JCBS

Baker's Dozen

Actually it was more like a dozen and a half.

As I write this note, Tommy Baker and his coterie from First Church of Christ in Burlington, Kentucky, are winging their way home. They looked tired but happy as they left the motor coach and headed into the departures terminal of the Tel Aviv airport. Their 2019 pilgrimage in the Holy Land was nearly complete.

Janet wings it on a camel in Jericho.

Janet wings it on a camel in Jericho.

Our 10-day experience with First Church took us to many of the best-known biblical sites in Israel-Palestine, including Caesarea-by-the-Sea, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. At these sites and many more we contemplated the biblical story, archaeological findings, and the contemporary situation. As Denny, one member of the group, put it, “It has been a true trip of a lifetime!”

Rick Lowry, Spiritual Growth Pastor at First Church, contemplates the Sermon on the Mount on “the Mount”!

Rick Lowry, Spiritual Growth Pastor at First Church, contemplates the Sermon on the Mount on “the Mount”!

This kind of success grows out of a team effort. On one end was the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (JCBS), the organization that coordinated all our in-country logistics. On the other end was Robert Makhlouf, driver extraordinaire, Arab Christian, and old friend. Between these ends was Tommy Baker and Rick Lowry, pastors at First Church.

Robert wheeled our big Volvo like like a boss and always wore a smile. Since the last time we worked together he has become a father. His little girl is four months old.

Robert wheeled our big Volvo like like a boss and always wore a smile. Since the last time we worked together he has become a father. His little girl is four months old.

Some challenges came as a result of the heat. Undoubtedly, summer travel in Israel-Palestine brings on serious shvitzing (Yiddish for “sweating”). We shvitzed a bit (to say the least!) in the afternoon sun in Tiberias, Jericho, and Qumran. On the positive side, rain was not a problem! We drank plenty of water, took our time, and onboarded a little extra vitamin D.

Group photo from the summit of Mt Arbel. The Sea of Galilee shimmers in the distance.

Group photo from the summit of Mt Arbel. The Sea of Galilee shimmers in the distance.

One new experience for me was an overnight in Jericho. We slept in the hotel Oaisis, just inside the Palestinian border. This location made it possible to do a late afternoon swim in the Dead Sea and a cool morning walkabout over the remains of ancient Jericho (Tell es-Sultan). Watching the sun slip behind the crusty hills of the Judean Wilderness was special, as was the early morning call to prayer from the minaret near the hotel (!).

Swimming—or bobbing—in the Dead Sea. Photo by Tommy Baker.

Swimming—or bobbing—in the Dead Sea. Photo by Tommy Baker.

First Church has sent multiple teams of Bible Land Explorers to us over the course of a decade. Plans are already in the book for yet another return: May 16-29, 2021. If you are interested in being a part of that experience, it is not too early to contact Executive Pastor Tommy Baker at tbaker@firstchurch.me.

In the meantime we will continue the quest to discover the place where faith begins.


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Our groups cover a lot of ground in order to make the most of our limited time. Travelers should be able to climb stairs unassisted and walk over uneven surfaces. Good shoes are a must!

If you are interested in experiencing the land of the Bible through through the lens of history and faith, consider joining one of our future trips. Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.

Jesus Trail, Jan 3-10, 2017

Thousands of sightseers view the land of the bible through the window of a tour bus. A few seek a deeper experience. If you are among the latter group (or know someone who is), I invite you to try Galilee on foot. There is no better way to slow down and appreciate the natural beauty of the Heartland. For those who are veterans of a standard study- or pilgrimage-tour, this may be the perfect way to build upon that previous experience.