Rebekah Childers has spent four years at ACU researching and studying the world’s holiest places through other’s eyes. But earlier this month, she got the opportunity to experience a holy place firsthand – with her dad in tow.
“My dad and I are a lot alike, and we get a long well together and have a lot of fun together,” Rebekah said. “This was one of the neatest father/daughter trips we could have done.”
The father-daughter team of Rebekah and Jeff Childers traveled to Egypt for 12 days, working side-by-side, studying ancient documents at the foot of the historic Mt. Sinai.
“That was a really great part of it, too – teacher and student, but also as father and daughter, working side-by-side in one of the world’s most extraordinary places,” Jeff said.
Dr. Jeff Childers, professor in the Graduate School of Theology in the College of Biblical Studies, decided to travel to St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt as part of his research leave this semester. And when Rebekah, senior Biblical text major from Abilene, heard the news, she said she knew she wanted to join him.
And luckily, she had the perfect excuse.
As part of her Honors Capstone, Rebekah decided to compile research about the world’s holy places into a large paper. And since Mt. Sinai is one of the most famous and historic holy places, the trip with her father made sense, she said.
Although she had done research from her computer on other holy places, Rebekah said actually visiting the location is a much different experience.
“Everything is much more real. You’re actually there. It made being at Sinai, it made the Biblical narrative, so much more real,” Rebekah said. “I can imagine the Israelites in the middle of the wilderness and Moses descending Sinai and speaking to God.”
However, with all of the recent political unrest in Egypt, Jeff said the pair feared they would have to miss the trip. But a week before they were to leave, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, and political tensions began to ease.
The pair decided to go. Although, they were two of few westerners, and in a city who relies heavily on tourism – they stuck out.
At the beginning of the trip, the father-daughter duo spent a few days in Cairo, exploring the pyramids and other touristy locations. But the traditionally crowded spots proved sparsely populated in the wake of Egypt’s political unrest. In fact, Rebekah said at one point, they were standing in a pyramid, completely alone.
“It was such a surreal feeling to be in this huge monument by ourselves,” Rebekah said. “It was just silent.”
After a few days of touring, avoiding a few demonstrations and walking past tanks, Rebekah and Jeff traveled 8 hours to Sinai to start researching.
At St. Catherine’s, Rebekah said she discussed with the monks what makes a place holy, the importance of God and stories of God and his people when it comes to defining a holy place.
“The monks also really expounded on importance of silence and solitude and that being in a holy place you can miss out on the holiness of it if you don’t have the correct attitude,” Rebekah said. “You can just pass right by the holiness, or God can pass right by you if you’re not listening for the small voice that is his.”
While Rebekah was talking with monks, her father, Jeff, was doing his own research. He specializes in ancient oriental, Christian languages and cultures and got a firsthand look at a lot of old Syriac manuscripts at St. Catherine’s that never have been studied, edited or published.
Rebekah and her father also climbed to the peak of Mt. Sinai. The pair spent 4-5 hours climbing up and down the steep steps to the summit, carved by monks hundreds of years ago.
“Most people take an easier path,” Rebekah said. “But we chose to go the way that monks have traveled for centuries.”
Both father and daugher enjoyed the time they spent touring Egypt and studying in the Sinai – But more importantly, they were able to do it all together.
“To be able to go to this place that neither of us had been and experience it for the first time together it was a dream come true for her and me,” Jeff said. “For me to be able to share my work with her and her to share her work with me, that was pretty special.”