A Baptist Christian’s Visit to Israel

Editor: “Lila” in Hebrew means night. But Lila’s face shone like the sun as she saw Israel for the first time in her 70-odd years. There was a constant smile on her face. Seeing it in the light of the Bible will make your face shine, too, and your heart warm. But for now read her glowing account.

I am seldom at a loss for words and I’ve found it takes quite a surprise to leave me in this condition. This past January was one of those times. My son had called for me to send him a copy of his birth certificate in order to get a passport because he was leaving for Israel in March. Then he invited me to go with him! All I could say was, “Oh my. Oh my! I’ll have to think about that! Oh my.” All kinds of thoughts were buzzing through my head. What I did not know at the time was that he and his sisters were making this possible.

It was such a surprise. I’d never thought of going to Israel, The Holy Land, supposing it was out of the realm of reality for me.  How could I possibly go? Because of church, Sunday school and Bible studies, I knew a lot of the places we could see. Going there and actually seeing them makes reading the Bible more real and clearer than ever before. Visualizing them in my mind now as I read my bible, I am deeply moved.

Ancient olive trees still in the Garden of Gethsemane.

As a Christian, seeing certain places was an awesome experience. One was the Garden of Gethsemane. Walking around the ancient olive trees in the garden I thought about the time when Jesus was there praying. He asked His disciples to pray with Him, but they fell asleep. His sweat became big drops of blood in His anguish. He knew what was ahead. He asked the Father, ‘If you are willing, remove this cup from me, yet not my will be done, but yours.’ In the Church of All Nations next to the Garden is the rock thought to be where He prayed. I was almost breathless as I sat shedding tears and thanking Him for what he did for me and for all mankind.

Inside the Church of All Nations.

Casting a net from a replica of the Jesus boat on the Sea of Galilee.

The next awesome experience for me was sailing on the Sea of Galilee in a “Jesus Boat” where we sang and had devotions. You could sense the presence of the Holy Spirit. Stories in the Bible connected to that place rushed through my mind. He calmed the storm on that lake; he sat in a boat a little way from its shore and spoke to the huge crowd. He walked along the shore and called disciples from there to follow Him. On a nearby hill overlooking the lake, he gave the Beatitudes in a spot where the natural acoustics enabled his words to be carried to the multitude. After he rose from the dead, he prepared fish for his hungry disciples on that shore. It was so wonderful to actually be there; these will never be just Bible stories ever again.

We left the Galilee area and made our way south of the Dead Sea to Biblical Tamar Park. It was a joyful time getting to know better other people in our tour group. During the devotional time on Sunday morning, they shared life experiences. I came to know them as God-loving and very unselfish believers. One in our group had given her kidney to someone she didn’t even know and she shared that touching story. Another couple in our group live in China and teach English. It was a blessing to be with such dedicated persons.

Returning from Prayer Mountain on the west side of Tamar Biblical park. There is a great need for trees in this area.

Prayer Mountain is part of Biblical Tamar Park and can be reached on foot. Our trip there was a great experience. I don’t know how far we walked and climbed but it took us a good part of a day. The view from the top was awesome. Then back at the main part of Tamar, was an unexpected pleasure; a Jewish wedding under the 2,300 year-old jujube tree. All took part in the celebration.

We visited a replica of the tabernacle when we stopped at Timna Park.

On the way to Eilat, Israel’s Red Sea port, we stopped at Timna Park where there is a replica of the tabernacle Israel carried with them as they traveled from one place to another during the wilderness journey.

Not far from Tamar is Masada National Park, a mountaintop fortress in the desert with a spectacular view of the Dead Sea. It held splendid palaces built by King Herod for himself and it became a place of escape from Rome for Jews during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. When the Romans came after them there, they chose death over surrender to bondage. Archaeologists found a synagogue that dates back to 536 BC to 70 AD containing fragments of Deuteronomy and Ezekiel.

One of the palaces Herod built at Masada.

I climbed down stairs hewn into solid rock to see the inside of a 250,000-gallon cistern at Masada. I had a mud bath and floated in the Dead Sea, hunted relics and rode a camel – all this with my son, which has such special meaning for me.

Back in Jerusalem with Chris for our last few days in Israel we saw more of Jerusalem, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. We saw a sign on the door of the tomb, “He is not here, he is risen.” Hallelujah!

At an intersection leading to Calvary in one direction and the Empty Tomb in the other is an engraved stone that Elmer Josephson donated to the Garden Tomb.

We spent time with Zev Kedem, who had been the coordinating engineer in rebuilding the Jewish Quarter of the old walled city of Jerusalem. We saw through his eyes as he showed us where he lived and worked. He took us down the Cardo, Jerusalem’s main shopping street at the time of Jesus.

Back home as I recounted this trip to Israel, responses have been interesting. “Were you afraid?” No, I was not afraid neither before nor at any time I was there. An interesting reaction that I wasn’t expecting was, “Why would you want to go there?” It was an honor and a privilege to travel and be in the country. Most of my close friends were very happy for me that I was able to have that wonderful experience.

As you read this, and if you have never been there, I would encourage you to go. It was a special privilege to spend this time with Chris. She has become like a sister to me. Chris has said that she always felt at home in Israel. I thought it was probably because she lived there for several years, but now I know there is something special about Israel that must be experienced first-hand. I have been to a few other places on this planet, but none of them left me feeling the way I feel about Israel. I’ll never forget it and I’m so thankful for having lived it. It was the best gift I’ve ever received. -