By Derrick Burrus
Capital Heights Baptist
Each year, two of my pastor friends organize a trip to the Holy Land. My first trip was in 2011. I went for the second time this year because the tour included sites I had not visited, including Petra and Mt. Nebo in the country of Jordan.
Many have asked about the food. The diet in the Middle East includes foods that Americans have become familiar with, such as: hummus (a paste like dip made from chickpeas, olive oil and spices), falafel (seasoned chickpeas formed into patties or balls), kabab (meatballs consisting of lamb and beef) and shwarma (pita bread sandwich with lettuce, tomato, onion, and seasoned meat such as chicken). For breakfast, the buffet consisted of salads, cakes, fish and eggs.
The climate there is much the same as ours, however we spent half of our tour in the deserts of Jordan and Israel. One of the highlights of the trip was visiting Mt. Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promise Land at the end of his life. From there we visited the ancient city of Petra, where monuments and tombs are carved in the side of mountains. After climbing 850 steps to the top of the mountain, we rode camels and then horses back to the bus.
I was surprised to learn that many families still live in the caves of the region. Bedouins keep sheep in the area dwelling in caves or small make-shift huts. There are 'neighborhoods' of these huts with vehicles parked outside. While some have adopted modern means such as vehicles and cell phones, they maintain primitive housing and farming methods. There were shepherds walking sheep through fields even in the modern cities we visited.
We experienced Shabbat, the observance of the Sabbath, which begins at dusk on Friday in Israel. It was a festive atmosphere that radiated through the hotel restaurant. It was also the end of Purim so throughout the day we saw people dressed in costumes as part of the celebration.
We were in line to enter the Temple Mount in Jerusalem while Bar Mitzvahs were celebrated. When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 13, he is regarded as becoming a man.
Families danced and sang as musicians played drums and trumpets escorting the families to the Western Wall where the young man was permitted to read scripture aloud, publicly for the first time as a man.
We were walking in the old city of Jerusalem when the narrow market streets filled with people as the Muslim prayer time ended on Friday afternoon. The merchants along the streets called out to attract customers as the mass of people pressed toward the exits of the walled city, losing all expectation of personal space.
We stood on Mt. Carmel, where Elijah had great victory over false prophets. We overlooked the valley of Megiddo (Armageddon). We visited the site where Jacob wrestled with the Lord. I put my feet in the Red Sea, Dead Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. None of us walked on water, and the water did not part. We visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Magdala, Gadara and many other villages where Jesus ministered.
We visited one of the prisons where the Apostle Paul was held, and the place where Jesus was held awaiting crucifixion. We walked the Via Dolorosa and prayed in the garden of Gethsemane. We went to Golgotha where Jesus was crucified and the garden tomb where Jesus rose from the dead.
There were rockets launched from Gaza into Israel while we were there, but we never felt unsafe even as we traveled through the Golan Heights and the edges of Syria and Lebanon. Except for the first two attacks, Israel used their defense force to intercept the rockets mid-air.
We were told that our second week broke the record for the number of tourists visiting Israel. People have great interest to visit the land of the Bible. It is an incredible feeling to know we walked where Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Jeremiah, the Apostles, Mary and Joseph and Jesus walked. We crossed the path of the Exodus. We stood in the valley where Kings David and Solomon stood. We sailed on the water where Jesus walked.
If you love the Bible, you would enjoy experiencing the land of the Bible.