January 17, 2016

I love to travel, and I especially love to experience new cultures. Israel is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, you can go skiing, go on a desert safari, and swimming in the dead sea all in the same day. But what fascinates me even more about this beautiful country is that you can walk on the exact same road that Jesus walked on. You can visit the place Jesus was born, the place where he died, and pray at his empty tomb. The land of Israel is full of culture, history, art, and life. I truly believe that if you are a Christian, at least once in your life you have to go on a pilgrimage to Israel, your Bible will come alive, and you will witness scriptural prophecies fulfilled in front of your very eyes.

I truly believe that everyone who visits Israel is inspired, and impacted in one way or another. It is a known fact that when American astronaut Neil Armstrong, a devout Christian, visited Israel after his trip to the moon, he was taken on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli archaeologist Meir Ben-Dov. When they got to the Hulda Gate, which is at the top of the stairs leading to the Temple Mount, Armstrong asked Ben-Dov whether Jesus had stepped anywhere around there. “I told him, ‘Look, Jesus was a Jew,’” recalled Ben-Dov. “These are the steps that lead to the Temple, so he must have walked here many times.” Armstrong then asked if these were the original steps, and Ben-Dov confirmed that they were. “So Jesus stepped right here?” asked Armstrong. “That’s right,” answered Ben-Dov. “I have to tell you,” Armstrong said to the Israeli archaeologist, “I am more excited stepping on these stones than I was stepping on the moon.” – Extract from Thomas Friedman’s book; “From Beirut to Jerusalem.” I must admit that when I was on the very steps that Jesus walk on I had to stop for a moment. It is such a privilege to visit this land.

I have visited Israel quite a few times now, and each time I discover something new. This time I went to Israel with a small group, we where 2 people from Malta and 8 people from Sicily. We rented 3 cars and drove everywhere we went. We went to Israel right after Christmas, we stayed for some days in Galilee, and celebrated the New Year in Jerusalem. Before we went to Israel we were all told to be careful because there is tension. In fact just before we went 2 men were stabbed in Jerusalem, at the very gate we passed from several times, and also whilst we were in Tel Aviv there was a shooting in one of the local bars. I did feel a bit uneasy because of the situation, but the constant presence of the Israeli army did make me feel well protected.

Usually when I visit Israel, especially in a large group, I just visit the places related to the Bible. This time since we where driving we had more time to meet the locals, we even drove into the West bank, and visited places tourists don’t usually visit. Israel is an extremely beautiful place, but there is a very sad reality about the land. The hardest thing to see is that certain parts of the land are walled in. There are people who are suffering, there are people who are persecuted, and there are people who are hurt about the situation. One will immediately notice that Israel is the house of many different religions. One only needs to walk in the streets of Jerusalem to see the diversity of cultures, faiths, and worship. I think that it is something beautiful that such diversity exists. But my heart was broken when I spoke to a local in Bethlehem who told me that this year because of the tension no celebration was allowed, the Christians were not even allowed to turn on the Christmas lights of the massive Christmas tree that was in the square in front of the Church of the Nativity. Another young man I met was in Bethany. He told me that when he was young he used to go to school in Jerusalem, but after the wall was put up he was not allowed to go to Jerusalem. This young man was a Christian who wept about the fact the he cannot visit the empty tomb of Jesus. He also told me about many of his family members who where evicted from their house and today are struggling to make ends meet. I also noticed that a large number of their children don’t go to school. This man told me that the schools are not good, and the children need to work to help the family. Another touching moment was the testimony of a Jewish woman who knew some of the people who were killed in the recent days. She said; “Why did they kill an innocent man who was walking with his children on his way to pray?” “Why the death of her friend, an innocent woman who did no harm to anyone?” It absolutely broke my heart listening to these people. In Israel all the different faiths have a different holy day, Friday is the Holy day of the Muslims, Saturday is the Holy day for the Jews, and Sunday is the Holy Day for the Christians. We all are claiming to love God, and yet find it so hard to love each other.

Just as Jesus wept over Jerusalem 2000 years ago, I believe that Jesus still weeps today. It is so sad to see such suffering in such a Holy Land. In my opinion Israel is truly the 5th Gospel. Everyone should visit the Holy Land, but we also need to open our eyes that even in the Holy Land people are suffering.

After this trip Psalm 122 takes on a new meaning; “…Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: May those who love you be secure…”

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