A Bellingham church pastor is working to lead a church group that is stuck in the Middle East to safety as the Israel-Hamas war continues.
As of Wednesday, October 11, the official death toll on the fifth day of the Israel-Hamas war has reached more than 2,300 lives, which includes more than 1,200 deaths in Israel and 1,100 deaths in Gaza.
That figure included at least 22 Americans, according to the State Department.
The Gaza Ministry of Health said the 1,100 deaths included 326 children.
More than 8,000 people have been wounded amid the war as of Wednesday.
Grant Fishbook, a lead teaching pastor at Christ the King Community Church in Bellingham, according to his Facebook page, shared three video updates on his social media in the past couple of days about his group’s status after being stuck in the Middle East.
In his latest video update on Wednesday, Fishbook said, “Please continue to pray for us. We’re in great spirits. Everyone is doing really well, other than being a little emotionally tired. More than anything. Or a lot emotionally tired, let’s be honest.”
The pastor said the group plans to catch flights out of Jordan, beginning Friday evening, to head back to Seattle.
“As of right now, we’re moving in the right direction,” he said in the video.
Members of the group will leave in waves, he said, after the group was originally planning to take off to Seattle Wednesday.
“Our flights home on Wednesday were canceled,” he shared in his second video update. “So we’ve been working tirelessly to find other ways home.”
He did not provide details on what specifically caused the change of plans.
In the first video he shared earlier this week, Fishbook explained to loved ones back home that, “We can stay in Jerusalem and stare at our phones or there are some safe places that we can go to, and this is where Sam brought us today to rest and to reflect on God’s protection.”
We drove up to Bellingham to talk with leaders of Christ the King Community Church (CTK), which is located on Meridian Street.
According to its website, the church’s mission is to “create authentic Christ-centered communities that love God wholeheartedly and reach out intentionally so that others experience new life in Jesus and a transforming life of discipleship.”
Brian Steele, pastor for adults at the church, said he and church leaders have been in communication with the group.
“We’re in almost in constant contact with them, when they’re not asleep,” he said.
Steele said the group, with nearly 60 adults, mostly members of the church, flew to Israel 11 days ago to deepen their faith and explore the history of their faith.
“Experience faith through the eyes being in Israel. Grow as disciples of Jesus. Learn more about, connecting the Bible to history and stepping into that history,” he said.
The group was in Jerusalem when the war broke out, he added.
** INSERT SECOND PHOTO OF GROUP DURING TRIP
“Right away, I knew they were safe in Jerusalem. I knew that was a very good place for them to be. They weren’t traveling in the south,” he said. “When there was a declaration of war, that’s different than what’s been happening in recent history where there’d be different skirmishes. So that really changed. It added a seriousness that wasn’t typical for that area.”
Steele told us that the current plan is for the group to fly from Jordan to Qatar and back to Seattle. The group will travel back in different waves, adding that he hopes the first group will arrive in Seattle by Friday.
As the group navigates the uncertainty, Steele said the group is exploring safe areas to help keep their minds busy.
“Hearing that they’re trying to not just sit in the hotel be afraid, but fill their time in ways that are enriching in ways they’re still being able to encounter the Holy Land and meet different people, and that’s helped a lot, instead of sitting and fearing,” he said.
And some of that fear is also being acknowledged back home at their church, he told us.
Around 4,000 church members are praying for the group, Steele said, while recognizing their own thoughts and feelings.
“We’re just being honest and naming the fears, naming some of the doubts and uncertainties,” he said.
Steele stressed that the group is still relying heavily on their faith during this difficult time.
“We are rallying around them. We’re praying together. We’re praying for them,” he said. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil because He’s with us. Being in the valley of the shadow of death, and this war is that. It’s the dark valley. What’s helpful is to acknowledge the valley, not pretend, not try to over-spiritualize. It’s name the valley, name the darkness, name the difficulty, and be honest with it.”
Steele said the group did not suffer any injuries and the church is still finalizing plans to welcome the group home.
“We are for you and we’re with you. We love you. We know this is a trial. And we know this is difficult. We’re praying for you,” he said. “It’ll be amazing (when the group returns). It’s going to be big big hugs.”
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