News4JAX sits down with Fernandina Beach pastor after church group arrives home safely from Middle East

The final members of a group touring Israel with First Baptist Church Fernandina Beach arrived home safely Sunday night after being stuck in the Middle East amid the ongoing turmoil of the war between Israel and Hamas.

They were stranded and could see the impact of the war. News4JAX sat down with Pastor Zack Terry Monday to discuss their experience and return home.

The trip with 54 people from the First Baptist Church in Fernandina Beach was supposed to be a religious experience. Terry said they were visiting the sites in the Holy Land.

Related: ‘It’s good to be home’: All members of Fernandina Beach church group arrive safely in States from Middle East

“It started out as a perfectly normal, peaceful day on the Sea of Galilee. Our people were learning Jewish dances, and it went from that to a war seems to be looming.”

We asked Terry about when they saw smoke from the bombings, and when they heard the air raid siren.

“We would go from moments of just pure joy, driving up the mountain into the city of Jerusalem — it was just a beautiful experience. Seeing the temple mount for the first time was just a glorious sight. When we pulled up to an intersection, we noticed that ladies were out of their cars. And they were, you know, ducking for cover. And we hadn’t seen that before. It’s not something you see here in the States,” Terry said. “And so it didn’t occur to us what was going on. But the bus driver opened the door, and he was about to get us out. And we heard the sirens. And it clicked with the group almost at the same time, what was happening. And so a couple of missiles had gotten through the Iron Dome and fallen in a non-populated area. And we knew then, this wasn’t something happening an hour and a half away. This was something happening. Right on our plan and our schedule.”

He continued to tell us how the trip unfolded.

MORE | ‘Pray for us’: Fernandina Beach church group trapped in Israel amid armed conflicts

“Eventually, flights were canceled and getting home became difficult. They were worried about being stuck for weeks. Everybody had their moments. You know, we all had our moments. There were times when there would be tears, and just, you know, confusion over what was happening. And we all had our moments of concern, right. And overall, it was remarkably faith-filled. And just resting that, you know, if it’s our time we were ready. But they were able to cross the border and get to nearby Jordan and eventually fly home.

Terry said they weren’t the only ones with that idea as thousands of people attempted to cross the Jordanian border. He said their tour company, Signature Tours, found them accommodations in Jordan, provided them with guides and paid for all the flights home.

News4JAX asked about his thoughts on the war.

“What Hamas is doing is far more than just religious extremism is in our point of view as demonic, so evil, and the way that they’re attacking is just utterly brutal. And so that’s not representative of the people that I’ve met over there. And, you know, I just hope that the world sees that this is a minority and this is an extreme minority that’s not representative of a people group by any means,” Terry said.

We asked Terry if he plans to revisit the Middle East.

“If it ends, I really hope so. It won’t be soon.”

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