Many Bible-believing Christians (and traditional ones, too) long to make the trip of a lifetime - the journey to the holy land. Though there is no specific New Testament command for Christians to make the trip, the fact is that they are doing so in record numbers. No matter what country they come from, what denomination they belong, or what kind of background they have, the reasons for the trip are amazingly universal:
1. Devotion: They want to walk where Jesus walked;
2. Education: They want to learn more about Christ and the Bible.
Ultimately, the journey is more than a mere sightseeing tour - it is a pilgrimage. What is the difference? Tourism seeks recreation for diversion and pleasure. Seldom would the tourist seek to go to a ‘war zone’ to have a holiday. The pilgrim, however, has a very different paradigm, even though they may look and act just like a tourist. The difference is not so much in what the pilgrim does or wears; it is the fact that they have faith in their hearts.
Pilgrims go on a long journey in faith to connect with the source of their faith. Pilgrimage is the long ‘faith-journey’ and the pilgrim is the person of faith making that journey. You don’t have to be particularly religious - just step out in faith and start traveling.
Tourism, even that which includes pilgrims to the holy land, is a nervous business. If there is an economic downturn or tension/conflict in the region, tours cancel and numbers of visitors decrease. Amazingly, with the start of the ‘Arab Spring’ at the end of 2010, one would have expected tourist numbers to the holy land to plummet. They didn’t; instead, there appeared to be record-numbers of visitors throughout the seasons.
However, Israel’s recent war in the summer of 2014 with Hamas, called ‘Operation Protective Edge,’ did have a detrimental effect on tourist/pilgrim numbers. One veteran Israeli tour guide lamented ‘We feel so alone ... if you were thinking of coming to Israel for a visit, please do.’
There are other areas of trouble: The rise of the Islamic State, the civil war in Syria, sporadic jihadism in neighboring Sinai, chaos in Yemen, and more trouble in Eastern Libya. The result? The long delayed downturn in tourism has finally come.
One thing we have learned about Israel, no matter what is happening in the country, the region, or the world, life goes on. This remarkable resilience is worth emulating. To accent this point, a letter from the Israel Ministry of Tourism came out during the height of the 50 Day Gaza War in the summer of 2014. Here is an excerpt:
Headlines about Operation Protective Edge can be alarming, but the reality is that:
Currently there are more than 100,000 overseas tourists in Israel.
Flights by some 90 airlines in and out of Israel are operating as normal.
Tourism sites, museums, holy places and attractions are open and operating....
The Ministry of Tourism is in close contact with the security forces, with the local and foreign tourism industry and is following all developments.
Welcome to Israel.
When asked the question, ‘Is it safe to travel to the holy land? the answer is simple: it is safe enough.
After the Martin Place siege in far away Sydney, Australia, in a city and nation that normally is far from the world’s hot spots, can any place on this troubled planet be ‘absolutely safe?’ The answer is ‘absolutely not.’ People of faith have learned that the safest place to be is in the will of God.
Safe enough? As a leader of 25 holy land tours so far, I have learned that the best source of security information are the locals. Just as health experts urge us to buy ‘local produce,’ it is also wise to get ‘local information’ about safety. DFAT, the US State Department, the UK Foreign Office, all these are well-resourced but cannot replace or beat the information you can get from local sources, both governmental, tour operators, and even local bus drivers. They have their fingers on the pulse. Also remember that the locals, Jewish and Arab, have a vital and vested interest in the tourist industry and bend over backward to protect their foreign guests. Until now, there has not been any problems in Israel with pilgrims in a group tour being attacked or harmed. Considering all the challenges, that is a great accomplishment.
Safe enough? If you want to visit the holy land and to do so in faith, then you have the greatest insurance policy - the Word of God. Psalm 91:2 speaks of God being a refuge and fortress. Take Him at His word.
If you want to make the journey of faith and a life-time, why not consider 2015 - sooner than later - and let your dreams come true. We are offering tours of Turkey and Israel, with proposed extensions to Greece and Egypt. For further information, contact Leanne (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Road Ahead is a blog from the ministry of Teach All Nations that offers insights on world trends, current events, and victorious living from a Biblical worldview. If you want to receive regular updates on these topics, register your email at: http://tan.org.au/contact_us/index.asp