Evangel Profile

Marc Turnage (’96): Center for Holy Lands Studies Executive Director

July 17, 2013

After visiting Israel three times as a student at Evangel University, Marc Turnage was inspired to dig deeper and immerse himself in the culture, history and language of the Bible.

“The trips I took in college shaped my reading of the Bible into something three-dimensional, taking seriously the physical space of Scripture, the cultural world of Scripture and the languages of Scripture,” Turnage says.

Those experiences turned out to be pivotal in shaping Turnage’s life and career – and the development of a new, one-of-kind program launched by the Assemblies of God in 2010, the Center for Holy Lands Studies. Turnage is executive director of the center, working with his wife, Amy, who is in charge of marketing and trip logistics.

Birth of a passion

After graduating from Evangel with a major in Biblical Studies in 1996, Turnage moved to Israel where he lived for six years, attending Jerusalem University College and earning a Master of Arts in New Testament Background. He also met his wife, Amy, who was a fellow student at Jerusalem University College.

He has since completed coursework for a Ph.D. in Ancient Judaism and the Origins of Christianity at Durham University.

Shortly after his arrival in Israel, Turnage began guiding tours for the university and soon developed a passion “to use the physical setting of Scripture as a doorway to enter into the world and the thought of the Bible.” In 2005, Marc and Amy launched their own company designed to lead tours to the Bible lands.

“There are many practical aspects to ministry, but in my experience one of the greatest challenges the American church faces in the 21st century is a growing epidemic of biblical illiteracy,” says Turnage. It is his passion to help Christians “confront the historical, geographical and linguistic reality of God’s revelation in time and space.”

The Center for Holy Lands Studies

In 2009, Dr. George Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, first approached Turnage about the possibility of developing the Center for Holy Lands Studies. Because of his extended experience leading study trips, his extensive educational background and his six-year immersion in Israeli culture, Turnage was an ideal candidate to director of the new center.

The center had been a dream of Wood’s for many years. It directly impacts two of the AG’s core values: to strategically invest in the next generation and to skillfully resource the Fellowship.

Wood says that many pastors who have accompanied him on Holy Lands tours have expressed their regret that they were not able to take such a trip while they were in training to become pastors. “This welled up in me a desire to do something that would really enable our ministers in training andstrengthen their own perception of Scripture,” he says.

For the past three years, the program has done just that – and more.

Programs for all ages

Since launching in 2010, the Center for Holy Lands studies has taken more than 2,000 people to Israel. Though this program has a special area specifically for ministers and pastors in training, the Center for Holy Lands Studies has expanded to include study trips for anyone who desires the experience.

“I think every Christian benefits from reading their Bible in three dimensions,” says Turnage. “To see it, hear it and understand it within the context of its ancient audience — it transforms a person’s faith.”

The center offers programs geared toward a wide variety of age levels, ranging from “The Emmaus Experience,” a program for high school students, to the “As One with Authority” programs for ministers. The center also offers a five-week summer program, which allows students to study Hebrew and the historical and archaeological background of the New Testament while on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee, as well as a three-and-a-half-week program for college students to tour Israel and Jordan and participate in archaeological excavations, spend a day with the curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls and hear from a Holocaust survivor.

Another element that makes this study program unique is the pre- and post-trip education curriculum which is used to strengthen the study tour encounter. As part of the pre-trip orientation, students learn about archeology, geography and history of the lands to set a framework for their visit. Post-trip, the curriculum provides continued study of the Holy Lands, adding to the still-fresh knowledge gained from the study tour.

In 2014, the center will be adding an extension to the trip to Turkey, Greece and Italy. Also in the works for the future is a semester abroad program with Hebrew University.

Embracing the journey

Turnage says that directing the center has been an unbelievable journey.

“I’m learning a lot about myself, God and people,” he says. “One of the thrills, beyond the travel, is to wake up each day and create something that has never existed before in the history of the church. That’s exciting. Watching the Bible come to life through the land never gets old to me.”

The Turnages currently reside in Springfield, Missouri, with their three children: Lucas, 14, and Jordan, 12 (both born in Israel); and Eliesheva, 6.

Based on what he has learned from his own experiences, Turnage encourages current students to “work hard, and realize God is more interested in the journey than He is with the destination.”

“He will take you places and stretch you in ways you cannot even fathom,” Turnage says. “And He will provide for you every step of the way.”

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