Kevin Barnard, a junior mass communications major from Hot Springs, Nate Wallace, a senior mass communications major from Arkadelphia, Alex Blankenship, a sophomore mass communications major from Little Rock and Ethan Ward, a senior mass communications major from Benton, La., were asked to travel with a tour group to Israel in order to capture video footage and create a documentary of the trip for the guests.
The trip lasted from February 9 to February 21. The students traveled with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s son, David, owns the Blue Diamond travel agency and takes groups to Israel a few times a year.
Nearly 400 tourists made the trip. For most of the Ouachita students, this was their first trip to Israel, but Barnard had been on one with the Huckabees previously.
The trip had a rocky start for all the students traveling. They were supposed to meet the group in New York and had planned to have a few days to explore the city, but they had quite a bit of trouble getting there.
Barnard was supposed to fly from Little Rock to Atlanta, and then to New York. He flew from Little Rock to Atlanta as planned, but the flight to New York was cancelled due to snow. So, he then flew to Memphis, had a six-hour layover, flew back to Atlanta, only to realize that he had missed his flight to New York. So, he flew to Cleveland, slept on the floor overnight, and finally caught a flight to New York.
The other travelers had similar struggles, but when they got to Atlanta, they flew to Omaha for a seven-hour layover, then back to Atlanta and on to New York.
Once they finally arrived in Israel, they got to see and experience history in a unique way.
A few favorite sights in Israel were the Mount of Olives and the Sea of Galilee. Blankenship describes the Sea of Galilee as “peaceful.”
“All at once I realized, this is where Jesus did his discipleship, where crowds followed him and he performed so many miracles, and really showed a bunch of love to people who weren’t considered ‘upright,’” Blankenship said.
Although the Sea of Galilee was beautiful and peaceful for the most part, Barnard had a bit of a scare while out on the boat.
The tour company had purchased a drone for the students to use for video footage, and Barnard was flying it while on the boat. Everything was going well until he realized that the drone was out of range, and his remote control could not bring it back in. It only had 30 percent battery left. He spent the next five minutes frantically trying to expand the range of the remote and get the drone back in safely.
“By the time I got it in, I had 1 percent battery left. I almost lost it in the Sea of Galilee. A $1000 drone almost plummeted into the sea. That was the most stressful five minutes of my life,” Barnard said.
Another highlight was when they got to visit Golan Heights, which overlooks the boarder with Syria, where they could hear gunshots and the rumble of explosions, and were near an active mine field.
“That was more interesting than scary,” Wallace said. “It was interesting to see that there’s a whole lot of conflict going on just a couple of miles away.”
The students also enjoyed getting to experience all of the cultural differences, like kosher food and a different language.
“I didn’t know that root beer isn’t kosher, so there isn’t any root beer in Israel, which was the biggest shock for me,” Wallace said.
Another big cultural difference was how the society functioned on a Sabbath. They went to many extremes in order to not have to “work.” They even have special elevators that continually run on their own on the Sabbath so that no one has to work and push a button.
“A lot of cultural differences really pointed out the religious ritualism,” Blankenship said.
The historical significance of Israel was most impressive, however. Barnard described it as a combination of old and really new.
“It’s hard to process what you’re seeing while you’re there, because you’ve read about it since you were little in the Bible, and then you actually see it. This is where it actually happened. It’s just so much to process, and there’s no way you can process it all while you’re there. It takes weeks after you get back,” Barnard said.
“There’s something unique about Israel. Europe has its interesting features, and it has very interesting history, but there’s something really special about Israel. I think it’s because of the Biblical history. That’s where the creator of the universe walked and talked and healed people, and you can’t get any more special than that,” Blankenship said.
This trip was also unique for the students because they got to see the Lord in a new way and learn more about who he is. They now feel like they are able to read the Word “in HD.”
“I thought I’d be wowed by the places, and I certainly was impressed, but I think what the Lord showed me most was his love for the Jewish people, even though they completely rejected him. That was the most powerful thing I experienced,” Blankenship said.
Barnard plans on going back on another tour with the Huckabee’s in April. Wallace and Blankenship would both be excited to get to go back again if the opportunity arises.
by Katie Jo Henley, Staff writer