Middle East Travel Seminar

MIDDLE EAST TRAVEL SEMINAR (from 2013)

 Background and purpose:

The Middle East Travel-Seminar was initiated in 1979 as a joint venture of three seminaries (Emory, Columbia and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), funded by the Pittulloch Foundation, and directed by Dr. Max Miller.   We have conducted a travel-seminar every summer since then except for 1991 (the year of the Gulf War) and 2002 (following 9/11).  Plans are underway for the 2012 travel-seminar, to be led by Dr. Miller and either Dr. Stephen McKenzie of Rhodes College or Dr. James Pace of Elon University.

The 2012 travel group will include approximately twenty two seminary students and six non-students, all carefully selected.  The students are expected to be Master of Divinity “middlers” who are moving toward full-time, ordained, Christian ministry; who intend to be in residency next fall at the seminary that nominated them; and who have never traveled in the Middle East.  All participants must have, or be able to obtain, a US or Canadian passport.  This is a strenuous trip; if you are not in excellent physical condition, this experience is not for you.  Engagement by all participants in both the physical and intellectual challenges of group travel, including honest and open discussions with other group participants throughout the trip, is expected.

The METS program has two overriding purposes. 

However, while traveling in the lands of the Bible is a central feature, this is not intended as a specifically biblical seminar.  We will be attentive to the whole long sweep of the history of the Middle East, to the various religious traditions of this region, and to current political circumstances.

Overview of the program:

The seminar requires commitment to full participation in an intensive orientation, three weeks of travel, a reflection paper, and a “wrap-up” weekend.  Orientation will begin in Atlanta on May 11 (Saturday) and continue through Monday when we depart for Amman.  We will travel then for three weeks in Jordan, Sinai, Israel and Greece, returning to the US on June 3 (Monday).  The follow-up will consist of a reflection paper written by each participant (due by July 1) and the concluding wrap-up seminar in Atlanta on September 13-14 (Friday evening and Saturday morning through mid-afternoon on Saturday).  The focus and format of the paper varies widely but represents each participant’s thoughtful reflections upon some aspect (or aspects) of the three-week experience. There is always plenty to reflect upon.  The wrap-up weekend, in addition to serving as a reunion, is an occasion for group reflection after we have had time to re-enter our normal routines and begun to “pack away” the travel experience. 

Costs:

Each participant pays $1500 toward the cost of the orientation and travel, and covers his or her travel to and accommodations in Atlanta for the wrap-up weekend in September.  Also there will be some incidental trip expenses along the way such as an occasional meal (as when we are in transit and cannot eat as a group), occasional tips that must be handled on an individual basis, and beverages at most meals.  These additional involuntary expenses should amount to about $400. Obviously there will be lots of voluntary opportunities to spend money along the way—but that’s a discretionary decision.

Academy International Travel Service books all flights, and there is no additional charge for the domestic leg of the journey to and from Atlanta prior to and following the May/June travel.  This assumes that seminarians will depart from and return to the airport designated for their seminary.  Consider also, that most of the costs of the trip must be paid to airlines and hotels weeks in advance of our departure and cannot be recovered.  Thus each participant’s check for $1500.00 must be received by April 10, and this cannot be refunded after that date unless the trip is canceled.  

Your commitment:

This is not a commercial tour.  It is a carefully structured seminar from the beginning of orientation to the end of the wrap-up weekend. Your $1500 pays only about a fifth of the cost, and all of us who work to make it happen do so on a volunteer basis.  We expect you in return to covenant full participation in the whole program – all of the orientation, everything on the travel agenda, the reflection paper, the concluding Friday evening through mid-afternoon Saturday wrap-up sessions - the entire program.  This means allocating time during the last three weeks of June to reflect on the experience and write the paper which is due by July 1, as well as protecting the time and anticipating the cost of returning to Atlanta for the wrap-up sessions in September. 

Regarding the reflection paper, the experience will provide a great deal to reflect upon, and the paper calls on you to do this in an intentional fashion while the experience is still fresh.  These papers are bound and made available to all of those who have participated in the experience with you during your year.  Also they are made available to many other people –e.g., to the key persons involved in the funding of the program, the numerous people who volunteer their time to make it happen, educators throughout the southeast, and others.  While this is a “reflection” paper, therefore, and not one that will require research, it is to be taken very seriously, and that begins with scheduling ample time for reflection and writing during the three weeks following the trip.

Atlanta participants usually invite the out-of-towners to stay with them for Friday night of the wrap-up weekend.  Otherwise, travel costs associated with this weekend should be minimal for students because you will be in residency at your respective seminaries next fall and can share automobile expenses.  But let us be very clear about the level of commitment that we expect of you regarding full participation in the METS program including wrap-up weekend.  Other things may come up next fall.  Let’s suppose for example that your best friend decides to get married that very weekend and wants you to be in the wedding.  Or let’s say that you have an unexpected opportunity to spend next fall in California or even Europe, which would make coming back to Atlanta for wrap-up more expensive.  Think about possibilities of this sort, and if you are unwilling to commit to giving METS wrap-up weekend full priority when the time comes, then do not accept this very generous travel grant from the Pittulloch Foundation.  Please withdraw your name from consideration.

This program is not for everyone!

Although travel in the lands of the Bible is a central feature of this trip, although Miller, McKenzie and Pace are internationally known biblical scholars, and although religious pilgrimage is an important aspect of the trip, we wish to emphasize that this is a serious study program, an extension of the classroom, that attempts to engage the whole of Middle Eastern history and culture.  If you are interested only in Bible times and biblical connections, this program is not for you.  The seminar has as much to do with post-biblical times and Islam as with the New Testament and Christianity.

We wish to emphasize as well that this is a strenuous trip.  There will be lots of walking, much of it uphill.  If you are not in excellent physical condition, or have any reservations about participating fully in every aspect of the program, then you should not go.  This commitment also includes a willingness to engage in conversations with other participants, especially on topics in which others may or may not share your point of view.  Examples of topics that have in the past caused consternation at best and unhealthy exchanges at worst include discussions of gender issues or worship protocol.  Be prepared to set aside differences in order to worship with one anther and learn from one another by engaging in respectful and honest discourse.

One objective of the METS program is to engage aspects of a different culture.  Please be fair with us on this matter.  If you have any personal limitations or habits that might stand in the way, bring these to our attention during the selection process.  All of us have food preferences, for example, and occasionally pass up this or that item offered to us.  But excessively “picky” eating habits will be out of place on this trip.  And even if you could stuff enough snack food into your travel bag to get by for three weeks, it would be counterproductive to the cultural experience. There are other cultural accommodations that occasionally must be made during the trip--for instance, specifically modest dress at certain points along the way--so your cooperation with these details is expected too.

Finally, all travel, certainly travel to the Middle East, involves a degree of risk.  We think that this experience is worth some risk.  Nevertheless, if international circumstances near time of departure suggest that the risk is unusually high at that time, we may decide to redirect to Turkey or to cancel the trip altogether.  That will be our difficult decision to make and you will need to be flexible if the itinerary must be changed. 

Consider also that your “risk threshold” may be different than ours.  If you go, we expect you to go as an adult who has considered the risk and agree that the experience is worth it  to you.  So before applying, think about whether you really want to travel to that part of the world in the first place, take into account that things could get worse between now and May, and consider that we may not consider the worsened situation serious enough to cancel the trip.  Naturally, if we cancel the trip, your $1500 will be refunded.  Bur if we do not, and you withdraw after April 10, we cannot refund your $1500 payment. 

The METS program is an opportunity to fully engage other seminary students, while also fully engaging the lay participants who are leaders in their communities and in their chosen fields, and learning from one another through respectful but energetic discussions throughout the trip.  METS is an opportunity to travel in the Middle East with faculty scholars who invite a deeper understanding of the region, while providing a rich group experience.  Please give the many facets of this experience your careful consideration before you make a firm commitment to be fully engaged in every aspect of the program. The success of the METS experience is built upon the full participation of every traveler.