There are three levels at which we can experience the Holy Land. One is as a tourist. Second is as a student. Third is as a pilgrim.
The tourist wants to experience new places, food, culture, weather and see new things and get his or her money’s worth throughout the tour. The person does not want to be taken for a “ride”. The person wants everything on the itinerary to be delivered as stated on the brochure. He or she will usually take a lot of photos and will complain or extol the tour depending on what he or she has experienced. He or she will look for opportunities to shop and buy souvenirs at every window of time. The tourist is satisfied when the tour delivers as promised and he or she has experienced many pleasant new sights, food, and places.
The student wants as much information about the places and historical events and biblical background as possible. Thus before the trip the person would have read a book, or watched many YouTube clips on the holy land, or googled some of the places mentioned in the itinerary. The person would stick close to the Israeli guide and ask questions to learn more. On returning he usually continues his or her research on the Bible and internet. The student is satisfied when he or she has learned a lot of new things.
The pilgrim looks forward to the trip as if it was a journey of faith. He or she longs to call to remembrance some of the Bible events and characters associated with various places and respond to them by listening to what the living God of today wants to say to them about their life situation. So during the boat ride at the lake of Galilee he or she is not just snapping shots of the feeding of seagulls, but is also meditating about Jesus sleeping in the boat, or walking on water, or feeling the panic of the disciples as water entered the boat. The pilgrim re-experiences what happened to the disciples. He or she interacts with the resurrected Lord who is in the boat there and then. At the Garden of Gethsemane, the pilgrim brings an issue he or she is struggling with, and prays, Lord not my will, but Yours be done, and wait in silence to experience the response of God to their prayer. Even in meals and conversation with others, or through the meditative talks, or holy communion, or baptism, and renewal of marriage vows the pilgrim is aware of the Lord’s action in his or her heart.The pilgrim is satisfied when he or she has experienced God through the places, and the evocation of past events and characters. It is a now encounter with the God of Israel facilitated through the holy land tour.
We have elements of all three whenever we go to the holy land but it is hoped that more and more it would be the pilgrimage that is more dominant and it is the task of the pastor leading the tour to facilitate this.
This was the first time I led a tour of 47 folks to the holy land to follow the footsteps of Jesus. The first time I went on a familiarization tour with Omega Tours my eyes were a quarter opened. My eyes were opened wider this second visit to Israel, and I heard more and learned more. However, as a pastor/leader, I now feel on hindsight that there were a few places where I could have done more to facilitate this encounter/interaction with God. The next time it will definitely be better.
On Monday I am off to the Love Singapore Pastors Prayer Summit in Malacca. When I return I hope to continue blogging about this incredible trip where we experienced the God of Israel at work in our trip, which was beset by a freak cold storm.