Now that Israel is trying to resume international tourism, it’s seeing a number of groups ready to take advantage, and that includes an American group that brings Christian University students to the Holy Land.
Passages aims to help Christian students discover their roots and more.
“This is the place where our faith as Christians was born. This is our heritage. It’s our spiritual heritage,” said Scott Phillips, Executive Director of Passages.
Phillips was part of one of the first groups allowed back into the country following the COVID-19 shutdown. He said in addition, Passages wants Christians to “encounter Israel.”
“We believe it’s really important for Christians today, young Christians, to make connections with Israel, with modern Israel, with the Jewish people being you know – we’ve got so much in common. There’re so many shared values as Christians. Our faith exists because of the Jewish people,” Phillips told CBN News overlooking Bethlehem near the end of their trip.
Modeled after the Birthright program that brings young Jews to the Land, Passages has brought more than 8,000 Christian university students to Israel since it was started in 2015. Now they hope to bring another 3,000 within a year.
Kennedy Lee is an alumni of Passages. This was her third trip since she first visited in 2018.
“Passages is an organization that’s not just a nine-day trip to Israel. I’ve been involved with many, many organizations all across the world and Passages, more than any other, invests in their alumni. It invests in the future Christians of America,” Lee told CBN News.
Has Israel changed since the pandemic caused worldwide shutdowns?
“It’s the same in the fact that, like, everyone is out and about in the streets. Everything is so lively. Everything is moving and people really feel alive. You can feel the spirit of the people of Israel.” Lee said.
But there are other things that have affected Israel, too – the recent 11-day war with Hamas as well as rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel.
“Israel, the people of Israel, have had a really hard last year and a half. Of course, the whole world has, but on top of that, a month ago, with 4500 rockets coming out of Gaza from Hamas into Israel, of course, all of the domestic conflict happening, you know, the riots and so forth in Israeli cities and throughout the country,” Phillips said.
“We talked to a mother in Lod who tells us that she moves to this community specifically to raise her family [in] a place where Arabs and Jews live together in peace and coexistence. And now, it is hard to look at neighbors. That’s heartbreaking,” said Lee.
“It’s just something I never expected and even two years ago, it seemed like it would be hard to hear that in Israel. So, I think that’s something that is different and I, maybe, wasn’t ready for,” she added.
Lee said the Passages trips equip her to speak to people her age.
“The younger generation doesn’t speak in facts. And that’s true especially regarding this topic that has so many, just, feelings and emotions,” said Lee.
“So, for me, going home and being able to, kind of, be an ambassador for the people that we have talked to during this trip and take their emotion -- I’ve felt emotion; I’ve seen it in their eyes and in their words -- and to be able to take that back to talk to my younger friends in America and just tell them, you know, I was there a few weeks after it happened. I actually know what is going on. I think it’s like a big weight on my shoulder. It’s a lot of responsibility, but something that someone needs to do and I’m so happy that Passages is here with students and that we can do that,” she added.
Phillips said the Israelis were glad to see them, too.
“We’re just excited to be back, to be able to provide some kind of joy. It gives us joy to be with our friends in Israel. And so, we hope that we can give them joy, too, to others here,” he said.
Why does Judaism matter and how is it connected to Christianity? Learn more here.