Aug 11, 2022
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Earlier this month, approximately a dozen American Christian college students came to Israel with the Israel Experience College Scholarship Program for an intensive three-week course to learn about the Holy Land and how to defend the country on college campuses back home.

Sponsored by Eagles’ Wings, an organization led by Reverend Robert Stearns which aims to educate the next generation of Christian leaders of the important issues concerning Israel, the Israel Experience brings the “best and brightest” non-Jewish university students, between 18 and 26 years old, from around the world to Israel to learn how they can combat the rising tide of anti-Semitism and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement on their college campus.

Said Reverend Stearns, “The college campus is a hotbed of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic rhetoric, and through the Israel Experience we have the power to change that conversation as students are able to address the issue from a firsthand perspective.”

Dubbed the “Christian Birthright” for its similarity to the Taglit – Birthright program which brings tens of thousands of Jewish students and adults each year to Israel for a ten-day immersive trip,  the Israel Experience is now in its thirteenth year of activity. The students, also called “scholars”, participating in this year’s group, which ended on June 24th, came from 11 universities and seven states in America.

During their summer trip, the students toured popular landmarks such as the Dead Sea, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, and the Temple Mount. But they also took the time volunteer with Meir Panim, visited the community of Sderot (a city which often falls under Gazan rocket fire), and spent a meaningful Sabbath (Saturday) in Jerusalem. Possibly the most important leg of their journey was when the scholars met with noted Israeli professionals, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, several members of Knesset, and students and professors in two Israeli universities.

Since its inauguration in 2004, the program has trained scholars from over 113 universities worldwide. Some of the past Christian Birthright’s participants have even gone on to serve in positions of influence in government, media, and education, such as working in the White House and various state governments, the Jerusalem Post noted.

After an intense three-week adventure jampacked with information and memorable experiences, the students are instructed to design a follow-up project to share what they learned throughout the trip with their college campus, church, and community. Joshua Nangle, a third year Master of Divinity student and 2016 Israel Experience Scholar expressed his appreciation for the unique, life changing tour saying, “This trip has been eye-opening to see first-hand the challenges Israel is facing. We are going to take back what we learned here to our local congregations, to educate them on how they can be an active support to Israel.”

The importance of the work the Israel Experience does is evident through its impact upon those who leave the trip truly enlightened and determined to make a change. Sandra Demetrius, also a 2016 Israel Experience Scholar, said, “As a communications major I want to focus on the untold story that you don’t hear on the news. On this trip we have witnessed the resilience and strength of the people of Israel, and coming out of this program I want to find ways to share that untold story with my community.”

Emphasizing his support for the Israel Experience, Director of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus John Reinstein added, “We must invest in the next generation if we are to win the battle for public opinion. The Israel Experience College Scholarship Program is at the forefront of that fight.”

While the Christian Birthright tends to focus on the more practical side behind what makes Israel unique, one student communicated how the trip opened his eyes to the Land’s Biblical secrets. “This trip broadened my perspective and theology. I came on this trip questioning how modern-day Israel had any relevance to the Israel of the Bible or my faith today,” said 2016 Israel Experience Scholar and pastoral ministries student Micah Brugere. “Being here in Israel, it is clear to me that God still does have a plan for Israel and the covenant of God with Israel has not changed.”