Time periods, culture and religion blend together, homogenizing Israel’s rich history into a mixing pot of progress and tradition. For my Interim Term trip this year, I had the privilege of following the footsteps of the Bible throughout the Holy Land. Starting in Tel Aviv, my six classmates and I made our way through Caesarea, Nazareth, Capernaum and Jerusalem over the course of the week. Each day was filled with activities that inspired the same breathtaking realization: I was standing on holy ground, the same ground that Jesus walked in his life.
The first full day of our trip, our team traveled to Caesarea, a city King Herod built on the Mediterranean to show off his power and his ability to defeat even nature itself. Ironically, Nature, or God as we know Him, allowed the city to be destroyed by the roaring waves of the sea, proving nothing and no one is greater than the strength of God. From there, we traveled Armageddon to see the large field that is prophesied to be the place of the final battle before the Second Coming of Jesus. Standing in front of that grass, I felt like I was given a glimpse into the future where everything will be set right and all will be made perfect. To top the day off, we ventured into the city of Nazareth, visiting the houses of both Mary and Joseph. It was surreal imagining Jesus as a child, running and playing on the ground where we stood. So often, I’ve forgotten Jesus had a childhood; it was humbling to picture Jesus growing up as a normal kid like me, even though He was anything but normal.
On the second day, our group drove to Capernaum where Jesus performed many of His signs. We had the opportunity to stand on a glass platform in the church over Peter’s house and sing “Amazing Grace” as we looked down upon the ancient structure. It was dreamlike whispering the words of the song into that sacred space where Jesus had visited; it felt like the Gospel had come full circle. We also visited the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus gave his famous sermon to the multitudes. Our group read all of the Beatitudes aloud together under the peaceful shade of a tree, and we each said which verse spoke to us the most. From there, we took a boat like one Jesus might have been on and went out onto the Sea of Galilee. We read the Bible story about Jesus calming the storm, and while looking out onto that same water, it was tangible to imagine Jesus silencing the waves. Lastly, we traveled to the place of Jesus's baptism, the Jordan River. The water was murky, muddy and not at all like I pictured, but I think it made the Bible seem more realistic because it wasn’t perfect. That even the most pure moment of Jesus’s time here was tainted by the filth of the earth.
The next day, my group and I went to Roman ruins called Bet She’an and traveled to the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It was cold and pouring rain, so we were ready to rush into the bus and head to Jerusalem. Our tour guide told us that it only rains two days out of the year there, so we were “extra lucky” to have been there. When we arrived in Jerusalem, we were able to overlook the city, and I was amazed by the overlapping cultures and religions in front of me. There were temples, mosques and churches all next to one another, sharing spaces even. I learned that while the philosophies and beliefs of Judaism, Islam and Christianity may be different, their histories are deeply interwoven and rooted in Jerusalem.
On the fourth day of our trip, we walked around the city and noticed many different denominational churches. We went to the room of the Last Supper where Jesus told the disciples about his upcoming death and resurrection, along with the Garden of Gethsemane and the Upper Room. The Upper Room was the place where the disciples received the Holy Spirit like tongues of fire after Jesus ascended into heaven. I was desperate to feel the Holy Spirit like the disciples did in that room, and I wasn’t the only one. All of the tourists walked around the room and touched the ancient walls, imagining that some remnant of the Holy Spirit was still left on the surface, seeping through their skin and into their souls.
We stayed in Jerusalem the next day and followed the Stations of the Cross where they believe Jesus carried his cross on the way to his crucifixion. There were plaques to mark the various spots He walked, but it was in the middle of a bustling marketplace, so we had to move along fairly quickly. Later that day, we did my personal favorite activity, Hezekiah’s tunnels. The tunnels were part of Jerusalem’s water system in the City of David, and we had the opportunity to walk through them. These passageways were barely wide enough for me to walk through, and I had to duck my head multiple times throughout our trek. Not only that, but we were also in utter darkness with no flashlights, wading through three feet of freezing water. It took us about 30 minutes to get through the tunnel, and it was definitely a memorable activity among the group. We ended the day in the New City, and I was stunned by the sudden modern twist in this ancient place. Popular stores lined the streets with kids skateboarding in the city squares.
On day six, we all traveled to the lowest point on earth, the Dead Sea. We walked into the water and immediately started floating from the amount of salt around us. After swimming, my classmates and I decided to cover ourselves in Dead Sea mud because it’s supposed to be rejuvenating for the skin. After we cleaned up, we headed to a nature reserve called En Gedi and hiked up to a waterfall where we took stunning pictures. To finish the day, we drove to Mesada, a place where Romans invaded the Jews. We took a gondola to get to the top, and the view from the crest of the ancient village was spectacular.
On the final day of our trip, our tour guide took us to the Western Wall where the Jewish people go to mourn the loss of their temple. They cry and pray against the wall because they believe it is the closest they can get to the presence of God since the temple inside of the wall is no longer there. In its place is the Dome of the Rock, a stunning mosque with bright colors and a golden dome that makes it easy to spot from miles away. From there, we went to the place believed to be Golgotha, the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and his tomb. However, as I was trying to soak in this special moment, I became increasingly distracted and frustrated by the buses stopped directly on this sacred spot where Jesus was said to have been crucified. The ironic site made me laugh, and a puzzle piece finally connected in my heart that I didn’t realize I was missing.
We had been walking the footsteps of Jesus, touching walls and holy water and anything we possibly could to get even a little bit closer to God and who He was. But that’s exactly why the Jews had been crying at the Wailing Wall earlier that day and why Christians had been getting baptized in the filthy water of the Jordan River. The fallacy of my beliefs and theirs was that these ancient artifacts and places would induce some sort of “holiness” or “spiritual awakening” within us, when, realistically, they’re only remnants of an ancient time in history. While these holy sites are moving to see, they serve only as a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. In truth, as Christians, we always have hope because we only have to open our Bible or spend time with God to feel closer to him. Whether we be in America or Israel, God is present and near to all who call on Him, and, even in the hard times, we can feel confident and secure in His goodness and faithfulness.
to view photos from this year's Interim Term trip to Israel!