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Mascoutah Group Returns from Israel Tour

By Abigail Clayton (Age 15)

Tour Member

A group from Mascoutah, made up of members from Zion Lutheran Church and St. John United Church of Christ, recently got back from a trip to Israel. I had the exciting opportunity to go along on this journey! You might be wondering why we went to Israel when there is a war going on. This trip was planned months before the war broke out with the attacks Hamas made on southern Israel on October 7, 2023. While many questioned why we would go and were worried about the safety of the group, we were confident that we would be safe and secure throughout the trip.

Our group leader, the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Mascoutah, had this to say when he was asked why the group still went. “I was in contact with our tour hosts in Israel in advance of the trip, and I was confident that they were monitoring the situation to keep us safe. We were not going anywhere near the Gaza Strip, and our tour hosts rearranged the schedule to keep us far away from any dangerous areas. Based on this reassurance, we continued with our plans for the journey because people had worked out their schedules and their vacation times for this to work out for them, and I wanted to make sure that we could follow through on a commitment that we made to our fellow travelers that they could go.”

We were scheduled to fly out of St. Louis on Monday, January 22, 2024. As we were packing and preparing to leave, we got the news on Sunday afternoon that our flight from St. Louis to Newark, New Jersey was canceled due to weather conditions, since the forecast called for an ice storm to hit St. Louis on Monday morning at about the time our flight from St. Louis to Newark was supposed to leave. Since we couldn’t be certain that any flights from the Midwest would get us to Newark in time for our flight to Israel on El Al, our group from Mascoutah made the decision to rent two minivans and drive 15 hours through the night to Newark airport. This way we would get ahead of the ice storm and not have any weather interference with our trip. The drive was long, but we were determined that we were going to go on this trip.

We made it to the airport with some time left to spare. There we met up with the 10th member of our group, who is a pastor from Omaha, Nebraska. We flew into Tel Aviv, Israel, which was a 10 1/2 hour flight from Newark. We met up with our tour guide in the airport. She greeted us with tears in her eyes. She told us how much us coming meant to her and the country of Israel. We were the first American tour group in Israel since the events on October 7th. Our tour agency in the US worked directly with the Israeli Ministry of Tourism to make this trip an absolutely wonderful experience for all of us.

Throughout our trip we continued to be met warmly everywhere we went in Israel. They treated us as ambassadors of hope. There were very few tourists in Israel while we were there and this greatly affects all the civilians who make their living in tourism. As such, the Israeli government is trying to boost tourism. For one of the days in Jerusalem, the Ministry of Tourism sent a video crew with our group. They interviewed us about our time in Israel and our thoughts. Most members of our group agreed to be interviewed by the video crew, and every single one of us stressed that we felt completely safe during the entire trip. We never felt threatened, we never felt like we were in danger. In fact, just the opposite was true. We were welcomed with open arms and warm smiles everywhere we went.

I absolutely loved being in Israel. When we were in the Sea of Galilee area, everything was so lush and beautiful. There were beautiful gardens and flowers everywhere. The way that the sky reflected on the Sea of Galilee was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever seen. One of the most impactful experiences of the trip–and of my life–was when we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. This very large church covers both Calvary and the site of the tomb where Jesus was buried. It was absolutely amazing to be in the place where I believe that Jesus died and rose again for me. Other experiences were less spiritually uplifting, but just plain fun. It was so much fun to float in the Dead Sea, and spread the famously therapeutic Dead Sea Mud all over my arms and face.

After our trip in Israel all of the Mascoutah group of nine people flew to Egypt for a two day tour. Then seven members of the tour flew to Jordan for a three-day extension. While we were in Egypt we stayed in Cairo and we were able to see the Pyramids, the Sphinx, and two museums, which included treasures from King Tut’s tomb and mummies of many of the most famous Pharaohs in Egyptian history. In Jordan we visited Petra, and Wadi Rum, which is a beautiful desert area surrounded by barren mountains. After our time in Jordan, we flew back on a direct flight from Amman, Jordan to Chicago, which was about a 14 1/2 hour flight! We arrived home exhausted but very enriched by our experiences in these wonderful countries!

So if you are still wondering why we went to Israel, the answer is, we went to grow closer to God by walking in his footsteps and seeing the sites where Jesus walked, talked, and performed miracles. We knew that God would protect us so we didn’t have to be afraid for our safety. The trip was such an impactful experience that it is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

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