Haley McCracken looked at the seat she had been sitting in just one year before -- before she graduated from Anderson University, before her mother passed away and before she even thought of going to Israel with the Jeeninga Fellowship of Archeology. A year ago she sat in the seat in front of her, listening to Shannon New-Spangler share about her experience in Israel. Little did McCracken know then about the trials and triumphs the year held for her. In one year she would be standing in front of Dr. David Niedert’s archeology class at sharing about her own experience in Israel.
McCracken listened to New-Spangler, the first recipient of the Jeeninga Fellowship of Archeology, relate her experience to her Christian walk and biblical understanding. "That was when I started thinking about applying for the fellowship," McCracken said. Once her archeology class visited the Oriental Museum in Chicago, she knew for sure. [Photo to left: McCracken explores a Syrian bunker discovered by the team she worked with. It was used between 1967 and 1973 and is on the edge of the Bethsaida property.]
McCracken studied Christian ministries at Anderson University. "I knew I wanted to do overseas ministry," she explained. She thought the trip would help her discover more about her faith and be more relevant overseas. McCracken also explained, "I wanted to go on the fellowship to have a better understanding of the history and culture surrounding the biblical text."
Along with the educational, spiritual and cultural experience, McCracken was most looking forward to inviting her father on the second half of her trip. She and her father always shared a love of history, so exploring ancient lands with him was a once in a lifetime experience.
McCracken was only hesitant about one thing, her mother was very sick with cancer. "I prayed that God would make this an easy decision for me," McCracken said. "Either my mom would be fine and I could go, or she would be gone." When she called her mother to tell her about the trip, her mother was excited for her and encouraged her to apply.
"When I opened the letter, it said ‘Congratulations, you have been selected to go to Bethsaida, Israel, as the 2009 Jeeninga Fellowship of Archeology recipient,’" McCracken remembered. "At first I was ecstatic, but then my heart sank. I knew my mom would be gone soon." Her friends and family encouraged her to be happy and enjoy the opportunity. However, she approached the faculty members who selected her for the fellowship about her situation. She let them know she might have to drop out at the last minute, depending on her mom’s condition. They reassured her that the fellowship was hers whenever she wanted to take it.
In April McCracken’s mother passed away. "Everyone at home was wonderful to my family, but one part of Israel I looked forward to was the joy of not being known," said McCracken. "No one would ask how I was or make me think or talk about my mom because they did not know my story." [Photo to right: McCracken explored a 17th century Druze fortress built into a cave along the side of Mount Arbel.]
In the beginning of June, McCracken arrived in Bethsaida, Israel, where disciples Peter, Andrew and Philip were born. It is thought to be the place where Jesus fed thousands by multiplying fish and bread and also where He healed the blind man.
The first two weeks of her trip McCracken worked on the dig. All day the group dug, discovered, photographed, excavated, photographed again and cleaned artifacts only to repeat the process. Mostly McCracken found dirt, rocks and pottery shards. "You might think pottery is boring, and I did too," she said. "Then I touched a piece and realized no one had touched it in over 2,000 years. Maybe a woman made dinner for her family with it, or a child carried water in it. Either way it was cool."
One night McCracken and another girl in the group sat by the Dead Sea. "We went down there to lay and read, but as usual we spent the entire time talking and never even cracked open our books," McCracken said. "As we talked about our lives, eventually my family came up in conversation. I told her about how my mom died five weeks earlier through tears streaming down my face." McCracken’s new friend was moved by the story and encouraged her to share it with the rest of the group. Eventually she did and found what she called, "the joy of being known."
The second part of her trip started with an adventure to Jerusalem. "A group had gone without a guide the weekend before, so I took a taxi to the bus station, got on a bus and thought I would be fine. I got off the bus and everyone dispersed… I soon realized I was lost in Jerusalem," she remembered. McCracken quickly found another cab and asked for a ride to her hotel.
Finally, her father came and spent two weeks sightseeing with her. "Each morning we got up and read the scriptures that pertained to where we were going that day. It really brought the scripture to life and made me read the Bible completely differently," McCracken explained. "Being able to have my dad there with me meant the world."
McCracken said her journey to Jerusalem taught her a lot about our place in the world. At the end of her presentation she displayed a picture of herself in Israel on the screen. As the picture of McCracken faded into a picture of the world, she stood at the front of the room and explained, "There is so much more than this and so much more than us." [Photo below: McCracken had the opportunity to see historic sites she had only imagined. Here, the Sea of Galilee is visible from the McCracken’s perch on the top of Mount Arbel.]
— Elizabeth Vincent is a junior from Greenfield, Ind., majoring in communication arts and minoring in political science. Vincent is an associate with Fifth Street Communications, writing on behalf of Anderson University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2008, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the fourth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.