A trip to the past and a trip to the future were rolled into one for the group from Lee University who visited the land of the Bible recently.
But it was the present which impacted Andrea and Kevin Hudson and the other 14 — 12 were members of the volleyball team — in the group who participated in the venture.
Andrea is the volleyball coach at Lee and Kevin is the director of campus recreation and assistant volleyball coach, but they did not go there to play. Their purpose, along with two other coaches, was to hold clinics and tour Israel as part of a religious experience.
Students have to take a cross-cultural trip before graduation from Lee and the senior girls raised money to pay their own way.
The Hudson’s friend Judy Fox with the ministry-oriented organization, “Ignite International (Dallas),” which takes athletic teams overseas, arranged a trip for them last year and they thought this would be a good opportunity this year for the team to minister to other young people in Israel.
The group had a full itinerary. Every day was filled, Andrea said — mostly doing volleyball clinics (during half the day) and visiting sites.
The Hudsons said there was actually a lot of interaction with school leaders and students. They held clinics in schools in Palestine, Israel, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Laconia.
The girls really got engaged, Andrea said. “They made connections with people.”
The group was in West Bank a week and Andrea noted it was interesting that people there live in peace.
On both sides, she said, were Christians, Arabs and Muslims and “they get along and respect each other.”
Of course, she added, “Politics are alive and well in the area.”
The first clinic consisted of Muslim and Palestinian kids together — a mixture that worked without tension. In fact, Hudson said, the biggest point of contention which was evident was the security wall being built to keep people out of the Gaza Strip. But, the extremists were not where he and his group were, he added.
The Hudsons found the people were simply involved in day-to-day living. “We were glad to see what is in the news is not necessarily [always] happening,” Andrea said.
“Our hearts went out to the people,” Andrea continued. “Their lives are limited.” She said what jumped out was: “The Palestinians are a people without a country.”
The territory is under Israeli control and there is no opportunity for them. Palestine is very much undeveloped, she said.
Palestinians, including Christian Palestinians, have needs and these needs are not met. The group also spent a week in Bethlehem and in Nazareth.
Because it is easier to connect to people on Facebook and so forth, the girls now have Facebook friends — both Palestinian and Israeli. The girls there have cellphones and Facebook. Life in Israel, Andrea said, is not much different from life for teens in the U.S. “Kids are kids all over the world.”
Andrea told of an incident she noted at the Wailing Wall on their last day. There were two teenage girls with their Jewish grandmother. The girls were loud and laughing. The woman gave them “a look” and they calmed down. “It was typical,” Andrea said — interesting.” A man with a cellphone was seen also at the Wall.
Because of the many checkpoints, it is difficult to get from one area to another. They were able, however, to visit a refugee camp in Jordan. There are three camps in the West Bank.
The Hudsons said they didn’t see violence, but there were many peaceful demonstrations. She said demonstrators actually look to the Rev. Martin Luther King for a pattern for letting their needs be known in a responsible way.
The girls enjoyed many memorable times such as swimming in the Dead Sea; sailing on the Sea of Galilee; and being on the mount where Jesus taught the Beatitudes. They saw also the obvious things such as the purported birthplace of Christ, Via Dolorosa, went to Canaan of Galilee where Jesus performed His first miracle; and saw the Garden of Gathsemane and the mount of Olives. When the girls were told that, essentially, olive trees never die, they were awed to know these trees could have been living when Jesus prayed there.
The special moments, the Hudsons agreed, connected everyone with their biblical understanding.
At Bethlehem, they stayed in the guest house of Bethlehem Bible College, a school of less than 100 students. A Palestinian, Alex Awad, is dean of students there. He is a Lee University graduate and met his wife at Lee. Both have degrees in education and he in theology, also. His brother is president of the college.
The purpose of the college is to train Christians in Bethlehem to stay there and work to help the people there.
The girls were permitted to sit on a lecture when Awad told about his mother during Arab conflict (1948-57), raising seven children by herself. Andrea said the girls got a good history lesson through eyes of someone who lived through that time.
The Palestinian National Team begged the Hudsons to come back and do coaches’ clinics for them as it’s more difficult for them to get out of the country. They are working with the Muslim kids and coaches.
The Palestinan Volleyball Federation is trying to get the athletic program up and running and they soak up everything — tools and resources. “They are excited to get information from us,” Hudson said. “... how they can be better ... full of questions.”
They said the men wanted to communicate with Hudson and hours were spent with them. He had coffee with them and gave them notes on how to train volleyball teams.
“We show Christ,” Andrea said, “by loving them — they need to see something in us.”
There is common ground, she observed. Their bus driver was Muslim and the girls treated him as a friend and father. When they left the airport, he had tears in his eyes..
Andrea said Jesus told us to love everybody and “I felt the girls did that.” One thing that stuck in her mind, she said, was a Muslim girl crying and talking to one of the team members as she was leaving.
“As a coach,” she said, “I’m more proud of the team.”
Seeing Jerusalem and the other sites were tremendous, the Hudsons agreed, but what they said really impressed them was “the love and kindness that was shared by the youth they worked with.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you want to read comments from the volleyball team members about their Israel trip, visit their website: leeuniversity.edu/athletics/volleyball and click on blogs from the team members.