Following close in the footsteps of Jesus Trail’s oldest hiker, Merrill, students from Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia converted the Jesus Trail into an outdoor classroom. The 17 students hiked the trail as part of a three-month semester abroad program in the Middle East. Led by Professor Linford Stutzman, the students had already studied Arabic in Syria, traveled around Israel and Jordan, and were on their way to Athens and Rome. Even after their previous adventures, they still counted the trail as a highlight of their travels.
As the students skirted mud, visited ancient sights, and ate their packed lunches, Professor Stutzman would stop the group to give a history, culture, or geography lesson. He said, “this is the ideal place to be challenged as you sweat and walk through mud and dust and feel the rain or the hot sunshine and think of Jesus, because you have time to think with your whole body instead of just your brains.” While seeking to bring the history of Jesus alive in narrative form, Professor Stutzman mentioned that “most of our understanding of the biblical story is the information that we get from the text or imagination… add location and participation in that mix, and you have a realistic imagination.” “To me,” he said, “that is one of the beauties of the Jesus Trail.”
Those hiking in the group also had much to say about their four-day experience on the trail and staying in local guesthouses. The group not only visited historic sights along the trail but also enjoyed a Shabbat meal at Yarok Az organic goat farm and shared in a baptismal service at the Sea of Galilee. Other highlights included the Mt. of Beatitudes, dipping their feet in the Sea, the Horns of Hattin, and the cliffs of Arbel. Andre, upon arriving at the Horns of Hattin said, “You look back to see where you’ve been and you can also see Capernaum, so it kind of puts into perspective what you’ve done the past few days and what lies ahead of your journey. It’s a metaphor for life.”
After hiking the trail, what advice did these 19-21 year olds give? Joel said, “The trail really has two parts. There’s the actual walking part where you hike and need to be prepared with normal good footwear and water. For the other part you just need to think, spend some time while you’re walking just thinking about what you’re doing, where you are, and what it all means.” Allison’s advice was, “Be prepared for anything!”
Read students’ reflections on the Eastern Mennonite University Cross-cultural Blog: