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Ministry teams serve in Israel, church tour groups secure travel plans

A group from the Texas Baptist Men prepare food for medical personnel in Ashkelon, Israel. The group is in the country to provide aid following deadly attacks by Hamas. (Photo submitted by Texas Baptist Men)

Ashkelon, Israel (BP)—On Thursday, Texas Baptist Men distributed nearly 5,000 meals in Ashkelon, Israel, the coastal city near the Gaza border. The city has been one of the hardest hit locations in Israel and was one of the primary targets of the wide-scale rocket attacks by Hamas that initiated the war on Oct. 7.

“We got it down there,” said John Hall, a spokesman for Texas Baptist Men. “[The people on the ground in Israel] said as soon as they put it on the table, doctors and staff were hitting it. Ambulances were bringing in the wounded from the war.”

Trained to meet the unique dietary needs of a kosher diet, volunteers served falafels at the hospital.

The current volunteer team on the ground in Israel is prepared to stay two weeks. Hall said they are currently organizing another team to replace this one at that time.

Volunteers arrived in two shifts through Jordan this week, according to an article in the Texas Baptist Standard. The first group arrived on Oct. 10. The second team arrived the next day. Texas Baptist Men teams are working alongside the Emergency Volunteers Project (EVP), a partner disaster relief organization formed specifically to deploy volunteer teams to Israel in times of crisis.

Hall says Texas Baptist Men have formed a strong partnership with EVP in the past few years. This is the second joint project Texas Baptist Men have participated in with EVP. Earlier they helped serve Ukrainian refugees in Israel.  

The Baptist Standard article noted the possibility of a need of significantly more volunteers if the situation intensifies. The article included a link to an application for prospective volunteers.

First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee, Pastor Brent McDougal says four members of his team have been able to cross the border into Jordan and are preparing to return to the United States in the next few days. The remaining eight team members will remain in Israel and have flight plans out of the airport in Tel Aviv. They are working with the U.S. State Department about an earlier exit if needed.

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“Our itinerary is certainly limited,” McDougal said. “Many religious sites are closed, and there’s an extremely high alert throughout the country. We understand that these sites are closed because many people have been called up as army reservists, and also because the level of fear within the country is so great.”

While McDougal says his team is disappointed in how their trip has been curtailed by the war, they are much more concerned about the long-term ramifications of the war they are seeing firsthand.

“It’s hard to feel sorry for ourselves when we know that there’s so much suffering and anxiety. We are becoming much more prayerful for those that are around us and much more aware of the conflict that has made life so dangerous for people over time.”

McDougal calls his team’s experience in Israel over the past week transformative. The team, which he said came to Israel for a pilgrimage, arrived in Tel Aviv last Friday just before the Hamas rocket attacks that started the most recent aspect of the conflict.

“I expect this experience will dramatically alter my life, as well as the lives of the other participants on this pilgrimage,” McDougal said.

“I’ve already been contemplating how to become more of a peacemaking church in a culture that is so divided. This experience has only reinforced my resolve. It’s not just about helping us become a people of peace, fostering peace with God and with one another, but also about how we can be global Christians,” he said.

McDougal says he’s been reminded to be grateful for the basic level of peace Americans share.

In a video update on his X account (formerly Twitter), Pastor Zach Terry of First Baptist Church of Fernandina Beach, Florida, says his team is safely back in Jordan, awaiting flights out of the country this weekend. Terry’s team had been in Israel on a sightseeing tour when fighting broke out late last week.

“We’re not out yet but we’re certainly in a much safer position than we were a couple of days ago,” Terry said.

First Baptist Church of Loganville, Georgia, is celebrating its team’s safe exit from Israel.

“This past weekend’s violence in Israel and Palestine continues to weigh heavy on our hearts,” said Chase Snyder, co-pastor of FBC Loganville in a written statement to Baptist Press. “But today we are praising the Lord that all of our 42 group members have safely exited Israel and have secured flights home.”

Former Kentucky Baptist pastor and denominational staff member Alan Dodson, who had been working in Israel for a travel company, reports he left the country through Jordan and returned home safely on a Thursday morning flight into JFK International Airport in New York.

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  • Tobin Perry