Jana and I thank our association for its prayerful support and understanding as we visited the Holy Land 2/24-3/5. No MSBA funds were used to finance this trip; a mystery person paid our air and lodging, and we paid for tours and meals. I promised in previous columns a report on our trip. Here goes.
We rendezvoused in Newark NJ as 30 people from across the US met for the first time before flying to Israel. All were recipients of this generous benefactor who was the unifying element. I’ve never seen “strangers” mesh so quickly, a remarkable assemblage of expertise in business, education, military, politics, and ministry. Our benefactor’s aim was to increase our individual prayer support for and our public support of Israel in light of its isolated position in global affairs. We were not ready for the levels of excellence, entrance, and emotion afforded us. This was not a typical Holy Land trip. Let me explain:
1) Excellence---Half of our time was spent in presentations racing through the entire OT and hearing multiple sessions on the current Israeli military, politics, and economy (for instance, I did sessions on I-II Samuel in 40 min. and I-II Kings in 40 min.; it forced me to study like crazy mainly about what NOT to say). We heard a PhD in Jewish and Christian relations, oil lobbyists, a US political consultant on the national level, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN, three Knesset members (Is. Parliament), retired 2 and 3 star US generals, and a 102 yr. old pastor not needing glasses to read the Word with an astounding vocabulary. We had a private concert by young disadvantaged Israelis taught by members of the Tel Aviv symphony. Jana and I were privileged to lead the worship portions of the sessions.
2) Entrance---Because of the connections within our group we did things few Americans get to do: attend Knesset sessions in Jerusalem, have a briefing at the Israeli Defense Force Central Command (their Pentagon equivalent), and have an Is. colonel brief us over two days on their precarious position with rockets and missiles pointed at them and enemies tunneling constantly across the borders.
3) Emotion---We saw Caesarea Phillipi (Mt. 16.13), the Golan Heights, Sermon Mount (Mt. 5-7), Capernaum, Magdala (Mt. 15.39), Mt. Carmel (1 Kgs. 18), Masada, Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls discovery), and in Jerusalem the Mt. of Olives, Gethsemane, the place where Pilate judged Jesus, Western Wall, Golgotha, & the Garden Tomb. My two most powerful moments were a) seeing the Eastern Gate of the Old City where Christ will return (a tomb didn’t hold Him, why would walling up the Gate keep Him out??) and our time on the Sea of Galilee (in a boat, not walking on it, I didn’t take that seminary class). We cut the motor and had a time of testimony and affirmation. As we looked about us at places where Jesus fed the 5000, where he lived in Capernaum, cooked a post-resurrection meal for the apostles (Jn. 21.9), and spoke the Beatitudes, I never felt so unworthy to speak the words of my Lord as on that boat when my turn came to share and I tearfully recited Mt. 5.1-12.
We would love to share with your church or group about our experience there, not as experts (a scant ten days there), but to communicate the joy and privilege of walking where our Lord Jesus ministered, died, and rose again. I will do so with the WMU folks April 19 at Ceres BC. Please pray with us about organizing a return trip primarily for pastors and spouses soon (2018?); I believe it would greatly enhance the teaching and preaching ministries within our association. Several have mentioned a trip to Israel as a dream come true; let’s make dreams become realities.