Prof's unusual life prepped him for dig

Baptist Press
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Posted: Feb 24, 2011 5:31 PM
Prof's unusual life prepped him for dig
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Each bag of rock and dirt, gently lifted by crane from the depths of the Gezer water system reminds Jim Parker that God has a plan. As the dig unearths ancient history, Parker is uncovering the importance of his own history.

Unraveling the mysteries of the unusual tunnel at Tel Gezer in Israel, which was carved out around the time of Abraham but now is filled with tons of debris, required more than the usual highly skilled team of archeologists. Because of the dig's unique challenges, the government of Israel required engineering and mining expertise on the team before the project would be approved.

Parker's education and experience were tailor-made for the task. Trained as an engineer, he is also a skilled draftsman and mine manager. Parker also holds two seminary degrees including a Ph.D. in Old Testament and Hebrew.

Parker, who joined the faculty of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 2007, worked for 10 years as a civil engineer with U.S. Steel's American Bridge Division. During a stint at an ore mine near Birmingham, Ala., he learned the ins and outs of mining. He also worked for nine years as a project engineer for a general contractor in Houston.

In the late 1980s, Parker sensed God's call to attend seminary and enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. After graduation, he was called to pastor a church in rural Alabama and he worked a second job as a teacher. While serving as a bivocational pastor, he also worked for a structural steel and mining company.

From his experience, Parker learned a lot about rock support. For the Gezer water system dig, he knew a crane would be needed to remove the large volume of debris filling the tunnel. Israeli authorities, however, were initially reluctant to allow that because of the instability of the ground near the tunnel opening.

To convince the Israeli government to approve the project, Parker used his drafting skills to put together detailed drawings of their plans. The drawings illustrated the placement of the crane and showed how it would work. His drawings and engineering experience were influential in gaining approval for the project.

Throughout the planning process and the dig, Parker has carefully assessed the ancient tunnel. He watches for new cracks or shifts in the stone, especially near the exposed tunnel opening.

"My real value will come when we get inside the cave," Parker added.

Once the team digs into the cave, Parker will assess its stability. Adjustable jacks, like the ones used in mine shafts, will be used to support the cave roof if needed. As his wide range of training and experience converge at the Gezer dig site, Parker sees God's providential hand at work.

"Every experience that I've had has been a gift from the Lord. Gezer, too is a great gift," Parker said. "I trust that this wonderful opportunity, using all the God-given skills He given us all, will turn out for His glory."

Gary D. Myers is the director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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