What’s the Big Deal About Going to Israel?
This January (2017) I will lead yet another trip to the Holy Land…the first trip will be for clergy. Then, on the heels of that, a lay-oriented trip. (The clergy trip will be geared for ordained leaders who want to be trained to lead their own trips in the future; the lay-trip is oriented for non-ordained people who want to go!)
These journeys will make trip #17 and #18 in the last twenty years. Yes…I will have been to the Holy Land many times! I have seen the same sites, churches, monuments, and landscapes over and over again. I have had communion on the Sea of Galilee over a dozen times. I have prayed healing prayers at the Pools of Bethesda every time. I have prayed over a hundred marriages at the wedding chapel in Cana. I routinely touch the cave of the Holy Nativity Church where Jesus was born. I have seen sunrises over the Golan Heights on every trip. I have prayed at the Western Wall too many times to count.
And yet, I can’t wait to go there again.
Traveling to the Holy Land, leading groups and teaching people has become one of the most rewarding aspects of my ministry. I can’t wait to go…and I can’t wait to train clergy to go too.
- It makes disciples. This experience is one of the most effective means of Christian discipleship for a priest and leader. When I bring people back from these trips, their faith is bulging with confidence. They finally ‘get’ the bible. Their prayer life is stronger. Their hearts are full and passionate with the belief that it all truly did happen!
- It strengthens my preaching and their hearing! I am an interactive learner. Books will take me far…for only so far. Engaging with the land allows me to connect the dots and draw a complete picture of the biblical narrative and the work of Christ. Most people say that their trip to the Holy Land turned the bible into a 3-dimensional, fully-colorized, living record of God’s incredible story of faithfulness.
- It forms a stronger congregation. We have groups of people who have returned to our church and have formed strong small groups that continue in further study and engagement with the Holy Land. The group forms a tight and special bond with one another on the trip; they experience Christian community in a compressed period of time…and they never forget the joy of that fellowship.
- It makes Jesus real. There is something more real about the Incarnation when you are standing where Jesus stood. I have wept numerous tears in the basement of a convent that is thought to be the boyhood home of Jesus. It is not on the regular itinerary, but I always find a way to get there. And when I do, I look at the doorway entrance that is under a stone vault. I can picture our Lord running in and out of that doorway as a young boy…and it moves me deeply. Every time. When we say that God became a man, we really mean that God (also) was a young boy. That is an astonishing thing to consider.
- The guides are brilliant. They are well trained and so insightful; they add the teaching and educational value to the itinerary. My wife and I are free to be the pastor and host to the group, add occasional insights or do a meditation. The guides carry the teaching load and do a tremendous job. Every one of my groups were been blessed by the teaching and historical insights that are shared by our guide.
- It is safe. Most people worry about the security issues that are heard on the news routinely. But honestly, I have never felt in any danger or had any concerns. We have full control over the bus, our schedule, our daily activities, and our exposure. The guides are in full communication with the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
- It is inexpensive. Clergy can come on my Familiarization for about $700 when you bring back your own group with you within 18 months. Read the brochure carefully and you will see…it is one of the best trips you can take for one of the best prices you can get. And, when you bring back others, the trip you take will likely be at no or little cost.
- It is turn-key. The travel agency makes all the arrangements, collects the money, books the hotels, arranges for the guide, bus, entrance fees, etc. All we have to do is ‘show up’ with people; the operation of the tour is seamless. Trust me.
- It brings joy. More than once I have heard of people weeping or applauding when the eastern-bound plane touches down in TelAviv. I have felt it myself. In a sense, going there makes me feel that I am home…again. I know that Christ is not in the Holy Land. I know that all land in sacred because of the transcendent power of the Holy Spirit. But returning to ‘ground zero’ of the faith puts me back in touch with core elements of it.
- It is a micro-lab in pastoring. As the tour leaders and hosts, Fran and I have the chance to minister to the people who go. At times we have had less than 20 on a trip. Other tours have been maxed out at 50 people. But in each case, I have the privilege of loving people who are on a journey (literally) discovering the person and work of Jesus Christ for themselves. What a privilege!
Thanks be to God for this opportunity.
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