I can’t tell you how many times over the last twelve months I have thought about the three little boys and four little girls (two with beautiful “ruddy” hair like King David) that we encountered in a tiny settlement in the West Bank. Jewish children, living in the West Bank (populated by many Palestinians,) picnicking and playing without parents nearby. These precious children were so friendly to us; not demonstrating any fear of “foreigners” nor showing any prejudice. They even said “we LUF you!” as they walked down the hill away from us. I thought of their innocent trust (and that of their parents) when people questioned the wisdom of our traveling in Israel when tension is high between Palestinians and Jews (and everyone else) – yet these children LIVE, run around, and play in the midst of it. I’ve thought of how God knows the names and the number of hairs on the heads of these children halfway around the world. I’ve thought how God values these children – AND their Palestinian counterparts living nearby – AND every individual on the face of the earth.
I learned a great deal in what felt like a “speed-dating” trip through Israel. I felt like we spent ten minutes each in a thousand different places, trying to get to know each one, and then John raced around with his timer and yelled “NEXT!!” At the time I found my brain muddled to distinguish between Ein Harod and Ein Gedi, and Beth She’an, Bethsaida and Beersheba. Not to mention Mt. Gilboa, Mt. Nebo, and Mt. Carmel! And then – there’s the Tower of David and the City of David…the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Church of the Nativity, and the Church of the Beatitudes…and did you know that in Jerusalem, you can go underground in the Christian quarter and emerge on the other side in the Muslim quarter? Very cool. But I know we only skimmed the surface of the riches there. I want to know MORE!
Well, WE GET TO GO BACK, AND TAKE MORE PEOPLE WITH US! Pinch me again!
This year, we are traveling with a group of Christians who – like John and me – are fascinated with the land of the Bible and the truth that is so evident there. Sixteen of us will hop on a plane on Monday, April 4, and spend the next eleven days soaking up history, learning facts and building our faith.
This year’s “cast of characters” is made up of long-time friends, fellow Gospel preachers, Bible students, physicians, homemakers, public schoolteachers, and retirees. Some heard about the tour through the e-mails sent out by Polishing the Pulpit, and some learned about the tour through word-of-mouth. We know some of them well, and some we have never met. I feel certain that two weeks from now, as we close the tour, we will consider all of them life-long friends.
Our good friend Dr. Jon Moore (you’ll remember him from our trip last year and from the Bible Land Passages video series) will be leading the tour along with John. He has been to Israel numerous times and loves the land and the book. He is an excellent teacher as well. His mother, Wynn, is coming along with him this year and I am so excited to be able to share this experience and spend time with her! We have known and loved the Moore family for more than twenty years.
Jonathan Absher, from Kentucky, will also join us. We have not have the privilege of meeting him in person yet, and he is a friend of Jon’s. Jay Kelsey is a long-time friend of ours and a deacon at the Dripping Springs congregation. He seems quiet and shy, until he starts talking, and then he tells stories that will have you literally rolling on the floor, laughing (ROFL, for you acronym lovers.) Freddy and Anh McNabb are a couple from Florida whom we have not yet met – it’s exciting to look forward to forming new relationships! Another new friend joining us is Dr. Simon Pennings, a physician from Virginia. Jason Rollo and his son, Josiah, are long-time friends of ours, and Jason is a fellow Gospel preacher who also owns an insurance agency. Angela Starling is joining us, and many of you may know her parents, Norman and Betty Starling. Angela traveled to Israel a number of years ago, and is excited to return. Chelsea Toney is a student at the Southwest School of Bible Studies who began pinching her pennies and saving for this trip even before she thought it was a remote possibility. She will miss two weeks of school, but Rick Brumback knew how valuable the trip would be for Chelsea, so he is excited to allow her the time off. Gerry Whitacre is a dear friend of ours that we knew years ago in San Antonio, who now lives closer to his son, Rob, in Tennessee. Rounding out the trip are Doug Garner and Mat Cain, who are traveling with us but will most days leave the group in order to do additional filming needed for the Bible Land Passages videos. We had a lot of fun together last year, but they might have gotten a little weary of hearing “HEY MAT, come get this on video!” and “HEY DOUG, here’s the perfect shot!” from John, who was determined to squeeze every last minute of every day!
If you’re interested in our itinerary, you can see it here. John has it planned down to the minute – here’s hoping and praying it works out, and when it doesn’t – here’s hoping and praying we can be flexible and adjust to it! And no, I still won’t go through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. I’ll take the “Chicken Tunnel” again!
We had been told that Tsvi had another tour scheduled during our tour, and I was so disappointed that we wouldn’t be with him again. But then his schedule was rearranged – so he will be our guide once again! We look forward to seeing our friend again. I enjoyed his calm, confident demeanor and his knowledge of the land. I remember last year, our travel agent Lindy said that Tsvi could get us into any location and out of any situation that might arise – and that proved true over and over again, particularly at the Southern Steps of the Temple complex where Rick was nearly thrown in jail. If you haven’t heard that fun story – you can read about it here!
I’m hoping to continue the blog during this tour, although I don’t exactly know what to expect. Our schedule will not be nearly as rigid as it was last year, but I don’t know how I might be needed in other ways in the evenings. Last year, I was up laaaaaatttteee (that’s late!) working on it – but I loved it! It was a blessing to me and I hope it was to others. I think family members back home enjoyed keeping up with our trip. So I hope to be able to do it again. If you’d like to keep up with the blog, you can subscribe to it and receive it in your e-mail, or check my Facebook page or the Bible Land Passage Tours Facebook page.
John, Jon and I put together a Guidepost book for those traveling with us. The intent, in the beginning, was to have basic facts about each site, including a map, scriptures where that site was mentioned, and a brief history of the location. Well…let’s just say it “blossomed” into a much larger project and ended up ruling our lives for a few weeks. It’s a beautiful 185-page book, spiral bound with vinyl cover and full color pages. I know I’ll cringe when I see it laying on the ground – BUT, we want them to be useful and well-worn by the end of the tour!
The Bible Land Passages project has been ongoing every single day since we returned last year, and it will continue for a good while yet. Mat spends a tremendous amount of time and the fruit of his labor is fantastic. The first DVDs arrived yesterday, which included the first five documentaries in the series. There will likely be twenty more documentaries, all available to watch for free here online, and they will also be available on DVD grouped five at a time, very inexpensively (see photo above).
Lord willing, we plan to continue offering tours every year. Our semi-firm date for next year is May 15-26, 2017. We already have two who are penciled in, and about 237 more who have said “we’re going next year!” Come join us! Check our website for updates.
Are we fearful of terrorism? In a word, not at all (sorry, three words!) Terrorism happens everywhere. Israel takes security extremely seriously. We won’t allow fear to control us.
Incidentally, Micah will be home alone. Yikes! Y’all check up on him for me, okay? Although I suppose I should get used to it, since he’ll be taking off for college in a few short months. I loved having him with us last year. (Doug and Mat especially enjoyed Micah and Philip last year – they have to carry their gear by themselves this year!) Now, during lessons when John mentions a location in Israel, Micah always looks back at me and wiggles his eyebrows, and I know what he’s thinking: “WE’VE BEEN THERE!” What a blessing it was to enjoy this life-changing experience with our son. I wish it had been possible with our other two.
Why are these tours and the Bible Land Passages project important? I will close with John’s wise words:
“The Bible story and its message of salvation are rooted in a historic and geographic setting – a real time and a real place in history. To better understand that setting is to better understand the Biblical story.
Bible Land Passages is dedicated to helping others to better understand and appreciate the Bible, and thereby deepen their faith in the sacred text and in the God who gave us the Bible. We want everyone to know that when they read about places like Beersheba, Jericho, Jerusalem, Caesarea, and cities surrounding the Sea of Galilee, that those places exist just as the Bible describes.
But Bible Land Passages is more than just about defending Christianity and its historical roots, we are also dedicated to examining and showcasing the lands of the Bible and its environs because they provide for us a window into the ancient past. By sifting through the archaeological data, by traveling down the pathways of the Bible lands and by traversing through the passages of its ancient cities, trade routes, and caves we come to not only better understand and appreciate the challenges of life faced by our religious forbearers, but we also come to see how God used the historical and geographic setting of the Bible lands to refine and develop their faith.
Those same real places and same real settings – when examined in our modern era – can likewise become a passage for us in developing greater faith and devotion for God. Bible Land Passages is therefore all about helping connect people to God and encouraging others in their own personal walk of faith.”
We ask for your prayers: for spiritual growth, for safety as we travel, for the good health of all our participants, for our families left at home, and for positive attitudes. Here we go again!