Holy Land Trip January 2009
Melissa Rosebrock, member of Home Moravian Church
Those who know me best would probably say that I’m rarely at a loss for words or an opinion. It might surprise you to hear then that I find it a challenge to describe my recent excursion to the Holy Land. Just how does one put into words, 2000 years of biblical history, culture, and religion—especially after experiencing it for the first time? I’m not sure that I can. So perhaps it’s best to express our trip in terms of the emotions I experienced.
On January 15th, sixteen weary but enlightened Christians arrived back in the States after participating in a ten-day spiritual pilgrimage to Israel. Our trip was organized by Rev. Rick Sides of Home Moravian Church; through the tour company Educational Opportunities. Our merry group of travelers included not only Home Church members; but also some from the Sedge Garden Methodist congregation including, Rev. Phil Bauguess and his wife Paula as well as Moravians from Mount Airy, Raleigh, and even the state of Georgia. Our flock ranged in age from 20 to 78.
Let me start out by saying that at no time did we feel un-safe or unwelcome in Israel. In fact, if we hadn’t watched CNN at night we would never even have known there was a war going on. While you might think this a blessing, I actually found it troubling that so much pain and suffering was going on nearby and it wasn’t even visible to us. The trip generated an interesting mix of emotions for me: peace, sadness, joy, and responsibility to name a few. But fear was not one of the emotions I experienced. You see, a couple days prior to leaving for our trip I felt an incredible peace come over me; the kind of peace that comes from knowing that you are finally “going home.” This trip was, and continues to be, a very emotional experience for me.
Some trip participants, however, did express their concern and anxiety over our trip to Israel. Rick’s message about “faith, fear, and trusting in God” was especially timely during our worship service while crossing the Sea of Galilee. We visited various sites in and around Nazareth, Capernaum, Caesarea, the Mount of Olives, Jericho, the Mount of Beatitudes, Bethlehem, Mount Zion, the Jordan River, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Qumran, site of the Dead Sea Scroll discovery. At several of these sites and others, we had the opportunity to read relevant scripture and sing some wonderful Moravian hymns. I shall always remember the joy in hearing “Morning Star” being sung in the hollows of a cave in Bethlehem revered as the place where Jesus was born. And our worship and communion service in Jerusalem was particularly powerful in the lush surroundings of the Garden Tomb. To me, these experiences separate the pilgrims from the tourists.
While traversing northern Israel we saw beautiful fields of grain; groves of banana, date, avocado, citrus, and olive trees; and surprisingly, some large, Holstein dairy operations. We observed miles and miles of barren desert, and lots of caves, sheep, and Bedouwin shacks in southern Israel. Some of us even took an invigorating swim in the Dead Sea, amid the raucous cheers of several observers.
At several points I saw 6-8 foot fencing and razor wire surrounding various pipes and valves. I asked our guide, Zak, a most gracious and knowledgeable host for several of Rick’s trips to the Holy Land, if it was petroleum. He replied that it was protecting “something much more valuable—water!”
Feelings of sadness were generated by my observations of the plight of the Palestinian people. While in Israel, I learned that if a Palestinian leaves the country, Israel can and does seize their property. We observed several streets, in fact, with aged Arab signs that are now under Israeli ownership. I also saw the conditions of the Palestinian families living within the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Jericho. And in the last couple of years, the government has decided not allow Israeli tour bus drivers to enter the West Bank. We had to, therefore, change buses and switch from Israeli to Palestinian drivers and busses when we wanted to enter these cities. It’s my guess that many travelers just don’t make the effort, which is sad because tourism is their main source of income.
In addition, when the government decides to periodically close the checkpoints into or out of the West Bank, the Palestinian people who become ill are then at a distinct disadvantage since medical facilities are very limited within the West Bank. At the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem babies have literally been born and/or died because of the country’s restrictions on entry and exit.
We were also saddened; some of us to tears, to learn that the Christian population has decreased significantly in the West Bank from 60-80% after WWII to only 20-30% today. The rest of Israel is made up of about 80% Jews and 2-3% Christians. The importance of Christian pilgrimages, education, and mission work in all parts of Israel cannot be over stated, in my opinion.
I challenge you, therefore, as Christians, to educate yourselves, pray, and to become involved as you are led, for lasting peace for all the people of Israel. If you are interested further, I recommend reading Elias Chacour’s book entitled “Blood Brothers.” Father Chacour is a Palestinian Christian who has a deep love for Jews and Palestinians alike. He builds schools, libraries, community centers, and youth clubs throughout Israel’s Galilee region.
In fact, in the most recent issue of “The Moravian,” Reverend Dr. Bob Sawyer, a Home Church member, wrote a wonderful article describing his own work with Father Chacour and the “Pilgrims of Ibillin” program which supports education and the vision of peace. I encourage you to read it if you have not yet had the opportunity.
In closing, if you have the opportunity please don’t let fear keep you from making a pilgrimage to “your spiritual homeland.” I’m glad I went, for the upcoming Holy Week services will now take on a whole new meaning.
And as they say in Israel—Shalom/Salaam.