I woke up last Monday to an email from a friend that said, “Come to Jerusalem today. Your trip will be paid for!” It was from a close girlfriend I’ve known for over 30 years. Amazing even myself, I was packed and on a plane within hours of the email. Then it hit me. I’m heading to Israel for the first time.
I’ve always wanted to go, but schedule, kids or something else kept me from going. This time I was unencumbered and ready with a free spirit to embrace new things.
Within a couple of hours of my arrival, the airport and the streets were shut down for the start of Yom Kippur. We stayed at the King David hotel. Quickly I found the people I would be hanging with for the next week. We were there to pray and worship. The whole week would be magical with praise and prayer, meeting new people and exploring all the old city of Jerusalem had to offer. That night I walked down to the Wailing Wall, and with Yom Kippur, the activity was a special site to behold.
My girlfriend, Barbara, and I wanted to see the major sites tourists who love Jesus want to see. Our guide, Jacob, was Arab. He became our friend and part of our praise and worship. He volunteered to take us around the city. His family goes back 700 years in Jerusalem. How special it was to feel taken care of and protected by this wonderful young man. Vendors would leave us alone even though we were obviously tourists because we were with Jacob. Never in a million years did I think would get to see these amazing sites with an Arab who loved Jesus.
We started by walking part of the old wall from the Jaffa gate around the Damascus gate. We found the Garden Tomb where they put Jesus’ dead body. It was powerful and special. I’m still absorbing the experience. It was more peaceful there than any other location I would visit.
Next we took an Arab bus to the Mount of Olives; took a camel ride, then walked down the steep path into the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus wept the night before his crucifixion.
We found the Via Delarosa, the path Jesus walked on his way to his crucifixion. I was amazed at how commercial it was with Muslim prayers being blasted over loudspeakers. It took away some of the specialness.
I went underground to the newly excavated City of David Museum, then had dinner with the archeologist, Eli Shukron, who discovered some of the city. I was brave and went through Hezekiah’s Tunnel which was a trip in itself. We were totally under ground. It was dark, with water up to our knees, or higher, with areas where I had to duck in order to get through. We brought a 10-string harp and sang the whole journey! Magical!
I will never forget the amazing people I met and talked with on this trip. I now have seven to 10 people I would call friends who live there, and I plan on visiting again very soon.