Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 1 of 10

Day One -- At Last, A Visit to the Holy Land

At last, I was on my way to visit the Holy Land. For years I dreamed of it, but somehow always kept on procrastinating about the trip. However, I have always been attracted to the culture of Israel, and fascinated by the Hebrew language, so much so that at Bible College I did a couple courses in the Hebrew language and some studies in Israelology. And I thank God for having done them.

Last year the trip nearly happened but did not, and this year it nearly did not happen. But it did. It happened when I heard of the Grace TV Israel Tour with Pastor Peter Youngren as host of the tour, and since I know of Pastor Peter’s church which is the Toronto International Celebration Church, I decided this was the time and seized the opportunity.

I went on this trip with a lot of expectation. I had been thinking “at last I will walk in places where Jesus walked, and see places where He healed the sick and did His miracles.” After a three-hour wait on arrival at the airport to check in, at last my husband, Errol and I boarded an El Al aircraft on May 3rd bound for Tel Aviv on a nonstop flight. And as I settled myself in my seat and buckled up, deep in my heart I said: “Oh Israel, here I come…”

I was told the flight would be 11 to 12 hours long and wondered how I would endure sitting in one position for that long, then I remembered that when I went to England some years ago the trip was 8 hours, so what if it is only 4 hours more! Anyway, I managed. The drone of the engines seemed like it would never end. And all we could do was just wait and wait for the touch-down.

Eventually we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport at 7:05 a.m. next day to a crisp morning, slightly cool, and with beautiful sunshine. It felt great to stand on terra firma once again and our 10-day bus tour started immediately.

There we were met by our bus drivers and tour guides. Our company of tourists filled three buses and my husband and I were assigned to Bus #3. From the beginning we felt we were in the hands of two competent helpers. Our bus driver was Obadiah (Ovad), who did an excellent job in manoeuvring steep hills and deep curves, and our tour guide was Doron Hoffman who is passionate about his work He did an excellent job in showing us around and narrating the information we came to Israel to hear. Also, he was not short on filling our ears with humour all along the way, which made our trip a memorable one.

Thank God, the buses were comfortable and airconditioned. Our first stop was the Mount of Olives. We began with a sweeping view of the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding area, and a visit to the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane. Here, Doron, our tour guide gave us a picturesque, historical overview of the Old City and surrounding area.

I had heard that a visit to Israel involved a lot of walking and that we should wear comfortable shoes, but to say that the tour involves a lot of walking is an understatement. Jerusalem is a city of hills, walls, stones and more stones, large and small, and it really does involve more that a lot of walking. It is an experience of climbing hills and walking on rough terrain, and I found it to be quite a challenge for the first two days. However, I did much better than I expected for the rest of the tour.

I was determined to master the trip and by the grace of God, I did. However, in the process, I have discovered the secret to being able to do long bouts of walking, and it is this: just keep on

I am not one for much walking and when our tour guide explained that the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane was a very steep and challenging one from where we were, and that those who felt they could not walk would be taken there by the bus that was music to my ears.

However, the bus drove the few of us who stayed on it to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent his last few hours on earth in agony and prayer to His Father in heaven (Matthew 26:36-56) and there we caught up with those who walked.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, we walked and walked through pathways in the garden, absorbing the beauty of every tree, shrub and flower while trying to catch every word and hold on to every description of what we saw, as given by Doron, our guide.

The garden is filled with gnarled, old olive trees, most of them hundreds of years old, though most likely none of the trees were as old as before the time of Jesus’ death, because we are told that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed all the trees in the area for use as fire wood and for the purpose of the siege itself.

As I looked at those olive trees, I thought to myself “if only those trees could talk, they would have much to say.” And as I reflected on the beauty and calmness of the garden, I was reminded me of the words of that popular, spiritual song: “I came to the Garden alone, while the dew was still on the roses” and thought of how it might have been in the time of Jesus’day.Was the garden just as beautiful, peaceful and calm?

I wondered: “What did Jesus contemplate during His last few hours?” Did He think of you and me? Did He look beyond the cross He knew He would have to endure to the glories of heaven? But then again, I remembered that we have only to look to the Book of John, chapters 16 and 17 for the answer.

Another place of interest to the tourist is the Church of the Agony, also named The Church of All Nations (so named because it was built with financial support from 12 different countries) which stands next to the Garden of Gethsemane and is a beauty to behold.

Then off we were to a fabulous lunch of Israeli cuisine and then to the Crowne Plaza Hotel to relax for the rest of the day. After dinner that evening, we enjoyed a dynamic teaching by Pastor Peter Youngren before retiring for the night in anticipation for the next day.

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