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Israel Study Tour with Crossroads Impact Ministries

July 10-21, 2023

Led by Ralph Howe III
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Shalom! It is the final day of our trip and we cannot believe we will be leaving this incredible country tomorrow.

We took a short drive to the Mount of Olives where we did our morning devotion overlooking the city!

Pastor Ralph spoke of Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem for the Passover Feast where he would be sacrificed as the Passover lamb.

We sat overlooking a very large cemetery. Yehuda taught us that Jews believe the Messiah will come from the east so they want to be the first to be raised from the dead. The cemetery goes all around the mountain. It costs many thousands of dollars to be buried in this cemetery. Many of the graves had small stones on them. Yehuda explained that you cannot bring flowers into the cemetery so people mark that they were there by leaving a stone on the grave marker.

As we were walking towards the Mount of Olives, Yehuda told us that today is the day the school children get their grades and they celebrate good grades here by setting off fireworks. Crystal responded, “In America we have bumper stickers!”

In the Mount of Olives we talked about how Jesus was in the city and celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples. Pastor Ralph explained the ceremony of the Passover meal. It was a reminder to us that the first time many of us met as a group was when we celebrated Passover together in April.

Pastor Ralph spoke of how the four cups of wine each signify four promises that God made to the people. On the last night Jesus and his disciples had this meal and He spoke those promises to them at the Lord’s Supper. Pastor Ralph went through each of the promises and connected them to our lives. He reminded us that we are saved, redeemed, and called to a purpose.

When Jesus took the final cup, all of the sin of the world was taken away and Gods wrath was satisfied. Jesus emptied the cup and paid it all! He who knew no sin took on all the sin of the world! And as Pastor Ralph said those words the sky erupted in fireworks (at 9 in the morning!!!!) and we began to sing O Praise The Name and then celebrated communion together. Then we all took quiet time to pray in the garden. The fireworks continued for several minutes.

We then walked up to the Lions Gate, and went into St Anne’s, place that Catholics believe is the birthplace of Mary. We entered the church and Sophia led us in Amazing Grace and the acoustics were amazing so our choir director, Yehuda, stopped the singing at points to hear the echo. We welcomed another group from Ohio and Washington DC to join us and continued to sing.

We walked along the Via Dolorosa where the Catholics have the stations of the cross and exited the old city. We found ourselves in the area where we had lunch yesterday! Today we had yummy chicken and onion sambusa wraps!

After lunch we used the restrooms in a really fancy shopping mall that had stores like Chanel and recognized brands like American Eagle Outfitters.

We then walked back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Many people though believe that this was the place of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. So this is one of the two places it could have been. The dichotomy between the two places is very strong. The Garden Tomb was a place of peace and the church was crowded and full of ornate relics. But again, it does not matter which is the correct place, all that matters is that it happened!

Our very last stop was to walk back down the Southern Wall. We were up on the end of the road we started walking yesterday from the Pool of Siloam. We were hot and tired after a hot day of walking but we got iced coffee and giggled at a child blowing a shofar.

While we were sitting on the Southern Steps of the temple, Pastor Ralph said that we may feel perplexed and overwhelmed by Jerusalem. He told us they found over 100 mikvahs, the ritual baths, around the temple steps. The first believers in Jesus came to these very mikvahs to be baptized and then they went out to change the world.

Pastor Ralph said, “ I didn’t bring you here to teach you the past, I came to challenge you on how to live out the rest of your life. If you have accepted Jesus as Savior, go out and make a difference and live for Jesus.” He then led us to the original steps where he prayed over each of us, then we were anointed with oil, had sand sprinkled on our feet as a reminder to walk in our Rabbi’s footsteps. We then received a final word at our last stop in Jerusalem.

Thank you does not even begin to express our gratitude to Pastor Ralph, Yehuda, Yigal, Melinda, and Steve for all their hard work in making this trip so meaningful and special.

At our farewell dinner overlooking the city we all had the opportunity to share. It was a deeply personal time of laughter and tears. We truly have all been changed by our time here.

I pray if you are reading this blog that you know how much God loves you. If you do not have a relationship with Jesus or know how He has impacted your life, please talk to anyone who took this trip. We want to share the Gospel and all we have learned so don’t be shy about asking!

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’” ‭‭Numbers‬ ‭6:24-26‬ ‭

Thank you for sharing this journey with us! Love, Crossroads Impact Church Israel Trip 2023


We met early for breakfast and started the day with some excitement when Joe got locked in the hotel bathroom and needed to be rescued! Thankfully, he was saved before devotion time.

Pastor Ralph started our devotion time this morning by saying, “Today is a fun day!” But then he followed it up with, “By this point it’s like day 8 of the captivity and you are feeling tired. Push through the fatigue since it is well worth it.”

Then he told the story of his interaction with former President George W. Bush at a golf tournament a few years back. President Bush was unapproachable all during the day due to the secret service. Later in the day, Pastor Ralph was watching the ocean with his back to the golf course and there was another man saying, “isn’t it beautiful?” and a third man came up and it was President Bush and he said, “Yes, it reminds me of west Texas!” So you can’t approach a president, only they can approach you. In case you are wondering what that has to do with our trip to Israel, he closed by saying that Jesus came to us so that we could be in relationship with Him.

Our first location was the City of David. It was a rare occurrence that our first stop of the day was shopping. This is most definitely not a shopping tour but there are a few intentional stores that we have stopped at.

As we waited to enter, Yehuda told us the story of a hyperactive young boy at the excavation site and they told him to go into the cave and find something. He came back and said there was pottery pieces sticking out from the limestone. It ended up being a huge discovery because when they moved the stone they found many artifacts, including a small silver piece that had the blessing of the priests from 6th century BC, the oldest piece of the Bible ever found. This store sold replicas of this blessing on jewelry and other items.

They also found a very tiny golden bell in the sewer from 2000 years ago that they believed belonged to the garments of the high priest and it still rang!

After shopping it was time to see the remains of David’s palace. The artifacts found there helped to silence the critics who say that David was not important because there previously were not items found that referenced David. The artifacts that have been found all prove that the Bible is true.

After the palace, we split into groups that would do the “wet” tunnel or the “dry” tunnel.

The “wet” tunnel was Hezekiah’s Tunnel referenced in 2 Kings 20:20. It was a narrow, winding tunnel in knee height water. In some areas the ceilings were barely 5 feet high. Poor Matt is 6’5” and he definitely deserves an ice cream for making it through! We navigated the 1/3 mile route with flashlights and at the end we turned off all the flashlights and stood in silent darkness. It was SUCH a cool experience!

The group that did the dry tunnel saw a portion of Nehemiah’s wall and benefited from Yehuda’s teaching.

We all met back together at the Pool of Siloam. The pool was a mikvah, a place of cleansing to purify yourself before going to the temple. It was also where Jesus gave sight to the man who was blind since birth in John 9. In the preceding verses, Jesus says He is the light of the world and no one who follows Him walks in darkness. Jesus put mud on the man’s eyes and told him to go to the pool of Siloam and wash off the mud and he did and could see. Thinking about the distance from the temple to the pool and the steps that we walked part of the way, it would have been difficult for the blind man to navigate to the water. But he did and left announcing what Jesus had done in his life.

Steve said, “I don’t know about you but I don’t want to be in the darkness, I want to be in the light.” We are so thankful that once we were blind but now we can see!

Next we had the special privilege to walk the Pilgrim Road that is not open to the public yet! It is still getting excavated but we got special access to walk a portion of it. Not even Pastor Ralph had done this yet!

The steps were spaced so that one was narrow and one wide, which makes it so you cannot run. They wanted them to walk with respect towards the temple. It was humbling to know that we were walking on the original stones of the exact walkway that Jesus and His disciples used to go to the temple.

Our group returned to sit on the steps of the Pool of Siloam. The location was previously owned by the Greek Orthodox Church and the Israelis could not excavate it. Last year they finally allowed it. Steve talked about how this is his fourth trip to Israel and it has been fascinating to see the excavation process with his view changing each trip. Later on in the day, a few of us were talking about how much would change if the younger members of our tour came back when they were older and how the sights will have changed in that time.

Our next stop was the Garden Tomb. This is one of two places (the other is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where we will visit tomorrow) that they believe Jesus was crucified, buried, and rose from the grave. Rather than getting too caught up in where it occurred, we were all just grateful in knowing that He rose on the third day!

We met our tour guide Kathleen, who is a volunteer from Texas. You can sign up to volunteer on the Garden Tomb website and if you get selected it is a 6 week assignment. We were surprised to find out that the Garden Tomb is actually a British-owned location.

Kathleen led us first to Skull Hill, also known as Golgotha or Calvary, where the crucifixion occurred.

On our way to the spot we could hear the sounds of another tour singing Worthy of it All and praying together. It was really beautiful.

We were taught that the tomb was discovered in the 1800s and on the wall they found a drawing that signified Jesus Christ the Alpha and Omega.

We were able to enter the tomb and we also had quiet time to pray and enjoy the peaceful grounds of the surrounding gardens.

After that time of peace, we took a drive in traffic to a busy street where we unloaded the food from the bus and carried it across the street to a shady spot for lunch! Today we had delicious falafel!

After lunch we went to the Israel Museum. We saw an outdoor scale model of all of Jerusalem. Yehuda explained that the City of David and a few other spots need to be revised based on recent excavations.

We went inside to see sections of the actual Dead Sea scrolls. We also saw two of the original jars they were found in. In the center of the room is a facsimile of the scroll they found of the complete book of Isaiah. No photos were allowed in this area.

Then we went into the main part of the museum where we could take pictures. We saw amazing Biblical artifacts, including the originals of some of the items we were taught about earlier in the trip.

Yehuda laughed at our lack of recall knowledge but did tell us that on your first trip to Israel you only remember 3-5% of what he teaches!

We returned to the hotel around 5:30 pm with enough time to take a dip in the pool or shower before dinner.

It is hard to believe that tomorrow is our final day of touring. We definitely do have some fatigue as Pastor Ralph mentioned but we also do not want the trip to be over. I’m sure tomorrow will be very bittersweet for all of us.


I cannot believe we have been touring for a week! So sad to think we only have a few more days:(

Today was our first full day in Jerusalem!

Our first spot was the Temple Mount, the most religiously contested site in the world. As Pastor Ralph said, “This is not an ordinary morning.”

The Temple Mount sits on Mt. Moriah, which is where God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Pastor Ralph reminded us that Abraham is symbolic of God, the Father taking his son to be sacrificed on Mt. Moriah (which means God instructed) and Jesus carried his cross up the same mountain just like Isaac carried the wood on which he was set to be sacrificed.

There were special rules we had to follow to get into the Temple Mount. The Muslims are the religious authorities to go to the Temple Mount so we could not wear crosses or have the Shema on our ID lanyards. Men and women must have pants or long skirts and women have to wear long sleeves. Men have to cover their heads. Men and women cannot touch each other, not even sons touching their mothers. We were not allowed to pray out loud or read Scripture.

Yehuda told us that they are looking for any reason to tell us to leave so we had to be aware of what we were doing.

Pastor Ralph told us that David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem which made Jerusalem both a political capital and a religious center.

Solomon built the temple so that the rock where Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac was in the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant.

After Solomon’s temple was destroyed they built a second temple. By then the Ark of the Covenant was lost so the Holy of Holies was empty but it was still on the rock.

Herod the Great saw the second temple, which was smaller than Solomon’s temple, and he said “You call that a temple!?” (Joe, our temporary tour guide - see below - said that in his best Jackie Mason voice!) He built a gigantic platform the size of 25 football field, which became the Temple Mount on which he built the temple. The temple was four times the size of the previous one. He kept the Holy of Holies over the same rock. The current Western Wall is 1/9 of the length of Herod’s western retaining wall.

Josephus said the columns at the southern wall of Herod’s temple were so big that three grown men could not hold their hands around it.

In the year 70 Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans but the infrastructure remained.

The Muslim conquest was in 638. In 695 the Muslims built the Dome of the Rock but the top was not gold like it is now until the 20th century.

In 1967, after the 6 day war, the Western wall was finally under Israeli control.

You can see the outside of the Temple Mount but you are not permitted inside to see the rock. However, we were blessed because today the doors were open and you could glimpse inside. Yehuda said that today was the first time he saw the doors open since 2000!

After the Temple Mount we went to the Western (Wailing) Wall which is the closest the Jews can get to the Dome of the Rock because they believe they are too ritually unclean to approach it.

Our group split in two sections for the tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall. In the first group, our guide was Joe Friedman, a colleague of Yehuda from St Louis. He was funny and knowledgeable.

He taught us that the Israelis had tunnels made to explore below the city in the Western Wall under the Muslim quadrant, which was basically, “in the basement” but he said we would not understand that because we are from Florida!

2000 years ago these tunnels would be open to the sky but they are currently under the Muslim part of the city, which is why they cannot excavate there.

Joe taught us that the original stones on the western wall weigh 500 pounds and fit together without glue even “better than legos!” Then he showed us the Great Stone, which was a 41 feet wide and 10 feet high, 270-280 metric ton stone. It was the size of a full 747 plane filled with passengers and their luggage so they do not know how it was moved into place!

We got to stand on pavement stones from 2000 years ago. The Holy Family would have walked these very streets.

We came out of the tunnels into the old fortress. It is believed that this is where Jesus was beaten before he was crucified.

When we regrouped after the tour we walked through the winding, bustling streets of Jerusalem to the bus. I am constantly astounded by how Yigal finds parking places to pick us up. The traffic is very busy and he has to navigate the big tour bus down these tiny streets and find places to park to load and unload us. GTI is so seamless in all its operations. We are grateful to be with this amazing tour group!

After a short drive from the Temple Mount, we crossed the border fence into the West Bank. Israeli Jews are not allowed in the Zone A area. Yehuda is permitted to come with us with special permission.

As a random fact, Yehuda told us that cars are way more expensive in Israel. They cost double of what it costs in the US.

Our next stop was Bethlehem where we hiked down into a cave.

Pastor Ralph shared that the angels came to the shepherds in the fields around us. Jerusalem is 8 miles away. This is where they raised the sheep that would be brought to the temple for sacrifice. Jesus born here as the lamb of the world that would be sacrificed for all.

Jesus was not born in a stable, more likely that He was born in any of the hundreds of caves around here where farmers kept their animals at night. We spoke of how He came from glory and eternity to a place that was unclean to become the Savior of the world.

Pastor Ralph talked about why the exact location of Jesus’ birth is less important than why He came. We read Scripture that led us the beautiful story of redemption that Jesus gave us.

After the cave, we were excited to go to lunch. We enjoyed pitas filled with spicy chicken shawarma and salad.

Then we went to Johnny’s store. Johnny’s is a Christian-owned shop in Bethlehem. Christians are less than 10% of the population of Bethlehem and supporting their shops help the Christians in the area, including even paying for their medical bills. By buying there we help the Israeli Christian population.

Johnny’s is the best place to buy olive wood carvings. Maria, his daughter, spoke to us about the variety of items the store sells and how they get stock from Christian artisans in the area. We spent quite a lot of time shopping!

We headed to the Herodium after lunch and shopping. We passed a KFC and Yehuda joked it was Kentucky Fried Camel!

Herod built his palace and of course named it the Herodium after himself. Herod was a cruel, awful man with a gift for building. But the main lesson we learn from him is that for all he built, it now just lays in ruins and many people do not even know who he is. But Jesus is known and believed in everywhere and is eternal.

Most of the group hiked up the mountain to see the Herodium ruins but some stayed down at the base. The ones that remained behind had a cool experience while the group was gone. They spoke with two workers, Nael and Bini. Nael was a Palestinian Muslim and Bini was a Jewish man. They told us not to believe everything we hear on the news about Palestinians and Israelis hating each other because they work together and are good friends. Nael said “Here we are, Muslims, Jews, and Christians just enjoying each other’s company.” It was a lovely time of conversation!

After the Herodium we returned to the Dan Hotel for an early night!

Tomorrow we continue our time in Jerusalem. We cannot help but think of Psalm 122. “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem…Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: ‘May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.’”

We are so thankful that we are here and are not taking for granted the responsibility that comes with experiencing a trip like this. We will be bringing Israel home with us and displaying our changed lives to those we encounter!


Leaving the Sea of Galilee is hard. It is such a peaceful, beautiful place.

Dean started our morning devotion asking the question, “Who are you and what are you doing here?” He reminded us that this is a question we should think about for a lifetime. Ephesians 2:10 talks about how God made us uniquely with gifts, talents, and passions for His master plan. We are not saved BY works, we are saved FOR works. We should walk in them to give God the glory! He closed by asking, “Will you commit yourself as His masterpiece?” Afterwards, Caleigh gave an amazing testimony that moved many to tears.

We then loaded onto the bus, that was already packed with our suitcases, for the final leg of our journey towards Jerusalem.

Our first stop was Beth She’an, which was part of the Decapolis. It was the only city of the Decapolis that is west of the Rift Valley and also where you did not have to climb mountains to access Israel. It made it easier to have soldiers control who was coming into the land.

A lot of the modern city of Beth She’an is sitting on the ruins of the city. Most of what we see today was excavated during the 1990s.

We learned that up to 50,000 people would have lived in a city like this. It had a swimming pool, a theater, a shopping mall and country club with bath houses!

Yehuda taught us that it was all originally mosaic floors, some of which we saw, but later on the Byzantines covered them with marble. They also covered the swimming pool. Those darn Byzantines!

We were shown that they chiseled ornate leaves into the limestone columns and even when the columns fell during an earthquake, the carvings were not damaged. It was a very hard stone and difficult to chisel.

Pastor Ralph made the analogy that Beth She’an was like their Winter Garden Village. On this trip we have gone from a monotheistic area where the synagogue was the center of everything to a Hellenistic area, where the focus was on entertainment. We were taught that the prodigal son may have come to Beth She’an when they said he went to a far off place and squandered his funds.

Hellenism was all about power, leisure, and pleasure. Ralph noted that this is true of Winter Garden. We are hellenized. This is who we are today. It’s not ancient history, it’s a finger pointing at us asking if there is anything that we need to change in our lives.

Speaking of entertainment, we walked to the Roman restrooms and Joe memorably demonstrated how to sit between the two marble toilet seats and use the Roman hand washing system!

The theatron, or theater, of Beth She’an was a place to go for celebrations. The theater had the original seats. There was no stage until the 1st century BC.

The acoustics were incredible in the theater and Jeff and Crystal demonstrated by singing for us. But, not only did they lead us in praise and worship, they led the group in singing happy birthday to me! Needless to say today is the best birthday ever!

Upon leaving the city, Pastor Ralph noted that it was not surprising that a narrow gate led to a Jewish town and a wide gate led to a Hellenistic place like Beth She’an.

Next we headed to the tel of Megiddo, which controlled the Jezreel Valley. They have found 32 layers of civilizations on that one spot. It is no wonder it is referred to as an archaeological layer cake!

The Via Maris trade route had to come through Megiddo, which explains why there were so many civilizations here.

Megiddo is the only city they found in Israel with 9 gates, all from different eras. It was a very important city. There were 19 temples from throughout the Canaanite time period. We even saw a temple from 5300 years ago! This is the oldest one we saw on our tour.

The place where we were having our teaching did not have seats but the strong, able-bodied men of our group carried all the benches over so we could sit in the shade to listen to the lesson! In the heat, their service was greatly appreciated.

We sat overlooking the Jezreel valley and Pastor Ralph pointed out Biblical locations within view. We were able to see the city of Nazareth. Herod built a city for himself three miles away from Nazareth and he mused and perhaps Joseph and Jesus could have been involved in building it.

We also learned that the battle of Armageddon written in Revelation is described to happen here in the Jezreel Valley! Dean read from the Old Testament prophecy in Zechariah 12-13 and from the New Testament in Revelation 16 and 19.

Pastor Ralph taught us that remez is a Hebrew style of teaching where a line of Scripture is given and everyone knew the entire account and understood the message. It is just like when we quote movie lines and song lyrics and we know the rest. Pastor Ralph did his best “Yo Adrian!” as an example! Jesus was always doing remez back to the Old Testament.

After the teaching, most of the group went 180+ steps down into a water cistern and then took 83 steps to get out of it.

After Megiddo we went to a Druze restaurant for lunch. Yehuda taught us yesterday that Druze is an Arabic religious sect in Israel. There are two Druze villages in Mt. Carmel.

We had a delicious lunch of handmade breaded chicken with salad and pickled vegetables.

Then we headed up Mt. Carmel where Elijah battled the Ashera and Baal worshipers.

Pastor Ralph told the story that the only unhappy day of their marriage was at Mt. Carmel when he convinced Melinda to climb the mountain, which is a very rigorous hike. Thankfully, we took the bus up!

Riley followed in her Dad’s footsteps and led our teaching at Mt. Carmel. She shared that this is one of her favorite Bible stories. It was Elijah against 850 false prophets and they built two altars to decide whose god was the one and only true God. Each would pray and whoever responds with fire is the real God. The 850 false prophets went first and could not get the fire to light and Elijah started mocking them and they were cutting themselves and trying to get the fire to start to no avail. Meanwhile, Elijah poured four jars of water 3 times and they filled the altar and the trench he had dug around the altar. Then he prayed to God to prove that he did it all at God’s command and the fire burned the altar, the trench, and evaporated all the water and they all got on their knees and worshiped God. As Riley said, “Our God is awesome. This is the God we serve that he does incredible things like this” She also added, “As I’ve gotten older Scripture changes and now I go back to it being more about obedience. He is doing what God asked with the faith that God did what he said He was going to do.”

Riley did a fabulous job teaching and then others jumped in to share their thoughts on the Scripture account.

Melinda said Elijah had a powerful time with God and then after that started doubting himself, which is so like us. Lee agreed that self doubt and fear can occur after doing something big.

Steve reminded us that Elijah went and hid in the cave and was crying out to God and God asked him “Why are you in the cave?” and he is transformed and says, “You are here” to God.

Crystal spoke of the intimacy that Elijah had with God.

Linden talked about the adding of the water to the altar. We don’t have to set things up just right for God. He is mighty and can do things in an even bigger way.

Several others shared about how encouraging this Scripture is. It was a beautiful time of sharing.

Then we got to climb onto the roof for amazing views in all directions!

Our final stop of the day was Caesarea Maritima, the palace that Herod the Great had built to provide safety to merchant vessels. It took 10 years to build and helped him to gain the trust of the Roman Empire.

The city grew and attracted many people of differing faiths. It was eventually taken over by the Byzantine empire. An octagonal church is built but it was destroyed by an earthquake and the harbor was flooded.

In the 700s the area was taken over by the Muslims and the remains of the church were turned into a mosque.

In the 1200s during the Crusades it was taken over by the Christians but then there were heavy battles between the Christians and the Muslims. Caesarea was destroyed in the fight.

The theater was very interesting to see because it has a few original seats but most are remade and numbered because they put shows on here with the biggest singers in Israel. So it is a mix of modern and ancient. Yehuda pointed out the arched exits and explained that exits were called vomitoriums because they vomited the crowds out. Yuck!

Steve had us picture the port in its heyday. He spoke to us about Herod the Great and his family.

Then he told us the story of Paul, who spent time here in prison. We stood right where he was jailed. Steve reminded us that besides Christians, not many people know who Paul was but everyone knew about Jesus because of Paul. He shared his testimony of how he received salvation from Jesus and we are called to do the same. Herod glorified himself and all that is left are ruins but the glory of Jesus is eternal. We continue that when we each share our testimony.

Yehuda also taught us that Olympic Games were held here because Herod the Great promised that the top three competitors would get a prize, not just the first place as in prior Olympic Games. It was the only time the Olympics were held in Israel.

After the teachings, the groups had an opportunity to dip their feet in the Mediterranean and take pictures!

Then it was back on the bus for the two hour drive to our hotel in Jerusalem.

As we headed into Jerusalem, Yehuda reminded us that we have been spoiled that we have been mostly alone at every site we have visited. It is amazing that with such significant places we have mostly not been around other groups or people. But he said that changes in Jerusalem and we have to stick together and move quickly as a group.

We reached the Dan Jerusalem Hotel, which is our beautiful home for the next four days! The hotel is absolutely gorgeous. And dinner was SO amazing. At each place we have felt spoiled by the variety of offerings but this one tops them all!

We are headed to bed now because we have a 5:45 wake up call for a busy day in Jerusalem! More tomorrow!

Shalom! Can you believe it is already the middle of the trip?!?

When we left breakfast this morning we met at our spot along the shores of the Galilee for our devotion before starting our very busy day.

Steve spoke to us about how the Beatitudes are not a guide on how to get blessings they are about the character we aim to represent. We also discussed that when Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers” that peacemaking is not between men and women it’s between us and God to become sons and daughters of God. We need to help those who are struggling in their relationships with God to find His peace.

We also spoke about what church is. After we prayed for our churches back home (for many of us this was Crossroads Impact Church, (but we have many on the trip from other locations) we discussed that while church is a community, a place of worship, and a place to grow closer to God that sometimes churches can also hurt people. We need to remember that the lowercase “c” church is run by people and we are all sinners so it will never be perfect. So we need to keep our eyes and hearts on God’s uppercase “C” church, which we have seen at work this week. Steve told us that today is about Church, which is the Body of Christ and the Body of believers.

He asked us to think about what we are going to do with all that we are learning.

After sharing our prayer requests with each other, we headed to the bus.

Caleb led us in a group cheer: “Give me a K, give me an A, give me a T, give me a Z, give me an R, give me an I, give me an N. What’s that spell? I don’t know but Yehuda does!”

Our first stop was Jordan Park for baptisms. The path to the baptismal spot was almost fully shaded in a canopy of a bamboo-like plant and its branches. Yehuda skilfully led us through the woods to a beautiful spot that we never would have found on our own. Unlike the still and polluted section of the Jordan we saw a few days ago, this was lovely, refreshing, flowing water.

Before the baptisms, Pastor Jeff led a message on the Ethiopian eunuch and his baptism in Acts 8:35-39. He spoke of the meaning of baptism and that complete immersion is like dyeing cloth, it is not partial, it makes us totally new. He reminded us that after baptism, our lives need to look different. The old person is dying and a new one being raised to life. Everything we used to be is crucified, it’s dead. When we are baptized and fully committed it says we are not coming back. We are dead to the influence of the world and we are bought by the blood of Jesus.

Pastor Ralph reminded us, “This is NOT a tourist stop. We came to be impacted by the power of the Holy Spirit” He said to be baptized, not because this is where Jesus was baptized , but because you are committed to Christ. He finished by reminding us that we would leave here to change our cities filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. He also said that we should look different than the world but still befriending it.

The times of baptism were a time of rejoicing and celebration. Several men helping us across the rocky riverbed to the baptism spot. Melinda reminded us that we will always have helpers around us and to never be afraid to ask for help.

After the baptisms, baby Levi was dedicated surrounded by his actual family and his new adopted aunts and uncles on the trip! It’s is beautiful that we have 13 members of the same family, all living in different locations, that have come on this trip together with their newest member!

Another beautiful moment was when Pastor Ralph baptized Lee and Jeff and they spoke about the fact that Jeff was baptized by Pastor Ralph 32 years ago. He was one of his first baptisms in his time in ministry!

Each of the baptisms are a reminder that we are all beginning new lives here. You cannot see and experience what we have seen and not be forever changed!

Our next stop was one hour away so we had time to reflect on the magnitude of what had just occurred and the beauty of the morning as we drove through the countryside.

As we drove, Yehuda explained that he was born in a kibbutz and that everyone works in the kibbutz does not make a salary and the kibbutz supports you. If there is a celebration, the people get a small sum of money for a gift. When his parents got married they received 32 soda makers because that was what everyone could afford. So for the next 32 weddings they gave a soda maker as a gift!

Our next stop was the national park where Dan stood as described in Judges 18.

Yehuda, being the wonderful guide that he is, said “I’m going to take you where I’m not supposed to, don’t tell!”

He took us through winding paths to a temple. He taught us that Jeroboam was concerned about losing people in the North because they had no place to worship so he set up two places to worship at the south and north borders to prevent people from leaving the country. Rather than worshiping as God intended, he set up golden calves for the people to worship, one in Bethel and one in Dan. He made priests of men that were not Levites and sacrificed to the calves he had made. He created a whole false system of worship. They also found pig bones there. Ralph mused that while we are horrified by their idol worship, we have to ask ourselves, “what idols am I worshipping now?”

One side of the temple was excavated, but the other side was not because they dug there and found a Coke bottle from the 1960s and they stopped digging because it was the Israeli trenches from the war.

We then walked to a gate from 3700 years ago made from mud bricks. It was the oldest arch gate in the world. The city of Dan had many gates because they were bordered by many other groups. We all walked in a gate from 8th century BC!

On the last day of the excavation of the gate, a young girl kicked a stone and it turned upside down and they something was written on it. What was it? Yehuda kept us wondering until we got to the next location, so I am keeping you waiting as well!

It was an inscription that mentions the House of David for the first time. For many years it was believed that there was no David or if there was he was not important or they would have found archaeology about him. And on this stone they did and it showed David was a king. They have found other articles referencing David as King since then.

Next we headed to Caesarea Philippi where we had lunch in a shaded area with picnic tables. Lunch was served with incredible rolls that rival the ones from Publix! Then Yehuda expertly carved a sweet watermelon that we all enjoyed.

From lunch it was a short walk to a cave. We sat in a shaded alcove below the cave and Pastor Ralph taught how Jesus took the disciples on a 25 mile walk to Caesarea Philippi, which was a pagan area started by Greeks. A religious Jew would not come to this area but Jesus was intentional in everything He did. In our view, it would be like going to Vegas. And Jesus said that upon this rock He would build His church here and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. This was strategic since the Greeks believed the gate here was a gate to the underworld. Jesus was always intentional with what was around him. Pastor Ralph said it was as if Jesus said, “My church is going to be in the middle of the mess of the world because that is why I came.” His church was on offense against the evil of a broken world. We are not to compromise with the culture, we are to stand firm on the truth that Jesus is the Christ. You cannot stop the truth of God. We need to live it out in love and humility.

Some took the option to climb up into the cave while others took pictures and prayed.

We then took an hour-long bus drive to an olive oil factory in Katzrin. Avner, the owner of Olea Essence, was such a character and Yehuda and he were hysterical together.

We watched a video that explained how the company, in addition to making excellent, cold-pressed, organic olive oil, took the black water that is left over from the oil production that was harming the environment and developed face creams and other products from what was previously just waste but now shows amazing health benefits.

We only had one stop left for the day but we had been on the move for over 10 hours. We stopped on the side of the road near the Decapolis where Jesus healed the demoniac and sent the demons into the pigs who rushed over the cliff. The Roman 10th Legion symbol was a pig and Jesus caused the demons to go into the pigs. There is so much more to the story than we even understand. But because of Jesus, the demoniac was clothed and sitting and in his right mind.

Steve McLean then gave his testimony and his introduction was that, “What you about to hear should give you hope.” It certainly did give all of us hope as he shared a powerful story of restoration and deliverance.

After a powerful time of prayer we reboarded the bus and headed for the hotel.

Tomorrow we leave the Sea of Galilee begin our journey to Jerusalem. It is so hard to believe that we have finished half our trip but it’s amazing that we are not the same people we were five days ago. I’m sure that will be even more true after our experiences in Jerusalem.

As I close today’s entry, we ask for prayers today. Many of us were baptized and we all have a strengthened faith to go out in the world and represent Jesus to others and Satan would like nothing better than to stop us. We are a higher target than ever for spiritual warfare. Some trip members are struggling with health issues and emotional and physical ailments that we know are the devil trying steal, kill, and destroy the amazing things that Jesus has done in all of us. So please pray that we may have strength for the rest of our tour and that we will prevail in becoming the Ein Gedi community we have learned about.


At our devotion this morning Pastor Ralph encouraged the group, saying we have survived jet lag and the desert and are now hitting our stride!

He told us, “Today is all about Jesus. Today is a day you will remember for the rest of your life.”

Pastor Ralph then asked for feedback from the group about our experiences thus far and it was an emotional and deeply personal time of sharing.

It is overwhelming being here in a way that cannot be explained.

We are staying in the hotel part of the Ein Gev kibbutz, or commune. Again, we are blessed with great amenities and service. There is a beach with a lifeguard (some of the guys in the group may have been whistled at for going out too far on the water yesterday!) The breakfast this morning was lovely and they have such a variety of dishes to try!

After a short drive, our first stop today was Capernaum where Jesus performed many miracles. Pastor Ralph explained that Jesus put himself right where all the traffic was going to be.

Yehuda played a game with us of fisherman, tax collector, and zealot. He taught us that Jesus had disciples who would have hated each other but he taught them to live together.

We stood in a 1st Century temple and toured the grounds, with time for pictures and prayer.

Next stop was the Sermon Mount. Emotional is an understatement. I feel like I cannot write to express what we felt today. Words are not sufficient to describe the emotion. To stand on the mountain and recite the words of Jesus where he stood is indescribable and I can only say if you ever have the opportunity in your life to make this trip, please do it. Your faith will be deepened in ways you will never knew were possible until you are here.

We had the opportunity to walk all the way down the Sermon Mount to the road. Again, all the strong men of the group stepped up to make sure we all made it down safely and Riley and Cami were our crossing guards guiding us all across the busy road!

Next we drove up to the highest point in the area, Mount Arbel. This was a possible location where Jesus went to pray at the mountain before picking the disciples. Also where he would have asked the disciples to meet him after the resurrection and gave the Great Commission.

The mountaintop was an amazing view of Capernaum, the Sermon Mount and the Sea of Galilee. As Pastor Ralph said, “This is the world of Jesus”

We had time to explore the mountain and take pictures before the hike down for lunch.

Our wonderful bus driver Yigal drove to pick up lunch while we were still on the mountain. We had sambusak for lunch, which is like a calzone stuffed with cheese, tomatoes, olives, and corn. We ate outdoors under shade trees at the national park at the base of Mt. Arbel.

After lunch we drove to the Seven Springs. Steve taught that young Hebrew boys wanted to grow up to be rabbis. If a boy did not succeed in learning, he would return home and learn a trade. As one member of the group said, the disciples were spiritual rejects.

The disciples were out on the banks of the Sea of Galilee where we were standing and Jesus said to them, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men” They immediately dropped their nets and followed Him. These disciples did not do well in school, and this was their chance to be a rabbi. They may have been spiritual rejects, but Jesus wanted them. The disciples thought they were failures at life but Jesus gave them a second chance.

Steve reminded us that Jesus also gave Peter a second chance. After Jesus died they came back and Peter said he was going back to fishing. The last time he was with Jesus he rejected him three times. But Jesus returned and in John 21:15-17 Peter got to say to him three times that he loved him, with a repentant heart he is forgiven and commissioned to pastor Christ’s sheep. Such a beautiful lesson that our Savior is a forgiving God who welcomes a repentant heart.

Our next stop was to see a boat from the time of Jesus that was discovered when two brothers were walking along the shore in 1986 and saw Roman nails, they started to dig and found wood and immediately called the department of antiquities. We learned the steps taken to rescue the boat from the mud and restore it. It was really fascinating!

At the gift shop we had a spontaneous shofar (Ram’s horn) concert from a friend of Yehuda’s. Yehuda is such an amazing guide and always looks out for us in shops telling us what to buy where so we get the best quality items!

After shopping we had some time to just hang out and socialize and have yummy iced coffee in the air conditioning before it was time for our boat ride across the Galilee.

Pastor Ralph admitted after the boat ride that he almost cut it from the itinerary but Melinda persuaded him not to. We were SO thankful she did because it was a memorable experience! Our guides surprised us by raising the American flag and we all spontaneously jumped to our feet and sang the Star Spangled Banner! Then we enjoyed worship music and talked and then had a teaching.

There is an old Jewish saying, “May you stay covered in the dust of your rabbi.” Stay dusty is a saying that Pastor Ralph has taught us several times and Steve reminded us we want to follow as closely as possible to our rabbi in front of us that we are in his dust as he walks. Pastor Ralph taught us that Peter wanted to follow Jesus that closely and he ended up getting out of the boat and following him onto the water. Jesus loves us and he beckons us to a relationship with Him.

After reaching the shore, we have ate at a restaurant that was part of our kibbutz. Their specialty is the St. Peter fish, a freshly caught fish that is deep fried, head and all. Many of us opted to have the fish without the head but a few opted for the head. When the waitress asked, “Who has the headless fish? Susan replied, “I’d like a head on my fish”!

After dinner many of us rushed to the beach to get pictures of the sunset over the water and many went night swimming. The swimmers played a new game where instead of saying Marco Polo they used Yehuda and Yigal!

It was the best day yet walking where Jesus walked. This is truly the trip of a lifetime and we are glad we can have you along for the adventure. Truly, our lives are forever changed.

Shabbat Shalom!

This was our last morning at our Dead Sea hotel so we brought down our luggage and got it on the bus before breakfast.

After another amazing meal we walked to the Dead Sea where Dean led us in our morning devotion. He spoke from John 10:10 and said that one way to refer to having life abundantly is to maximize it. He said we have all saved and sacrificed for this trip so we should maximize it, both for this week and for a lifetime.

Then Pastor Ralph spoke about our journey today from the stagnant waters of the Dead Sea to the fresh, flowing waters of the Sea of Galilee.

He explained that the Sea of Galilee has underground springs and flows to an outlet in the Jordan River. He connected that to how thoughtful, prayerful time with God are the springs that we can take in and then our stories about what the week has meant to us will flow out to others.

After the morning reciting of the Shema we bid farewell to Ein Bokek beach.

On the drive to Ein Gedi, Yehuda gave a lesson on the Dead Sea. He taught us that the Dead Sea has enough potassium for the whole world for 8000 years and enough magnesium for the whole world for 11.000 years.

Ralph gave us an ominous warning on our morning bus ride, he said, “You’re going to feel like you’re on fire. We didn’t have room to put that in the brochure.” It made us laugh but it was pretty true as we hit 115 degrees in the desert today!

Our first stop was the national park of Ein Gedi. It is a place of Biblical significance but also a beautiful oasis in the desert with beautiful waterfalls and acacia trees. Almost immediately upon entering we saw several ibex.

We stopped in a shady area for Steve to teach us about the significance of where we were.

Steve spoke about caves being a place of sanctuary or of refuge for travelers. He pointed out the cave where 1 Samuel 24 took place. David was hiding out in the stronghold of Ein Gedi. Saul was looking for David and went into the cave to relieve himself and it was the same cave where David was hiding. David’s servants told him this was his opportunity to kill Saul but instead David cut off his tzittzit, the fringe on his prayer shawl. After Saul had left the cave David called out to him and said the fact that he was close enough to kill him but only cut his shawl should show he did not plan to hurt him and Saul said, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good whereas I have repaid you evil” We then received a special gift to remember that moment.

Steve also recited parts of the psalms when David was struggling and reminded us that when we find ourselves in an emotional cave feeling hopeless to turn to God and let him reveal your purpose and hope. Then he made the great point that when the Scripture says to love your neighbor as yourself, is it the loving your neighbor part that is hard or the loving yourself?

Pastor Ralph followed up on that by teaching that the water in Ein Gedi is rain that fell 21 years ago. He explained that we all go through hard, dry seasons but God knows this and has provided ahead for us.

Next we walked ahead to a waterfall in this beautiful oasis and Pastor Ralph spoke of living water and how it is fresh and unpolluted. God is the living water and we need to be an Ein Gedi community to others. We each get to be one drop to refresh another coming out of a dry season. We are God’s encouragement to others as God is our encouragement to us.

The group then split between a more rigorous hike or staying behind and enjoying the lower waterfall area.

The ones that went on the hike said that they saw additional waterfalls, including David’s waterfall that could be used for drinking water. Some took their socks and shoes off and waded into the pool and stood under the waterfalls.

We had some excitement when it was time to leave Ein Gedi because one of the couples in our group was missing from the hike! After a few tense minutes they were found and came on the bus to a rousing cheer! No one gets left behind!

Next we went to Qumran where we had lunch of chicken schnitzel. This is Melinda’s least favorite lunch so she brought the group American condiments from Chick-Fil-A and Olive Garden! She collected them for two months before the trip and packed them in her luggage. While we found the lunch to be delicious, the condiments were greatly appreciated!

There was a gift shop next to the restaurant but as Yehuda instructed us, “First teaching! No shopping!”

We learned of how the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in Qumran in 1947. A Bedouin saw a small cave and crawled in and found jars with scrolls inside. He took the leather scroll to a shoemaker and asked to make sandals out of it. The Shoemaker said it had writing on it and said he should get it looked at. Can you imagine if Scripture from the 1st century had been made into shoes!?!

Amazing missteps were made in keeping and maintaining the scrolls. First they did not make a report of which caves the separate scrolls were taken out of or how many there were. Then, when they tried to piece them together they used tape and glue!

Some of the writings were in very good condition but others were in such bad condition that they could not be opened without turning to powder. But a scientist was able to do photos by layers using a NASA technique. This was how they found the book of Esther just a few years ago.

Pieces were found from every book of the Old Testament. The only one found in its entirety was the book of Isaiah but it is only a matter of time until they find more scrolls.

Pastor Ralph did some foreshadowing for our next stop by teaching us that John the Baptist lived among the people of Qumran. The Jewish people were waiting for the forerunner to come before Jesus to announce His coming and this was John the Baptist.

Before leaving Qumran we got to go to the gift shop that specialized in Dead Sea muds and creams but also had T-shirts and other souvenirs. When we were done there Pastor Ralph treated us all to ice cream which was nice since you usually have to answer a difficult question to get offered free ice cream!

When we got on the bus we got to sample Israeli dates. These were the biggest, sweetest dates ever and people were able to order boxes to bring home.

Speaking of the bus, our bus has lots of personality! The back rows are pretty rowdy and we now have Jonette, the bus mascot. She is a stuffed camel that says I Love The Dead Sea!

Our next stop was the Jordan river where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

This was also the location where the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the promised land. And where Elijah and Elisha also crossed.

John the Baptist was baptized here because he was the Elijah who was to come.

He was baptizing others here and Jesus came to this spot to be baptized. This was the first spot on our trip where we can say we are walking where Jesus walked.

We got the opportunity after the teaching to go down to the banks of the river for pictures but were warned not to touch the water as it is contaminated by sewage. There were many visitors from other areas on both the Jordanian and Israeli sides that were ankle deep in the water and one woman who was baptized while were there. We did not have our group baptisms here because the water is so polluted but we do plan to have baptisms later in the trip.

When we got on the bus it was our two hour drive to Galilee. During the drive we were given maps of Israel and Yehuda taught us the recent history of Israel from the 1800s.

We arrived to our hotel in Galilee and many of us immediately headed down for a swim before dinner. The water was so amazing! It is cold by your feet (we think due to the underground springs) and SO refreshing in the heat. Many people were enjoying the rocky beach with their families and we all laughed and had a good time together.

Before dinner was also a good time to catch up on laundry. Some used to laundromat and others washed in the sink and hung their clothes to dry on their balconies.

Dinner was a lovely buffet and we all enjoyed good conversation together. Pastor Ralph asked if we wanted to go to an extra location tomorrow or if we were feeling burned out and everyone said they want to see as much as possible!

So we are sure to have some more exciting stories to tell tomorrow!

As always, thank you for your prayers! Good night!


Welcome to a HOT day in the desert!

We woke to beautiful views of the sunrise over the Dead Sea from our rooms and some ventured out in person to watch it.

Breakfast was at 7:00 and yet again the service and offerings were impeccable! The barista made all our cappuccinos with hearts in the foam and we felt the love! The meal was a nice time of fellowship together. Our group is bonding wonderfully and full of smiling faces greeting each other. I’m sure the bond will grow even closer but even after two days friendships are definitely already forming.

Before boarding the bus we had a time of prayer and planning. Steve reminded us to stay focused on God’s purpose and, like the Israelites in the desert, to follow the cloud that God puts before us. Crystal then prayed over the group and exalted that, “Your very Word is over us!”

As we loaded the bus, Yehuda greeted us saying Boker Tov, Good Morning! He gave us a lesson in Hebrew and gave us a preview of our day. We should have known it would be strenuous because Yehuda warned us “Tomorrow is more relaxed, today we do not relax.”

We drove alongside the Dead Sea evaporation pools and then headed to Masada, which was originally a fortress built to protect Herod the Great.

After Herod died, the Hebrews took over the fortress and 70 years after Herod’s death they were attacked by the Romans. The siege lasted over two years while the Romans built a path to get up high enough to breach the tower.

At Masada we watched a video about the Hebrews in the Masada fortress that were attacked by the Romans. At the time the Romans finally breached the wall, they decided to wait until the next day to raid and plunder the fortress. This was a strategic error. The Hebrews decided they would rather die free than be slaves to Rome so they burned all their stored goods (except the food) and died by suicide so that the next day when the Romans came they would get nothing. An account of this event was preserved because there were 2 women and 5 children that hid in a cave but were witness to all that happened.

We rode a cable car up the side of the mountain, which was an experience because we were packed in like sardines! Thankfully it was only a three minute ride up the mountain. We then got to see the various rooms in the fortress. Especially interesting was that Herod designed a sauna room with heated walls and steam coming up from the floor!

When we got to the storeroom, Yehuda taught us that they did not destroy the food the night before the Hebrews were raided so that the Romans would know they perished not from want but because they would not give up their freedom.

One funny thing during the time we spent in Masada was the Yehuda would not let the people under 30 sit down and told them they could sit when they were older!

Another cool moment was watching Yehuda feed the friendly birds pieces of bread and granola bars out of his hand!

We spent a little over an hour on top of Masada and then walked down the Roman Ramp.

The Roman Ramp was built by the army to reach the tower. They would then use a metal ram head to breach the wall. But the Hebrews threw heavy rocks to break it. Despite being outnumbered by thousands of Roman soldiers, the Hebrews held on and it took 2 1/2 years to breach the tower.

The walk down the Roman Ramp was hot and steep in areas. But greeting us at the bottom were two shade trees with a spigot with cold water for our bottles and cooling towels. From there it was a short walk to the bus! I especially loved how everyone encouraged each other and we celebrated together when we made it down the mountain. Special shout-out to two special individuals: Jonah has acted as our Sherpa guide carrying extra bottles of water and peoples bags when needed and Steve is serving as the tribe of Dan backing up the group and keeping us together and making sure no one gets left behind. Their hearts of service have made the trip even better for all of us!

Next stop was the camel ride! Pastor Ralph threatened to post videos on YouTube of anyone who fell off the camel! So we were all sure to listen to the safety instructions! The scary thing was the instructions were super quick, basically hold on for dear life and lean back as the camel gets to its feet because it leans forward and you could fall.

The camel ride was such an experience! We were all laughing at the bellowing noises they made and the few that did not want to stay in a straight line. Riding a camel is NOT the most comfortable experience but certainly one worth trying if you are ever given the opportunity! And there are no YouTube videos because none of us fell!

Immediately after the camel ride, which was super hot (have I mentioned yet that it is hot, lol), we enjoyed a cold cup of water and learned of our next objective!

We were split into two teams, the men versus the women. Each team volunteered 5 people to be shepherds who were tasked to tend to the goats, who are known for doing their own thing. Both teams did great although the men may have lost a goat. Seriously, they lost a goat! They opened the pen and the little guy shot out to freedom like a cannon! All the volunteers did an amazing job running after goats in the desert!

Next we took a short walk to a large tent with lounging pillows on the ground. We were all seated at received the true blessing of Bedouin hospitality.

The large tent was made of goat hair. The Bedouin people are nomadic so they live in tents and caves where they can pack up and move quickly. The tent has six stripes of goat hair. It takes one year to weave one stripe. The goat hair keeps water from coming into the tent.

The Bedouin guide greeted us with sweet tea, which was to sweeten our visit. Then they served coffee, which was very expensive in those times. They would bake the beans on the fire in front the guest then grind the beans with a large mortar and pestle, which made a very specific and pleasant sound. Any man who heard the sound could come have coffee, which is strong and bitter. The women did not receive the same treatment.

When a visitor came to a Bedouin tent they were welcomed in for 3 1/3 days and the Bedouins would protect you during that time period with no questions asked until the last day. For three days more after you leave, the Bedouin will not chase you. They gave the example that if you came to a Bedouin’s tent and killed his son he would still wait the three days but then he would chase you and kill you.

The Bedouin host made fresh pita out of just flour and water on a dome of iron over a flame. He fed it to us and it was so delicious!

Pastor Ralph reminded us that Abraham was a Bedouin. He read the Scripture of when three visitors came to his tent and he welcomed them. He took 21 quarts of flour, which would feed 300 people. He was very generous in his giving to these guests. When you feed someone else in need you are feeding God. When we show generosity to others we show it to God.

He also told the story of Rebecca being chosen to marry Isaac because she offered to water the 10 camels of Abraham’s servant. We were told that watering 10 camels that had walked 500 miles would be over 250 gallons of water. It was a trial for Rebecca to overcome but she did and was made Isaac’s wife and given all of the gifts the servant brought. We were reminded that it was symbolic of the idea that we all have to face trials but when you succeed at a trial you receive blessings afterwards.

The blessing we received for our trials in the desert was a beautiful lunch under a large tent in the Bedouin facility.

It was good that we refreshed ourselves with lunch because after our meal it was back into the desert. The midday sun had the temperature well over 100 degrees and many of us were already hot and tired but it was important that we experienced the sensation of walking in the desert on the same land our ancestors walked. However Pastor Ralph reminded us that they did not wander aimlessly God brought them there to test and train them. To humble them and strengthen their faith at the same time. And Lord thank you for strengthening us because we needed it on the walk back to the bus! It is so crazy to think how drained we were after 40 MINUTES in the desert compared to 40 years.

After our trek through the desert we headed back to the hotel to experience the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea was very hot (are you sensing a theme here, lol?) The public beach was one block away from the hotel. We ventured into the 90 degree water and sat into a floating position. The very high salt content of the water causes you to float. It is a very cool experience but requires good core strength to get back to an upright position! And be sure not to get water in your eyes or, as Yehuda said, you will experience Hell.

Many of us went back to the hotel for an early dinner as it was a very full and tiring day. I expect we will all sleep well tonight!

It’s important to note that we are learning so much about Scripture, history, geography, and archaeology that I am not sharing on here because the blog would be 100 pages, lol! Pastor Ralph and Yehuda are such treasure troves of knowledge and they share insights as we drive and take breaks along the way along with the larger teachings and messages at each site. We are truly blessed to have them sharing their knowledge of this country and our faith with us.

Another benefit is having Melinda here as our logistics person. When I tell you that within a minute of getting to each hotel she has had our room keys in our hands. It is not easy traveling with a group of 45 people but it has been completely seamless. Such a blessing when traveling to a foreign country! We have not had to worry about anything and we are thankful for all our trip leaders and guides.

This trip keeps getting better and better and we are learning so much! Thank you for joining us in experiencing our journey with us!


Our amazing guide Yehuda told us we could “sleep in” due to not arriving at the hotel last night until after midnight. That meant a 6:30 wake up call instead of 6:00!

Breakfast was at 7. What an amazing selection of offerings! Shakshuka (eggs cooked in a tomatoe sauce) and Israeli salad (cucumbers and tomatoes in a delicious dressing) were some new dishes. All different hot and cold options that definitely fed us well for our day’s itinerary.

We were only at our hotel, the Neve Ilan, for one night so we loaded the suitcases back on the bus.

Before leaving we had a morning group meeting to go over logistics and pray the Shema together.

Pastor Ralph planted 3 promises in us: you will never read the Bible the same way again, you will walk where Jesus walked and you will never be the same. We can already feel that is true even only having been here a day!

Our first stop was Gezer. We hiked for about two hours, stopping for teachings about the importance of this area as a crossroads of the world. Pastor Ralph explained God put Israel at the crossroads to show there is one true God. He also places us at the crossroads in our community to live in service to Him. In fact, that is where our church got its name!

Gezer was an important place because it guarded the valley below it. It was a massively fortified and important city on the ancient trade route. Pastor Ralph taught that Gezer helps us to understand the strategy behind God placing His people here.

The Gezer national park had a lovely trail that led to shade trees with a cool breeze to cut the summer heat.

It was a hot, sweaty morning but we all supported each other and made it through as a team, including a brutal last hill up to the bus! And the hike was so worth it to stand where Solomon once stood!

The group wasn’t too eager to use the restroom in nature so our amazing driver Yigal brought us to a shopping mall to use the facilities. While there some of the group found an amazing gelato shop and stopped in for a snack before lunch.

Our next stop was Beth Shemesh where the Philistines returned the ark of the covenant. The amazing part was we literally parked on the side of the road and took a short walk and there were no markings to signify that we were standing where the ark of the covenant once was! So thankful to have a knowledgeable guide like Yehuda to show us areas we would likely miss the significance of on our own.

Pastor Ralph spoke about Samson, who was from the Soreq Valley area as well. He explained that the experiences of Samson in this valley teach us not to compromise with the culture. He also spoke of the damage that comes when we do what is right in our own eyes. Ralph taught us we have to be people who hear and obey God. Yehuda spoke of excavations where the other cultures had pig bones in their ruins but the Hebrew sites had no pig bones, reflecting their obedience. They left us with the lesson that you should live in a way that when they do an archaeological dig of your life they find no pig bones.

At the same stop we ventured down underground into a cistern. There are only 45 days of rain in Israel in a year and for water they hand man-made cistern caves made with a hole through limestone to a chalk layer. Many of our group took the treacherous path down into the cave and supported each other through the difficult terrain into an amazing cave that was such a cool and refreshing break from the heat outside. Yehuda taught us about how the cistern would hold 200,000 gallons of water!

The climb out of the cistern was just as tricky as the trip down and we were “rewarded” with the desert heat coming out of the coolness of the cistern. Thankfully it was only a short walk back to the air conditioned bus and our next stop was lunch, a bit later than planned around 1:45pm.

Lunch was amazing! We ate al fresco in a lovely park with olive and carob trees. Yehuda picked carob for some of us to try and they said it was like a sweet honey taste! For the actual meal we had a make your own pita station set up with lunch meats, hummus, vegetables and dips. There was another table with chips and drinks! Everyone agreed it was so much more enjoyable than sitting in a restaurant. And we were ready after eating to go to our next destination!

After a short drive we went to a cave with many rooms going deeper and deeper into the earth. It truly was amazing! The first room we saw had little holes in the wall and was used by families to keep pigeons. Pigeons were a source of food and required very little work to keep.

More treacherous steps but again totally worth it for the coolness of the cave, literally and figuratively! We went 75 feet down into the deepest part of the cave. Yehuda asked us what it was used for and after about 20 guesses none of us got it! Yehuda told us but I won’t give it away so you can guess on your own trip to Israel!

Our final stop of the day was Azekah, where we hiked a hill to an overlook of where David killed Goliath. As we sat in the shade under a pistachio tree, Steve demonstrated how a sling is used to throw stones, which was really cool! Yehuda spoke of the geography and about how recent excavations have proven that the Bible is true. Then Pastor Ralph preached about what stone God has given each of us to throw so that others may know there is a God in Heaven. To finish we each took time choosing our stone and we all had the opportunity to throw our stones into the valley as a symbol of living out our God-given calling.

We then ventured back to the bus for our two hour drive to our hotel at the Dead Sea. We were reminded that no matter how jet lagged and tired from the day we may be, not to give in the temptation to nap! Besides, there were so many things to see out the windows on the drive! We even saw a camel race! As we drove the views changed to a vast desert landscape that continues for 140 miles. Such a difference from the vineyards and trees we saw this morning.

We made it to the hotel at 6:30, just in time for dinner. Wow, what a buffet! The most gorgeous vegetables I’ve ever seen and meats and salads plus an amazing dessert bar. Everyone loved it and left happy. Even better was getting a nice hot shower!

No plans tonight except to catch up on some sleep because we have a date with the desert tomorrow! Just a hint, riding camels may be involved!

Thank you all for your prayers! We really feel honored to be a part of this trip and these amazing experiences and it means so much more to know you are following along with us on our trip. It’s been so amazing already. We could seriously come home now already feeling changed and closer to God but there are many more days to come of what I am sure will be amazing memories!

See you on Day 2 tomorrow!

Preparing for Israel

posted on Thursday July 20 2023 at 2:58 pm UTC

Our trip will be here before you know it! Once we're on the ground we'll post periodic updates and photos. Check back often or get update notifications using the subscribe options on this page. We'll be sharing our travel experiences online with you, our friends and family, to not only bring you along...

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