On a chilly morning beside the Jordan River, IBSA’s Pat Pajak encouraged the Illinois pastors and spouses touring Israel with him to “follow the dust of your Rabbi.” The ancient phrase described the privilege accounted students who walked closely behind their Jewish teachers. How much more so is it a privilege for those who follow Jesus, Pajak said. Stay close to him. Moments later, many of them were baptized in the Jordan in the place where it is believed John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
On this inspiring journey, Lindsay McDonald of Casey served as lead photographer for the Illinois Baptist. “Israel was not one of the places I had dreamed of going. It was my husband’s dream, since he was a boy hearing his grandparents talk about travelling there. Once we arrived though, the Lord opened my eyes to the beauty of the land and the historical and spiritual significance of the sites we visited daily.”
On these pages, at the time when we contemplate the events leading to Calvary, McDonald and more of the pilgrims share their photos and thoughts about walking in Jesus’ steps.
First Baptist Church, Casey
Our time in Israel reminded me of the reality of lostness around the world. We were among Jews who spent time earnestly praying for the Messiah to come, not understanding that their deliverer has already come. We saw the effects of Muslims who have actively tried to keep the Messiah out of Jerusalem, not understanding that their efforts are in vain. The reality of lostness has always been real, but this trip was a great reminder of the scope of lostness around the world.
Seeing the places where Jesus walked and ministered caused the roots of my faith to sink even more deeply into my heart.
First Baptist Church, Bethalto
Visiting places so rich in history like Megiddo, Beth She’an, Qumran, and Masada challenged me to draw relevance to the present and to contemplate the future. Yet what proved most meaningful to me was praying at the Wailing Wall. Yes, my God is everywhere, and I strive to pray without ceasing, but I was overcome with bittersweet sentiment as I stood at the base of the ancient stones. Through tearful intercession I pleaded for myself, my family, my church, and my nation. Then using Psalm 122 and Romans 11 as a guide, I prayed for the peace of Jerusalem while wrestling through the mysteries of salvation.
In that holy place between lament and hope, I experienced a palpable impression of the “spirit of stupor” that hangs over those who are still waiting for the Messiah. That taste of the “kindness and severity of God” has not left me since.
Salem First Baptist Church
On Sunday night we went to the Western Wall after supper. It was dark and the Wailing Wall was a busy place. Placing my prayer requests in a small crevice in one of the stones in the wall and praying over it—well, my emotions came to the surface. This is a site that I have seen pictures of most of my life. Now, my hand was touching it.
After returning to our group, I stood staring at that wall, soaking in the sight and thinking that all these people—many of whom are awaiting the Messiah—don’t understand that he’s come.
Maybe I understand a little better Jesus’ words: “As he approached and saw the city, he wept for it, saying, ‘If you knew this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes’” (Luke 19:41-42, CSB).
Immanuel Baptist Church, Benton
Imagining the life that Jesus lived in Galilee and all he did in his ministry there was a very touching experience. Having the joy of riding in a fishing boat across the Sea of Galilee, standing where Jesus asked Peter “who do people say that I am?”, walking the Palm Sunday road on a Sunday, and seeing the empty tomb was almost too much for my senses to endure and my mind to comprehend.
University Baptist Church, Macomb
The history, the truth of God’s design has been unearthed and still continues to be unearthed, literally, and it allows us to see and touch places that God told us about in his Word thousands of years ago. Now that we’re back home, there has not been a song, sermon, or Bible study with our college students where a Scripture is referenced that I am not reminded of our time in Israel. From the steps at the South Gate, to the garden tomb, from the Sea of Galilee to Masada, and everything in between, it all supports God’s Word.
Tabernacle Baptist Church, Decatur
When we visited Mt. Carmel on our first day of touring Israel, we stood on top of the mountain looking toward cities and landmarks in the distance. Our guide pointed toward the valley and told us it was the Valley of Armageddon (photo above). I was awestruck! I could’ve looked at that valley for hours. I told my wife, “We are standing on a mountain where history has been made, and looking at a valley where history WILL be made! And we already know that God is going to win!”
Experiencing the Via Dolorosa and the stations of the cross was moving. Realizing what Jesus had gone through from his betrayal, captivity at Ananias’ house, his trial, the walk down the “way of the cross” (photo above) to Calvary outside the city wall where he was crucified, and to the garden tomb only about 100 yards away was a deeply transformational experience.
IBSA and Metro Peoria Baptist Association
I thought “the gates of hell” was a metaphor. But it’s a real place, located in northern Israel in the area of Cesarea Philippi (photo at right). In ancient times it was a place of pagan worship primarily for Pan, a greek god of wild creatures. But, more important, it was here in response to Peter’s confession that Jesus said, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). In the midst of a place of evil, idolatry, and darkness, Jesus said he would build his church. Today, the church still serves in the midst of darkness, lostness, and brokenness. The light and hope for our world remains the gospel, and we bear witness to the hope that is only found in Jesus.