By Nathan Handley
JACKSON — Union University and the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board partnered to send 25 directors of missions to Israel for the first time in January.
Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver led the trip alongside Nathan Finn, dean of Union’s School of Theology and Missions, and Ernest Easley, professor of evangelism at Union. Easley said he decided he wanted to send these directors of missions to Israel after realizing at their annual meeting in April that almost none of them had visited the country before. He said he was blessed to be able to work with Union to provide that opportunity. Willie McLaurin represented the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board on the trip.
“For some of them, it was a dream come true to actually walk where Jesus walked,” Easley said. “To stand in the middle of the Jordan River area where the children of Israel crossed over into the Promised Land; to be at Caesarea where Paul was imprisoned. What they have believed and read all their lives suddenly comes alive to them.”
By partnering with a travel agency in Israel, Union University and the TBMB were able to pay the way for these directors of missions from Baptist associations across the state to make the trip.
“We wanted to thank and encourage these men who serve as directors of missions,” Oliver said. “They really are servants for the church. They’re helping encourage the things we all care about, like evangelism, discipleship, church growth and development.”
Oliver said the trip was a great opportunity for the DOMs to get to know each other better and build a better sense of camaraderie and collaboration between themselves and with Union.
He said he hopes these men go back to the churches of Tennessee and encourage them in turn, perhaps planning more trips to Israel within their associations.
“Only a small percent of people have been to the Holy Land,” he said. “Our hope is that this trip exposes more people to what can be a life-changing experience.”
The TBMB’s McLaurin observed that the trip “was a life-changing experience for me. The opportunity to walk where Jesus walked and to visit the sites where Jesus performed ministry and miracles was overwhelming.
“I have always believed in the Bible, but the Israel experience caused the pages of Scripture to become more alive,” he said.
“I would encourage every Tennessee Baptist to put the Israel experience on their agenda.”
McLaurin, also said the opportunity to partner with Union University for investing in directors of missions was “a beautiful picture of Tennessee Baptists partnering for Great Commission advance. It was beautiful to see the joy on the faces of the directors of missions that were a part of this trip.”
The trip took place Jan. 15-23 and included visits to several religious and historical sites, including the Jordan River, Mount Carmel, the garden tomb and the valley of Armageddon. While Easley and Oliver had both visited the area previously, Finn said this was his first time in the Holy Land.
“People say all the time that going to Israel is amazing and that it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we might have a tendency to think they’re exaggerating,” he said. “But it really was a wonderful experience in every way, and I cannot wait to go back.”
Robert Tyson, director of missions for Robertson County Baptist Association, based in Springfield, said he gained from the experience.
“When a Christian sees Jerusalem and walks where Jesus walked, Scripture comes alive — like living flesh on bones,” he said. “A pilgrimage to Israel challenges a Christian to reach for higher levels of holiness and reverence towards God,” Tyson added.
The trip cost was covered by funds from the travel agency as well as Union’s president’s excellence fund and the TBMB. Another trip is being planned for next January to take more directors of missions.
— Lonnie Wilkey, B&R editor, contributed to this report.