Passages College Student Program LaunchesSaturday, January 16, 2016
NEW YORK, NEW YORK——The highly anticipated Passages program – which was announced in May – has successfully kicked off its first venture, a trip to the Holy Land for approximately 200 students from several U.S. colleges. Passages is sponsored by the Museum of the Bible Foundation and The Philos Project in a collaboration that will eventually allow thousands of young Christian student leaders to see Israel firsthand and personally experience where Biblical history happened.
The very first Passages participants left the United States for Israel at the start of the new year. These young men and women will have the chance to see Israel from a perspective most tourists never do. “Many Christians who visit Israel each year never come into contact with the modern state of Israel,” The Philos Project Executive Director Robert Nicholson said. “We’ve designed this trip to be a mix of biblical Israel and modern Israel in the hopes that you’ll not just see the sites and relive the memories, but that you’ll encounter the real life people who live here today in all their diversity.”
The Passages leaders – who include representatives from both the Museum of the Bible Foundation and The Philos Project – will open the students’ eyes to the ancient story that Israel has to tell – a tale that began in the pages of Scripture, but which keeps going in the present.
“It is the story of an ancient people, the Jewish people, a people that has drifted across the currents of history for thousands of years, convinced that they have been chosen by God to play a special role in history as an example to mankind, a people that has undergone incredible difficulty and tragedy, perhaps the most unlikely story of opposition and survival,” Nicholson said. “A people that did the impossible – rescued themselves from the margins of history, gathering themselves from the four corners of the earth to return to their ancient homeland, to revive their ancient language, and to set about creating a state that blends the best of both ancient and modern, and protecting that state against tremendous opposition from outside while working to pursue justice and equality within its borders.
“It’s a story that holds implications for every field of human endeavor: Political theory, military strategy, science, agriculture, linguistics, law, technology, economics, theology, literature, and government. It’s a human story full of tragedy and triumph, great achievements and admitted imperfections. And, by virtue of the fact that so much of this story is anticipated in our holy scriptures, it’s also a God story as well.”
Throughout the entirety of the Passages program, the students will personally hear and see what most Christians only read about. Not only will they meet fellow believers who are in the trenches themselves, they will also have the opportunity to become part of the story and befriend the Jewish people with whom they come in contact. Nicholson encouraged the young Christian leaders to “understand their story, sympathize with it and seek to tell that story in whatever way you can.”
With the sad caveat that Israel’s worldwide supporters are shrinking in number, Nicholson said that although the country – like any other – is imperfect, Israel “maintains that rarest of abilities that distinguishes successful people from failures, progressive societies from backward ones: the ability to be self-critical.” He said that during the Passages experience, the students will be encouraged to learn not only from Israel’s successes, but also from her failures.
“Why do so many people get it wrong?” he asked, of Israel’s naysayers. “Because they never come here. They rely on world media to tell Israel’s story. You, however, get the chance to see for yourself.”
The young student leaders who participated in the first ever Passages are currently engaging with modern Israel – listening, debating, learning, asking questions and wrestling with the very real issues in that part of the world. The program’s leaders are alongside them every step of the way, helping them to navigate the journey as invaluable resources.
Israel today is a model for other peace-loving peoples of the region. “The people of Israel are friends who share our view of the world, of humanity, of hope for the future,” Nicholson said. “Friends who need our support, our solidarity, in the face of those who would turn the story of Israel on its head. Or worse, seek to strike that story from the annals of history.”
The opportunity presented to the Passages students allows them to immerse themselves in the Jewish culture; to spend time in a Jewish city inside a Jewish state, surrounded by those speaking an ancient language. But they are also Christians on a goodwill mission of learning and friendship. The fact that these young people and their leaders are in Israel today speaks to something deeper – something historic and perhaps even something cosmic that cannot be overlooked.
“One of the most important themes of this trip is captured in the word ‘genesis,’ or beginnings,” Nicholson said. “Beginnings of our faith, of a Jewish state, of a new era in the Middle East, of a new relationship between Christians and Jews and beginnings for you – the beginning of a new story. It’s time to go back to the beginning.”
And there’s no better place to do that as Christians – as Westerners and as humans – than the State of Israel.
“To all of the Passages students gathered in anticipation of their first trip to the Holy Land, Nicholson said, “Brukhim ha-ba’im – welcome, and Toda raba – thank you for coming. We look forward to getting to know you all and taking this historic journey together.”