BLAIRSTOWN – This May, Jack Tironi, a young man from Blairstown, will board a plane for a ten-day pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine with 14 other United Methodists from around the world. The United Methodist Young People’s Ministries, part of Discipleship Ministries, sponsors the Holy Land journey and has invited one young leader from each region of the church across the globe. Tironi will represent the Northeast Jurisdiction.
He looks forward to the experience that not only will retrace the steps of Jesus but will also explore the current realities of the region in cooperation with young leaders from around the world.
“It will be wonderful to experience the places where the events in the Bible happened,” he said. “I cannot wait to see the customs and culture of the area, and how people in the region live and worship God.”
He continued, “I look forward to the ways that the Pilgrimage program will deepen my faith while strengthening my resolve to become a spiritual leader in ordained ministry.”
A first year undergraduate student at Drew University in Madison, Tironi has exhibited a pattern of faithful living. He heard a call to ordained ministry his junior year of high school while serving at his home church, the First UMC of Blairstown. Since starting at Drew, he holds an associate membership with the nearby Morristown UMC where he occasionally leads the children’s message and serves as a liturgist.
Under the leadership of Jonathan Golden, Tironi is active with Drew University’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Conflict. Through that program, he recently began tutoring students who are refugees in Elizabeth.
His involvement in Drew’s InterVarsity ministries keeps him connected with other students who are deepening their Christian faith. Tironi also appreciates the opportunities to connect with Drew’s Theological School and attends Wednesday chapel services and seminary events when he can.
As one of the younger participants chosen to attend the pilgrimage, Tironi feels privileged to represent the Northeast Jurisdiction. Expressing appreciation, he shared that Bishop John Schol wrote a letter of recommendation for him.
In preparation for the journey, Tironi, along with the international cohort, are meeting regularly by social media, email and video chat to begin getting to know each other. Because the trip will include as much as seven miles of walking each day, they are encouraged to take care of their physical fitness over the next few months.
To begin understanding the historical socio-political dynamics of the region, participants will watch a one-hour video about the Holy Land and read “Blood Brothers” by Elias Chacour or “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan.
According to Michael Ratliff who leads the Young People’s Ministries, “It is our hope that as this diverse group learns, hikes, and experiences the land and people of Israel and Palestine together, they will grow in relationship, in their understanding of scripture, and in knowledge of conflict and peace-building.” He continued, “All of these experiences will enrich not only the participants, but all who are a part of their ministry beyond the pilgrimage.”
Asked by program leaders to examine the source and potential solutions of conflicts in their own contexts, Tironi responded in part, “I feel as a church, one of our biggest problems is still working to overcome our differences with each other, and other cultures around the world. We must continue to overcome this by studying, understanding, and respecting these differences.” He continued, “On a personal note, I feel that as a spiritual leader my job will be to help guide people to be the best they can be in the eyes of God, while helping people work out their personal struggles.”
Throughout the journey, the young leaders will visit holy sites while taking time to meet with both Israelis and Palestinians, including those who have been displaced. They will hear the stories and experiences of Palestinian Christians to more fully understand the peace building efforts in the land. Israeli and Palestinian guides will provide perspectives on conflict and peace for participants.
Tironi hopes that through this experience in the Holy Land he will deepen his connection to God as he prayerfully visits the sacred sites. He expects to, “take the knowledge and skills I learn with the program home and apply it to my work and involvement in the church.”