The family of a Jefferson City teenager say they're extremely grateful to have their son home from Israel in the wake of escalating violence.
17 year-old Luke Benke signed up in December to do missionary work on the West Bank. Benke said when he signed the papers, the situation there was more stable. As the months passed, however, it became evident to Benke and his family that the situation was becoming less than idea.
Still, Benke said the looming threat of violence did not change his mind.
"I went because I thought I should be doing something," Benke said. "I've always wanted to go to Israel, and I just felt called to go there, help out there."
Benke is a third-generation missionary with Team Missions International. After two weeks of boot camp in Florida, he left for the West Bank in late June. Benke and several others were sent to the town of Beit-Jala to help build facilities for the Hope Secondary School.
Benke said they continued to work until he could see missiles being shot down by Israel's Iron Dome air-defense system.
"When we got there, not too much was happening," Benke said. "Then things started to escalate. They started rioting... shooting missiles at each other... things like that."
When Benke's parents became aware of the situation, they began to pray for their son's safe return.
"We had lots of people praying for him," Nichole Benke said. "Even people who did not financially support him... from different countries, from friends and family."
John Benke said he comforted his family by telling them to trust God. "We know that the ground incursion was probably going to start soon," He said. "Yet another ceasefire was not followed through. Technically speaking, Luke and his team had to be split into two different groups just to get enough seats on an airplane to get them out of there."
Luke Benke was able to get on a plane just before the airport closed. By the time he returned to the United States, the fighting was well underway.
Benke and his family said their strong commitment to God is what has kept them together.