Jobs Fill Your Pocket, But Adventure Fills Your Soul - Our Trip to Israel
Updated: May 22, 2019
I think that travel is such a great way to take care of yourself and fill up your soul. Sure it can be exhausting and sometimes expensive; but I have found that it is always worth it. Seeing the world opens your mind, opens your heart and can change your perspective on humanity. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, or feel negative about everything around us. But there is so much beauty out in the world to behold, if we just take time to see it. I completely understand that everyone may not have the means to travel the world (honestly, we don't either), but we have made travel a goal we are always working towards. We have to save for months and months to be able to afford a trip, so right now that means that we try to take a trip once every year. Of course we dream of being world travelers, and hopefully we'll get to see all the places on our list one day.
In January of 2018 we were incredibly blessed to be able to join our church's (Calvary Salt Lake) annual trip to Israel. Ron had wanted to visit Israel for year and years, and I was always terrified of it. It was never a place on the top of my list, however a change in my faith (read my Faith Transformation story for more details) put that desire to visit this incredible place into my mind.
This post would be way too long if I told you about all the incredible things we did and saw on our visit, so I'll try to focus on a few highlights per day.
One of our stops on Day 1 was to Megiddo which was an important city in ancient times probably because of its strategic location on a hill. From the hill you can look out over the Valley of Armageddon (far left pic); it is believed that this valley will be the location of the final battle between the forces of light and darkness as told in the book of Revelation.
Another stop this day was at the Church of the Annunciation which is a beautiful church that was built over the home of Mary, mother of Jesus. This would have been where the angel Gabriel visited Mary and announced to her that she would be the mother of Jesus.
We also took some time in Caesarea Maritima, a port city built by Herod the Great. It is incredible how many of the structures are still in tact. This harbor was built using materials that would allow the concrete to harden underwater! How on earth did they know how to do that so long ago?
The second day in Israel, we woke up in our hotel near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. How crazy is that? We took a boat ride out on the sea and then visited a museum where we saw a boat that was discovered in the sea about 20 years ago that dates back to the time of Jesus. It was likely very similar to the boat that the apostles would have been fishing from.
Next we visited the Mount of Beatitudes. Remember Jesus' Sermon on the Mount? Well it took place right here (the picture with the palm tree)! This beautiful hillside overlooks the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Church of the Beatitudes, that I am standing in front of, is a place for people to commemorate the Sermon on the Mount. It is also believed that this is where Jesus visited his apostles after his resurrection and told them to "make disciples of all nations".
Then we headed to Capernaum, the home of Jesus during his ministry. Here you can see ruins of the ancient Great Synagogue at Capernaum (bottom middle picture). There is a very modern looking octagonal church that was built over the house of St. Peter (bottom right picture). It was amazing to walk over the stone streets, and think that Jesus walked in this very same place.
Day 3 was a pretty incredible day. We started out at Magdala (top three pics), the home town of Mary Magdalene. Here you can see the ruins of this ancient port city including the ruins of the main synagogue and an altar made to replicate Solomon's Temple.
We then visited Beit She'an (pics in the middle) which has some of Israel's best preserved ruins. On nearby Mount Gilboa, King Saul's army was defeated by the Philistines and Saul's sons were killed, and Saul fell on his sword to avoid capture. The Philistines then took their bodies and fastened them to the wall of Beit She'an.
Our last stop of the day, and the most significant, was to the Jordan River. So many important events in history took place here. Probably the most remembered is that this is the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. This is also where the tribes of Israel, under the command of Joshua, crossed the river on dry ground to enter into the Promised Land. This river also creates a border between Israel and Jordan - so the picture you see (bottom middle) actually shows the Jordan side of the river. Both Ron and I were baptized into the family of Christ here in this most sacred place. Although the water was dirty and FREEZING cold, it was an experience I will never forget. We both feel so blessed to be able to proclaim our faith in Christ in this way.
On our fourth day in the Holy Land we made a visit to the Mount of Olives which gave us an amazing view of the old city of Jerusalem (top left). Again, so many incredible events took place here - it was so humbling to be walking these grounds. Zechariah prophesied that in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, the Lord will stand on the Mount of Olives and the mount will be split in two from east to west. King David fled over the Mount of Olives to escape when his son, Absalom, rebelled. Ezekiel had a vision of the Lord ascending from the city and stopping on the Mount of Olives. Jesus traveled down the Mount of Olives on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus prayed here in Gethsemane with his disciples the night before his arrest.
The picture on the top right is of a branch of a thorny tree commonly found in the area. It is thought that this may have been the type of thorny branch that was used to make the crown of thorns.
There are many churches on the Mount of Olives (most of which we visited) including the Church of All Nations which was built over the rock on which Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion; The Church of Mary Magdalene; The Church of Dominus Flevit which is built int he shape of a teardrop commemorating when Jesus wept over the fate of Israel; Dome of the Ascension and the Church of Pater Noster.
We ventured down the Mount of Olives following the path that Jesus Christ would have taken on his triumphal entry. Once inside the old city, we visited, what is believed to be, the Upper Room - where Christ and his apostles had the Last Supper (bottom middle).
We then made a trip into the West Bank to visit Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus. Travelling into the West Bank was interesting. There are some very strict rules about who can travel between there and Israel and for what reasons, and I definitely don't know all the logistics of it (in fact I'll probably get this wrong). Our tour guide is an Israeli citizen and he was not allowed to travel into the West Bank. We basically dropped him off at the entrance gate, drove across and then picked up a new tour guide who was a Palestinian citizen. Our tour bus driver, however, was allowed access (it seems he had some special pass to let him do this). Anyway, once in the West Bank we made our way to visit the Shepherd's caves (bottom left) where the shepherds of biblical times would have found shelter while "watching their flocks by night". We also visited the Church of the Nativity (second row from bottom) which is the oldest complete church in Christianity, and was built in the 6th century. It replaced the original church of Constantine which was built over the cave recognized as Christ's birthplace.
Day five was spent in the old city of Jerusalem. As a Christian I understood why Jerusalem was such a holy place (this is where Christ was crucified, was buried, and then rose again), but I didn't realize that half of the world honors Jerusalem as well. For those of the Jewish faith, Jerusalem is the city King David made the capital of his kingdom and where the Temple was located. For Muslims it is holy because they believe that Muhammad ascended to heaven from the Temple Mount during his Night Journey. It is incredibly interesting to see how these three major world religions collide all in one place. The Temple Mount is one of the most contested religious sites in the world. We were very luck to be able to visit the Temple Mount as hostilities between Christians, Jews and Muslims can change the safety and security of the site from minute to minute.
We spent some time at the Western Wall (top right), which is considered to be one of the most holy places in Jerusalem. This wall has become a place of worship and prayer for Jews. Many (including me and Ron) will leave prayers written on little pieces of paper and stuffed between the stones of the wall. It was a humbling experience to be in this most holy and reverent place.
We also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (bottom row) which is recognized as the place where Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It is very interesting how this church is managed now - called the Status Quo - which was imposed back in 1757. Ownership of the church is shared between the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Catholics. It dictates how and at what times each group can utilize the church - pretty complicated stuff!
Our final day in Israel was spent near the Dead Sea. We first visited the hilltop fortress of Masada (picture of model of Masada top left). Here we saw the ruins of a former palace of Herod the Great which then became the location of a Roman siege against Jewish rebels in AD 74, after the fall of Jerusalem. During the siege the Roman soldiers surrounded the hilltop (remnants of their siege walls can still be seen at the bottom of the hill) (top middle), and they built a ramp up the hill in order to climb up. Most of the remaining occupants of Masada chose to take their own lives, rather than be killed by the Romans. You can get to the top by a LONG winding pathway, or do like we did and take the tram car! A Jewish scribe spends his days a the top of the hill writing out a Torah scroll. He was such a kind man, and gave us the little note with our names written in Hebrew and two hearts (my favorite souvenir from our trip - even if Ron smeared it with his finger!).
We made a stop in Qumran (second row from bottom) which is known as the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The first of the scrolls were found in 1947 by a Bedouin shepherd when he threw a rock into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. Inside were seven clay jars containing scrolls that had been hidden for almost 2000 years. Over time, more and more scrolls were found in this area.
Our last stop of the day (thankful we stopped here last) was to the Dead Sea which is located in the lowest point in the world and so there is no outlet. It is full of so much salt that fish cannot survive in it. Of course we did the touristy thing and floated in the water and caked ourselves with the mineral rich mud! It was fun, but kind of gross at the same time!
This trip to Israel was so incredible. For my most of my life, and especially after I became a Christian, I have read about these places in the Bible, but seeing them in real life just made the Bible come to life. Now when I read the Bible I can actually picture these locations so clearly in my mind. I also found that, Jerusalem in particular, had a special reverence about it. There was a feeling there that I can't really describe except that you could tell that it was a sacred place.
If you want more information on any of these places, or on Israel in general check out seetheholyland.net. It is where I referenced a lot of the material for this post (since I am definitely not a historian).
As I said earlier, we traveled with a group from our church and had an amazing tour guide through (Gate 1 Travel). For your first time in the country I would highly recommend you go with a tour guide because we learned so much about the country, the politics, the people, culture, etc. If Israel is not on your travel bucket list, I highly recommend it.