Traveling to Israel was an unforgettable and faith-shaping journey for Ken and Sethea.
If you’re around Sethea for any length of time, you’ll probably hear the phrase she’s coined about her marriage to Ken:
“I never knew when I said ‘I do’ that I would do as much as I’ve done.”
It has become the title she’s given to their marriage, and it couldn’t be more true.
Sethea will tell you that her first relationship and her marriage to Ken are worlds apart. Since she and Ken got married, she has traveled extensively, met amazing people, and found so much joy in experiencing those things with the man she loves.
Traveling with Ken has opened up her eyes to the reality that the world is much bigger than her familiar Illinois home.
One of the most memorable and influential trips for Ken and Sethea was their first trip together to Israel. It all started when they were attending the annual National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville. They met a man named Jonathan Feldstein on the escalator of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and struck up a conversation. As it turned out, Jonathan worked for the Israeli Red Cross, and he invited them to visit him in Israel and attend a party at the ambassador’s house in Tel Aviv.
Ken had been to Israel once before with Franklin Graham. Franklin had asked Ken what he would do if he ever made it to Israel, and Ken said he would kiss the ground. Sure enough, when he stepped off of the plane for the first time, he did just that.
“Israel is a wonderful place,” Ken said. “You feel really at home and comfortable there, even though there are a lot of different cultures and languages. There’s something about it that touches your heart.”
So when Jonathan extended the offer to Ken and Sethea to go to Israel together, they were thrilled to accept. During their two-week trip, Jonathan took them through the Red Cross Blood Center. They learned about the process of donating blood and saw how it is separated and stored.
“It was so fascinating,” Sethea said. “I was in awe. I think if more people understood how it works and how many people it can help, they would be willing to give.”
The Jerusalem Post interviewed Ken about his visit to Israel and featured him in an article called “Spreading the Good News.” In it, Ken encouraged Israel to emphasize the good things they’re doing, such as the blood center. He said Israel gets a lot of bad press, but the world needs to know all the positive things that are happening there as well.
An Affirming Experience
Jonathan arranged for a former brigadier general in the Israeli army to take Ken and Sethea around Jerusalem. Along with all the major historical and tourist sites, they were also able to see locations most people can’t access.
They walked through the places that mark the milestones of Jesus’ betrayal, crucifixion, and burial. It was a profound experience to see significant biblical locations such as the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane. The trip still impacts their faith today.
“It was very invigorating,” Ken said. “It’s interesting to see what Jesus went through. You really get affirmed in your faith by going there.”
Ken said he understands why people love Israel so much. He has met people who have traveled back eight or 10 times—often to visit the same locations. There is something about the experience that is addicting. To some extent, Ken can see why Israel has been such an object of war and strife.
“It’s the most fought over land in history,” he said. “When you go there, you almost see why. It’s a very special place.”
Another highlight of the trip was picking berries at Golan Heights. Sethea originally wanted to pick avocados, but their guide convinced them that berries were a must. He took them to a friend’s orchard in Golan Heights, and they picked as many fresh, delicious berries as they wanted.
Ken and Sethea were both baptized in the Jordan River, and they got to float in the Dead Sea. The buoyancy of the Dead Sea amazed them. With its 34 percent salinity (compared to the ocean’s 3.5 percent), it’s impossible to sink. The mud is rich with minerals that are known for being great for your skin. Sethea covered Ken in mud while they floated in the Sea. They had been warned not to get the water in their eyes, but Ken flipped over on his stomach to wash off the mud and did just that. He learned his lesson; the sting was unbearable!
Sethea brought a bag with her to keep some of the mud, but as she was gathering it, someone told her she couldn’t take it. She stopped collecting but kept the one bag she already had. She still enjoys using it.
“It’s the best facial you’ll ever want,” she said.
They went to Jonathan’s house for Shabbat, which is the Jewish Sabbath. It takes place from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Ken had grown up with the prayers and rituals associated with Shabbat, but it was an amazing first experience for Sethea. They also got to attend synagogue and pray at the Western Wall.
Ken and Sethea returned to Israel in August 2014. They now have several friends there—some Orthodox Jews and others Evangelical Christians. On their second visit, they experienced even more of the local culture by staying in their friends’ homes. The Holy Land is truly special place for the Baruns, and they urge everyone to make the journey at some point in their lives.
I Never Knew When I Said I Do …
When Ken took a job with the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, he told Sethea he didn’t think they would travel as much as they had with McDonald’s. Yet they’ve traveled and done more than ever in this stage of life. Ken enjoys quoting Sethea’s “I never knew” mantra back to her whenever they take a trip.
But, Sethea said, “He always says it wrong.”