Imagine being able to walk where Jesus walked over 2,000 years ago and having the opportunity to pray where Jesus often spent time in prayer with his disciples. Pastor Mina Hall from Flame of Faith United Methodist Church got a chance to do just that, when she and her husband, Thomas, toured Israel last month as their 30th wedding anniversary gift to each other.
The irony of visiting "The Holy Land" in the midst of a Holy war bothered Pastor Hall. She asked herself what makes a land Holy. Is it the presence of all of the Biblical sites and the fact that Jesus lived and walked there that makes Israel Holy, or is it also the people and their pilgrimages that make it Holy?
The Halls left West Fargo on January 11, and flew into Tel Aviv. They were part of a tour group made up of families, couples, and individuals ranging from young students to 85-year-olds. Their group traveled through the Holy Land in two purple and blue color-coded buses, with tour guides well versed in both New and Old Testament history. As they got to know some of the other people in their group, Hall found it humorous to learn that she was one of five pastors in the group traveling incognito to avoid association with work while they were on vacation.
In Capernaum when they got off the bus, Hall said that many of the people traveling with them became almost giddy with the realization that they were actually standing on soil where Jesus had once walked. All around them, people of different cultures and backgrounds were singing praises and expressing their faith in their own native traditions.
"It was pretty amazing. You could feel the power of God there in so many places. We were living the scriptures. It was like going to church for ten days, and yet we knew that only a few miles away, a war was going on," Hall reflected.
They could see the dust settling in the air from distant bombing in Gaza, but they didn't see any actual warfare.
"Tourists are pretty isolated from the military," Hall said. "Hotels had security guards, but none of them carried machine guns." The guards had concealed handguns discreetly tucked inside their jackets, and looked very dignified and professional. However, tourists were required to go through metal detectors and searches before being allowed to tour any of the sacred sites.
The country of Israel is only about 60 miles long and 48 miles at its widest point. Covering approximately 8,000 square miles, it is about two-and-a-half times the size of the state of Rhode Island.
Hall was impressed with how close together everything was and how much smaller some of the landmarks were compared to what she had expected. The famous Sea of Galilee is small enough to see the shorelines from either side. From Capernaum, you can look across the Sea of Galilee and actually see the city of Tiberius. In this time of war, the close proximity seemed even more profound, with the Jewish population on one side of the lake, and their enemies living so close by on the other side.
"The Jordan River is no bigger than the Sheyenne River. Although it was much wider in Jesus' time, it was even shallower back then than it is now," Hall said. Modern irrigation practices have changed the river over the course of time.
One of the highlights of the trip for Hall was seeing the Jordan River and having the privilege of taking part in baptism remembrance ceremonies for travelers who wanted to recall their baptisms in the waters of the Jordan.
This was her first pilgrimage to Israel, and it was very exciting for Hall to finally get to see the great temples and Biblical sites she had read about and studied all of her life. In upcoming weeks as Easter approaches, Hall plans to incorporate some of what she learned on her trip into her Lenten messages.