From Holy Land to Holy Hearts: UNDA students transformed by immersive experience

11 May 2023

By Contributor

By Dr Lawrence Pang

The UNDA Master of Education students, together with Old Testament Lecturer Dr Lawrence Pang, front row far right, at the UNDA Tantur Campus, Jerusalem. Photo: Supplied.

Studying the Bible in the Holy Land can transform hearts.

Eight University of Notre Dame Australia Master of Education students have recently explored the scriptural foundation of the Church that emerges from the experience of God in Jesus of Nazareth.

The immersive and life-changing experience, made possible through the generosity of the BJ Hickey Scholarship, will be the yeast in our hearts that transforms our engagement with students, colleagues, and others.

We came as a tourist and left as a pilgrim … strengthened by our experience to show God’s love in all that we do and in all that we say in our lives now and in the future.” (Sharee)

The UNDA Master of Education students, together with Old Testament Lecturer Dr Lawrence Pang, front row sixth from left at the Wailing Wall, Temple Mount, Old City side. Photo: Supplied.

Walking through Israel has provided greater ‘on the ground’ insights into the historical, geographical, and cultural nuances of the land. It has enriched our understanding of the Bible.

Although we have left behind the holy sites and ruins in Bethlehem, Capernaum, Tagba, Galilee, Nazareth, the Old City, the Temple Mount, Herodium, Masada, Tzipori and the Dead Sea, the stories heard and experienced continue to journey with us in our hearts and guide what we say and do.

The star of David in the Church of Nativity that marks the place of Jesus’ birth continues to direct our hearts and the songs sung at the Shepherd’s Field go on to echo in our being to remind us about whom Christ had come for. 

The UNDA Master of Education students, together with Old Testament Lecturer Dr Lawrence Pang, at the Dead Sea. Photo: Supplied.

“To dip my toes into the Sea of Galilee affirmed just how real and tangible the events of the Bible are, and it helped me to connect more deeply with the humanity of Jesus and the incredible impact he had on the world. This experience has been beyond life changing and is something I will not only treasure within, but proclaim with joy.” (Karen)

“To experience a humanistic geography, where one has the opportunity to use their senses and breathe in the stillness of being where Jesus was born, lived and died is truly moving.” (Jennie)

“Being on this pilgrimage has added a layer of understanding and spiritual connection to the scripture readings and I will forever carry with me the lessons that I have learnt here.” (David)

The opportunities to reflect on the Bible in the land in which Jesus walked, taught, ministered, lived, died, and resurrected has brought it to life.

The UNDA Master of Education students, together with Old Testament Lecturer Dr Lawrence Pang, front row far left, overlooking the Masada and Dead Sea together with Gabriel Mitchell of Notre Dame Jerusalem. Photo: Supplied.

Pondering on the lives of the people of the land, the living stones, has prompted much thought about their struggles that arise from differences and clashes in religious beliefs, political ideologies, cultural practices, identities, and traditions.

The land that was to be the place of peaceful co-existence has become a source of conflicts.

The strong desire to promote distinctiveness has led to the failure to recognise that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God.

This situation is the struggle of people everywhere, albeit in different circumstances and to different degrees.

Students from the UNDA attended a talk by Patriarchal Vicar of Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Bishop Rafic Nahra in Nazareth. Photo: Supplied.

The immersive study of themes in the Bible and participation in lectures about Christian discipleship in the mid of cultural and religious diversity and the concerns of Jews, Muslims and Christians of the Holy Land given by local experts has reinforced Christ’s message of loving your neighbor as yourself.

His message of hope shines forth every day like the morning sun that rises daily over the hills of Jerusalem penetrating the archway that leads to the University of Notre Dame at Tantur (Jerusalem).

Now, the scripture in the Bible becomes the living words that deepen our understanding of our role in the life of the Christian faith and mission as educators and disciples.

Student Caitlin Reynold was part of a group of eight UNDA Master of Education students who recently explored the scriptural foundation of the Church in Israel. Photo: Supplied.

“I am returning home with a more enriched sense of the Bible and my love of Jesus.” (Jackie)

“May the Holy Land continue to set its footprint in our hearts as we thread gently the ground on which we live and work and transform it into places where love blooms.” (Lawrence)