Minot pastor Kent Hinkel leads groups on pilgrimages to Holy Land

Pastor leads pilgrimage

Submitted Photo The Minot-based group is shown on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

Kent Hinkel made his first pilgrimage to Israel when he was a student in his last year of ministry training in 1994.

“In the years now as a pastor, especially as a teaching pastor, I have found it invaluable to have immersion into the context of scripture – the land of the Bible. It’s so helpful to communicating biblical story, biblical narrative, biblical events in teaching and preaching when one has had some firsthand experience with the land. But more than personal benefit or in addition to that I found it to be a real joy to bring others on a spiritual discovery,” said Hinkel, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Minot.

He said their guide in Jerusalem, Saad Shaar, a native of Jerusalem, is fond of telling them, “Jerusalem is our first home.”

“It’s really the homeland of our Christian faith. Jerusalem is where the significant events of Christianity took place, which created Christianity, so every believer, every follower of Christ has a true spiritual connection to that land and when they take the opportunity to visit it they sense an affinity with a place they’ve never been. I see it again and again because I’ve led four trips since that first one,” Hinkel said.

Those four pilgrimages have been while Hinkel has been at First Baptist Church in Minot. He has been at First Baptist since 1995. He said some of the people from here who went on the first trip with him have returned with him on subsequent pilgrimages.

Submitted Photo Members of the Minot-based group are shown in this photo praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

“They want to revisit some of the familiar things and they want to see new things,” he said.

The most recent pilgrimage was Jan. 16-26, when a group of 27 people hosted by Hinkel went to Israel. The group included members of First Baptist Church and other churches in Minot along with a few others joining the group from other regions of the U.S.

“Going to Israel for the first time was an amazing experience,” said Mark McDonald of Minot. “There were two key perspectives that I brought home: First, how the experience allows me to add depth to the Bible…not only to read about locations, but to pause and think that I’ve been there and have a small glimpse of the surroundings. Second, a better understanding of distances…For example, to experience the Garden of Gethsemane, then Caiaphas’ house and know exactly how far Jesus traveled after his arrest…Or to be where Jesus faced Pontius Pilate, then walk the Via Dolorosa and go to Calvary (Golgotha, which is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and gain a sense of how far He traveled. It just brings Scripture alive in a way not known before.”

“The stories of Jesus are beloved and precious, which we are compelled to read, study and apply the lessons they convey. After seeing the places where they occurred, they take on new meaning and life,” said Dr. Dean Redington of Minot.

The pilgrimages are done through Educational Opportunities Tours (EO) based in Lakeland, Fla., one of the biggest transporters and supporters of Christian travel to the Holy Land. Hinkel establishes the itinerary for the pilgrimages.

Submitted Photo Kim Breuer, left, of Minot, and the Minot-based group’s Jerusalem guide, Saad Shaar, are shown at the Sea of Galilee in Israel.

“We spend the first several nights in Bethlehem, which is a bit off the beaten path, not for visiting but for residing,” Hinkel said. Shaar, their guide, has taken them to many places, such as Jacob’s Well, a very biblical important location.

“It’s the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman in John Chapter 4. It’s still producing water. You can read John 4 but on our trip you’re going to go right to the well and then we’re going to read that story right at the well and then we’re going to pull some water up out of that well and we can drink out of it – it’s clear and clean. You have a whole litany of biblical events that have happened there. John 4 is only one of many. For our first timers, especially when they get to see the actual well, when they read the actual account and they say this isn’t just near where it happened, this is where this event happened, it really is a powerful connection in your mind and heart to the story of what took place there,” he said.

Pam Pearson of Minot was among the recent group visiting Israel. She related: “Jacob’s Well made a big impression in my mind – somehow I was able to visualize the peasant woman who was so kind to Jesus. Lesson learned: ‘Be kind and love all.’ Sharing that moment with my friends was special! The Sea of Galilee boat ride was a tear jerker (in a positive way). Then to gather and dance the Hava Nagila was another layer of greatness. Baptism in the River Jordan with beautiful friends – tough to explain. Even though it meant a ‘bad hair day.’ How about finding out about the Dead Sea Scrolls and floating in the Dead Sea? Amazing.”

Hinkel said Jerusalem has been seeing an incredible influx of people coming there to visit from around the globe. In January, he said, over a million people from all over the world visited there.

“One of my favorite experiences wasn’t a particular place, although there were many fascinating sites. It was the people in our group who demonstrated their belief in Christ by their acts of kindness, concern and friendship to a stranger. I was humbled and honored to be with people who live their faith. They were inspiring to me,” said Rita Damberger of Minot.

Submitted Photo Glen Siembida was baptized in the Jordan River. A number of others were also baptized there.

“The last day of the tour at Jesus’ tomb representing resurrection followed by communion together with all was a highlight for me,” said Duane Haugstad of Minot.

Baptisms were part of the experiences in Israel.

“For many people it’s a remarkable place to experience Christian baptism. For some it’s a rebaptism -they’ve been baptized – but for some they want to take it as symbolic special opportunity to be baptized in the same river that Jesus was baptized in,” Hinkel said.

For some like Glen Siembida, it’s a first time to be baptized, Hinkel said. Glen, a seventh grader, was baptized in the Jordan River with several other people on the trip.

“It’s completely a personal decision,” Hinkel said. He performs the baptisms.

“The most meaningful and powerful experience was my immersion in the River Jordan,” said Marly Christenson of Washington state. “There were many other special moments, like dancing on the Sea of Galilee, floating on the Dead Sea, dipping our toes in the Mediterranean Sea by Caesarea, eating street food on the rooftop in the Old City, finding the location of King Herod’s tomb and sharing Communion.”

What is most significant to Hinkel when going on the pilgrimages to Israel?

“Probably it is observing the ah-ha moments in others,” he said. He said his joy is seeing others on the trip and observing what on the trip stands out for them.

“I love seeing their spiritual discovery. I love seeing renewal in their heart, their mind,” he said.“I find such joy in knowing that it makes their Bible reading more interesting or it makes them more alive in their prayer life. Seeing the impact it has on others is to me probably the greatest joy. I just treasure it, I just love seeing people just get excited, get renewed in their Christian faith.”

Secondly, he said every group that goes on the pilgrimages becomes a little family and they take care of each other.

Another pilgrimage is being discussed that would take place in the next 12-24 months.

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send email suggestions to msasser@minotdailynews.com.)

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