Touring the Holy Land

Byron Caldwell, Freddy Hipp and Jeanne Hipp, all of Crossett, recently toured Israel with a deaf Christian group. Caldwell served as an American Sign Language interpreter for the group. The group is seen here in the Old City of Jerusalem. (SUBMITTED/News Observer)

A local man recently traveled to Israel to help a group of people “hear” as well as see the Holy Land.

Byron Caldwell was asked to travel to Israel and serve as a sign language interpreter for a group of deaf Christians from across the United States.

The group consisted of nine individuals, each representing a different religious tradition and region but all had in common what they would call “deaf blood.”

The deaf community at whole doesn’t let race, religion, or gender separate them, Caldwell said, but instead all share the same language and the same culture — the so-called deaf blood — and because of that they see each other as brothers and sisters.

The group had a tour guide that accompanied them that was a native to Israel, Evan Brotman.

Brotman spoke Hebrew and English.

Two other members of the Crossett community, Freddy Hipp and Jeanne Hipp —who both attend  The First United Pentecostal Church of Crossett with Caldwell — were on the trip.

Both Freddy and Jeanne Hipp said the trip was a trip of a lifetime and no words nor could pictures or videos explain the beauty and or the spirit felt at each place they visited.

“It’s like the Bible coming to life before your eyes” Jeanne said. At each location visited, Freddy read scriptures that pertained to each site and Caldwell would interpret these scriptures to the deaf group.

“This was a wonderful experience and truly an opportunity of a lifetime” Caldwell said. “I’ve interpreted in a lot of places but interpreting in Israel was one that I will never forget.”

The group started in Tel Aviv, where they toured the oldest port of Israel and the house of Simon the Tanner, which is referenced in the Bible’s Book of Acts. They learned that it was at that port that the biblical prophet Jonah departed and was thrown overboard and then swallowed by a big fish.

Later, the group traveled to Tiberias and  spent two nights. In Tiberias they rode on a Gospel ship on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. Onboard they had a short service and had several songs that Caldwell interpreted in American Sign Language.

The group later toured an area that has recreated the view and scenery of the time of Jesus. At that stop, the group got to learn about the ways things were made in those times along with how a typical day would have been for Jesus of Nazareth.

Caldwell and another deaf minister, Robin Polin, baptized five of the deaf members in the Jordan River, which was the river in which John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

They then went to other sites such as the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi and seeing the actual caves in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

For the remainder of the tour, they spent five nights in Jerusalem and toured many places that included the Mount of Olives, the Garden Tomb and Golgotha and the Via Dolorosa, which is believed to be the path Jesus traveled on the way to the crucifixion.

The group even got to ride on the back of a camel and had a made at the Mount of Olives.

On the last day in Jerusalem, the group visited a deaf school and was able to learn about the education and services offered to the deaf in Israel. 

Brotman not only toured the group from site to site but also contributed introductions to the old and current cultures of Israel which included the different foods and dishes that are native to Israel.

“They had some amazing food and each dish was rich in flavor and spices but I couldn’t wait to get back to Country Vittles and McDonalds,” Caldwell said.

“The food there is kosher, which means you can’t eat diary and meat in the same meal — so no cheese on your burgers or pepperoni on your pizza. We are glad to be home but it was a trip of a lifetime touring the Holy Land. It was work for me but was worth every ounce of energy. To see the Bible come to life and to not only see it but to interpret it for the deaf group was an experience I’ll never forget.”

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