a visit to the Garden Tomb, considered by any to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The trip was led by Tony Cartledge, professor of Old Testament and writer of the Nurturing Faith Bible Studies (Nurturing Faith Experiences partnered for the trip) and Peter Donlon, director of church relations and development for Campbell Divinity. In Israel, the group was led by veteran tour guide Doron Heiliger.  “It was a phenomenal journey,” says Donlon. “It was, without a doubt, a life-changing experience for everybody.”

It was a graduation trip for Virginia Taylor (’17), who walked the stage the day before the flight from Raleigh-Durham International Airport to Tel-Aviv, Israel. Taylor says a friend gave her a book about the Holy Land after she signed up, and one quote from the book spoke to her: Traveling through the Holy Land is like visiting the family home of a good friend. No matter how well you know the person, you’ll understand your friend better afterward.

“I can say that is certainly true,” Taylor says. “Not only did the trip shape my understanding of Jesus, but also scripture. The Bible has really come to life for me.”

For student Corey Mitchell, it was hard to appreciate some aspects of the Holy Land because of the amount of debris and “lack of care” to some important parts of the Biblical landscape. But that did little to curb his enthusiasm upon his return — his favorite spot was the Dan spring, which flows into the Jordan River. It was there his experience shifted from “tourist” to “pilgrim.”

“It was at this point that I truly connected with God,” Mitchell says. “Not only did I feel his presence, but I felt as if I was one with nature. As I walked along the nature trail the sound of the flowing water reminded me of the scripture, ‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ The sights and sounds were the ultimate experience for me.”