As support for Israel among young American Evangelicals shows signs of waning, one organization is doing its part to stem the tide by providing college students with an authentic experience of the Holy Land.
In just five short years, Passages has brought 8,000 students to Israel and would have topped 10,000 by now if not for COVID.
But Passages is not just about getting students to Israel – its three-fold mission also involves strengthening their Christian faith and their leadership skills.
“We want to equip the next generation of leaders to take their experience that they had in Israel and tell their communities about it,” Passages Executive Director Scott Phillips told ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “The trip is just a catalyst. It’s a means to an end.”
In an interview with News Editor Nicole Jansezian, Phillips said the Christian community faces a challenge – many students are neutral when it comes to the topic of Israel, some even skeptical. This is a far cry from the traditionally warm and overwhelming Evangelical support that Israel has enjoyed for decades.
That’s why Passages’ approach is different than that of the traditional Evangelical tours to Israel. The Israel itinerary includes visits to biblical sites, Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, the Syrian and Lebanese borders, Shabbat dinner with Jewish families and a visit to the West Bank to meet with Palestinians.
“It’s important that students come see the country for themselves. It’s important that they understand the spiritual power of Israel and also what's happening in Israel today,” Phillips said. “It’s important that they meet the people for themselves versus just hearing something in the media or hearing something on campus or maybe seeing something on a social media info graphic and taking it as the full truth and nothing but the truth.”
This isn’t your average experience that ends with the tour. Afterwards, the students complete a “capstone project” in which they expound on what they learned in Israel. Some students even go on to become campus ambassadors and connect with the local Jewish community.
“It’s very important that we follow up. You’re not just bringing them on a trip, but you’re investing in them to continue learning and also to be ambassadors,” Phillips said.
Passages works with a diverse number of students from about 600 colleges across America and maintains a strong network of alumni. The organization partners with the Philos Project in coordinating some of its groups.
Last year, 200 Passages' students were in Israel and had to be evacuated in March 2020 as COVID-19 began spreading and countries started closing their borders. This year, however, Passages was one of the first tours back in Israel after a 15-month closure, bringing a small group this month and with some 500 students waiting for permission from the Israeli government to come later this summer.
Phillips said another 3,000 students are lined up to visit Israel over the next year, should restrictions allow.
Learn more about Passages here.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.