All who survive of all those nations that came up against Yerushalayim shall make a pilgrimage year by year to bow low to the King lord of Hosts and to observe the festival of Sukkot. Zechariah 14:16 (The Israel Bible™)
On Thanksgiving, Israeli soldiers joined US Marines in a festive Thanksgiving meal. The event was hosted by the Lone Soldier Center and featured a keynote address from Israel’s Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.
During the event, this reporter caught up with the American Marines serving in Jerusalem who are tasked with protecting the US Embassy to hear how, as Christians, they reacted to serving America in the Holy Land.
The first Marine I spoke with was Seargent Travis Operle from Ste. Genevieve Missouri. Raised as a Baptist, (and even lived in a Baptist campground all-year-round) Operle attended his local church every Sunday. Operle actually requested to be stationed in Israel while serving in China. As he puts it, “I wanted to explore the sites more, the Church of the holy Sepulcher, Via de la Rosa.” He also added that he was mostly impressed with the country’s history and less so with its spiritual significance. His father on the other hand, who is a more practicing Baptist was far more impressed when he visited Israel than his son was.
Lance corporal Ewan Manutuinei was raised as a Mormon in a Samoan family in Salt Lake City, Utah. He described his upbringing as “very Mormon.”. Every Sunday, Manutuinei attended church. From grades 6-12, he would attend Bible classes. At 12, he achieved priesthood as well as blessing sacrament which allowed him to perform baptisms at 16-years old. He also attended a Public school seminary which is a religious class during the school day. However, Manutuinei admitted that he is longer practicing Mormonism. Finding his own way, he still believes in the religion’s principles and core values. He also says that he believes in restitution and “has a relationship with God.”
While going on a run, Manutuinei noted that seeing the Garden of Gethsemane was an event that he described as “surreal.” He describes himself as “not super-spiritual” but insists that he does have a “relationship with jesus”. Describing a tour of the Dome of Rock, Manutuinei called it “one of those moments.” His father saw divine intervention in his being stationed in Israel adding: “When I told my dad, he was like ‘whoa!’ That’s God’s way of telling me to return to God.”
Gunnery sergeant Juan Mendez of Houston, Texas has been stationed in Jerusalem for “almost a year”. Mendez is Catholic and his aunt is a nun. Mendez said that he “traveled everywhere in the country and there hasn’t been one spot that I didn’t connect to in the Bible.” As a Catholic who has been to the Vatican, Mendez admitted that there was “more meaning in Israel than the Vatican” calling the Catholic city-state “too touristy”.