Not Your Average Vacation!

The Beacon - March/April 2012

By Dianne Bennett • From our March/April 2012 newsletter

After a long flight to Tel Aviv, Israel, our group of 40 people from Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, and New York gathered up our luggage, prayed for a safe journey, and quickly filed onto a bus. We were headed out for a full day of Bible study and experiences in northern Israel. We learned from Marlin Vis, our leader, that “we were on a pilgrimage of the Holy Land – we were NOT tourists.” This meant keeping up with the leader and not wandering off to take pictures until we had completed our study so we knew what we were taking pictures of. We found out that Marlin is a wealth of information, and he shares it at a rapid fire pace (just like he walks…more about that later).

Marlin and Sally Vis are employed by the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and have lived in Israel. After hearing them speak to our church last year, I signed up for their two-week “Light for the World Study Tour” in Israel. I went last November, and I recommend this time of the year as it was 70 degrees and sunny every day. I could not find anyone to accompany me, so I went on this trip not knowing anyone. I found out quickly that it did not matter – the group consisted of loving Christians who instantly bonded as a family of believers.

The tour brochure says:

  • Join Marlin and Sally Vis on a journey to the Holy Land
  • Visit the places where Jesus lived
  • Meet the people
  • Get to know the Christian community of today
  • Better understand the current political reality

These are all true, but this pilgrimage is so much more. As we visited the numerous Biblical and archeological sites, we studied the Bible stories where they happened. The stories I always believed were true came alive in living color. Marlin is a great communicator with such passion for Jesus and the stories of the Bible. I was not really prepared for the emotional experiences on this trip. As we walked on the paths that Jesus and his disciples traveled, prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and sang hymns in the dungeon that Jesus was held in the night before His crucifixion, the whole tour group was overwhelmed with emotion. We marveled at Jesus’s life and his deep love for us. If you ever go on this trip, pack a large box of Kleenex – we all wept many times on this pilgrimage, and the hotels do not provide it.

We were warned to get in shape, and for good reason. This was a fast paced tour with a busy schedule and lots of walking and hiking at Marlin’s rapid pace. Some of the highlights of the tour included:

  • Walking on the Temple Mount
  • A visit to Bethlehem – the Church of the Nativity and Herod the Great’s fortress Herodion
  • Walking through the Kidron Valley – Jesus’s Thursday night walk to trial and prison
  • Climbing Mt. Arbel
  • Sitting in the synagogue of Gamla, one the oldest in the country
  • Many walks through the Old City of Jerusalem
  • Praying at the Western Wall
  • Hiking Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls), Masada, Ein Gei, Wadi Qilt (Old Jericho Road), and floating in the Dead Sea
  • Singing in Saint Anne’s Church, worshiping along the Via Dolorosa, and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
  • Standing in the Elah Valley where David slew Goliath
  • Reflecting on the Holocaust with a visit to Yad Vashem

On our journey we met many people. We walked the streets of a refugee camp and heard the story of Atallah, a Palestinian refugee. We visited a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, where we met Revkah and heard the story of her son’s death. We met Cedar, a Palestinian Christian with an amazing testimony, and Rami, a seventh-generation Jerusalem man whose 14-year-old daughter, Smadar, was killed by two suicide bombers. We interacted with shopkeepers and waiters and bus drivers who told us what living in this conflicted place is all about.

As one of my fellow pilgrims said on the morning of day nine, “Wow, this is not a vacation. I am so tired!” He was definitely correct. But the experience is wonderful and moving. I highly recommend this tour to all Christians. Please check out the website and learn more about this wonderful experience: Let me know if you plan to go, as I may want to experience this one again!

Visit Marlin and Sally’s RCA webpage

Click to browse Dianne’s photos:

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