Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The power of prayer

Granbury couple safely returns home from distressing Israel trip

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Jon and Susy Curtner recently returned home to Granbury from the most terrifying trip of their life — but the husband-and-wife couple are crediting their safe return to God and the power of prayer.

The Curtners, who have been residents of Granbury for about six years, traveled to Israel at the end of August to serve as hosts in a house owned by StoneWater Church Granbury.

“StoneWater has a house in Israel, and as part of that house, they offer it (to give) people from StoneWater and others who want to go over and explore Israel a place to stay,” Jon explained. “At the same time, they had an opportunity to have hosts stay at the house, so when the groups came in, the hosts would help out by cooking breakfast and cleaning up in between groups. We volunteered to go as hosts for two months.”

Susy explained that the idea was presented by StoneWater Church Pastor Joey White and was initially launched at the beginning of this year.

“We were scheduled to stay until Nov. 1,” Susy said.

But plans would later change for the Granbury couple.

Jon and Susy spent the first two weeks of their trip exploring Israel, and then later spent two weeks traveling to places like Jordan and later, Egypt.

"We went rafting in the Jordan River, we went swimming at the Sea of Galilee, we just really enjoyed the country,” Susy said. “The house is up in the north part of the Sea of Galilee, so about an hour from the Lebanon/Syria border, so we were out there and just really got to meet a bunch of people and really enjoyed the local aspect of it as opposed to just going from tourist site to tourist site.”

The Curtners then returned to Israel to serve as hosts for their first group, who later left on Thursday, Oct. 5.

Jon explained that the pair had dinner on Friday, Oct. 6, with some neighbors they had met in Israel.

“They had invited us over to their house to experience a Sukkot dinner,” he said.

According to Spectrum News, Sukkot is a week-long Jewish holiday that celebrates the fall harvest. It is one of the most joyful festivals in Judaism, meant to bring families, friends and communities together. The holiday also commemorates the 40 years that Jews spent in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt.

After the couple enjoyed a nice Sukkot dinner, the pair went back to the StoneWater house and fell asleep — only to be awoken the next morning by frantic texts from friends and family members telling them to “check the news.”

CHAOS ENSUES

“Sirens had been going off in Jerusalem,” Jon said. “We had another person down in Jerusalem at the time who texted us and was like, ‘Sirens had been going off all night. They're shooting rockets!’ and that was our first indication that it was a little crazy.”

On Saturday, Oct. 7, the Hamas terrorist organization launched a brutal, highly-organized and unprecedented attack upon Israel and its citizens.

According to the proclamation issued by Hood County Commissioners Court on Oct. 24 in support of Israel, Hamas was founded with the stated goal of destroying the state of Israel and has been designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization.

During its attack, Hamas fired thousands of rockets against Israeli population centers in an attempt to kill untold numbers of innocent civilians, according to the proclamation.

"You hear about how in Israel they have incidents,” Susy said. “I mean, people warn you going over there that there's incidents, so we were like, ‘OK, they'll get it under control,’ but as we were watching the news and hearing more and more about what was happening, we started looking to get flights out of Israel.”

Susy explained that the whole attack took place in a “small, contained area,” adding that “Israel fits into Texas 31 times.”

"It's a very small country, and when I describe it to people, I tend to say, ‘OK, say we're here in Granbury. Austin is where the attack took place, and Dallas is shooting missiles over at you.’ It's that small an area where things are happening. It's not a big place.”

Jon said the pair then became concerned about what they were going to do, especially when they started seeing neighbors heading into their “bomb room.”

“The house was located in a neighborhood, and the neighborhood is gated — they call them villages,” he explained. “The village we were in was called Had Nes and it's right up near Tiberius at the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee, and the neighborhood has bomb shelters built into it. Every house out there has a bomb room… and it's a reinforced room somewhere in the house, so when you see it on the news, where people went into their safe rooms or bomb rooms, and then shut the doors, we really had to make a decision and a tough decision at that.”

The couple eventually decided to start looking for a flight home, but soon ran into some complications.

“We would book a flight and a couple hours later, the flight would get canceled,” Susy said.

“Delta and American, they canceled all flights to Israel, so those airlines went off the boards altogether,” Jon said.

Susy said they then went online to Google flights and typed in the word “anywhere” for their destination.

"That was our goal: get anywhere, we don't care where, and then from there, we'll just get a hotel, and we'll get another flight home,” she said.

Unfortunately, they ended up looking for a flight online for hours, until Jon suggested they take a break.

“You’d get into it, and it looked like there’d be a flight, but as you’re going through it, getting into the signup part, it said ‘this flight is no longer operating.’ They were dropping off the charts,” Susy said. “So, Jon said he was going to send out something to the church to some of our small groups of friends, neighbors, and just asking them to put up some prayers for us so that we can find something to get out of here.”

A COMMUNITY OF PRAYER

It wasn’t long before several members of StoneWater Church were praying for the Curtners. Word quickly spread all over Granbury, reaching other cities in Texas and then finally, all over the nation — with hundreds and perhaps thousands of people praying for Jon and Susy.

“It was literally hundreds and hundreds of people praying for us. It was crazy,” Jon said.

“People we didn’t even know,” Susy chimed in.

“And we will probably never meet,” Jon responded. “But it was amazing. I mean, it just felt like everybody pulled together.”

“And we felt protected,” Susy said. “It just gives you this feeling of comfort to know that there’s so many people out there praying for you and helping you get home.”

Which is exactly what happened.

The following morning after Jon sent out prayer requests, the pair immediately found a flight out of Israel — and not to just anywhere, but to Dallas.

"We have no doubt that everybody's prayers got us back home and not only that, but God actually cleared the way for us to get to the airport and home safely,” Susy said.

She explained how when they were staying at StoneWater’s house, it was “fairly quiet” in the north where they were located. However, after arriving at the airport the afternoon before their flight was scheduled, they received information that sirens were then going off near the StoneWater house.

Additionally, Jon and Susy’s flight from Tel Aviv to Dubai to Dallas was the last flight out before all later flights were canceled that day.

“We were the last flight out,” Susy said. “That was a flight that was meant to be.”

The pair said they also believed they saw a sign from God in the airport.

Jon explained that they found a space under a stairwell in the airport to set up camp for the night. He said they were both anxious and prayed to God to watch over them.

The next morning, they woke up and above the door to the airport synagogue was a picture of the Roman Colosseum and a cross.

 “We hadn't noticed before,” Jon said. “Talk about God saying I'm here? It was so lifting.”

FINALLY HOME

After 50 hours of traveling, Jon and Susy finally made it back home to Granbury on Oct. 13 — Friday the 13th to be exact.

“I knew, but I didn't tell my wife,” Jon said, chuckling. “Honey, we're flying on Friday the 13th.”

“Yeah, what else can go wrong?” Susy asked with a giggle.

The Curtners have now been back in Granbury for about three weeks, and they couldn’t be happier — but they still don’t regret the trip.

“We had a great time,” Susy said. “I mean, even with the way it ended, our trip was amazing. We loved every minute of it. But (we) don't have to flee a war zone country anymore. That's checked off our list.”

“Bucket list item done,” Jon said, with a chuckle.

THE EXPERIENCE

Although they were limited to only using WhatsApp to communicate with the U.S., grocery shopping in a foreign country was challenging, and the monetary exchange rates were difficult, the people they met along the way made it all worthwhile for the Curtners.

“We met a lot of very nice people,” Jon said. “And that I think is what makes it so hard now when we watch the news or something because it’s not something distant happening somewhere else; this is happening to people that we know and care about.”

Jon and Susy were lucky to stay out of the fray, but the experience still affected them.

“It's not like we were underneath rockets flying over us,” Jon said.

"But we did hear the bomber plane above our heads,” Susy said.

Jon explained that the Hamas attack is “so much more” than what is shown on TV.

“Right now, we see anger, and the reality is the Israelis are very generous, loving people,” he said. “It's amazing. What you see is just a microcosm of what’s real.”

Jon and Susy describe themselves as being “adventure travelers,” but the pair is definitely planning on staying around Hood County for a while.

“It changed the way that we look at where we’re going to go in the future,” Jon said. “Israel is surrounded by countries that aren't necessarily friendly to their issues when something happens, so all the borders shut down. There was not an exit plan. I still enjoy traveling, but we’re probably not going to go anywhere for a while.”

Susy said StoneWater Church is planning on opening up the house in Israel for people who have been displaced due to the war, adding that the house can sleep about 20.

Jon added that the church is also trying to build up a food supply for refugees if needed.

The trip may have been exciting — in more ways than one — but overall, the couple is happy to be back home in Granbury.

“It’s good to be home now,” Susy added.

ashley@hcnews.com | 817-573-1243