- Associated Press - Monday, June 6, 2016

CACHE, Okla. (AP) - A “labor of love,” is how Loren Shreffler describes his most recent excursion to Israel.

From March 18-24, Shreffler - executive director of Teen Challenge’s Sonrise Ranch in Cache - and a team of five Teen Challenge employees - Aaron Sharp, Evan Shorey, David Hubbard, Tommy Cunningham and Eric Walker - explored more than 30 Israeli sites to photograph and video places mentioned in the Bible, The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/1SmEezf ) reported.

Shreffler said he was inspired to share the land with others after he experienced it for himself in 2012.

“I went for the first time with the Center for Holy Land Studies,” Shreffler said, explaining the intensive study tour lasted five-and-a-half weeks and extended from Jordan to Israel. “When I was there that time, I took a lot of pictures. It just changed my life and my perspective of the Bible to actually see the places that were talked about, to know there really are excavations that prove the existence of these cities that are spoken of in the Bible.”

Shreffler returned to the ranch and began incorporating pictures from his journey into Teen Challenge’s curriculum. “I started to integrate (the photos) into our class times and use them as a teaching aid. At that point, it was just still shots,” Shreffler said, “but then I really got the vision to go back and to capture video, on-site teaching in the Holy Land, to bring back so we could have these videos integrated into our lessons.”

Using an aerial drone and a couple of cameras, along with the goodwill of those who allowed them to film, the group was able to capture panoramic views of locations mentioned in the Bible to use in the classroom in hopes of bringing new meaning to the text.

“Right now, basically what we have are these books that we go through, and it’s just writing on paper,” Shreffler said of the materials used in the 14 different classes Teen Challenge students take during their time in the program. “There are no pictures, no visuals. What we want to do is provide this,” Shreffler pointed to his archive of videos, “for every class.”

A perfect example, Shreffler said, is the City of David. “This is where David would have been living. This is where his palace would have been,” Shreffler said, pointing to the highest point in the picture on his computer screen. “He’s not at war, he looks out over the land, and he sees Bathsheba. It’s not a coincidence that you are up looking down . That is what you find throughout the Holy Land, that the topography really substantiates the Bible stories and really explains what was going on and helps you to see a different light of it.”

“So many people are skeptics and they just think (the Bible) is a fairy tale,” Shreffler said. “You may look at all this and think, ‘Maybe there was a City of David. Maybe David really was a king. Maybe these things were true.’ After this, they can’t deny that.”

Evan Shorey, former media director of Sonrise Ranch, said the journey is one he will cherish forever. “My time spent in Israel with the guys was one to always remember,” Shorey said. “Knowing that this project could change thousands of people’s perspectives on how they read the Bible made all the hardships worthwhile.”

Those hardships, Shreffler explained, ranged from simple - filling up the gas tank when none of them could read Hebrew; to scary - being surrounded and nearly interrogated by soldiers for attempting to film on top of Temple Mount; to simply unfortunate - the time when one of them backed into a stranger’s car while trying to parallel park.

“Other than that, (the only hardships were) Airbnb’s not being what we thought a lot of times. We were sleeping on a little mat on the floor,” Shreffler said, explaining the group tried to do everything as cheaply as possible because the $25,000 trip was entirely self-funded.

“We did it on the cheap,” Shreffler said. “We stayed in Airbnb’s; we rented our own van; I was the tour guide, so we didn’t pay anybody. We did it as cheaply as we could.”

Since returning, the team has worked to edit the images and incorporate them into the books and Power-Point presentations the teachers and students use in the classroom.

“We will start utilizing stuff in the next two months, but overall, the project will probably take a year,” Shreffler said, explaining the editing process will take a back seat in a program for which keeping the doors open is priority one.

“Ultimately, we don’t have somebody who is hired to do just this . so it kind of becomes secondary,” Shreffler said. “Teen Challenge is self-funded through church support, involvement in vocation, lawn care, our thrift store . We would like for (the project) to get enough exposure . the national office has recognized us and said ‘What can we do to help fund this?’”

“The vision for the future would obviously be just to get everything integrated into our curriculum to give guys that panoramic view of the Bible to silence the critic, for men’s hearts to open up to the truth of the gospel, to the validity of the word of God, and then ultimately for that to spread on a national level so that every Teen Challenge can have this panoramic view point,” Shreffler said, excitement coloring his words, “because the reality is right now; it’s a book opened up with writing on it.”

Teen Challenge’s mission is to provide youth and adults with a “comprehensive faith-based” solution to an assortment of addictions. For information, visit www.okteenchallenge.com.

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Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com


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