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Lutheran seminarians experience the Holy Land

If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the old maxim says, then how many words is an experience? I imagine seminarians from both Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) must be pondering this question following each school’s unique January journey to the Holy Land.

Esther Menn (standing directly in front of the “window”) and Barbara Rossing (to her left) led a tour group from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago to Tel Dan in Egypt. Photo provided by Janet Tollund

For the past eight years, LSTC and Wartburg have partnered with the Minneapolis-based tour company, Group Travel Directors, to design tours that challenge and nourish seminarians’ perspectives on the Holy Land.

The itineraries of these two seminaries’ tour indicate the breadth of experience these students had in the Holy Land.

Israel and Palestine — places and cultures that are intrinsically interwoven into the roots of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam — where pilgrims have walked and wept and where political push and pull happens in the global eye. For the seminarian, to be able to see, touch, hear, taste, and experience a land he or she has studied for years must be an overwhelming thought. As a recent graduate summarized for me, “It’s hard for some people to picture how exciting and overwhelming it feels to go to the Holy Land as a seminarian. We immerse ourselves in history, theology and language to try to understand these names and places so we can share that understanding with others. [Going to the Holy Land] would be like the consummate Star Trek fan suddenly being beamed up onto the U.S.S. Enterprise and then sent back to tell other Trekkies about what he or she saw.”

For me, this idea draws to mind C.S. Lewis’ description of Narnia in The Last Battle: “Come further up and further in . . . the further up and in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.”

Transformative travel

The itineraries of these two seminaries’ tour indicate the breadth of experience these students had in the Holy Land: time in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jericho, Masada, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Qumran, Galilee, and Jerusalem. The list of speakers and meetings reads like the guest list of an ELCA dinner hosted by the U.N.: archbishops, bishops, reverends, pastors, leaders from centers for peace-building, interfaith dialog, and Rev. Mark Brown, Director of the Lutheran World Federation. It looks like these students will be in need of a journal and a nap.

In the end, these seminarians pilgrimages are not only spiritually, intellectually, and professionally nourishing. They are a truly transformative experience. As Paul writes in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” Now it is the responsibility of these students to find the words to share these experiences with all of us.

Where will these seminarians go next on their spiritual journeys? God only knows.

For more information on tours designed and offered by Group Travel Directors, visit their website at www.gtd.org.

Sarah Loan is a lifelong Lutheran and recovering church musician, a former J3 missionary to Japan, and a recent addition to Accolades/Group Travel Directors.

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