Around the Archdiocese

Faith formation director to return to Holy Land

By Matthew Selby
Special to The Witness

MARION — I was raised in a faith-filled Protestant home where I learned to love the Scriptures. Therefore, when the opportunity came up to study in Israel during the summer after my freshman year at Christian college, I was ecstatic about the chance to experience the Bible in an entirely new light by visiting the places I had read about many times. There was only one problem: I had little money. But I trusted that if God wanted me to go, he would provide a way. When an anonymous envelope showed up under my dorm room door marked “For your Israel trip. God bless!” with $100 inside, I knew God was at work! Within a few months, all the money needed was provided by many generous friends and family. I was on my way to the Holy Land! Due to the circumstances surrounding my going, I had an inkling that God had some big plans for that trip. It didn’t disappoint! During my first experience of the Holy Land, I became more captivated by the Scriptures. I discovered a passion for history and theology that led me to change my career path to pursue a degree in theology and full-time ministry. When I left the Holy Land after three weeks, I felt like it had become my home away from home, and I knew I would return. I sensed that there was something unique about that land.

I went on to finish my degree in theology, only to have my dream come true by starting ministry work with a mission organization immediately after graduation. My focus was the Middle East, including the Holy Land! A couple of months after graduation I found myself on a plane returning to the land I had come to miss. This time, the focus wasn’t studies but evangelism.

The missionary work allowed me to experience not just the sites of the Middle East but the people and culture. It was quite the experience! In the course of two years, I traveled to the Holy Land four times (in addition to five other trips to various parts of the Middle East). I even had a fifth trip booked but had to back out when I became Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2011. I guess a Catholic wouldn’t make a very good Protestant missionary! As excited as I was about becoming Catholic, I was disappointed that I would not be able to return to the Holy Land at that time (and would have to give up the missionary work I had come to love). God gave me a consolation gift by opening a door for me to return to the Holy Land as a new Catholic and a newlywed. My wife and I traveled with well-known Catholic Bible teacher Jeff Cavins on a phenomenal Catholic pilgrimage in January of 2012. For the first time, I got to experience the land that I had come to love through the eyes of the Catholic Church, which made it even better!

I now work as the adult faith forma­tion director at St. Joseph Parish in Marion. I share the above story because I have the exciting opportunity to return to the Holy Land after five years of being away, and I would like to invite you to join me! My pastor, Father David O’Connor, and I will be leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Jan. 16-26, 2017, through 206 Tours. If you join us, you’ll experience many of the places Jesus ministered, including Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem. Walk the Way of the Cross; visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built over the site of the crucifixion and resurrection); see the Garden of Gethesemene, the Mount of Olives, Bethlehem and much more! It will make the Bible come to life! If you’re interested in this trip, I invite you to find the details at or contact me at 319-377-4869 or There will be an informational meeting at St. Joseph (1790 14th Street, Marion) on Sunday, Oct. 30, from 9:15-10:15 a.m. The deadline to sign-up for the trip is Nov. 17. I would love to have you join us!

Selby is adult faith formation director for St. Joseph Parish in Marion.

Matthew Selby with a map of the Holy Land. He will lead a pilgrimage with Father David O’Connor Jan. 16-26. (Contributed photo)