It was both a privilege and an honor to go on a mission trip to the Holy Land. I hope that I can bring the experience to life to you as I write this blog.
Departing from home and until our return, we were gone 15 days—13 of which were fast and furious in country with not a moment of time to waste! Our guide Tony, a Christian Arab, met us at the airport Saturday morning and we were off and running, walking 8,000 to 15,000 steps a day (3-5 miles) with much of it up and down hills! There are more than 8 million people in Israel today and only 2% are Christians. Out of that 8 million, half are Jews and half are Arab.
Tony was very good to help us understanding that over the last 2,000 years much has changed, and while many sites have been confirmed, many have not. So, he gave us a simple code for what we would see: “A” was authentic, almost absolutely by history and science. “B” was a maybe, close, but had not been authenticated and not enough evidence to confirm. These sites were “traditional,” meaning since the days of the crusaders back in the 1100 and 1200’s, there was a claim of an event at a site, but over time, the evidence did not support that claim. “C” sites were most certainly tourist sites with questionable heritage.
We immediately headed to an “A” site, Caesarea Maritima, built by Herod the Great and home of Cornelius, a Gentile who asked Peter to come. From there we went to Mt. Carmel where Elijah called down fire on the prophets of Baal, and then to Migdal to see the base of a 1st century synagogue in the hometown of Mary Magdalene. We spent the first two nights in a kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee where we learned a new way of eating!
On Sunday we drove 2 hours up far north to the border of Lebanon, then over to the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights where we took in Tel Dan, Banias/Caesarea Phillippi and went to the observation deck at Mt Bental to see Mt. Herman, the tallest peak in Israel. Glen spoke to a couple of United Nations peacekeepers from Australia at the lookout post on the Syrian border.
We started Monday off with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, in a boat that was a replica of one like the disciples were in when Jesus walked on the Sea to calm the waters. While in the Galilee region we visited the Primacy of Peter, reported to be where Peter established his first church. From there we went to the second home of Jesus, Capernaum, then to Mount Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. After lunch on “St. Peter’s Fish,” we visited the Nazareth Village, a recreation of a Galilean Jewish village in Jesus’ time. While in Nazareth we looked out over Mt. Precipice, viewing what Jesus could have seen looking out over the valley below. We ended our day at the Church of the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel told Mary she would have a son and call him Jesus. The church is the largest Christian church in the country.
We spent the next four nights and three days at the Baptist Village (BV) where the men worked hard putting up a fence around the property and the ladies cleaned cabins and cooked the meals. We did have some excitement one afternoon—there was a fire in the national park adjacent to the BV, and we were evacuated by the police and park authorities. We moved a few miles away and watched fire trucks arrive, then several aircraft, flying in low, then pulling up high after dropping what we assumed to be fire retardant. Hours later we were able to safely return to the village, but the smell of smoke permeated the house. We were glad to be able to make a difference for the BV and help them out.
On Friday, day 7, we restarted our touring and went to Megiddo, known in the book of Revelation as Armageddon, the most important archeological site in the country! Fought over, captured, then lost, and destroyed 26 times, it provides a view of the Jezreel valley and controls access into the country from the north east. We then visited Gideon Springs and the largest city in the 1st century Israel, Beit Shean. It overlooks the Jordan Valley and controls the country’s north entrance. Today 55,000 Jewish people live in this modern city.
Driving down to the Jordan Valley we drove through the Gilboa Mountains where Saul was killed by the Philistines before being hung with three of his sons at Beit Shean. We then entered the West Bank, which is controlled by the Palestinian Authority, where 78% are Arabs and 21% are Jews. We visited Jericho where Joshua entered and God caused the “walls to come tumbling down.” It is a town in the middle of the desert with three springs. We got back to our hotel early enough to get to enjoy some time floating in the Dead Sea! The Dead Sea is only 50 miles long and 10 miles wide.
Early Saturday we visited a site not mentioned in the Bible, but deep in Israeli history, Masada. Sitting on a tall plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, it was also built as a royal fortress by Herod. Up the road is Ein Gedi, where David hid from King Saul, and not far was Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.
On Sunday we got an unplanned visit to the Jordan River area where John the Baptist baptized Jesus, right on border of Jordan. This was one of my personal top favorite stops! We then went to the Shepherds field where the angels told them about the birth of the Savior, and then we saw the Nativity Church in Bethlehem with the site where Jesus was born!
We drove into Jerusalem and went to the Mount of Olives on Monday morning. Jerusalem is 1/3 Orthodox Jews, 1/3 secular Jews and 1/3 Muslim. We visited an “A” site where Jesus wept over Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives, just above the Garden of Gethsemane. This was another personal favorite—it was breath-taking! We drove by Gehenna Valley on our way to Mt. Zion where we saw Caiaphas’ house where Christ was taken before being sent to Pilate.
Our highlight on Tuesday was going to the Western Wall. It is divided into two sections, one for the women and one for the men, but everyone must cover their head. The Temple Mount, sitting on Mount Moriah, sits just above and behind the Wall, and holds two Muslim holy shrines, the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The tension between the Jews and the Muslims over those few acres is almost palpable as we went through yet another security scanner to get to the Mount.
On Wednesday we went to the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed a paralytic and to Antonia Fortress where Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, and then walked down Via Dolorosa through the crowded market streets of the Old City. Next we went to the Holy Sepulcher Church, which is the “A” site of the crucifixion and His tomb. Man was that a very moving experience! Not far away, we finished our day by visiting the Garden Tomb which was discovered in the mid 1850’s. We shared the Lord’s Supper there, a very touching and meaningful experience.
Thursday was more touring at the birthplace of John the Baptist, then the Israel Museum, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. We finished our day at the Jerusalem Prayer Center which is managed by an American couple. After that, we went to the Jewish Market to spend any shekels we had left.
We left on Friday morning at 8am for our 11:55am flight home. But, we all brought back with us a deeper appreciation for what Christ did for us on that cross over 2,000 years ago. Words alone cannot convey what we saw and experienced. I strongly urge any one of you, if given the opportunity to go on any future trips to the Holy Land to GO! You won’t be sorry.