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BAC teachers tour the Holy Lands

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Submitted by on Sun 12/06/16 07:41

“The physical things made some of the biggest impressions on me, for instance: it’s this many kilometres from Nazareth to Bethlehem, this is how far Jesus walked when he carried the cross on the Via Dolorosa, and it was all in the sweltering hot sun.”


English and Bible teacher Kellie Benard also said it wasn’t the big elaborate churches, but the simple places that held the most spiritual significance for her during her recent month-long Bible Lands and Reformation Tour. The first of its kind organised for teachers from Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, other teachers from BAC included year 6 teacher Debbie Morgan (also Kellie’s mother), and maths teacher and assistant deputy principal Alison Tooley. 


A whirlwind tour, the teachers visited Jordan, Israel, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany and the Czech Republic, walking in the footsteps of Jesus and those who were of significance to the early Christian church. 


The Bible Lands section of the trip started near Petra [photos 1, 2, 3 & 4], the ancient Rose City carved out of the pink sandstone cliffs in Jordan’s southwestern desert. It’s believed that this was where the descendants of Esau lived, the Edomites of the Bible. Due to an ancient conflict between brothers Jacob (the ‘Father of Israel’) and Esau, the Edomites famously refused permission for the Children of Israel to pass through their lands on their way to the Promised Land. Much later, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Obadiah foretold that Petra would never be inhabited again, and to this day Bedouins are the only occupants who sometimes camp out in the caves. 


The tour group then travelled north, via the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley [5]. They overlooked places where significant miracles and biblical events occurred over the 40 years that the Jews lived a nomadic lifestyle in the desert before finding their home in Canaan, the ‘promised land’. Moses had told the Children of Israel that they were not worthy of inheriting Canaan and would ‘wander’ the desert until a new generation of Jews could possess the land. This meant that even Moses and Aaron, the brothers in the biblical account who rescued the Jews from Egyptian slavery, would die in the wilderness.


Arriving in Galilee, the tour group then saw places where Jesus spent much of his ministry, teaching the gospel and showing the local people God’s power and love through miracles [6,7). This included the hillside where Jesus delivered what has been called ‘the greatest moral discourse of all time’, the Beatitudes, now found in Matthew 5 [photo 8]. 


In Jerusalem, the teachers attempted to reconstruct Jesus’ last days on earth, visiting sites believed to be Gethsemane [photo 9], Mount of Olives [10], the garden tomb [11] and the Via Dolorosa [12]. They also spent time at the Western Wall [the ‘Wailing Wall’ 13] and other places significant to Jewish history and tradition.


One of the most memorable events for Alison occurred on the one weekend they spent in Jerusalem. “There were two possible sites where they buried Jesus. One had a church on it, which took away from the authenticity even although that was probably the correct site. But we also went to another possible site [14,15] and, being Sabbath, we held church there. We had communion, breaking the bread and having the symbolic wine, then shared and reflected. It was amazing to feel connected to one another. People were starting to open up and be really honest, and that’s what church is all about.” 


The group flew to on Athens and Rome to start their exploration of how Christianity grew after Christ’s ministry, how the Roman Catholic Church rose to power, and how Protestantism emerged from the bloodstained Reformation. 


While in Italy, they explored the archaeological dig in Pompeii [16,17], some of the major scenes of early Reformation that played out in Florence, and visited the site where an evangelical group opposing the Pope throughout Europe from the late 12th century, finally settled. Known as the Waldensians, they suffered horrifying persecution in April 1655, when troops from the Duke of Savoy murdered approximately 1,700 men, women and children and forcibly converted to Catholicism around 2,000 others in the 'Piedmont Easter'. The looting, rape, torture and murder aroused indignation across Europe.


Leaving Italy, the teachers then drove over the Alps to Geneva, where John Calvin led church reform in the 1500s at a similar time to Martin Luther, who wrote the 95 Theses against the corrupt practices of selling ‘indulgences’ to absolve sin and translated the New Testament into German for the common people. These events ultimately changed the course of European history and Christianity. 



The 25 day tour commencing the first week of school holidays, was educational and spiritually nourishing. “We didn’t even have time to do souvenir shopping. Tour director Pastor Russell Stanley was trying to pack as much as he could into our month so that we were not out of the classroom for too long,” says Alison.


So what did the teachers get out of this tour? What lasting impact will this tour have on our students?


Kellie: “Content is super important, getting an excellent education is super important, but showing Jesus and meeting Jesus, well, that’s life changing. Better understanding about who he is and who he was, and what he said and what he did and making it relevant. The things we’re teaching your children are not just from the pages of a 2000 year old book ... The fact that Jesus existed is historical. I think my goal is to communicate with my students in a way that bridges the gap between a personal Jesus and ‘just another Bible story’. You can get a bit desensitised when you hear these stories over and over again, so having an understanding of the history, culture and context, and a visual perspective, helps you create more meaningful experiences for them.” 


Alison: “The spiritual rejuvenation and refreshment from attending the tour will impact everything at work. As an administrator and teacher, I have a lot of contact with students and my interaction with them is very important in their growth and development. You need to stay connected to God to be able to reach the students in a meaningful way.”


By Debbie Cosier

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