It’s not unusual for Andy Cook to be going to Israel.
Cook founded and leads the Experience Israel Now ministry and routinely leads people on tours to the Holy Land. He also creates vivid multimedia presentations and materials for the benefit of those back home who will never make the trip themselves.
What is unusual is how many people Cook is inviting to join him on his next journey and how he’s inviting them to take part.
On Cook’s March 1-11 trip, which is strictly an Experience Israel Now video shoot, he plans to go live on Facebook several times a day at various locations and is inviting people to join in for reports, behind the scenes views of historic sites and off-the-cuff mini-Bible lessons.
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All you have to do to tag along is friend Experience Israel Now on Facebook and, without cost, catch Cook’s reports live or after-the-fact on the social media broadcasts.
The ministry’s Facebook page is simply www.facebook.com/experienceisraelnow.
“Since 2015, we’ve taken 425 people on trips to Israel and attendance at our Experience Israel Now presentations have topped 33,000,” Cook said. “With Facebook Live we have the potential to far surpass even that. What’s the quality on Facebook? Of course, it won’t be anything near our normal presentations, but this way people can see the land and get an on-site sense of what it’s like and a feel for the excitement of doing what we’re doing.”
Cook acknowledged the Facebook live broadcasts will be subject to internet and Wi-Fi availability. Even so, he said his team will shoot short, behind-the-scenes segments whether they are uploaded live or have to be posted later.
And, of course, Cook said the team will be shooting cinematic quality video for editing and later presentation. Added to the innovative use of Facebook, Cook is taking drone videographer Chris Dunn along to capture unique Holy Land shots.
“We’re adding new drone technology to help others better experience Israel,” he said. “There’s almost no drone footage of biblical sites and a birds-eye view can immediately mean greater insight. To do it, you don’t have to be a mile high — just getting the drone a few feet off the ground in what’s normally an unobtainable angle can really enhance the virtual experience and understanding of Bible history and geography. It’s really groundbreaking.”
Facing something new and cutting edge
The groundbreaking nature of drone videography is also making the journey a bit nerve wracking. Cook said he and Dunn have bought new equipment for the trip and done all they know to do to get licenses, permits and learn the ins and outs of having the drone in Israel. But seeing it’s so new, they may encounter unknown issues.
Dunn is owner-operator of Georgia Drone Pros, which does aerial video and photography in and around Middle Georgia. His company is FAA certified. Dunn learned of Cook’s desire to use a drone to shoot footage in Israel through friends and decided to volunteer his services, no cost.
“I’m so excited by Chris volunteering and thankful to all those who’ve helped with the project,” Cook said. “Though Chris is donating his time we had to raise funds for new drone-related equipment. Our friends and supporters have been very generous and people like Rikki Waite at My Grandma’s Empanada’s have helped us through fundraising.”
A few of the places Cook and Dunn will be shoot regular and drone video include the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, the Negev and other wilderness and desert locations. Shooting via drone in Jerusalem, Cook said, is prohibited.
“Just to give and idea, every person who goes to Israel ends up on a boat on the Sea of Galilee taking pictures of a guy casting a net for fish,” he said. “You shoot from where you stand and some are lucky enough to be able to lean over the edge and get a little bit better view. But with the drone, and with just being a few feet above water, you can get a shot looking back at the boat which is the perfect scene. You mostly won’t even be thinking, ‘Hey, that’s a drone shot,’ but it will open up so many visual doors to tell the story Israel has to tell.”
Cook left his position as lead pastor at Shirley Hills Baptist Church in Warner Robins in 2015 to work with his Experience Israel Now ministry full time. He had been at the church for 18 years, which were years of growth and building strong friendships. And they were years of innovative ministry at the Southern Baptist congregation, such as its Walk Through Bethlehem, a live presentation at Christmas allowing visitors to walk through mock-up areas of Bethlehem with church members playing Roman and Hebrew citizens as well as a live nativity.
Creating the event initially required a trip to Israel which spurred Cook’s greater and greater personal interest in the Holy Land.
“The fact is, only one percent of Christians who’d like to go to Israel ever get to go,” Cook said. “A large part of my mission is simply bringing Israel to that remaining 99 percent in the best way possible other than them going. I’m absolutely convinced experiencing Israel — experiencing the land of the Bible and the places where Jesus lived and laid down his life — has immense value. The Bible is an historical book and even though you can’t go back to view what it records happened, you can find the places where it says they happened. They’re real. They’re there. They’re not imaginary and you can see them for yourself. It gives perfect credibility to the Bible and its message and a knowledge of Israel does so much to expand our understanding.”
Though Cook said there was some trepidation in leaving Shirley Hills — and the security of being pastor of a growing church — he said he doesn’t regret the move.
“I’m having the time of my life,” he said. “I just hope more and more people will join me on the journey — whether it’s Facebook live, through Experience Israel Now presentations or even an actual tour. It’s a great journey to be on.”
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
Experience Israel Now
Leadership: Andy Cook