Trapped in Israel with No Way Out
For AG News contributor, Wave Nunnally, and his wife, Lacey, who were also longtime faculty members at Evangel University, their intended month-long stay in Israel beginning on Oct. 7 was something they had been greatly anticipating. What they didn’t know was that they were about to land in the middle of a war!
Scheduled to lead a pair of two-week “Bible-in-Context” study trips in Israel over the next month, the Nunnallys’ minds were filled with the multiple details of connecting with the more than 60 guests that were to arrive the next day for the first two-week session.
“Our flight arrived at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv (Israel) on Saturday morning, Oct. 7,” Wave Nunnally recounts. “It was roughly 3 ½ hours after the war started. We had no idea what was going on — no one on the plane knew, there was no warning from the pilots, nothing.”
When the Nunnallys disembarked from the plane and entered the airport proper, they were surprised by a temporary sign.
“It said, ‘This way to the bomb shelter’ with a little arrow,” Wave says. “Lacey and I were wondering what that was all about. About 50 to 75 yards later, another temporary sign with the same message.”
“When I saw the first sign, it was a red flag,” Lacey says. “But when I saw the second sign, I was sure it was part of some kind of safety drill.”
It wasn’t until the Nunnallys got into their taxi for their trip to their hotel that they learned of the attack.
“Our driver asked us if we heard about the 2,500 rockets Hamas had shot from Gaza into Israel that morning since 6 a.m. – we were in disbelief!” Wave says, the shock of the moment still evident in his voice. “The driver then turned on the local news on the radio and sure enough, we found ourselves in the middle of a shooting war.
The Ben Gurion Airport is roughly 55 miles north of the northern border of Gaza. The Nunnally’s hotel was about 33 miles north of the airport on the coast in Netanya – that would seem to make the city relatively safe from rockets.
The Nunnallys were also relieved to learn that all but two of the study group had their flights cancelled, making looking out for them and securing passage for evacuation much easier to manage.
“That first night, around 8 p.m., there was a tremendous volley of rockets shot from Hamas in Gaza,” Wave says. “Some of those rockets made it to Netanya – it sounded like the southern part of the town.”
But the rockets didn’t strike the city as Israel’s missile defense system, the Iron Dome, was able to intercept the rockets.
“The explosions rattled windows and you could feel the ground shake from the impact as the Iron Dome intercepted the rockets,” Wave says.
“Later that week,” Lacey adds, “we were up late one night trying to plan our departure and we heard a helicopter hovering not far offshore and it just stayed there, hovering for 20 minutes or so. It was pretty unsettling as that would seem to mean something was happening.
IMPACTING LIVESWhile the Nunnallys attempted to get a flight out of Israel for themselves and their two study participants, God provided opportunities for these four Christians to live out Christ before their Jewish hosts.
“The hotel had told all their Arab workers to not come into work for if they got stopped outside the hotel, it could be very dangerous for them,” Wave says. “So the remaining staff, it seemed they were working around the clock.”
With the hotel being very short on staff, the four team members (also being the only Americans in a 15-story hotel) offered their assistance.
“We volunteered to help,” Wave says. “We cleaned up and bagged garbage, we encouraged social workers who were working directly with victims of the attack, we took notes from one place to another for people displaced by the attacks, we sanitized children’s toys, whatever was needed.”
“We went to the front desk and asked them to please let us help and give us a job,” Lacey confirms. “At first, they refused, saying we were their guests. We responded that, no, we were their workers. So, they finally agreed, asking us to clean the children’s room beside the synagogue in the basement.”
Also, as the lobby was now being used by displaced Jewish families from the south, the foursome spent a lot of time in keeping the area cleaned up.
“We wanted to be the hands and feet of Jesus in any capacity we could,” Lacey says. “No task was beneath us to help these terrorized families and children. There was nothing we wouldn’t do to serve them and the hotel in any way we could.”
“There was such incredible need, the desperate nature of the situation broke down all the barriers,” Wave says. “And no one, not one, turned down our offers to help them or to pray for them -- secular people, people of different languages, people of different faith expressions — all gratefully accepted our help and our prayers.
GETTING OUT“I don’t know if you know it or not, but when you’re evacuated you have to sign a promissory note saying you’ll pay back all the costs of your evacuation or they will not evacuate you,” Lacey says.
“When we began looking for flights, the State Department had no clear plan for evacuation,” Wave adds, “so we decided to try to find our own way out.”
While reaching out to family in the United States, the couple was also spending hours and hours trying to piece together a way home. Then a phone number for “some airline” popped up on Lacey’s phone from one of the family members.
“We called the number and started speaking to this guy in India,” Wave recalls. “We were on the phone with him for three hours as he tried to work the logistics out for all four of us to get from Israel to the United States . . . and honestly, we both wondered if this wasn’t some kind of a scam.”
They discovered later that the airline they booked their flight on has four planes — in its entire fleet!
On Thursday, Oct. 12, the Nunnallys and their two study tour friends bid farewell to the hotel and headed toward the airport. The flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until Friday, but there was no telling what challenges might be in front of them — more attacks could come, roads could be damaged, the U.S. Embassy could issue restrictions, the airport was likely packed with people wanting to get out, and, to top it all off, they weren’t 100% sure the airline they had connected with really even existed, and if it did, if the tickets they purchased were genuine.
“It wasn’t until we were at the ticket counter that we finally felt assured that we were going to have a flight out,” Wave says.
Finally, they boarded the relatively small 150-passenger plane at 2:30 p.m. Israel time, and as the plane left Israeli air space and the range of rockets, there was a subconscious sigh of relief on the packed plane.
“We landed in Cyprus (an island nation about 300 miles northwest of Israel in the Mediterranean), and Lacey and I debated — it wasn’t too late for us to turn around and go back to Israel . . . we had left many old and new friends behind who were in need of help,” Wave says. “But we realized our first responsibility was to make sure our study participants made it home safely to their families.”
After a long layover in Cyprus, their next flight took them to Qatar (a small Arab nation just over 1,000 miles southeast of Israel, bordering Saudi Arabia and separated from Iran by the Persian Gulf). Following another extended layover, the foursome then boarded a large Qatar Airlines jumbo jet, and flew west, non-stop to Chicago, where the Nunnallys delivered their two study group members to their families before proceeding back to their home in Springfield, Missouri.
“All told, from the time we left the hotel to the time we arrived home, we had been traveling nearly 70 hours,” Wave says, a touch of weariness still in his voice. “But it was really hard leaving friends behind – we desperately need to keep Israel and that entire region covered in prayer.”
Click here to see a call to prayer for Israel from General Superintendent Doug Clay.
Also, here are four ways to pray for Israel.