I just came back from Israel trip. Our team was made up of 10 pastors in the same Presbytery. I was told to keep my expectation low so I’ve made it my goal to simply visit where Jesus lived. I feel like I’ve over-achieved my goal.
During 10 days in Israel, we stayed 3 nights in Galilee and 5 nights in Jerusalem. Physically, it was challenging. There is 7- hours time difference so for the first few days, all our team members were dead-tired during the tour. The schedule was also tight. We walked about 14000 steps every day, while busy digesting a lot of historical information and trying to match them with what we previously knew. We also had an early morning devotion and evening reflection time every day. It was a lot more intense than I expected.
However, we were very fortunate to have a great tour guide. She lived in Israel for 30 years and her knowledge of Biblical sites and Israel’s history was substantial. Through her explanation, I felt like my “2D” knowledge became “3D” every time she explained the importance of each site. I realized you only get to “see” what you know.
Two places were very memorable. First was Galilee. This was where the majority of Jesus’ public ministry happened. The sea of Galilee was particularly touching because the scenery really helped me to reflect on his ministry deeply. The second was the Mount of Olive. This is where Jesus taught his disciples most of the times during his stay in Jerusalem and also the place of his ascension. The garden of Gethsemane is right on the mountain and you also get a good view of the Jerusalem city.
The biggest take away from this trip is that I felt very connected to Jesus as a human. Being in Galilee and the mount of Olive, then to have the same view Jesus had 2000 years ago, it helped me to imagine what Jesus likely had felt. I became more grateful for his life on earth.
What I found unfortunate was that many important biblical sites were traditional sites (not historically proven) and were obscured by memorial churches or monasteries. Since they were often overly crowded due to pilgrims from all over the world, I found it difficult to engage in reflection. But historical sites that were well preserved helped me to reflect on the life of people in the Bible.
There was one road that was preserved and considered an authentic site where Jesus walked to go to the garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper. What touched me was that it was the same road he took after he was arrested. It was a touching experience to imagine Jesus blessing his disciples for the last time and going to the garden of Gethsemane to pray, thinking about the crucifixion ahead, knowing he would come back the same way to Jerusalem after the arrest.
Bible stories will never look the same to me. All the imageries I’ve seen through this trip will affect the way I see them. I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to visit Israel.