During a tour of Union University, Elise Iler saw an 8-½” x 11” sheet of paper that said, “Travel to Israel for $1,000.” At that moment, she knew she had to go to this school, because she knew she had to go to Israel.
The sheet of paper was advertising a Passages trip. It’s been four years since that college tour; Elise has graduated from Union with her B.A. in public relations, and she’s now working for Passages as the Associate Director of Strategic Partnerships.
Before going to Union, Elise worked for a pharmaceutical company. It was here that God began to show her he had something different for her life. So, she applied to three schools. Union responded within 24 hours. She sent in her application and deposit, then travelled down to Jackson, Tennessee, for orientation—all within a week.
“In that time of God speaking into my life about what I was going to do, I had no idea what public relations was, but I told my mom, ‘I just want to do something where I can talk about things I’m passionate about.’”
In 2018, Elise did get to take that trip to Israel for $1,000, just like the 8-½” x 11” sheet of paper advertised, and now, as the Associate Director of Strategic Partnerships, she gets to tell partners on a daily basis about the trip, the experience, that was life-changing for her.
“As I’m getting back from my trip and looking online at Passages, wanting to get involved, this job popped up,” she said. “I thought, that’s what I want to do. I want to take an experience I’ve loved and have a passion for, so I can show the second layer of what Israel is.”
To Elise, this “second layer” is the people, the culture—beyond the biblical sites. It’s more than just your faith growing, she said. It’s about you growing, as a whole person, and being changed by an experience “that doesn’t just [affect] one part of your life, but that is a ripple effect in every part of your life.”
But that’s not to say that faith isn’t a significant part of the experience. Elise said one of the moments she remembers most vividly from her time in the Holy Land was during the Sea of Galilee cruise. When the boat had gone a good distance from the shore, they turned off the motor and the worship music.
“It’s just still. You’re just floating…There’s something about the water.”
Just as Jesus called Peter to come to him, to walk out on the water with him, Elise felt Jesus saying those same words to her, “Come to me.”
“That was a really tough time in my life where I was going through so many emotions, not being confident in who I was and not understanding my purpose,” she said. “Feeling that call, I remembered that the Lord really does have control over the waves, and we are to find our peace in him. I wish I could go back and live that moment every day.”
Before going to Israel, Elise said she didn’t have any close friends outside the United States. Going to Israel gave her the opportunity to build relationships and broaden her perspective of the world.
“I’ve heard people talk about traveling and meeting friends they now talk to all the time,” Elise said. “I had never experienced that before. Israel is a community of people that will leave an imprint on your heart.”
With Passages’ transitioning their headquarters to the Dallas, Texas area, Elise has decided to make a career transition of her own and say goodbye to Passages for now.
“I am so thankful to have had [Elise] on my team both as a friend and a colleague,” said Luke Bray, Director of Strategic Partnerships. “Her authenticity as a follower of Jesus shows through how she focuses on every task and cares for the spiritual and emotional needs of those around her. I know that God will use her for his kingdom in the years ahead and am positive that she will make an indelible impact upon those blessed to work with her.”