As I woke up this morning, I had a mixed sense of emotions as we were about to embark on the exploration of our last and final day of the study tour. We have been given so much knowledge, I am excited to hear the conclusion of the story but sad that it means our journey in Israel will come to a halt.
Talking to people at breakfast, it was difficult for them to pinpoint one single moment of the trip so far that sticks in their minds and is the most memorable; it's more the overall experience, friendships developed, and what people are taking away with them from the journey as a whole to bring back home.
Getting on the bus, the excitement and anticipation starts to build as the story that our guide has been putting together this entire trip, is about the unfold and all come together.
Our day begins with a stop at Mt of Olives. Sitting there looking at this incredible view: the Temple Mount, the walls of Jerusalem, the Southern Steps that Jesus taught from, Mt Zion, City of David, Kidron Valley, Bethlehem, all in our immediate view! Then we began to worship, praising our God in that moment. So incredible! It's easy to envision why Jesus would want to come to this place after the busyness of his days with so many people gathered around him in the city. This place has solitude for revival, calmness, rest and retreat.
Mount of Olives
Separated from the Eastern Hill (the Temple Mount and the City of David) by the Kidron Valley, the Mt. of Olives has always been an important feature in Jerusalem’s landscape. From the 3rd millennium B.C. until the present, this 2900-foot hill has served as one of the main burial grounds for the city. The two-mile long ridge has three summits each of which has a tower built on it.
A short walk later, we arrived in Gethsemane where Jesus spent his final evening before the crucifixion. As we were siting there individually reflecting, thinking, praying, I thank God for this moment. We prayed in same location that Jesus did, looking up to his Father and essentially down from that mountain onto the place and at a people that would ultimately torture and condemn him only hours later. We took communion together, forming a covenant and praised our King through worship.
Gethsemane (Greek: Γεθσημανή, Gethsemane; Hebrew: גת שמנים, Gat Shmanim; Gaḏ Šmānê, lit. "oil press") is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, most famous as the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before Jesus' crucifixion.
In Bethesda at St Anne's church, Connor had a great teaching from John 9 and 5. Then we shared a beautiful moment of praising our God, singing Amazing Grace. The acoustics there were incredible as we really lifted our voices to worship our heavenly Father!
Walking through the streets of Jerusalem, led us to the Roman Fortress of Antonia where Jesus was sentenced to die by crucifixion. We stood in the courtyard where he was beaten then began our walk along Via Dolorosa, just as Jesus had, on the way to Sepulchre. Along the way, I reflected on what he must have felt carrying that huge, heavy beam through the crowded streets, uphill, to die for some of the very people that were condemning and torturing him along this path. How sad and heavy his heart must have felt. They were the people that he had been teaching and performing miracles for only the day before.
As we arrived at Sepulchre, this was conclusion of this study tour and the finality of what led up to this moment from thousands of years before to Jesus' death here. Hundreds of people from all different religions and nationalities gathered in this location partly because they recognize the significance of this moment in history. People lay hands, objects, body parts on a stone representing the stone Jesus laid on as his body was prepared for burial, feeling the power or hope of being closer to God. People waited for hours to see the possible tomb used for Christ's burial. The significance of this location and what happened here so long ago resonated as I observed what these people would endure for a glimpse or touch of being so close to Jesus. For some, this location was the closest they would ever be to Jesus while they were here on earth.
As we had our farewell dinner, I was touched by the stories from members of our group. Their most significant memories weren't based on the places they had been but the relationships that developed amongst each other. We saw each other helping one another, encouraging, being someone else's strength when they were weak. I love how Connor honored Jim for helping others even at times when his own strength was depleted. I loved Alisha’s story of wanting so much to be closer to God that she was willing to eat dirt from where he possibly stood, chew on leaves from locations he had been at, having such a beautiful desire to have Christ living in her.
As we conclude our Israel Study Tour, I hope that each of us can bring back to our church, our families, our friends, our neighbors, our enemies, a better understanding of how we can be disciples for Christ. I feel like we have been empowered to take what we have been taught and apply it to the lives that we come in contact with. I have a sense of responsibility to use this knowledge to bring people closer to Christ. I am excited for the friendships that have developed, the encouragement, strength and wisdom I have gained from getting to know each of you amazing people. We took a covenant together, we are bonded together by this trip. We heard and learned God's story, now lets go out and create our story for Christ.
Written by Sarah Miller