Reverend Robert Stearns, founder and executive director of Eagles’ Wings, a global movement of churches, ministries, and leaders which emphasises interfaith dialogue and humanitarian care, recently brought a group of 25 young pastors on a life-changing ten day trip to Israel.
“Older Christians remember the horrors of the Holocaust which led to the miraculous establishment of the State of Israel,” Stearns told Breaking Israel News. “Younger Christians, including their spiritual leaders, need to be educated about Christian roots to the Holy Land and the Jewish people.”
Visiting Israel an average of four times a year, Stearns has brought over 10,000 people with him since 1991. “What was unique about this trip is that we focused on pastors from large congregations who are under the age of 40 and had never been to Israel,” he explained.
The pastors came from Georgia, Ohio, Alabama, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, Virginia, California, Oklahoma, Louisiana and even Bulgaria.
This trip was expected to have long-lasting influences, not only on the pastors but also on their congregations. The pastors interviewed by Breaking Israel News each described the deep spiritual shifts they were experiencing by visiting the actual holy sites that they had only read about in the Bible.
“Younger evangelicals are wondering who they are and are not educated to know the importance of the Holy Land and the Jewish people to Christianity,” Stearns continued to Breaking Israel News. “This trip makes the Bible come alive in a fresh, new way by not only seeing the past but also experiencing the present and the future. It brings into focus the importance of ongoing support for Israel.”
All of the participating ministries have an interest in Israel and a desire to strengthen their theology. “Coming to Israel puts our faith into a solid context,” reflected Steven Martin, Pastor of Vintage Church in Fort Hood, Texas. “A person cannot leave Israel without changing for the better. Once a person comes to Israel, they must communicate the scriptures better to their congregation.”
Historically, the church has promoted replacement theology in which Christianity succeeds the Israelites as the definitive chosen people. Martin told Breaking Israel News that he now realizes that taking the Jewish people and the Land of Israel out of Christian beliefs removes the essence of the Christian faith.
“Many Christians are having an identity crisis today,” Martin explained. “They do not know their historical background. There is an explosion going on in churches across the country of people seeking to connect to their spirituality. People are hungry for tradition. This trip has helped me realize the depth of the connection between Christians, Jews and the Holy Land.”
Mikel Lagaras, Pastor of Victory Christian Center in Ohio, said, “It’s my first trip to Israel but definitely will not be my last. This rich heritage that we only read about has come alive.”
Lagaras’s favorite place so far had been the Western Wall, he said. “Experiencing the relationship between the traditions and the Jewish people was amazing. Christians do not understand how traditions have been handed down to us like the Jews do. Jews have an unbroken chain of understanding that God is the Provider. This message went from God to Moses to the Rabbis and then to the Jewish people. The relationship of God’s word to His people became clear to me and alive when I saw the prayers at the Western Wall.”
Mark Passarella, Director of Eagles’ Wings 9-Month Internship Program and Summer Discipleship Program and co-organizer for the young pastor’s trip, noted to Breaking Israel News that Israel is both at the forefront of the news and the Bible, making it a top-priority place for all people to visit.
“My wife and I feel that we have to be part of the repentance for the atrocities that Christians did to Jews over the course of history in the name of Christianity,” he said.
“We have a debt to repay. We have to partner with the Jewish people and not remain silent as anti-Semitism grows in the world and especially in Europe.”
Stearns concluded, “The right thing at this time in history is to support Israel. There is an ideological battle going on around the globe. The future of the modern world is at stake. We encourage everyone to get involved in proactive ways with Israel and the Jewish people.”