By Suzanne WislerFor The Monroe News
Pastor Ted Kerr got an unexpected surprise recently: a trip to the Holy Land.
In January, the pastor of Ida’s Prince of Peace Lutheran Church and his wife, Diane, spent 21 days in the sacred Middle Eastern region.
Members of his congregation paid their way.
“It was pretty awesome. It just blew us away,” said Pastor Kerr, who’s been at the church for 12 years.
It all began just before Christmas when church official Martha Kamprath went on a retreat.
“Someone said going to the Holy Land was a life-changing experience. (She) always thought it would be a wonderful thing to send our pastor,” said Lynn Zabawa, president of the congregation.
Ms. Kamprath mentioned it to other church leaders. And then brainstorming began.
Incidentally, Michael Opfermann, a church member and student at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, was going on a seminary-sponsored trip to the Holy Land in January. But the sign-up deadline had passed months earlier.
Still, they decided to try.
When trip planners said one more guest was fine, they checked Pastor Kerr’s calendar: no weddings for the 21-day period.
“Maybe we could make this happen,” said Mrs. Zabawa.
Then, Pastor Kerr’s wife gave her blessing.
“She was all giddy and excited. She said, ‘It’s been a dream of his. We’ve just never been able to make it happen,’ ” said Mrs. Zabawa.
Church officials met and, within just days, had almost enough money for Pastor Kerr’s trip.
So, they raised money for postage and secretly mailed letters to the rest of the 600-member congregation.
The balance quickly came in.
At Christmastime, Mrs. Kerr brought her husband to church for the surprise presentation. He walked in to see several church members sitting at a table.
“The look of horror on his face; he thought he was going to be fired,” recalled Mrs. Zabawa.
Then, they uncovered a nativity, which had a sign pointing to Bethlehem.
He had to leave right then to have his passport expedited.
“Pastor honestly just had to be led to his office and then be led to his car,” recalled Mrs. Zabawa.
Meanwhile, more money trickled in. In all, it was almost $10,000.
“We’re a little country church,” said Mrs. Zabawa.
Pastor Kerr was allowed to spend the extra money as he wished. He chose to bring his wife on the trip.
There was exactly enough money for her trip.
“Within 10 days, the money came in for her to go. It was a very unexpected blessing. That’s how they roll here,” said Pastor Kerr.
“It’s neat, the way it all came together,” said Mrs. Zabawa. “A lot of things had to fall into place for this to come together. Pastors deal with difficult stress in our congregations. They need a spiritual reload. Maybe some other church would be inspired to say, ‘we can do this too.’ ”
The Kerrs and the 26 other travelers departed Jan. 3. The flight took 12 hours.
Pastor Kerr was awed to be on sacred ground.
“Seeing the spots where Jesus actually visited: Nazareth, the Jordan River, Bethlehem. We spent one Sunday on the Sea of Galilee. We worshiped at a church built near where the Beatitudes were (proclaimed); the Sea of Galilee was in the background,” he said.
He also enjoyed seeing archeological sites.
“Some of them are still actual digs,” he recalled.
The Holy Land, he said, is about the size of Massachusetts, and it’s hilly, rocky and a desert. It also has many conflicts.
“It’s a very volatile area. There’s a lot of political turmoil,” said Pastor Kerr. “Israelis just seize land and property.”
He saw a monastery full of mortar shells from a war and looking toward the northern border of Syria, he could see bunkers and landmines.
“That affected us greatly,” he said.
Nonetheless, he maintains the area is safe.
“Tourism is their No. 1 industry,” he said. He saw 20 tour buses at the Tel Aviv airport.
Pastor Kerr earned a master of divinity degree in 1984 from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus.
Before coming to Prince of Peace, he was an associate pastor in Warren and Lake Orion.
Mrs. Kerr is a registered nurse and a volunteer at Prince of Peace.
They have two grown children and a grandson.
Since returning, Pastor Kerr has given two presentations about his trip, where he shows some of his 12,000 pictures. Ninety-three turned out for one April 6 at Ida United Methodist Church.
Yes, despite his positive experiences, Pastor Kerr has no plans to return to the Holy Land.
“It was an amazing, incredible area, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Pastor Kerr. “I recommend it for anyone, but I have no desire to go back.”