KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) – On Oct. 3, nearly 50 members of Sunnyside Baptist Church arrived in Israel for a tour of religious sites. The group was there when reports of attacks began to circulate and were out of harm’s way, according to church leaders.
The church’s lead pastor Dr. Bill Sims is on that trip. Sunday morning, Associate Pastor Dr. David Luster received a text from Sims, letting him know the group was okay. The text was read to the congregation at the beginning of the service.
While he is grateful for the update, Dr. Luster said he still has concerns over his congregates.
“You’ve got 48 people over there,” said Dr. Luster. “And we’re over here. They’re over there, and the only thing we can see is what’s on the news.”
Other members of the congregation said they’re thinking about their friends and family abroad.
“We were very concerned,” said church member Connie McMullins. “We wanted our family back.”
Tina Horne, a member of the church and a friend of Dr. Sims’ wife Nancy, who is also on the trip, said she can’t imagine how the group might be feeling.
“I’m sure they’re probably pretty worried,” said Horne. “And pretty stressed. A lot of things are going on over there.”
Horne said when she personally heard about the news, she felt there was only one thing for her to do.
“We just got down on our knees and prayed,” said Horne. “That’s the only thing we knew to do, was pray.”
Following the news of the attacks, Dr. Luster decided to add a special prayer to the beginning of the church’s Sunday service.
“I felt it would be good for the people to come together in unison and just lift up those 48 people, and pray for Israel as well,” he said.
Following the call for prayer, almost every member began to make their way to the front. Many members stood in the aisles as part of the prayer. Horne and McMullins said they were not at all surprised by the response.
“That’s just what this church is,” said Horne.
“We’re a family,” said McMullins.
Dr. Luster asked the public to continue to keep the group and others who are in the middle of the conflict in their thoughts.
“You may or may not know people that are there, but that does not alter the fact that there are scores of people more in harm’s way than we would know,” said Dr. Luster. “And it’s our responsibility as human beings to be concerned for other human beings.”
Dr. Luster said the plan is for the group to fly home on Tuesday.