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Taking Young Christian Leaders on their first tour of Israel

Back in 2011 when I was new in my Christian faith, a client of mine, an elderly Ghanaian man, said to me “Jon you simply must go to Israel, the Bible comes alive.” That statement deeply impacted me, and took me on a journey of a) understanding the Hebraic roots of our Christian faith, and b) understanding the importance of promises that the Lord made, particularly those to Abraham, regarding Israel (Genesis 12:3).

Six years and two visits to Israel later, I’m now co-leading a trip with 27 young Christian leaders to Biblical sites in Israel and the territories of Judea and Samaria.

But Why

My previous visits to Israel significantly helped me and my friend deepen our faith. Walking in the steps of Christ and the prophets, brought a far more interactive understanding of scripture. I knew whilst on my second tour back in September ’16 that the Lord was calling me to bring other believers out to understand the importance not only of Israel’s past, but its future prosperity.

Backdrop for context: my name is Jon Simmons and I’m a digital project manager and online marketer, directing IsraelInvestment.org a start-up helping Christians invest financially into ethical businesses across Israel’s diverse communities.

After prayer and contemplation, my friend Emily Emanuel and I invited Christians that we know are active in their faith to come on board this trip. Emily pulled on her wisdom from blessing the land on many charitable projects, and her experience on taking a group of young Christian leaders last year, to put together full on schedule for my group.

A huge step of faith for the provision, a crowdfunding campaign, a promo video, various meetings and emails asking donors to come on board this journey, and the vision is now becoming a reality. With a huge thank you to the generosity of Jewish and Christian donors from across London and the UK, here is my attempt to capture and share our experience.

DAY 1 -Tel Aviv, Mount Carmel, Nazareth, Galilee

herzel_Independencehall_TLV

Independence Hall , in Tel Aviv — where we discovered how Israel became an independent state in 1948, overcoming military invasion by 6 neighbouring countries in the Arab — Israeli War of 1949. The presence of the building gives a reflection of the hope and determination of Israel’s forefather for a small piece of their own land to call home.

Caesarea

We then drove Caesarea, where the first gentile Believers in Jesus were filled with the Holy spirit (Acts 10) The town was built by Herod the Great about 25–13 BCE as the port city Caesarea Maritima. It served as an administrative center of Judaea Province of the Roman Empire.

 

Mount_Carmel

We then travelled to Mt. Carmel (Muchraka) where Elijah called down fire from heaven, then on to Nazareth & Nazareth Village where Jesus grew up, driving through Cana where Jesus turned water into wine. We had a traditional Shabbat meal at Beit Bracha where we learnt why millions of families across Israel and Jews around the world still honour it.

We stayed at a hotel in Tiberius, by the sea of Galilee, which is mentioned in John 6:23 as the location from which boats had sailed to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee to come to see Jesus.

DAY 2: Carpenaum, Mt of Beatitudes, Sea of Galilee, Ceasarea Philippi

Carpenaum

We started at Capernaum where Jesus healed Peter’s mother in Law and where he lived during the main years of his ministry.

Then we stopped at the church of multiplication of fish and loaves in Tabgha, one of the oldest Catholic Churches in the Holy Land, where it is believed that this miracle took place.

MtofBeatitudes

We then headed to the Mt. of Beatitudes where the famous Sermon on the Mount took place, before travelling north to upper Galilee and stopping off at the Assaf Winery for wine tasting.

After this we went to the site of ancient Caesarea Philippi, where Peter made his confession of faith in Jesus as the Messiah.

Sea of Galilee

We arrived back at the Sea of Galilee well behind schedule, however the captain agreed to take us on a shorter boat ride.. This time was quite special. Group members came forward and gave words of encouragement with scripture from the Bible. I read the verses of Jesus walking water (Matthew 14:22–23) and we sung and prayed on the backdrop of a calm, very restoring sea.

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray”

DAY 3: River Jordan, Cumran Caves, Dead Sea, Bedouin tent

Jordan river

We headed to the Baptismal site on the Jordan River where it is believed Jesus was baptised. I could see some disappointment on the groups’ faces, one member sharing that they expected the river to be larger, worthy of the picture painted in Joshua 3, where God halts the large waters for the Israelites.

Several group Baptismmembers came forward, and it was an honour for me to re-confirm people’s faith by Baptism.

“Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptised by John.” — Matt 3:13

Then drive past Beit Shean and the Jordan River Valley. Visit the Qumran Caves where the dead sea scrolls were found and learn about the ancient Qumran zealots living and building their resistance to the Roman occupation to Israel.

dead sea

We had to have a dip in the Dead Sea

We checked into the Bedouin tent get an experience of how these Arab dessert people live. I’ll go as far to say was in the top 3 meals we had in on the entire tour. Our speaker taught us about the Bedouin way of life, and her desire for women to have the right to an education and employment within her community.

Kfer Hanokdim (Bedouin Tent)

People of all nationalities and faiths were camping here. As the night swept in, we had space for silence and contemplative prayer. Deborah Paul (fellow co group leader) and I encouraged everyone to bring forth words they wanted to share.

Many of the group brought their creative talents to the table. We had singing, painting, not to forget the opening up on what our time in the land is doing for us.

Kfer Hanokdim (Bedouin Tent)

I lost track of time that evening, brought back to reality only briefly when members of the other tours came over to join us in worship.

DAY 4: Masada, Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, entering Jerusalem

Naturally the dinner set about high expectations for the breakfast, and I’m pleased to report their Moussaka did not disappoint, preparing us for the hike up to Masada.

Masada

Naturally the dinner set about high expectations for the breakfast, and I’m pleased to report their Moussaka did not disappoint, preparing us for the hike up to Masada.

Masada was built in 50BC by King Herod as a palace and fortress. The amazing views set the scene as we discovered how the 1200 brave Israelites resisted the Roman siege that lasted a year. Knowing the impending torture and suffering at the hand of the Romans, the remaining Israelite’s took their own lives.

Ein Gedi

On the way to Jerusalem, we stop of at Ein Gedi waterfalls for a dip, where is believed that David and his men hid from King Saul 1 Samuel 23:29 and 24:1–2)

We then started our route towards our final destination, Jerusalem, passing by Jericho, a popular route in the times of Christ.

The first view we had of Jerusalem was from the top of the Mount of Olives, with the sprawling Old City and the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock striking through the Skyline.

 Jerusalem1
“But as Jesus came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” — Luke 19

Archaeological evidence tells us that the Temple was completely destroyed by the Romans in 66 AD as their punishment for Israel’s uprising against Rome.

The Dome of The Rock sits right in the centre of The Temple Mount where the First and Second Temples used to stand. The rock is administered by the Jordanians, who have made a decree that Non-Muslims are barred from entering the site.

We walked down the Palm Sunday Path to the Garden of Gethsemane.

“Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”” — Matt 26

As we walked into Jerusalem, the burnt out car, bullet holes, and all round heavy atmosphere justified the increase in the military personnel.

DAY 5: Jerusalem, Western Wall, Friends of Zion Museum

To start the day we visited the City of David including Hezekiah’s Tunnel.

We then headed to the site of the Upper Room & Mt. Zion the site of Jesus’s last supper, stopping for lunch Jewish Quarter including the Cardo & Herodian ruins.

We then went to the Western Wall and the Southern Steps of the Temple Mount, which are, still the same from the time of Jesus.

The Temple Mount is also where Jesus spent a huge amount of time, teaching people every day he was in the city.

Western Wall

“Every day Jesus went to the Temple to teach, and each evening he returned to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. The crowds gathered at the Temple early each morning to hear him.” — Luke 21

We finished the day by visiting the Friends of Zion Museum. At the museum we learnt about the essential contribution to the existence and prosperity of Israel that Christians from all round world had given.

DAY 6: Yad Vashem, MDA Station, Bethlehem

We started the day at Yad Vashem; the Holocaust Museum is dedicated to honouring the dead and the Jews who fought against their Nazi oppressors as well as the Gentiles who selflessly helped the Jews. This is Israel’s second most visited site, after the Western Wall.

We then head to the the MDA Station (Ambulances for Israel) for a special tour.

Israel Magen David Adom Ambulance

We learnt how Israel embraced the latest technology to bring an efficient and world respected ambulance service to the nation of Israel, even in challenging situations such as terrorist attacks and forest fires.

We then headed to Bethlehem in Samaria to the Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born, which today is a World Heritage site. We learnt that the Church of the Nativity was actually split into three sections by ownership of the Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic. After we battled through some overly persistent tour guides, many of us took the time to break out into our own quite time.

We visited the local Anastas family, a family who have gained notoriety with Western media because their home and business is surrounded by the Peace Wall on all three sides, as it is adjacent to Rachel’s Tomb. The Anastas family Guest House is well worth staying in for an affordable, loving family experience of Judea.

Banky's Rage, Flower Bomber Bethlehem

The most famous of Banky’s work in the region.

DAY 7: Jerusalem Encounter Conference

Jerusaelm Encounter Conference

We ended up in Jerusalem Encounter Conference, which is a gathering of believers from around the world who come together in Jerusalem to worship God, and encounter the land and the people of Israel

What the group said

There were many profound statements by members on the group. I thought it worthwhile to collect a few.

“I had so many profound experiences of the manifest presence of God, something I had longed for but not experienced in some time in quite this way

“Israel is not the problem in the Middle East, it’s the solution”

“I have gained a much deeper, vivid understanding of Jesus Jewishness and how it shaped his life, teaching and impact on the world

“I feel like I am praying to a different Jesus, a more human Jesus — The Jewish one, rather than white and western

“I learned that there is need to bridge the divide between the church and the Jewish people

“I have come away with a passion to encourage people to go to Israel and encounter the people and the land themselves

“I honestly have no idea why every Church in the UK is not sending people to Israel. I read all of Mark’s gospel this morning and it just came alive. I want to read my bible now. It makes sense. I can picture it. This has been the most significant thing to happen to my faith since University

“This trip has been a highlight of my life

I sincerely hope our tour encourages Christians around the UK to engage in a deeper understanding on their faith. Israel has so much more to offer than a playground of history, but a hotbed of innovation across many communities.

I can’t close the article without giving credit to FIRM (Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries) and our Tour Guide Richard Frieden, from Sar El Tours. For Emily Emanuel, for her fantastic fundraising effort and achievement to subsidise the cost of the tour for group.

This article originally appeared on medium.com, July 3, 2017, and reposted with permission.

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Jon Simmons
Jon is a digital project manager who consults for small start ups in London. Through Israelinvestment.org he stewards a small community of Christians in the UK who encourage each other to invest in ethical businesses in Israel.

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