Several church groups trapped as war kicks off in Israel

Published 4:00 pm Monday, October 9, 2023

By Michael J. Collins, Bowling Green Daily News

Two local church groups on a visit to Israel are now looking to escape a war zone.

At least two dozen Americans from Broadway United Methodist Church in Bowling Green and River Lake Church in Glasgow were in Israel when Palestinian militants led by Hamas launched a large-scale invasion Saturday.

Angie Smith, a member of the Broadway tour group, told the Daily News over Facebook message that the group “relocated from the north to Jerusalem today under rocket alerts but made it safely.”

Broadway executive minister Jason Brown said he could not release the number of people on the tour but said the group has “a safe plan to exit the country and get back to the United States.”

“Those are folks that are deeply loved and our heart breaks whenever anyone is affected by violence,” Brown said. “We’re praying for their safe return and praying for peace in that region of the world.”

Glasgow resident Nic Smith, pastor at River Lake Church and chaplin for the Glasgow Police Department, is also in Israel with a tour group.

Smith said in a Facebook video Saturday that the group is safe and has not been near direct conflict. He asked others to pray for the people of Israel and the group.

“We are fine, everything is OK, everybody is calm,” Smith said. “We’ve not seen anything where we’re staying right now, and God willing, that will be OK.”

Terry Flatt, GPD’s public information officer, said the department is eager to see Smith and the rest of the group home safe.

“It was a shock to realize that when the news broke on what was taking place over there. He just happened to be there,” Flatt said.

Flatt spoke to Smith just before noon Monday and said the group is hopeful and still exploring escape options.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to River Lake Church and all the families that have been affected,” Flatt said. “We’ll keep watching and praying for a safe return.”

Lorne Saltsman, a member of Smith’s group, posted on Facebook on Sunday they had relocated to a different hotel in Jerusalem where the group is “all safe and under the circumstances in good spirits.”

“The guide said that Israel has secured (the hotel) now and feels very comfortable taking us there,” Saltsman wrote. “All flights for all airlines have been canceled so leaving is not an option today.”

Another church group out of Nelson County has already left the country and is set to return stateside Wednesday, Bardstown Mayor J. Richard Heaton said Monday.

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that while he cannot release the identities of those trapped in Israel, his office is “fully engaged in assisting Kentuckians in their safe return home.”

The Associated Press has so far reported hundreds of deaths from the conflict. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday that he has ordered a “complete siege” on Gaza, cutting off access to food, fuel and electricity to the region as the army calls up 300,000 reservists.