Georgetown Christ Church Pilgrimage Ensnared in War Outbreak

Imagine!  You finally made it — a devout Christian, you’re on your life-time bucket-list dream trip to the Holy Land — part of a group of 11 fellow parishioners from Christ Church of Georgetown on 3116 O Street who’ve been planning and looking forward to this trip for a long time.  You’re all ages and stages in life.  For some of you — including lay assistant minister Tiffany Clark — it’s your first trip ever to the places you’ve read about in the Bible and heard about since you were a child in Sunday school, and in Christmas carols, and Easter stories.  Many of you wonder if the trip will be transformative in your life. But none of you imagined what would really happen. 

In early October, a group of  11 Christ Church parishioners from Georgetown and 15 from St John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square  met in Jerusalem on a co-sponsored Christian pilgrimage to see the Holy sites of their faith in Israel. Most were flying out around Wednesday Oct. 11. 

The first days had been picture-perfect,” wrote Georgetown parishioner Stephanie Green in a blog post in the Times of Israel on Oct. 26.  “We had idled by the Sea of Galilee with sunlight hitting the crystalline water at exactly the right angle creating an ethereal chill down my spine. This is what I had wanted — sign-seeing more than site-seeing.  We had renewed our baptism vows at the muddy River Jordan, and prayed at the Western Wall with hundreds of Jews keening around us.”

On Saturday, the group was in Nazareth, in the northern part of Israel.  “I was staying in a convent with a direct line of vision to the steeple of the church where Mary is said to have received the news she was to be the mother of God,” Green wrote.  All their guides were knowledgeable and friendly Christian Palestinians. 

The first fearful indications most of the group heard about the horrendous attack by Hamas terrorists on an Israeli youth concert and several kibbutzes along the border with Gaza — killing hundreds of Israelis and kidnapping some 200, including babies, toddlers, children, women and older women — was from a sudden deluge of emails, text messages and phone calls from their families and friends in Washington, D.C., and around the world.  “Are you OK?“ they were all being asked.  

“I’ll never forget the dread in my mother’s voice when I spoke to her,” Green wrote. 

“We were on a bus going to the Golan Heights on Saturday, Oct. 7, when we first heard about attacks. As we knew of no immediate threats, we carried on with our visits for the next daty or so,” Clark told The Georgetowner. “We were in a protected national park. We were told to keep an eye on the situation.” 

But the messages from Washington and Christ Church were becoming more dire. And some of the group were receiving notices of flight cancellations.  

On Monday, they were told they should plan to leave immediately. It was a dilemma, both Green and Clark recalled. Nazareth was relatively safe and quiet. Jerusalem had been teeming with people and traffic. But it was close to the airport. They were told best was to go to Jordan and fly out from there.  They decided to return to Jerusalem and began working their phones to arrange for busses, taxis, flights and hotels. Everything was done on their phones. The more techie-adept helped the others. “We all bonded,” wrote Green. 

In Jerusalem, it was calm, but the teeming crowds were gone, Green and Clark reported. People were being rational, the Georgetowners noted.  They were carrying on as normally as they could, eating well, enjoying the cafes but staying close by their homes. “You could feel [the] building tensions… that something was wrong…. Some of us visited the Western Wall and it was almost empty of people; we could actually go up and touch it, place our prayers on it in person.”  

But they were beginning to hear the thunder of jets, some machine gun fire almost regularly and once an air raid siren. They had just gotten back to their quarters when they received messages from Christ Church urging them to “find a way out immediately and not just wait for the airlines to rescheduled their flights. They spent the night planning.  Many in the group had already planned to go to Jordan and had busses and hotels reserved.  Others went on to family and friends in the area. Eight of the group didn’t have any arrangements – Green and Clark among them.   

They decided they had to go by ground to the airport in Jordan. What followed was over 24 hours of waiting and hoping for taxis, busses, visas, permission to cross a small Jordanian port of entry accustomed to 100 or so regular crossers a day, but now teeming with over a thousand people of all ages, most with passports from around the world, including many Americans.  

It took hours of sitting in the sun, on suitcases, with little food and water, and finally, gratefully, late at night, getting to a hotel in Jordan they had booked — only to find it full.  

They finally decided to just go to the airport and wait it out there, tired and dirty as they were. And finally all of them left safely and made it back to their homes. 

“It was, in the end, a transforming experience for most,” said Clark. “Our faith came alive by being in, seeing, touching and experiencing the exact places that Jesus had been. Two-thousand years of church history is now tangible, real. And the fact we all were able to leave safely confirmed for us our connection with God who had taken care of us… and helped us help each other. ”



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