When teams from abroad visit Seeds of Hope, one of the highlights is always visiting the historic sites in the Holy Land. The entire area has a rich biblical history, and traveling just a few miles in any direction will lead you to interesting landmarks and locations from the Old and New Testaments.
But local Christians may go their whole life without visiting these sites or learning the historical significance of a place just down the road. Especially in Jericho, a 99% Muslim community, there aren’t many options for extended learning about Christian history or scripture for the average person.
After seeing how impactful this kind of experience is for Seeds of Hope’s project teams, we wanted to try to extend that experience to our local community. Last week, we partnered with Compassion Christian Church in Savannah, Georgia, to pilot a biblical and cultural exchange trip.
We worked with Compassion to bring a group of American students to meet up with a group of youth from Jericho and spend the week touring biblical sites around the region and experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime trip together.
Throughout the week, the groups spent time together visiting local sites, learning about their spiritual significance, and connecting as a group. Most nights, the Compassion students visited the local students’ homes for dinner and got to share with families about all that they were learning.
“We started as two different teams, but in the end, we became one team and one family,” said one of the adults who helped with the trip. Everywhere the group went, they were asked why Americans and Arabs were traveling together. It’s not something that you see very often, but the students grew close and learned so much from one another.
This trip was truly an experiment. We didn’t know how interested the local students would be or if they would be engaged in what they were learning. Additionally, some local parents were hesitant about their children learning about the Bible from Seeds of Hope. Most Christians in Jericho are Catholic or Greek Orthodox and are very skeptical of anything outside those sects. They were willing to let their children participate because they trusted in Seeds of Hope. A trip like this is the culmination of years of building relationships and trust with our community, and we saw it pay off in a huge way.
The students’ response blew us away. They loved every moment! “It was beautiful to see how the Old Testament and New Testament fulfill and complete each other,” shared one of the local students after the trip.
“When Simon and I put the idea of this trip together, we really could not predict how impactful it was going to be,” said Fuad Jaddou, Director of Community Outreach at Seeds of Hope. “It’s incredible to see the impact it had. We saw the students’ thinking change from an inherited faith to a faith born of choice.”
One local student asked to be baptized in the Jordan River at the end of the week because, despite growing up Christian, he felt like he genuinely decided to follow Jesus on his own through the trip.
“As a parent, you want the best for your children,” said Khader Ghanim, Seeds of Hope CEO. “And teenagers aren’t easy to please. But they told their parents it was one of the highlights of their lives.” This kind of endorsement won over even the most skeptical parent, and some even asked when we would host a trip like this for adults!
“Words fail to express the amazing time we had with our Arab Christian friends,” shared Dr. Jason Tatlock, who led the trip from Compassion. “We look forward to seeing how God will use this experience for future life changes. I hope we get to participate in this program again and again and again.”
The most encouraging part locally was seeing students deepen their understanding of their faith and confidence in what they believe. Just like with our school and other programs, we know this has the potential to impact entire families as they go back and share what they’ve learned. We’re so excited to explore doing more trips like this and see the long-term change our community will experience!