By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS--Each bag of rock and dirt, gently lifted by crane from the depths of the Gezer Water System, serves as a reminder for Jim Parker – a reminder that God has a plan. As the dig unearths ancient history, Parker is uncovering the importance of his own history.
Dan Warner was a natural choice to lead the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary dig team. A seasoned archaeologist and professor at NOBTS, Warner has participated in other important digs at Gezer, Kabri, Gerar and Megiddo. Dennis Cole, Chairman of the Division of Biblical Studies and Professor of Old Testament and Archaeology at NOBTS, is also involved in the dig. Cole has participated in other significant excavations at Beth Shean, Gezer, and Timnah.
However, due to the unique excavation task at Gezer, engineering expertise was needed to secure Israeli approval for the project. Once the dig reaches the underground water source, the goal of the expedition, mining experience is required to ensure safety and success.
Parker’s education and experience is tailor-made for the task. Trained as an engineer, he is also a skilled draftsman and mine manager. Parker also earned two seminary degrees – a Master of Divinity degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Old Testament and Hebrew.
Parker, who joined the faculty in 2007, worked for 10 years as a civil engineer with U.S. Steel’s American Bridge Division. The job began while Parker was still in college. The company paid his way through college and helped Parker gain a wide range of theoretical and practical training. During a stint at an ore mine near Birmingham, Ala., he learned the ins and outs of mining.
Later, Parker worked for nine years as a project manager for Miner-Dederick, a general contractor in Houston. His work with Miner-Dederick brought him to New Orleans in the late 1980s where he served as project engineer and project manager for the construction of The Galleria, a 22-story office building in Metairie.
“That’s when God called me to come to seminary,” Parker said. “Over about a three-to-four year period I transitioned into ministry.”
After completing his Master of Divinity degree at Southwestern Seminary, Parker was called to pastor a small church in rural Alabama. To help support his family, Parker worked a second job as a teacher.
Eventually, Parker was contacted by a structural steel and mining company. The owner wanted his help with a number of projects. There Parker became heavily involved in underground and surface mining while continuing in his role as a bivocational pastor.
In 2004, Parker and a partner started their own mining operation in Alabama which continues today. As he developed the mine, Parker learned much about rock support. Parker’s engineering and drafting skills were put to quick use in the planning stages of the Gezer water system dig. A crane would be needed to remove the large volume of debris filling the tunnel and Israeli authorities were initially reluctant to allow one at the site. The officials worried about instability near the tunnel opening.
To convince the Israeli government to approve the project, Parker 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.”