I’m not sure when I decided to share this trip with others.
I’ve traveled a lot, but I’ve never felt it necessary to schedule a room and invite the public.
Somewhere along the way, I realized this was different. The experiences were too poignant, too profound, too life-changing, to keep to ourselves.
Maybe it was when we stood at the summit of Mount Arbel, with cliffs falling below us and the Sea of Galilee spread out beyond, listening to the soft chords of a lone guitarist sending a familiar hymn into the wind.
Maybe it was the next day, standing on the Galilee shore, on the rock where Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.”
Or maybe on another summit, after climbing Mount Sinai, reaching to the sky as Moses must have.
My wife and I planned our own three-week trip through the Holy Land, mostly in Israel but also including stops in Jordan and Egypt. We took mostly local transportation – buses, taxis and lots of walking, and mostly stayed in guesthouses and hostels. That got us away from the tour groups and into the homes of real Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims.
It meant a few scary moments, but many more heartwarming contacts with people who welcomed us into their homes and their communities.
Our trip was built around the Jesus Trail, a relatively new experience in the Galilee region of Israel, where Jesus spent most of his life.
We walked 40 miles in four days, following something like the route Jesus must have taken when he set out from Nazareth to Capernaum to begin his teaching.
The trail wove through meadows and forests, orchards and farm fields, villages and small cities. At one point, it followed the high fence and barbed wire of a military base.
The first night was in Cana, where the first miracle was described. We spent another night at an Orthodox Jewish kibbutz – a glimpse into another culture. One night was at the base of Mount Arbel, which some scholars think is the wilderness where Jesus spent 40 days praying.
The next day we climbed down the Cliffs of Arbel, with our backs to the spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee, as we held on to iron handholds driven into the side of the cliff.
The trail passed over the Mount of the Beatitudes, past the beach where Jesus fed the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and fish, and next to the village where Mary Magdalene lived.
At one point, it followed an ancient Roman road, with the stones still in place. Archaeologists think it was the main road east from Nazareth to Tiberius in Jesus’ time. That would make it the single place where we most likely actually walked in Jesus’ footsteps.
Of course, we also hit the obvious sites – the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, which marks the spot where Jesus was crucified and resurrected; the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Christ was born; and the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary.
We also made it to some of the important Jewish and Muslim sites, like the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock. And we ventured into the desert for spectacular visits to ancient Petra in Jordan and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt.
I describe our trip as one-third pilgrimage, one-third adventure travel, and one-third typical American tourism.
I hope anyone interested in any of those three kinds of experiences will consider joining us on campus for a video and a conversation at either 12:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. Nov. 15, both sessions in Room A173a.
My wife, Kathy, and I are anxious to share our own life-changing moments with you.