I spent the better part of last year preparing with my friend, Andrew Greer, to co host a trip to the Holy Land. By “preparing,” I mean we told absolutely everyone who would listen about the wonderful Israel adventure we were planning for early 2015, suggesting—or perhaps insisting—they all come along! When it was all said and done, we’d successfully convinced 24 of our closest friends and fans to join us for the journey. And what a journey it was!
As we set out on our 10-hour flight over land and sea to the Middle East, I found a moment (actually 600 of them) to consider what was in store. I’d been so busy working to inspire excitement in others about walking where Jesus walked and visiting sites where scenes of the Bible took place, I hadn’t had time to think much about actually doing these things myself. My pastor posed a question when I first told him of our upcoming tour which now rang in my head: “Ginny, since you can’t see Israel, how will you experience it?”
It was a great question. And one I can now answer.! I have seen Israel in more ways than I could possibly summarize in a short blog, so for both our sakes, I’ll stick to the highlights.
I quickly realized much of my Israel experience would come from the insights of the wonderful folks in our group! Our brilliant tour guide, Koby (far right), knew more about Israel (and everything else in the world) than most humans I’ve encountered. I tried in vain to take notes on every important thing he shared at every single site. I think I managed to record about a tenth. The riveting stories and fascinating details Koby offered, along with the vivid descriptions provided by the rest of our crew, allowed me to create my own mental pictures of the ornate churches, ancient ruins, and the old cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Seeing Israel through everyone else’s eyes made this trip an incredibly rich experience for me.
The weather was unseasonably rainy and cold for most of our tour. When we visited the Jordan River, the temperature was around 45 degrees outside the water. Still, several of us decided it was the perfect day to be immersed in the cold river! Shawn, our only pastor in the group, baptized us in the same waters where John baptized Jesus. Wow! I still can’t believe that happened!
On the warmest day of our journey, we visited a herd of camels, and our herd climbed upon their backs for a ride. Camels’ backs are fuzzier than I imagined, and their humps are much larger than I thought. They’re great for wedging between during a ride. When we first approached, the beasts spoke loudly and adamantly to us. Since none of us knew Camelese, , we used the most warm, enthusiastic words in our language to indicate our desire for friendship. Not sure whether it was our polite overtures or their handler’s commands that calmed them, but they kindly sat down for us to climb aboard and tromped through the desert with us on their backs for 15 minutes or so, smiling for our cameras all the while. I couldn’t help but wonder if camels enjoy lugging around humans, and if so, do they prefer 15-minute jaunts to multi-day journeys? One of those questions for Heaven perhaps.
Another of my favorite stops on our trip was the Sea of Galilee, a body of water that has not changed shape since Jesus’ day. We took a boat to the middle of the lake and turned off the engines so we could revel in our significant surroundings. What a place! Storms were calmed here. Water was walked on here. Conversations which ultimately changed the world were had here. There was something inexplicably moving about being out on this lake. We celebrated with songs. I’m certain I’ll never sing “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” the same way again.
On the last day of our pilgrimage, we visited the Garden Tomb, where some believe Jesus’ body was placed after His death. Paul, our guide here, explained that His body would have been laid in the back right of the tomb. So I could see for myself, Paul took me into the actual tomb and let me touch the stones where Jesus’ body would have been laid. Then he showed me the nearby places where the angels may have stood. Although we don’t know for sure this was Jesus’ tomb, touching the stone and imagining what could have taken place here was one of the most impactful experiences of my trip. We celebrated at the Garden Tomb with a sweet time of prayer, singing, and Scripture-reading. Hearing the stories of the disciples finding the stone rolled away and of Mary and Jesus’ first meeting after His resurrection, I was profoundly moved. Now I could imagine the scenes in a whole new way. Before we left, Paul reminded us, “Don’t leave Jesus in the tomb. Take Him with you.”
What a way to end the trip! I wish you could have been there! And I wish I could share with you even more of our adventures. I strongly encourage you to make this journey sometime during your lifetime. Trust me. Israel is a place worth seeing!