I have for almost 30 years had a passion for experiencing Israel-Palestine. The first year I went there I took what they called an "Introductory Tour" for clergy. It was for only 8 days and took our group to all the "Tourist Sites", you know the ones I'm talking about, Western Wall, Church of the Nativity, Mount of Beatitudes, a Boat Ride on the Sea of Galilee, The Dead Sea Float, and wrap it up with a day of touring the Old City of Jerusalem and walking the Via Dolorosa.
For one like me, that wanted to really spend some time in biblical study and applying what I had learned all my life with the reality of what I saw, this trip was not nearly enough. Even before I returned home, I hooked up with an educational group and stayed for another 10 days.
This next group went to many of the same places, but they took their bibles, and the time, to relate the two together. We talked not only about what we were seeing, but why it was important to see the site; and, how it might relate to God, to our lives; and to our witness. This is more of what I was looking for, but again, it was not enough.
Two years later I joined up with a group that was working with this same Biblical Institute in Israel. This tour was to be a mix of clergy and laity. It was designed to be an actual course of education and spiritual formation. The tour lasted 12 days. I was hooked. Not only did I have a renewed interest in seeing and feeling more, but I also saw how it could change the lives of those with whom I had been in ministry....the laity. What a joy it was to see others experience God in a fresh new way that can only be done as one is walking down the path Jesus himself might have gone by. I knew God had set me on a new course. I had discovered a new passion. I felt God calling me to offer opportunities for others to experience the Holy Land and find God in a new way in their lives. I wanted to make it possible for others to see for themselves the sights and sounds of a place they had heard about all their lives. I not only wanted them to experience it; but then, I wanted them to be intentional about making that experience a part of their witness for Jesus Christ.
I developed my own tour. I researched tour agencies, educational institutes, travel groups that would provide lodging, modes of transportation and meals. I started looking around for others who might have also forged their way through this process to see what help they could give me for making the best journey possible.
In my searching for the best experience possible, I ran into a fellow clergy from my home Conference who had taken a sabbatical and was working in Bethlehem. I found out he and his wife were organizing a Mission (VIM) Trip. I joined the group and got my first chance to work, meet and live with the people in the country. This couple referred to these wonderful people as the "Living Stones" in Israel and Palestine.
I began to realize what I was doing was, again, not enough. I was showing folks the land and sites, but we were not really investing ourselves in the people and lives of those now living there. Palestine-Israel is not just a place of biblical history. It is a land filled with millions of lives. There are families, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, whose lives are intertwined in the midst of the biblical history and the world today. Many of these folks are living hard lives and need the love and support of those who can offer it. They need us.
My journey and responsibility of love and witness have come to a new place. How do I modify what I have been offering to include what I have now been learning about? In order to learn more, I have continued to join in more mission trips to Israel-Palestine. I didn't want to take on any leadership, I just wanted to be one of the group. I wanted to watch and listen and mutually share stories with others in our group; and, I wanted to mutually share my life with those who lived in the land I had visited for years. I wanted to learn about some ministries going on there of which I might be able to learn and grow.
I have tried to take what I learned and make it a part of what I offer in my Spiritual Journeys with others. I have maintained my conversations with others through the years. I, too, have begun nurturing relationships and investing myself and my ministry with the ministries and lives of those now in Palestine-Israel.
These last few summers I have continued to journey on more VIM experiences. Still, it is time to do more. I follow the lead of the masters. The love and lives and needs of our brothers and sisters in Israel-Palestine are those we need to face and do something about, now.
I am excited about the journey this group is about to share. We are going to spend 14 days traveling all through Israel and Palestine. We will reflect, biblically, on the land and the Sites of which we will spend our days. We will spend time also visiting with people that I have met and sharing in the Christian Ministries that I have become aware exist in the Country.
Our group size is 10. Some have traveled with me before. Some are new to the experience. I have promised to take those who have traveled with me before to places they have not been to before. Really, that is not hard to do. I have also promised to take the new folks to all the key places they have heard about throughout their faith lives. But, even more importantly, I have invited all of them to join me in supporting the ministries going on in the Holy Lands. I have invited them to join me in a Spiritual Journey that will take in the Sites, Study the Scriptures; and, invest a bit of themselves with the Living Stones and Witnesses to God in a land and culture filled with much need for love, peace, and God's grace. I can't wait to see what God will do this year.
I look forward to seeing some folks I have met before. I am anxious to see the work done in their ministry. I am excited about sharing in some new experiences I have never done before. I especially look forward to nurturing new relationships and life stories.
We have been given a list of items to bring with us by those in ministry there. We have been given a list of suggested things to pack to enable us to have a great experience. I have requested each member of our group to fill, not to exceed 50 lbs. each, two large suitcases and a carry on. Those are now being filled with the help of our ministries, families and friends, packed, all documents will soon be in place.
And, so, our Journey begins...