I had the privilege of joining a recent tour of Israel / Palestine with Oak Hall. It is an understandably popular Oak Hall destination. Each group is made up of between thirty and fifty people with a total of several hundred travelling here with Oak Hall each year.
Here are four highlights (A, B, C, and D) from the 12 days I spent in this often surprising and always thought-provoking part of the world.
As I have read the Bible, I have often been struck by how God’s people turned away from him time and time again, turning instead towards false gods. It was quite a shock, then, to stand in some ancient places of false worship and to hear how easily the people had been led astray.
Looking at the altar that Ahab built to Baal (pictured above) and hearing about the temptation he faced to dilute his worship of the one true God with false deities posed a challenge to me: where do I find myself committing the same sin as Ahab in my own way? In many of the places we visited, there was evidence of idol-worship alongside the rightful worship of God, and each of those places provoked some soul-searching in me.
For such a small area of land (about the same size as Wales) Israel / Palestine is remarkably varied in its topography and climate. Mountainous areas and valleys, deserts and fertile plains, all exist side-by-side in this picturesque landscape. Cameras were pointed at the windows during most of our journeys on the coach! We swam in hot springs, soaked up scorching rays in the wilderness, and enjoyed the sights and sounds of a waterfall oasis. Every day had a new surprise with an unexpected, sensational view.
One of the main reasons people go to Israel / Palestine is to walk in the places Jesus walked. Jesus was a fact of history, and many of the places we visited would have been familiar to him. He really was born in Bethlehem; he really did meet some fishermen on the Sea of Galilee; he really was crucified on a cross outside the city gates in Jerusalem; he really did leave an empty tomb behind when he rose from the dead. Walking some of those roads and seeing some of those sights felt like added colour to the black-and-white facts of history.
But, of course, Christian history in the Middle East isn’t a fairytale story. From the crusaders (whose lesser crimes included graffiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, pictured above) to the Christian denominations that continue to dispute control of the most significant churches, I found it hard not to feel a sense of contrition and humility as I visited these ‘holy sites.’ A lot has been done, and is being done, in this land in the name of Jesus that I’m not sure he would recognise.
The significance of the events these holy sites mark reaches far beyond a stop on the tourist trail, however devout the pilgrim may be. And so I found myself thanking God that the gospel is as true in London as it is in Jerusalem; that Jesus is as close to his people in the UK as in the Holy Land.
A final highlight was experiencing all this with a lovely group of Christian believers. Most of us were strangers as we gathered at Heathrow for our departure, but by the end of the trip had grown in fellowship as a little travelling community. We shared our stories with one another, prayed together, and encouraged one another in our own walks with the Lord.
I was sharing some thoughts from the Bible each evening, and I was struck by how enthusiastically the group listened and sought to apply what the Lord was teaching us from his word. If it is a privilege to see the historic sights of Israel and Palestine, it is even more so to do it with a diverse group of Christians who are united by their love of the Lord Jesus and in pursuit of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.
Written by: Ali Gledhill
Find out more about our study tours to Israel and Palestine here.