Arlene Campbell visits Holy Land during height of Israeli attacks

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   The desire of Arlene Campbell's heart for many years has been to visit the Holy Land. "Three years ago I had planned to go with a group from Calvary Baptist Church and before time came to go, I was diagnosed with breast cancer," she said.
   Her second opportunity came in February of this year, when her son, Jamey, who works with Precept Ministries in Chattanooga, called his mother and asked, "Mom, would you like to go to the Holy Land? I have some flying time built up you can use."
   Of course, her reply was "yes." The trip, sponsored by Precept Ministries with Bible scholar and teacher Kay Arthur as host, had been planned for April 16 - May 2. However as tour time grew closer, and the violence in the Mideast became more intense, Arlene was on edge. "One day I would want to go; the next day I wouldn't. I would watch the news, and then I would pray. It finally came down to the question of was I going to trust God and go, or was I going to stay home because of my fears," she said.
   "From the moment I decided to go, I was at peace with my decision, and from the time we arrived in Tel Aviv until we boarded the plane to come back home, we were never in danger, never heard a shot fired, and there was not one moment of fear," Arlene exclaimed.
   "While we were in the Holy Land, we were kept abreast of what was happening. We heard it on the news and saw reports of the violence in the newspapers, but not one time were our lives in danger," she said.
   Security was tight at every airport the group the flew into and out of. "We flew El Al Israel Airlines, which is reportedly one of the strictest when it comes to security safeguards," Arlene explained. The group flew out of New York, where they were questioned for three hours by airline officials, who requested to see their passports more than once. "We were asked 'Why are you going? Where are you going in Israel? Do you know anyone there?' They opened our luggage and searched it thoroughly," Arlene said. "We went through the same thing when we arrived in Tel Aviv, and when we visited Petra in Jordan, we had to get off our bus at the border, walk across the border into Jordan, and board their bus and use their driver and guide to go to Petra," she shared.
   "The only thing I could think of when they asked me why I was going to Israel was that 'I wanted to walk where Jesus walked,'" Arlene said.
   "It was really an experience from the time we left Chattanooga until we arrived back in New York. On the flight from New York to Tel Aviv there were several Orthodox Jews aboard, and their custom is to pray at sunrise each day. When it came that time they went to the back of the plane and prayed. It was a very touching moment," she said.
   From Tel Aviv, the group of 18 boarded a bus for the two-hour trip to Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee, where they visited several other well-known Biblical towns, including Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, known as the "evangelical triangle," where Jesus performed many "mighty works" and laid the foundation of his ministry.
   At the Sea of Galilee, the captain of the boat raised the American flag and the group sang "The National Anthem."
   The highlight of Arlene's trip was being baptized in the Jordan River. "It was such a wonderful experience. The temperatures were seasonably warm -- in the 70s but the water was icy cold," she shared.
   They visited such strategic spots as the Golan Heights. "We saw the soldiers at the border, and were able to look across into Syria. It is such beautiful country as is much of the Holy Land," Arlene said. She described the country as cosmopolitan, pulsating with the rhythm of today's pace, but also pastoral and serene. "We were told by our guide that we had arrived in the land of cell phones. He said that the state of Israel had more cell phones than anywhere in the world. I thought we had a lot in Elizabethton, but evidently Israel has us beat," Arlene quipped.
   The group then rode south along the Jordan River to Jerusalem, where they stayed for six days and six nights. "There were soldiers everywhere -- young men and even women and girls carrying rifles on their back. It was a scene we saw over and over, but the only tanks we saw were those on a truck headed for Jenin. About Jenin, Arlene says the area involved in the massacre was about the size of a football field. "It was completely blown out of proportion by the media, like CNN," she opined.
   About Israel's attacks against the Palestinians in recent weeks, Arlene was very defensive of Israeli action. "They are doing the same thing we are doing in Afghanistan. The only thing, it is in their backyard. They are going in where there are terrorist cells, and breaking them up," she said.
   "I look at the people and places, and I realize these are God's people and we are instructed in the Scriptures to pray for peace in Jerusalem and we are told that 'those that love them will prosper,'" Arlene shared.
   She described the people as both oppressed and depressed. "They depend so much on the tourist trade for their livelihood, and the tourist business is down extremely because of the violence. At the time, we were the only group visiting in the country. We were told by the Arab guide in Jordan, we were only his second group in eight months."
   "One of the loveliest and most peaceful places we visited aside from the Sea of Galilee was the Garden of Gethsemane. The roses were in full bloom," she said.
   One of the towns they did not visit was Bethlehem, however, the group was taken to a spot where they could look down over the town. It was in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity that more than Palestinians were holed up.
   We visited the Garden Tomb, the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea, which she described as "very desert," and the Holocaust Museum.
   One of the more memorable places visited by the group was Meggido, where the scriptural Battle of Armageddon will be fought. "We all cried as we looked out over this fertile valley, so beautiful and realized that one day earth's final battle would take place there, and the blood would be up to the horses' bridle," Arlene said.
   "We saw many Arabs, but we did not come in personal contact with them," she added.
   Having Kay Arthur as host meant Bible study almost every day and sometimes twice a day which centered on Biblical events at places the group visited.
   At Petra, which is a honeycomb of caves gouged into craggy red cliffs, the group was reminded by their host that this was the place that the Jews would take refuge in the latter days when destruction came upon the earth.
   Arlene described Israel as a land of beautiful people, and the long-awaited dream of every Christian pilgrim.
   In addition to being baptized in the Jordan River, Arlene had her feet washed in the Upper Room, and celebrated her birthday as she walked into Jerusalem. She has chronicled her experiences of "walking where Jesus walked" with numerous pictures.
   "It was a physically exhausting trip, but it was one of the desires of my heart, that God granted to me. Aside from the violence, it is a land of milk and honey," Arlene said.