Walking the Land of the Bible

God has worked in my life by many means over the years. Concerts and conferences like Ichthus and Urbana. “Spiritual days” in my ministry training years, not to mention daily prayer and Bible reading, of course. Books by authors like Eugene Peterson and Henri Nouwen. Retreats at the Abbey of Gethsemani. And many more.

But among the most impactful means of God’s grace to me has been the three pilgrimages Robin and I have taken to the Holy Land with a number of good friends. Our first was in 1987, when we borrowed money to make the trip, believing that initial investment would pay rich dividends in our years of ministry to follow--and it did.

We sailed the Sea of Galilee, and were baptized in the Jordan. We prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and celebrated communion outside the Garden Tomb. The highlights of that trip are far, far too many to mention. But two of my favorite excursions were an early morning journey starting at the Gihon Spring, in the City of David, and traversing the actual tunnel of Hezekiah (dug underneath the Ophel in Jerusalem about 701 B.C.) and ending up at the Pool of Siloam. The other high point was a side trip Robin and I and a half dozen good friends took our last morning in Jerusalem, when we took a cab to the village of Bethany, and walked the Palm Sunday route Jesus took from the traditional site of Lazarus’s tomb to the Temple Mount (see photo above). The topography and scenery of that two- or three-mile walk will stay with me forever, and springs to my mind, of course, every time I read of Bethany or Palm Sunday or Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in my Bible.

Our second trip to the Holy Land took place in 2001, and while a couple friends decided not to travel with us on that occasion due to the second Palestinian Intifada, taking place at that time, we never had a moment’s unease--which is true of every trip we’ve taken. In fact, being able to take our children, Aubrey and Aaron, with us (as well as our niece and Robin’s dad, along with a number of wonderful friends) automatically earned this trip a special spot in our memories. Other beautiful memories were the baptisms of Dick, Ellen, and Elissa in the Jordan, having my son turn down an offer of 100 camels for his sister in Nativity Square in Bethlehem, and visiting the teaching steps of the Jerusalem Temple (on which Jesus’ feet undoubtedly trod) with our friend Dr. Ed Yamauchi, who helped to excavate them in the 1960s (see photo above).

In 2005, we made our third pilgrimage to Israel, and as amazing as the previous trips were, this was (like each of them) in a class by itself. We took a smaller group this time around, and so were able to move faster and squeeze in many more sights than ever before. Among the unique highlights of this trip for me was our frequent forays into the Old City of Jerusalem, which I find fascinating and enthralling. We spent more time in the Old City this time than ever before, usually entering through the Damascus Gate (above), which was a short walk from our hotel. Other high points were the baptisms of Barb Honchell and Don Kidd in the Jordan River, the frequent occasions to read (absorb, really) Psalm 48 while overlooking "the city of our God, the mountain of his holiness," the least-crowded visit we've ever made to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Calvary, prayer at the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, and a memorable meal at "The Armenian Tavern" restaurant near the Jaffa Gate. But even with all that, the best part was the great fellowship of a small group that really enjoyed each other's company.

And now we are excited at the prospect of another such experience—with an added twist—in early 2010. Leaving from Dayton, Ohio, on January 24, 2010, we will be flying to the Kingdom of Jordan, where we will begin our tour with a trip to the “Lost City” of Petra (above), the city cut out of rock by the Nabateans around 100 B.C., memorably shown in the movies Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Left Behind, among others. From Petra we will visit the ancient city of Jerash and cross the Jordan into Israel, where our Holy Land trip will include visits to Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Jericho, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Capernaum--and much more--and includes an optional seven day extension to Egypt!

It’s not yet too late to become a part of next year’s group. If you have any questions or would like a full-color brochure, please don’t hesitate to email me at bob@bobhostetler.com. You can also go to the tour page on this website (here) to view the itinerary for the trip.

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