KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — There’s good news for an East Tennessee church group that has been stuck in Israel for the past week.

All 12 on the team are safe and out of the war-stricken country. Two of those travelers tell us that now that they can rest easy. 

Brent McDougal is the senior pastor at First Baptist Church Of Knoxville is in Athens, Greece after spending eight days in Israel. 

“Yes, there’s a great sense of relief,” said McDougal when asked if he now feels safe.

He was part of a group of 12 First Baptist members who were on a pilgrimage to explore the country and its history.  

“We started in Tel Aviv. We arrived on Friday, I believe it was the 6th, and after a good night’s rest, we got up the next morning,” McDougal explained. “That is when we heard the missile strike in Tel Aviv and actually saw it just a few miles from our hotel.” 

Dianna Mercier was part of the group and said she doesn’t regret going on this trip but is glad she and the other members are safe.  

“I’m doing great,” she said. “It’s been an amazing pilgrimage. I felt very safe because we were not where the actual action was. We were where we heard missile sirens go off some, but there wasn’t anything directly around us.” 

She added that she feels for those who are still in the thick of it.

“It’s just really upsetting to know that that is going on in a place where you have been in the last week.” 

They thank the U.S. embassy for its swift action in helping them get out of the country and for those back here at home who have reached out.  

“We have certainly felt the love from East Tennessee, from our friends and neighbors and folks just showing genuine concern. It’s been pretty overwhelming actually,” Mercier added. 

McDougal said this was not how they imagined their trip going, but they took away a very valuable lesson along the way.  

“Don’t take for granted the democracy that we have and let’s not overplay the idea of how divided we are. We have so much in common, and I hope this is a call not only to pray for the people in Israel but also to pray for peace in America.” 

Out of the 12 members, four members of the group are already back here in the U.S., six are in Athens, Greece, and two are in Paris, France right now.