ST. LOUIS – Members of the Morning Star Church in St. Charles County are relieved as they return home Friday. They were in Israel when war erupted nearly one week ago.

More than 1,000 people have died since Hamas, a militant group that controls Gaza, launched attacks against Israel, triggering a response by Israeli forces.

“We were there when we heard the bombs, and [leaders] said you guys need to come back,” said Morning Star Church member Mark Vadgeley.

Church members returned home Friday after taking a series of flights to Lambert Airport. As the trip overseas comes to an end, the journey for those still in Israel is far from over.

More than 40 church members were taking part in what some called the trip of a lifetime. It consisted of two weeks in the holy land, but plans changed abruptly.

“I was just worried about the other people,” says Stacey Vadgeley, who just returned from Israel. “But I never felt in fear for myself.” 

Earlier this week, American Airlines announced they were suspending flights to Israel until early December. Other major airlines in the US plan to take similar action.

Restrictions have made it difficult for some to visit their loved ones.

“I planned to go see my family in Israel,” says Nael Vadra, who was turned back at the border. “I went through Jordan, and once I get to the border, it’s closed because they said, ‘It’s war in there, they can’t let anyone in.’” 

Church members got rerouted to Istanbul, then eventually to Frankfurt, Germany, and onto the new weekly international flights between Frankfurt and St. Louis. 

Members of the group are thankful to be home, but they carry a heavy heart thinking of the number of innocent civilians caught in the middle of devastation, destruction, and death. 

“A lot of long days and long bus rides, air trips and sleepless nights,” says Mark Vadgeley. “It isn’t as bad as it is for the Palestinians and the people of Israel. That’s gut-wrenching what they’re going through at this point.” 

“I want the Israeli and Palestinian people to have peace and stop all this because this is not right,” says Vadra.