KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — A total of 48 adult and youth members of Sunnyside Baptist Church landed in Atlanta, Georgia, on Tuesday following a trip to Israel. The group was visiting the country to tour religious sites when an unexpected attack from the militant group Hamas hit near the Gaza Strip.
The group stayed in a hotel from that point on, awaiting their flight back to America. On Tuesday evening, they landed at Atlanta International Airport and boarded a bus bound for Kingsport.
Associate Pastor David Luster told News 2’s sister station, WJHL, Tuesday night that as he awaited the group’s return, he felt at ease since the church members and Sunnyside’s lead pastor Bill Sims are back stateside.
“It’s hard to express how you feel,” Luster said. “There’s so many emotions that go through us, when we see this, when we hear this, when we get all the phone calls, and the things that we don’t know. It’s the unknown. Now we know, as much as we can. They’re on their way home, they’re nearly home. So those fears that we had have been dissolved, and I am so thankful for that.”
Director of Children’s Services at Sunnyside Tammy Rogers was on the trip. She told WJHL that while on the bus home, she saw looks of relief on everyone’s faces.
“There [have] been lots of smiles and looks of relief on everyone’s faces,” Rogers said via text while traveling home. “We are all so appreciative of the prayers of our families, church, community, and all over the states. It’s been a comfort knowing we’ve had so many interceding on our behalf for our safety and travels. I’m not going to lie, it’s been very scary at times and going into a safe area from air strikes is something I pray we never have to do again. But God is in control and He holds our tomorrows.”
The group arrived at the church at around 2 a.m. Wednesday.
“God took care of us. We prayed about it. There was just a peace that came over me about things and I think the whole group it did,” longtime church member, Jeff Dill said.