TULSA, Okla. – While a majority of college students turn their attention to earning money or relaxing away from campus during summer break, Oral Roberts' Alex Valverde went down a road less traveled heading into his sophomore year. He joined a collection of nearly 50 students from across the country on a 10-day, trip-of-a-lifetime through Israel with a group called Covenant Journey.
A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Valverde spent half the trip in the Galilee region and the other half in Jerusalem. The goal of the group was to learn more about the conflicts surrounding Israel and Palestine, while at the same time strengthen their faith in Christ by bringing the Bible to life and experiencing the very places Jesus walked.
"Going to Israel was something I always wanted to do," Valverde said. "It was a dream of mine that came to pass thanks to God and Covenant Journey. Beyond just the spiritual aspect of everything, learning about the history of Israel and how much conflict they are in made me want to keep learning about this subject."
Valverde also used the opportunity in Israel to grow his faith by getting a real-life look at places he'd only read about in scripture that truly brought the Bible to life.
"The Bible and everything in it becomes more real as you are able to visualize the places that it talks about. Jesus became much more real to me. I understood the pain He endured as we walked where He carried His cross down "via dolorosa". I also realized Christ's love as we visited Calvary where He was crucified. Never before had I truly comprehended the pain and suffering that Jesus went through until I saw where He walked, where He died, and where He rose again."
Every day got off to an early start for the students with a devotional before taking a bus to various locations around the country.
"From the moment we got on the bus, our tour guide would start talking about where we were going and the historical importance of it all," Valverde explained. "We would arrive at the site, have a lesson about where we're at and tie in scripture to it. We would repeat this cycle until the day was over then we would head back to the hotel to eat and rest."
Being a well-developed country, the conditions for Valverde and the crew were much nicer than many expected prior to the tour, including modern and upscale hotels. Utilizing sponsorships, Covenant Journey helps cover many of the costs associated with the trip to make it affordable for students to attend and maximize their experience with memorable site visits.
"One of the coolest places we went to was Masada, an old fortress by the Dead Sea that was on a mountain. Learning about the history of it and the beauty of the surrounding dessert was absolutely incredible. Another thing I will never forget is when we had a holocaust survivor come and speak to our group. Her name was Hannah Goslar and she was a close friend to Anne Frank during the time of Nazi occupation. Hearing her story of the hardships she had to endure in concentration camps and having to lose her loved ones brought to light the horror Jewish people went through during this time."
While the trip may be over for Valverde, he noted several things that he will take away from the trip to Israel, but two of the most lasting were "being baptized in the Jordan River and watching the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee."
"I plan to keep reading and learning about Israel and what we can do to help. This trip wasn't just a journey that lasts a few short days; this was a journey that will last a lifetime."
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