“I wanted to learn where Jesus walked and taught,” said Kayla Fylstra, 19. Fylstra, a member of Holland Heights Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., is one of several adults with intellectual disabilities who traveled to the Middle East in October on the Heart of God Tour.
The tour group at the airport in Istanbul en route to Cairo, Egypt.
The tour was led by George DeJong, senior pastor at Holland Heights, who leads three study trips a year through Under the Fig Tree Ministry, often with pastors from developing countries.
The reason for this unique trip? “To make God smile,” said DeJong.
A group of some 40 people, including 14 participants with special needs, traveled through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel on the two-week tour. Each participant with special needs was accompanied by a “buddy,” a family member, friend, or other companion, as well as others serving in support roles.
Although his normal itinerary was slightly modified, DeJong told the travelers, “This is the real thing. We’re doing real stuff.” They rode camels at the pyramids, visited a mosaic shop that employs people with special needs, and hiked three hours upstream through the gorge at the Arnon River in Jordan.
“I experienced God the most at the Arnon because of the force of the cold water. It was the most difficult,” said Jodie Wolters, 38.
While the trip made a big impact on the participants, they had an even bigger impact on those around them—their buddies, the Muslim guides in Egypt and Jordan, and the Israelis they worked with. At the Sea of Galilee, the group was given special accommodations on the coast and honorary certificates from the country’s Ministry of Tourism. “[The Israelis] had tears in their eyes as we were going away. . . . They had never seen such a thing before,” DeJong said.
“When the tour began, those of us in support roles assumed we would minister to the participants,” said Andrea Bult, who wrote the trip’s blog. “As the trip went on, it became very apparent that we had it backward. We were the ones being ministered to.”