Tiger Take-off




Campbellsville University students, faculty encounter Christ in the Holy Land

Campbellsville University students, faculty and Campbellsville community members who journeyed to the Holy Land recently and gathered for this group photo at Yardenit, the baptismal site on the Jordan River, include from left: First row– Charity Powell, Kim Curry, Lauren Oliver, Dr. Eric Bruns, Jeff Gaines, Hillary Anderson, Cheri Simpson. Second row– Jenny Wray, David Wray, Stan Curry, Pam Hurtgen, Sheila Thomas, Elinor Keck, Karen Redford, Jane Wheatley, Randy McGuire, Hayden Dabney. Third row– Jana Oliver, Lindsey Hammers, Jenny McKinley, David McKinley, Anita Hall, Tracy Bruns, Dr. John Hurtgen, Elizabeth Wigginton, Lawson Embry, Trey Kissel, Dr. Shane Garrison, Ailene Foster, Greg Simpson. Fourth row– Michael Hall, Dr. Jason Garrett, Dr. Scott Wigginton, Caleb Wigginton.

By Elinor Keck, student news writer, Office of University Communications

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains some comments from the writer.

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. – Thirty hours of travel gives you a crick in the neck, but it’s a small price to pay to be able to walk where Jesus walked.

Every two years, the School of Theology at Campbellsville University makes a trip to the Holy Land to study biblical geography. The trip was delayed several years due to COVID-19, but once travel restrictions were lifted, 34 students and community members made the twelve-day trip to Israel and Jordan.

Dr. Scott Wigginton, professor of pastoral ministries and counseling and MMFT main campus liaison, has been leading the Holy Land trips since 2010. Under Wigginton’s lead, the School of Theology has visited Israel, Jordan, Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Egypt.

“We believe that the Holy Land represents, in a way, a fifth Gospel,” he said. “Being in ‘The Land’ gives us the chance to do more than read and study. We get to have an experience or adventure.

“Even more, we get to do it together with our colleagues, our students, other faculty, alumni and with friends from all over the country.”

For weeks leading up to the trip, those of us who were available met with Wigginton to learn about the land and prepare our hearts. We studied Israel’s biblical significance, historical context and current political climate. Although we did our homework, nothing could have prepared us for our actual experience.

Beginning in Tel Aviv, the group began its journey by traveling up the west coast on the Mediterranean, working their way back down to Jerusalem and then crossing the border into Jordan for the final few days. With over 100 biblical sites in Israel and only twelve days in the land, the group traveled from location to location by bus, visiting as many as six sites each day.

“I truly feel like the Holy Land is the fifth Gospel,” said Charity Powell. “The stories came to life, the sites became real, and my heart swelled as I got to walk in the places my Savior walked.”

Powell has served as the ​​program coordinator for Diversity and Community at Campbellsville University since November 2022. Although she has been to over 25 countries, she said this one felt different.

“The biggest difference in this trip was the purpose,” Powell said. “Often when I travel, it is to serve and spread the message of Jesus through service and showing the love of Jesus. This trip became one that revived my faith and allowed the Lord to minister to me. I spent a lot of the trip just repeatedly thanking Jesus.”

Members of the group participate in a tour of the Western Wall tunnel. This photo was taken in the synagogue under the Western Wall. (Campbellsville University Photo by Elinor Keck)

Powell shared, “I’m forever changed by getting to see the things He saw and understand His teachings in a whole new way. What an incredible God we serve! He is so good and I’m forever grateful for the opportunity to be a pilgrim in the land where the story began.”

Over the course of the two weeks, the group visited Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, Capernaum, where Jesus conducted His ministry, the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus walked on water and Jerusalem, where Jesus spent His final days. Sites from the Old Testament included Mt. Nebo, where Moses looked into the Promise Land, En Gedi, where David hid from Saul, the Judean Desert, where the Israelites wandered for 40 years and the Dead Sea.

Hayden Dabney, junior educational ministries major and music minor, said his favorite site was the Sea of Galilee because Jesus conducted so much of His ministry on its banks.

“I was able to be in the places that I have read about my entire life, and it made them so real!” Dabney said. “Now, whenever I think or read about these places, I will also be able to see them again! This greatly increases my faith and only helps me more to know that God’s Word is true! I do feel closer to Jesus, and for that I am so grateful!”

Not only did our experience change how we view the Gospels, but it changed how we will conduct ministry as well. Dabney is coming up on one year of being children’s minister at Campbellsville Baptist Church and can’t wait to show his kids photos of the places he saw.

On day five of the trip, everyone had the opportunity to be baptized in the Jordan River. Although everything that we saw strengthened my faith, this moment stands out for me. I had been baptized as a child, but being able to recommit my life to God in the place where my savior was baptized was very meaningful and a chance to worship.

The spiritual renewal we experienced in Israel is one of the reasons that the School of Theology makes these trips a priority.

Wigginton explained what he hoped students take away from these trips.

“First, the professors hope that the students realize that we really enjoy being with them and investing our lives in one another,” he said. “We often say that the best things often occur outside the classroom.”

Wigginton continued: “Secondly, we hope that students become more and more impassioned about their walk with Jesus when they have actually journeyed through the land of biblical revelation.”

“Third, I personally hope that students come to appreciate the power of adventure and the part it plays in spiritual formation. We are not just called to be consumers of adventures, but stewards.”

The group listens to a tour guide give a history about the bathhouses at the top of Masada. (Campbellsville University Photo by Elinor Keck)

Although trips to the Holy Land are designed with students in mind, they are open to all faculty/staff, alumni, family and community members. Wigginton explained, during the trips, community members discover the heartbeat of Campbellsville University, and deep relationships are formed between them and the students. Wigginton’s wife, Elizabeth and son, Caleb, as well as Dabney’s grandmother, Jane Wheatley, joined in the fun.

“To take this trip with my grandmother was amazing!” Dabney said. “It has brought us closer and helped us to see God in a new way. I wouldn’t have wanted to take this trip with anyone else and I am so thankful that I was able to take it with her!”

Similarly, one of Wigginton’s favorite parts each year is getting to travel with his colleagues. This year, Dr. John Hurtgen, dean of the School of Theology and professor of New Testament and Greek, Dr. Shane Garrison, dean of online education and professor of educational ministries, Dr. Eric Bruns, professor of psychology, and Dr. Jason Garrett, professor of communication, made the trip.

As a broke college student and a Kentucky girl, I never thought that I would have the chance to travel to Israel. My entire career at Campbellsville University has been great, but the time I spent in the Holy Land will forever be a highlight.

Campbellsville University is a widely acclaimed Kentucky-based Christian university that offers over 100 programs of study including doctoral, master, bachelor, associate and certificate programs. The website for complete information is www.campbellsville.edu.