Portland Church of the Nazarene pastor Matt Taylor and his wife, Charly, found themselves abroad in Israel when the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold in the United States and in several countries around the world.
The Taylors had left for Israel on March 8 as part of a group of 55 Americans who traveled to the Middle East to tour the Holy Lands. Once the coronavirus pandemic took hold, they cut their trip short and headed back to Portland a couple of days early.
“It was an incredible trip, but there’s no place like home, especially when so much is going on here at home,” said Taylor, who also coaches basketball at Portland East Middle School. “We got there before any of the travel bans went into effect, so the first half of our trip was very normal. But on Sunday, (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu announced that all travel would be halted and that no one could be on the streets in groups of 10 or more.
“We weren’t supposed to be at home till (Friday), but we found tickets home two-and-a-half days early. We were never fearful for our lives and never scared, but our main worry was that we’d be stuck outside our borders. And when you have a 2-year-old at home to take care of, and not just my family, but a church family as well, that’s a concern.”
If there was an upside to everything, it was that the normally crowded streets of Jerusalem were nearly barren, but the sites were still open.
“Basically all day Monday and Tuesday, we walked around Jerusalem in groups of eight, touring the city. It was an unreal experience to get to see the old city. We got to visit several sacred and holy sites where normally there would be lines of hundreds of people, but there were only five or six people, if that many.
“It was incredible to get to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and see some of those sacred places without all the normal tourists that would be there.”
On the way to Israel, the Taylors had a layover in London of 18 hours, and got to do some sightseeing there as well. But once customs at the Newark, N.J. Airport found out the Taylors had been in the United Kingdom, it meant they had to have additional screening to check for the coronavirus.
“We had to go through some additional screening at Newark Airport from the CDC. We had to fill out some extra paperwork, have our temperature taken and answer some questions before we could proceed through customs,” Taylor said.
Now back in the U.S. and back at work as pastor at Portland Nazarene, Taylor is adjusting and coping like everyone else.
“For the next three Sundays (including this past Sunday), we are moving to an all online service structure,” he said. “We’ve had online streaming of our 11 o’clock service for several years. The CDC has recommended and President Trump talked about a 15-day plan to keep everyone at home, so we want to keep everyone connected to the body of Christ through the internet and the social connection he has made available to us.”