News - Israel for Interterm: Bringing the Bible to Life

Israel for Interterm: Bringing the Bible to Life

by Rachel Heston-Davis Israel for Interterm: Bringing the Bible to Life

Hannah (De Loche ’10) Shanks (pictured left) surveyed the barren Judean wilderness. Tiny waterways carved out thin lines of relief in an otherwise desert land. Vegetation seemed sparse compared to the rural countryside of her home in Beardstown, Illinois.

Hannah would never again read Psalm 23 as a picture of abundance; she would read it instead as “having enough in a place where there isn’t enough.” The vision continues to shape her theology of God’s presence in suffering. It’s one lesson among many that students visiting Israel over Interterm embrace.

This deeper relationship with scripture is exactly why Chair of the Department of History and Political Science Richard Huston created the Interterm trip to Israel in 2007.

“Understanding the culture in which [Biblical] stories occurred, and the history and geography of the region, makes it come alive and have so much more meaning,” he says.

Old Story, New Lens

Hannah is not the only student to discover new perspective on the trip. 

Andrew Schack ’17 sees Jesus’ 40-day wilderness journey differently after visiting “the wilderness” firsthand.

“The wilderness, in my mind, was a really flat area that was run-down,” he says. “But when we went to go visit the wilderness, it was a hilly, mountainous area.” 

The thought of Jesus scrambling over mountains and through valleys, in a region known for brutal robberies, gave new meaning to the story for Andrew. 

Ross Baker ’13, a new Christian at the time of his trip, found his fledgling faith strengthened. He was troubled to learn that historians can’t always pin down locations for important scriptural events, and this induced a necessary struggle in his mind about the role of certitude in faith.

“Wresting with that was really good for me,” Ross reflects, because the uncertainty led him to prioritize the message and call of Jesus over the allure of having “right answers” to every question.

“What If . . .”

The Israel trip began thanks to Richard Huston’s own transformative experience in Israel in the late 1990s. After reading scripture in a fresh light and reflecting on the impact of his trip, a question gripped Richard: “What if, in my early 20s, I had gone to Israel, and for the past 20 years had been reading the Bible with all this new and amazing awareness?” 

After a return visit, he determined to create an Interterm trip to Israel for Greenville University students. It became a biannual trip.

The trip serves as the capstone experience for the class, “Historical and Geographic Settings of the Bible.” Students spend fall semester studying maps of different Biblical regions to understand the geography and history behind the stories. During Interterm they visit those sites in Israel, turning a semester’s worth of head knowledge into personal experience.


Making the Bible up close and personal like this inevitably leads to surprises. For instance, students raised on Bible stories may be startled when favorite scriptural landmarks turn out to look ordinary.

“In my head the Bible always seemed very big,” Ross Baker explains. He envisioned the journeys of Abraham, Jesus and others as comparable to walking from California to New York; in reality, most of them measured more like Greenville to St. Louis.

Richard Huston agrees that people’s imaginations make the Biblical landscape larger-than-life, especially where water is concerned.

“Stories of storms, and boats capsizing and things like that—people’s imaginations make it out to be a much bigger body of water.”

Students often gape when they see the Jordan River (about the size of a very large creek) and the Sea of Galilee (just two by four miles).

God's Mysterious Workings

The trip upends expectations in other ways, too. Hannah remembers trading notes with friend and fellow traveler Kristin (Moody ’09) Plumier to discover that each of them had nearly opposite spiritual experiences. When Hannah was deeply moved by a site visit, Kristin wasn’t. When something spoke to Kristin in a powerful way, Hannah couldn’t relate.

Affirming each other’s experience without having to share it invited reflection on the mysterious workings of God in the human heart.

“People carry all their own baggage with them,” Richard says. “They come to Israel and it’s impactful, but for different reasons on different people.”

Richard will lead the next trip to Israel in January 2018. It will be the sixth time Greenville University has offered the trip since the inaugural journey in 2007. Many students have been so inspired by the land of Israel that they find ways to return. They’ve done so through study abroad semesters, graduate studies or church-sponsored trips. Richard hopes Israel will impact students for many years to come.

For more on overseas studies (and outreach here at home, too):

Studying Abroad with Greenville College: Kristen Kanaskie's Story

Daily Donuts and Rethinking Call in Uganda

A Year of Adventures for World Outreach and Missions

Stepping Out of the Classroom and Into the Bible

Greenville University invites students to broaden their perspective. Your generosity supports our work. Thank you for giving.

This story was published on July 11, 2017

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