Twenty-one Bible Lands Explorers from the United States and Mexico hit trail this summer in Israel-Palestine. In eleven days they managed to cover the ground from Dan to Beer-sheba. More importantly, these pilgrims came from from very different locations and stations of life. They gathered as strangers, but parted as family.
The fellowship had three points of origin. Tommy Baker, Executive Pastor at First Church, led a contingent from Burlington, Kentucky. Kevin Humphrey added members from Owensboro Christian Church in Owenboro, Kentucky. Finally, Octavio Ruiz, Professor of Bible, facilitated colleagues and friends from Colegio Biblico (Piedras Negras). The mash of language heard everyday--English, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew--added an international twist to the party.
Add to this the fact that nearly seventy years separated the oldest in the group from the youngest.
Several highlights of travel may be noted. On the Sea of Galilee, a wooden boat transported the group from Capernaum to Ginosar. A contemporary Mary from Migdal offered a welcome to the excavations at the hometown of Mary Magdalene. While everyone stood at the Pool of Siloam where a blind man was healed by Jesus, only the very bravest of explorers used flashlights to wade through Hezekiah's Tunnel. Worship and singing in several churches not only encouraged our own group, but elicited the contribution of others who recognized our tunes and added their diverse voices to the chorus.
A real memory-maker for this group (and a first for me!) was an overnight at Kfar Hanokdim ("Village of the Shepherds") in the Wilderness of Judea. Here, explorers slept on mattresses on the ground in an open-air tent (complete with campfire), heard the life story of a Bedouin woman, and rode camels into the desert.
If there was a singular challenge for the trip it was the heat. As it turned out, new records for high temps were established during our visit. The thermometer rocketed to 113 degrees fahrenheit in the Jordan Valley. Precautionary measures were taken and some adjustments to the itinerary were made. But the troops were resilient. Despite this challenge, they managed Jericho, Qumran, and Masada under a blazing sun. They also developed a new appreciation for life in biblical times (the pre-air-conditioned age!).
Tommy Baker directed evening debriefing meetings. These opportunities gave every participant the opportunity to process and communicate their own life-experiences.
In the end, despite language issues, cultural differences, and the physical challenges of summer temperatures, the group discovered that they had much in common. Traveling with people of faith in the land of the Bible is a life-changing experience.