In 2005, I travelled to Israel for a Holy Land Tour with Perry Stone Ministries. Okay, don’t tune me out yet until you read everything because this won’t be a touchy-feely religious article. It certainly won’t be a glowing endorsement for you to take one of these trips either.
As you know, I grew up in church. My dad was a preacher. I attended Sunday School, Bible Studies and have heard countless hours of sermons. When the opportunity came up to be able to go to Israel and visit the “Land of the Bible” I was naturally excited about it. I was looking forward to the Bible coming alive.
I had high expectations for this trip to the land of the Bible stories I had been taught and read all of my life. It was quite an experience to actually visit places that was in the Bible but the “spiritual experience” I expected to have there never happened. The trip was advertised as being a 14-day tour of the Holy Land but two of those 14 days was actually the travel to and from Israel. There were also a lot of places advertised in the brochure that we did not get to visit for some reason. There were never any explanations why these places were skipped.
If you think travelling with 500 other Christians is “heavenly” – think again. I won’t say everyone was difficult because there were some really genuine good people but the majority was either super spiritual or very moody. If you were to ask people about their experience with me I’m sure I would have been in that moody group because the tour was a colossal disappointment for me. Yes, I’m sure my church friends will probably let out a collective gasp right about now. Sorry, but I won’t sugar coat this one. The expectations did not meet the reality.
The main issue I had with the trip was that it was a tour with Perry Stone Ministries and their tour partner crammed in way too many people. It was supposed to be 300 but they squeezed in 200 more than they had planned. They put groups of 50 people into 10 buses for the tour. Everywhere we went we were rushed through the sites. It got so bad that at one stop where they were showing us something etched into the wall where Jesus was held before his crucifixion, the guide yelled at me – yes, YELLED at me to keep moving. I had enough and refused. I told him that we paid a lot of money for the tour and I was not going to be rushed through something like this. Seriously, you save money to go on this trip where you may never go again and you have a guide yelling at you to hurry? Yeah, you aren’t going to get a Christian reaction from me.
Also, at several stops we had to gather around Perry Stone as he had a TV taping for his show. It took away valuable time for us to be herded around him to listen to his preaching. The best times were when we could breakaway with our own guide for our bus.
Let me say that as for Perry Stone, he was very down-to-earth and didn’t have an ego like you would think some other TV preachers have. He actually spoke to you when you approached him.
In spite of some of the issues I had with the tour, one of my favorite moments was when we were on a boat on Lake Tiberias (a.k.a. the “Sea of Galilee”). While many others were in the middle of the boat for another TV taping, I sat on the front of the boat with my own moment of meditation. It was pretty awesome to know that Jesus had walked on the water. It was one of the rare times I had to myself to enjoy something on the tour.
Here are some of the things about the trip to Israel that wasn’t what I had expected:
- The Jordan River – It isn’t exactly a river in most places. In my mind i had always pictured it as a huge river but in reality it wasn’t. There was an explanation that it had gotten smaller over the centuries since the Bible days due to various reasons.
- The Valley of Elah – This is the place where David killed Goliath. I had always envisioned it with huge mountains on each side and a huge valley. It wasn’t. There were barely hills on each side of the valley along with a busy highway running through it.
- The Garden Tomb – While the location of the crucifixion was still there, just below it at the base of the hill is a busy bus terminal.
- Caesarea – This was a location of Paul’s ministry next to the Mediterranean Sea and it would have been awesome to see it but when we arrived it was night and they drove us directly to this site from the airport in the dark. It was a lame attempt to fit it in like this. I heard the Mediterranean Sea but never saw it.
- Baptism in the Jordan River – This was an assembly line for baptisms.
- Where did Jesus really walk? – This is a question asked frequently on the tour. In fact the place they say where Jesus ascended into heaven is actually three locations depending on your religious affiliation.
Would I ever go back? Probably with the situation and the right tour group. I would never discourage anyone from going but I would caution you to temper your expectations. Here are some things I would do differently on a future trip to the Holy Land:
- Go with a small tour group. In 2005, I was in a group of 500. Although we were grouped by 50 people per bus, it was still quite chaotic. I would go with a group of no more than 50 people.
- Don’t go with a TV minister. They want to do their tapings for their TV shows which really take away from your touring time.
- Try to stay at one location during the tour. Jerusalem is a good central location for most tours.
- Take good walking shoes. You will do a lot of walking.
- Get a direct flight to Israel if possible. Your body will thank you for it.
- Go with the right group for you. Some are geared toward Catholics, Pentecostals, etc.
- Manage your expectations. This is a tourist location and more modern than you will expect.
Although it wasn’t the spiritual high I had expected, it was a unique experience. I really don’t need to go back and I honestly probably didn’t need to go in the first place. It was never about going to a place to experience God. I should have known that.
I will also tell you that no one cares about your trip when you get back. They won’t be in awe that you went to the Holy Land and they will be bored with your pictures from the trip. Friends and family weren’t the least bit interested and I guess I can understand it since I really lacked the enthusiasm due to my personal experience.
If you want to visit the Holy Land, I certainly don’t want to discourage you from going but just go with realistic expectations. You don’t NEED to visit there to experience God.