DYER — For Doug Duncan, there was peace in the Middle East.
It was the peace that surpasses all understanding — even in the face of powerfully frightening circumstances.
Duncan, a retired pharmacist and a lay leader at First Baptist Church, Dyer, was in Israel when Hamas militants attacked the country on Oct. 7. Duncan was traveling with nine other members from the church.
The group, which had arrived in Israel just days before the conflict began, suddenly found their travel plans in a state of flux, knowing that they needed to return to America as quickly as possible to avoid being in harm’s way.
And yet, even in the midst of this overwhelming uncertainty, Duncan said he and the other members of the group had a remarkable sense of calm, finding strength and courage from the prayers that were being offered on their behalf.
“The fact is that there was just no fear,” said Duncan. “I am being honest when I say that among our team, I don’t think we were ever afraid. We were concerned, of course, but we all had a peace about us.
“It was the result of all the prayers of people and how the Lord was with us,” he said. “The Lord went before us and opened every door. There’s power in prayer, and we need to never forget that.”
The FBC group arrived home, safely, at the Nashville airport on the morning of Oct. 11 after a series of bus rides and plane rides that spanned several days. The excursion had included passing through two Israeli checkpoints on their way out of the country. They arrived in America at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport for a quick layover before taking one more flight, to Nashville, to complete the exhausting trip.
When the wheels on the plane touched the ground at the airport in Texas, Duncan said relief washed over him and the other members of the group.
“I’ve never been happier to land on American soil than I was when we sat down in Dallas-Fort Worth after that flight,” said Duncan. “I’ve been on many trips in my life — I was blessed to serve in Indonesia after the tsunami, I served in Haiti after the earthquake, and I was with a team in Banda Ache — but this trip was a totally different experience from those.”
Duncan noted that when the team arrived at the Nashville airport, Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, and his wife Jeanne were there to greet them.
“There they stood, waiting on us — and let me tell you, that meant so much to us,” said Duncan. “Randy is a dear friend.”
Kacie Agee, a member at FBC Dyer, was the team leader for the trip. “The Lord just impressed upon her last October the need to go to Israel,” said Duncan, who serves as the church’s missions leader. “She was the one who came up with the idea and really started to get the ball rolling.”
Ultimately, Agee also played a vital role in helping the team get connected with the travel agency to leave the country after the conflict broke out.
“She was a terrific team leader,” Duncan said. “She did a great job navigating our trip while we were there — and our trip home.”
During those intense hours when the team was making arrangements to leave Israel, the group stayed in constant contact with friends and family in America. Danny Sinquefield, Harvest Field One Team Leader for the TBMB, was among those who checked in frequently with the group.
“I was in constant contact,” Sinquefield said. “I monitored their travels and tried to advise them on finding a way out of the country. I was very concerned for their team and the other teams.
“I felt like covering them in prayer was the best strategy for those of us who were here (in the U.S.),” he added.
Duncan was at the Sea of Galilee, taking photos of the sunrise, at the very moment when Hamas launched its surprise attack just miles away.
The assault included thousands of armed Hamas fighters breaching a border security fence and subsequently gunning down Israeli civilians and soldiers, according to news reports. Other militants stormed the beaches in Israel in motorboats. An estimated 2,200 rockets were fired toward southern and central Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
“I think the most tense or anxious time was from the time we arrived in Jerusalem until we actually got into Amman, Jordan some 24 hours later,” said Duncan. “Going through the border crossing and just wondering if we were going to get there.”
Prior to the attacks, the group from FBC had been able to complete some of their plans, including visiting Caesarea, Megiddo, Nazareth, Capernaum, Magdala and a few other places. It wasn’t until many hours after the attacks that the group even learned of the conflict.
“I received a text from my daughter and it said, ‘Hey daddy, are y’all okay?’ And I wrote back and said, ‘Yes, we’re doing great! We’re here at Masada.’ I didn’t think much about it,” Duncan said. “But then several of us started getting texts, asking if we were okay, and that’s when we began to get a little spooked.”
That same day, the group traveled to the Dead Sea, where they were scheduled to spend one night before going to Jerusalem to spend the final four nights.
“As soon as we got to the Dead Sea — and I mean, immediately, before we even got off the bus — I started getting phone calls from people saying, ‘Hey, you need to get out of there ASAP and you need to cross at the Jordan border and go to Amman. That’s the best way to get out.’ ”
At that point, the group started tracking the news on their phones and watching the coverage on TV. The group then spent a second night at the Dead Sea before going to Jerusalem. As soon as they arrived at the Leonardo Hotel, they were given instructions on what to do if the emergency sirens sounded in the hotel.
“They told us, if you hear the sirens, you’ve got 90 seconds to get to a shelter — and they told us where the shelters, the safe places, were located,” he said.
Just one hour after the group had settled in their rooms, the sirens went off. As instructed, the group members hurried out of their rooms and crammed into the various safe places around the hotel. “At that point, we were all thinking, ‘man, we’re going to have a long night here,’ ” Duncan said.
Fortunately, that was the only time that the sirens sounded that day. Nonetheless, the group members were now ready — more than ever — to go home.
After some initial e-mail communications, which weren’t especially productive, the travel agency eventually got in touch with Agee by phone and told her they could get the group onto a 2:30 a.m. flight out of Amman, Jordan — in the Queen Aliyah Airport — two days later. That phone call set in motion the eventful, but ultimately successful, journey back to the states.
Duncan said that throughout the process he and the other group members relied on the promises of God.
“It was just the peace that only the Lord can provide,” he said. “Sure, we were anxious about getting across the border — and whether or not that was going to happen — but at the same time, we all just had a peace about everything.”
After returning home, the group gave a detailed report to the church during the Sunday night service on Oct. 15.
Duncan said the group has already began to discuss the possibility of returning to Israel at some point in the future.
“I think there are different opinions among the team,” Duncan said with a laugh. “When we presented our report to the church, Kacie (Agee) said, ‘This may sound crazy, but I can’t wait to go back.’ So, yes, some people are ready to go back. Some others, probably not.”
And as for Duncan? “I’m very blessed,” he said. “I’m almost 78 years old, and I ride a motorcycle and I stay very, very active. And you know what? When the dust settles over there, I don’t know that I wouldn’t be ready to go again.” B&R