On one of my trips to Israel, I think it was in 2005, we kept running into Nigerian groups. Our tour guide explained that Nigeria’s Muslims had demanded of the government a once in a lifetime, government-paid pilgrimage to Mecca. The government agreed to pay for Muslims to do this and at the same time offered a similar package for Christians to go to Jerusalem.
Interestingly, many of these Nigerians we would see at various sites in Israel were villagers, people who not only had never left their country, but in many cases had never left their own village.
Well, I’m not advocating that the U.S. should raise taxes and pay for pilgrimages to Israel. But it is interesting to think about the level of importance or unimportance various people place on traveling to the land.
A colleague in Chicago has trips for his young synagogue members that parallel the Birthright program in which Jewish young adults get 10-day educational tours of Israel paid for by a non-profit organization. They have sent more than 230,000 people to Israel. They bar Messianic Jews from attending the tours. So my friend puts his own trips together and brings four or five young people at a time.
He is committed to the idea that a trip to Israel is life-changing.
I’ve led five trips of Christians and Messianic Jews to Israel. In my circuit of speaking in churches, I’ve often asked the audience how many have been on a tour of Israel. Usually, about 2% of the crowd has been. That’s not a scientific statistic, of course, but it holds true in my experience that church-goers in the south value pilgrimage to Israel, but only about 2% make the trip.
In Messianic Judaism, the number is quite a bit higher (but I cannot guess the statistic). My first trip to Israel was in 1988. I was a new follower of Yeshua and quite confused about Judaism and Christianity and where all these things fit in. I was on a huge tour group of 1,500 Messianic Jews and Christians for Shavuot. It was billed as “the largest number of Messianic Jews in Jerusalem since Acts 2.” We had an all-night worship session in which Michael Brown said that before morning he expected “tongues of fire” (a la Acts 2) to come down on our heads. I stayed through about 4:00 a.m. and went to bed. Later, at a session that next day, people had subtly changed the promise of a miracle to “it was like tongues of fire came down on our heads.”
Oh well, maybe we did not see a miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, but the trip was life-changing nonetheless.
Consider that I was a newbie, a freshly recruited follower of a Jewish Messiah, my purpose and destiny in life very much in the air. What did that trip to Israel do for me?
Context. Context. Context. It’s in the title of my upcoming book (Yeshua in Context). That trip to Israel taught me about context. It has been a theme of my studies ever since.
As a new follower of Yeshua I had all sorts of ideas about what things looked like, what the culture of the Bible might have been like, and so on. Being in Israel was a major corrective to my imagined images. Now I knew what Capernaum looked like. I experienced a hint of archaeological insight into various periods and material cultures relevant to biblical history. The map in my Bible now meant something to me and was not just a set of pages in the back.
I was convinced that study of biblical texts should involve as much as possible reading original sources and ancient documents to recover the context of the people and places and events recorded there.
Israel will do that to you. If you’re like me, your desire to know history will increase, and geography too.
But I don’t want to give you the idea that it’s all intellectual. It is emotional as well.
I learned to love the Psalms on that trip to Israel. The ascent psalms spoke to me as I looked up and down the hills of Jerusalem (literally, in the mornings I would sit under a palm tree on a steep hillside and read). I found out what Mt. Carmel and Mt. Hermon were and suddenly when they were mentioned in Psalms I was not bored with the geographical references.
Although I did not understand Jewish prayer at the time, I was touched by the devotion I saw at the Western Wall.
I fell in love with the Sea of Galilee and my interest in the life of Yeshua was awakened.
What will happen to you if you make a pilgrimage to Israel? How will it change you? Will the Bible become 3-D for you? Will it awaken interest in archaeology, history, and geography for you? Will you connect emotionally as never before and find that your longing for the restoration of Jerusalem and the whole land of Israel becomes tangible?
Why do nearly all Nigerian Christians travel to Israel and only (by my unscientific polling) 2% of American Christians go? The answer, I guess, is that in Nigeria the government pays. So I suppose what holds people back from travel to Israel is money. And that leads to my final question: how much money is a life-changing encounter with God worth?
I am leading a trip to Israel in January 2011. I have a blog set up to describe and promote the trip at derek4israel.wordpress.com (there’s not an awful lot written there, but I do have a few posts about places in Israel and an itinerary for the trip).
This trip will be very much experiential (hiking in Galilee and Golan, spending Shabbat in the desert near Beersheva and overnight in a tent). It will be educational (on location talks about “Yeshua in Context”). It will be a connection to Jewish and Christian identity and history.
I’m taking deposits now. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to sign up. Deadline is October. See more info at derek4israel.wordpress.com
And also, check out the fantastic tour videos that First Fruits of Zion put together and posted on their blog. They have a three-episode series on Masada that should whet your appetite for a tour (either with them, with me, or with someone else whom you trust to know Israel and provide a solid educational and inspirational experience — all tours are not equal). Here is Masada Part 1, Masada Part 2, and Masada Part 3.