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Excited about the adventure ahead and unconcerned about security issues, the thirty students in this semester's Middle East cross cultural group left early Monday afternoon for Dulles airport after three days of orientation and preparation classes the previous week.
From Dulles they flew to Cairo, Egypt to begin a three-month-long trek around the Mediterranean which will include stops in Jordan, an extensive stay in Israel, and visits to Athens and Rome.
The conflict in Israel and the West Bank has not significantly altered the group's plans, but their leaders are prepared for all possibilities. Associate Professor of Culture and Mission Dr. Linford Stutzman and his wife Janet, Director of Parent and Alumni Relations, have worked with travel agencies and overseas hosts to arrange alternate plans for a wide variety of contingencies. The group is too enthusiastic about the trip to worry much, though.
"I'm really excited to go," said junior Dan Umbel. "It's going to be a great opportunity to live in the Biblical sites. I'm getting more and more excited just about the possibilities of trying to understand the conflict that's been going on there."
"Personally, I feel really good with the arrangements that were made," said junior Eric Kennel. "[Security is] really not a concern for me right now."
"I feel very secure," said senior Kristen McManus. "I figure that God's going to protect us, and nothing can happen to me until his time. I think that we'll be more secure there than we are here."
Students are going to the Middle East for a variety of reasons. Faith drew some. "It had everything to do with my major [in Biblical Studies]," said Umbel. "Obviously, the Bible wasn't written in Guatemala or Ireland, so the Middle East just seemed like a natural fit." Others were more interested in the politics of the Arab/Israeli conflict. Said Brenneman: "There's so much that I can learn there, so much going on."
According to the leaders, though, there's another reason to visit the cradle of monotheism: to provide hope for those who live with the struggle over the Holy Land every day."You in some way are the hope for the people," said Krabill, "because…in listening to them, you become this way of release from the problems they're living with."
"We are all part of the solution," Linford Stutzman told the group during orientation. "Just by us going there we are a message of peace: it is possible to be friends of Arabs and Jews at the same time."
"I feel a sense of peace, of God's presence," he added. "The combination of doing everything you can and relying on God at the same time is what we need to go anywhere in the world. In this case it's the Middle East, but that's where God has been with his people for ever".
-adapted from an article by Jeremy Yoder originally published in the Weathervane (Vol. 49, No. 1).