This past May I had the amazing privilege to visit Israel through a Lilly Pastoral Sabbatical grant. I took a three-week class from Jerusalem University College entitled “Geography and History of Ancient Israel.” It was a first time for me to experience the land where Jesus lived and where a great deal of the events of the Bible took place. Four questions ran through my head before and during the trip:
Would it be safe enough to go? As a father of four, was I putting my life at risk unnecessarily? Some said to me that I should completely avoid the Middle East. Some asked me whether I packed my gas mask. I prayed and asked God to put a roadblock up if I wasn’t supposed to go. He didn’t and the surprise was I felt safe the entire time. Israel is filled with babies, children, families and elderly. There is lots of security. I felt very safe. My biggest fear was getting run over by crazy Jerusalem drivers (worse than Boston).
Would going to Israel be a let-down? I never voiced this, but it was in my mind. You study the Bible and imagine all these places in your head. Would seeing the places for real be a disappointment? No. It was even more than I imagined. In my 25 days in Israel, I experienced the land — how important water is, the role of shepherds and farmers, and the beautiful milky limestone of Jerusalem’s walls and streets. I saw lakes, rivers, mountains, hill country, desert, seas and plains — all in a country the size of Vermont. But what also inspired me most was visiting the actual places where Bible events took place: the Sea of Galilee, Mount of Olives, Shiloh, the Road to Jericho, Temple Mount, Jacob’s Well, Herod’s Palace where Paul was imprisoned, and especially the site of the crucifixion, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.