HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Lead pastor Rusty Nelson and 51 members of his congregation were on the final day of their 10-day tour in Israel.
They left their hotel at the Sea of Galilee at 6:30 on Saturday morning and on their way to the airport, their guide received word about the horror happening in the nation.
“We had been on the road for about 15 or 20 minutes when I noticed he was on the phone having a very intense conversation in Hebrew, it kind of made you feel that something was going on,” said Nelson.
What was happening was surprise attacks from the land, sea and air from Hamas militants.
And while on the bus to Ben Gurion airport, Nelson sensed something was wrong.
“He [guide] leaned over and said ‘We’re under attack, this is very serious,'” The pastor said. “He had already heard about the air force barracks being attacked and many soldiers killed in their sleep and murdered in their sleep. Hostages were already being taken, the music festival he was hearing.”
Nelson, his congregation and their tour guide were all on a bus bound for Tel Aviv.
While the country was under attack, they were uncertain if they would get trapped in Israel. When they did arrive at the airport and began to check in, but then, sirens rang throughout the air.
“The lady actually had my passport when the sirens went off and we were all rushed into the bomb shelter there,” Nelson recalled. “We were there for probably about 25 minutes then we were able to go back out, check in, still having no idea we would get out at that point.”
Eventually, they got to their gate and boarded the plane.
They taxied on the tarmac for a few minutes before taking off.
“It wasn’t until we got to Atlanta that I realized from the texts I was getting that we were the last flight to leave Tel Aviv,” Nelson said.
Nelson has spent time in Israel on numerous occasions and says in the past he knew the reality of the situation but it didn’t hit home until that Saturday.
“We’ve actually helped build bomb shelters in playgrounds in Sderot where the children there over these last number of years bring a last change of clothes because when the sirens go out you only have 15 seconds to get to the shelter and kids will soil themselves because of the fear,” he said.
The pastor said the scale of the attack was striking.
“You see all of the defense that is there you feel a protection but yet it’s been overwhelmed and you know typically 96% of the rockets that enter Israel the iron dome takes out but in the barrage of what has happened there have been more than have gotten through and in that moment you sense the reality of where you are.”
Nelson, as well as the Rock Family Church, are doing what they can to help.
“There’s a lot of need right now because everything is shut down in Israel and one of the outlets that we utilized in our rock family is our local Jewish federation,” he said, “They can give directly to the Jewish federation and that will be placed in the hands of the need in Israel.”
You can find more information on the Jewish Federation of Huntsville and North Alabama and ways to help here.