In Genesis chapter twelve, the LORD tells Abraham, "Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to the land that I will show you (Genesis 12:1).” In order for Abraham to grow in faith he must leave. Sometimes in order to learn, to see what God would have us see, we have to leave the people and places that we are most familiar with and journey outside of our comfort zone. It is in the moments of displacement, disorientation, and in the journey from one place to the next that God can and does help us to see in new ways. In other words, we often learn by leaving.
This Friday I will embark on a journey of learning by leaving, traveling with a group of other pastors and educators to the Holy Land as a part of a Holy Land Discovery Tour hosted by Group Travel Directors and Bright Stars of Bethlehem.
The trip is designed to educate pastors and other potential church group leaders who anticipate leading their congregations on first-time trips to the Holy Land. Over the course of a week I will be given a glimpse into the kind of itinerary that is possible, witness the historical roots of our faith, and learn about the work of the Christians in Palestine who are the Living Stones in the land of the Bible.
It will be a wonderful opportunity to see sacred and biblical sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Galilee. Just a few of the places we will visit include the Dome of Rock, the Pools of Bethesda, and the Sea of Galilee. We will encounter the first century “Jesus Boat,” which was salvaged from the muddy bottom of the Galilee, see the Shepherds Field where according to the Scripture the angels announced the birth of Jesus, and walk the path on which Jesus carried the cross. But we will also spend time with more than just sacred stones. We will also visit with living stones, the people living, thriving, and struggling in the region.
The trip’s balance between sacred sites and living stones is intentional. Every year, tens of thousands of pilgrims visit the Holy Land to see the sacred sites of scripture and the faith. Indeed, a pilgrimage to the places where Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead is a transforming experience that makes one read and understand the Bible in a new way.
However, visiting only the ancient stones and touring only archaeological sites, means we miss out on encountering and being transformed by the live of the people who are dwelling where Jesus is dwelling today. The Holy Land, for many, remains faceless. The standard trips do not allow for any interaction to take place between the visitors and the people of the land.
It is a moving experience for travelers to walk the Via Dolorosa, carrying a wooden cross on their backs. Still, it is even more meaningful to hear first-hand stories, genuine testimonies, and personal narratives by local Christians and other peoples of faith. This trip will do both. And in doing so, cultivate the opportunity for this kind of living classroom opportunities at PHPC.
I look forward to sharing more with you!