“It holds so much all at once” – Tessa’s Journey to Israel

Categories: Student Stories

Tessa Warkentin is in her third year of the Biblical Studies program. This past summer she had the opportunity to travel to Israel as part of the RELS 380 Physical Settings of the Bible course. Here’s how she describes that experience.

I’m a questions person.

I’ve been that way for as long as I can remember.

As someone who likes to learn and figure things out, bible college was a natural step for me to dig deeper into the source of such a significant part of my life experience. I heard that Columbia offered the opportunity to take a course in Israel during my first year and my curiosity was sparked.

Initially I was certain I would not be able to go until my fourth year, but the stars seemed to align as Jerry Pauls, program director for Biblical Studies, encouraged me to go at the end of my second year. I joined the team at the very last minute and did not have much time to prepare or know what to expect. As I boarded my flight I couldn’t even picture what this trip held for me, academically or spiritually. A part of me was terrified, knowing the potential impact this trip could have on my life. The rest of me, however, was excited to step into this new adventure.

The experience, however, exceeded every expectation.

Just being in Israel is fairly mind-blowing. It holds so much all at once.

As soon as I landed I felt the weight of the place; the history of the land, the religious significance to so much of the world, the political tension both past and current.

As we began our course at Jerusalem University College we learned even more about these tensions, on a campus built into the bedrock of the city of Jerusalem. We stayed in the Old City and walked through the old city gates to campus every day. The field studies we traveled to took us throughout the whole country and we got to see the diversity of the people and the land and the history.

All my life I had learned about the Bible through picture books and stories, sermons and lectures.

But on this trip I learned about the Bible through my feet, with my eyes, and holding it in my hands. We learned about the biblical stories through the means by which they were meant to be heard: through the land. Who knew rocks could be so impactful to the meaning of the Old Testament?

To me, Israel felt so small and so big at the same time. You can drive the width of it an a few hours, but somehow it holds the entirety of my holy scripture in its hills and valleys. Walking through the wilderness east of Jerusalem felt like I was stepping into space, a universe of dirt and rock and sand. The words of the Psalms felt so vivid in the hot desert sun. Seeing the site of ancient Nazareth and the hills that a teenage Jesus ran through humanized Him in a way that I had never experienced before. Walking through the site of the New Testament Temple gave me a frame for a picture I had been looking at for a long time. The meaning of the image was not altered, but given new life, like when a thick layer of dust is wiped from a mirror.

During my time in Israel, I learned many answers; Answers about geography, about limestone and soil, about city walls, about four-room houses, about Roman conquest strategies. But what is more important to me, is that I have come away with more questions.

With my experience and knowledge from this trip, I feel called to pursue a deeper understanding of what it means to be a Christian today; continuing the story of the bible in a different time, in a new country, yet through the same family united under God.