Brent McDougal, senior pastor with the First Baptist Church of Knoxville, was on a pilgrimage with 11 other people in Israel. The group has been in the country since Friday.
“Saturday around 7:30, we heard a siren go off and then we heard a very loud explosion. It was a missile that had hit a few miles from our hotel,” McDougal said. “Then like the rest of the world, we began to learn about the attack that happened by Hamas on Israel in several parts of the country.”
McDougal described going down to the lobby to figure out what the sound was. He along with the group later learned there were safe rooms on each floor of the hotel they were staying in.
“There’s always this kind of heightened sense of this possibility of violence, so there is always a plan,” McDougal said. “There are great preparations made to keep people safe.”
The group decided to take a taxi away from the fighting to Jerusalem.
“We got here safely into the Old City,” McDougal said. “There are several religious sights that are here, that are very important to Muslims, Jewish people, and Christians, so it is very unlikely that this particular area in Israel would be hit.”
As more reports and pictures of the devastation come out of Israel, McDougal believes it is heartbreaking.
“We know how much violence is happening all around us and we’re heartbroken by the suffering that is happening on both sides of the conflict,” McDougal said. “It’s a very strange experience so far.”
McDougal said the group will continue to monitor the situation and is now trying to figure out the safest way to get home.
“We came in through Ben Gurion Airport, we can no longer go out,” McDougal said. “It’s the main international airport in Israel. It’s the only place we can leave to go back home to the United States and there are no American airlines flying in and out. We are exploring alternate travel plans that would probably mean crossing a border into another country, catching a flight back home to somewhere else.”
McDougal and the group plans to stay until Saturday, Oct. 21.