t had been 32 years since I’d last set foot in Israel when I arrived there in July of 2004, a guest of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. As you might imagine, I was much younger that previous visit—I was a teenager of 15—and since then much had changed, in my life and in Israel’s life, too.
For me the most important change is that I was by then firmly established as a believer in Jesus, Yeshua in Hebrew. Indeed, I was part of a group of Christian journalists brought over by the Tourism Ministry. (Accommodations are splendid, and vegetarian fare abounds—salads are an Israeli breakfast staple!)
Our itinerary was structured to show off many of the key Christian-related sites in Israel: Jaffa, including the “Joppa” section where the reputed home of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10) is found. Then Caesarea, which hosts a multimedia, holographic display in which actors representing Peter, Paul, and Herod “speak” to you. Then up to Nazareth’s “First Century Village,” where lunch is prepared A.D. 27-style—flat bread baked on a heated stone, dipped in fresh olive oil, and eaten al fresco.
Tiberias followed, and a stirring boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, which evoked a sense of what the disciples might have experienced. A visit to nearby Kibbutz Ginnosar brought me face to face with the “Jesus Boat,” the remaining hull of a boat built in 40 B.C., according to archaeologists, and believed to have been in use in the first century. Again, it was an evocative display.
Another meaningful location was Capernaum, except that really isn’t its name. In Hebrew, it’s Kefar Nahum, or the “Hamlet of Nahum,” though probably not the Old Testament prophet. Jesus taught in the synagogue there (Luke 4), and it’s also where the Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant (Matthew 8). The ruins there are reasonably well-preserved, and the synagogue evokes the era in which the Lord lived.
Other sites included a stop at Yardenit, on the Israeli side of the Jordan River, and an area where Christians from all over come to visit and perform immersion baptisms. Perhaps the most popular item in the gift shop there, apart from baptismal robe rentals, is 5 or 10 gallon plastic jugs, which pilgrims fill with water from the river and carry home.
Jerusalem is a story in and of itself. Here, at the crossroads of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, one gets a sense of the importance of this land to so many believers around the world. Seeing the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Old City, and the “competing” sites of the Crucifixion and Resurrection (I prefer the ambiance of the so-called “Garden Tomb,” even if its authenticity as Jesus’ burial site is questioned), again brought home the meaning of the Bible’s accounts.
And, for me at least, connecting the accounts in the Gospels with the land of the Bible helped me appreciate both more. We cannot, as did the faithful of past ages, insist that visiting the land of the Bible inevitably deepens our holiness or our appreciation of spiritual realities. Ellen G. White helpfully reminds us that we can see Jesus’ footsteps close to home when we help those in need (The Desire of Ages, p. 640). But having the ability to journey to Israel in comfort and safety—I felt no fear in Jerusalem or the countryside—gave me something not easily available to our pioneers, and left me with memories to last a lifetime.
Those interested in learning more can visit www.goisrael.com/tourism_eng online, a site that also hosts a “virtual tour” of Israel, a land of wonder and welcomes.