‘We just continually kept praying’: Tennessee church group arrives home safely from Israel

Members of Sunnyside Baptist Church of Kingsport, Tennessee, embrace each other as a tour group safely returns from Israel amid the October 2023 outbreak of war.
Members of Sunnyside Baptist Church of Kingsport, Tennessee, embrace each other as a tour group safely returns from Israel amid the October 2023 outbreak of war. | Screengrab: YouTube/WJHL

A group of about 50 people who traveled to Israel on a trip hosted by a Tennessee church and were in the country as the Hamas attack began last weekend has safely arrived back home in the United States.

Sunnyside Baptist Church of Kingsport welcomed the group this week, with local media outlet WCYB covering the reunion of the travelers when they met family and friends back home.

Angie Baker, a member of Sunnyside Baptist who was on the Middle East trip, told The Christian Post that the trip had been planned for almost a year with the hope of seeing where "Jesus lived and walked."

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"We wanted to see, experience and learn more about those places. Our biggest intent for the trip was to help us better visualize and understand the context of our scriptures," Baker said.

When the Hamas attacks on Israel's southern border began last Saturday, her tour group was at the historic of Masada, the ancient stronghold near Jerusalem where, in the first century, a group of Jewish rebels were besieged by a Roman army and eventually committed mass suicide.

"We were gathered together listening to our tour guide explain some of the things we were seeing in relation to King Herod and the buildings he had built on the grounds," she recounted.

"During this time, we heard a single, loud boom. Our tour guide's phone began to get text messages immediately. Another tour guide came up, and they spoke to each other in their native language."

After having lunch and boarding the tour bus, the group learned that something "unprecedented in nature" had happened and that they were returning to their hotel pending more information.

"The national parks, the Dead Sea entrance and other sites were closing all over the area. People were leaving their businesses and returning to their homes," said Baker. "Over the next two days, we were very limited in where we could go and how long we could stay."

Comparing the "atmosphere" to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Baker said they were primarily confined to the hotel and instructed to be ready to leave immediately, noting that everyone around her was "somber, worried and unsure."

"Our tour guide and travel company kept consistently communicating that they thought we would be able to keep our scheduled flight on Oct. 10. We just continually kept praying for that to be God's will for our group," said Baker.

"Under the supervision of our tour guides, we left our hotel for the Tel Aviv airport a little before 3 a.m. We were able to keep that scheduled flight, flying Turkish Airlines from Tel Aviv to Istanbul and then from Istanbul to Atlanta, where our chartered bus was waiting to take us all home to Kingsport."

Baker told CP that she and her group "were relieved and very thankful" for their safe journey.

"We were amazed to find out how many people had been involved in praying for us," she said. 

When they pulled back into their church parking lot, Baker said there were people there who welcomed them upon their return. 

"[T]he joy we felt was overwhelming," she said. "While we were never really afraid because we knew that God was faithful, we were anxious and stressed, and when we got on the bus to Atlanta, we were all very joyful to be in our bus seat bound for home."

Last weekend, the Palestinian Islamic terrorist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing more than 1,200 people. 

In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war and Israel engaged in ongoing retaliatory strikes, killing over 1,000.

The attack on Israel drew widespread outrage from Western powers. The Biden administration released a joint statement, along with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, denouncing the "appalling acts of terrorism" committed by Hamas.

"We make clear that the terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned. There is never any justification for terrorism," the joint statement reads.

"All of us recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and support equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike. But make no mistake: Hamas does not represent those aspirations, and it offers nothing for the Palestinian people other than more terror and bloodshed."

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