It took fifteen years and a little peer pressure from her new friends in Midland, but my wife Carrie-Anne finally went with me to Israel and it was a blessing that defies description. Our youngest daughter, Carley, accompanied us along with 23 beautiful Christian friends from Midland, Amarillo, Henrietta, Fort Worth, California, and Hawai’i. What a thrill, personally, to share my love of the Holy Lands with Carrie-Anne and Carley, to show them the places that mean so much to me, to experience it in brand new ways through their eyes.
Carley endured the twelve-hour flight from JFK to Tel Aviv with earplugs, an eye mask, and an old Nike hoodie pulled together around her face. But once we arrived, she was all in. She would give our trusted guide Anton about 25-seconds at each site and then she’d be off with her camera, climbing the walls, going behind the ropes, breaking international laws. She never was as interested in what was happening as she was in what else might be happening. And her mood was a little too dependent on the kind of food that was available. So we were all much better off as a group when we found real Dr Pepper at that store in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter (where else?) and that delicious Papa De Pizza. Carley marveled at Caesarea on the Sea, hiked the ancient Serpent Path to the top of Masada, took the obligatory picture with an IDF soldier, climbed all those steps to the top of the tell at Beth Sha’an, and ate a lot of Slim Jims. We laughed a lot. We watched a generational storm together on the Sea of Galilee. And she read the Christ hymn aloud while we worshiped on the banks of the Jordan River.
I was a little worried about Carrie-Anne. She doesn’t like to sweat. Which is to say, she doesn’t like to be outside when it’s 73-degrees or hotter. And her hair requires an abundance of preparation and maintenance. But she did it. And I love her for it. She floated the Dead Sea, waded through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and tried falafel. Once. We sang “It Is Well” together at St. Anne’s Church next to the Pools of Bethesda and wiped the tears from each other’s faces when we were through. She was disgusted by the garbage at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and enthralled by the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. And she helped keep me organized and calm.
Carrie-Anne reminds me how to worship. And how to relax. And how to love Jesus. She is my partner. She reminds me how to receive and give the Lord’s grace. And I praise God that we finally did this together.
Doug never let up in his enthusiasm for the water and for the climb. Penny made sure we stopped at every single restroom from Dan to Beersheba. Elaine from Hawai’i brought the Macadamia nuts. Dale made sure we didn’t lose anybody. We never even lost Andy, whose motto must be: a picture is worth a thousand words and ten more minutes of everybody’s time. Betsey took a licking and kept on ticking, twisting her ankle and banging her leg up at Dan, but trudging on with grit and determination. Shelley never got her hair wet. Never. Kyle kept reminding us of the Scriptures and the Story. Kara showed us the kind of guts it takes to climb the Snake Path to Masada. Joe and Sara inspired us with their obvious love for each other and the Lord. Gary kept us laughing. Hans became everybody’s favorite fellow-tourist, within about two minutes of meeting him. Martha brightened the bus and every site with her gracious smile. Nanette showed extreme patience while we kept mispronouncing her name. DeAnn rode that camel as well as Kyle rides a horse. Gaye broke her foot the day before we left, but that boot didn’t slow her down at all; it just added a degree of difficulty to all her costume changes.
And Elaine was Elaine. As always, my dear ministry partner wisely and faithfully handled the schedules, the hotels, the keys, the tips, the luggage, the communion meal, the meetings, the brochure, the reservations, the COVID protocols, the questions, and the preacher. For ten years Elaine was at my side in Amarillo, keeping me from blowing my leg off, reminding me of names and dates, bailing me out of trouble, managing my impulsive behavior, and deserving so much more credit than she ever received. I miss her terribly and appreciate her very much. It was so much fun going to Israel with her again.
More than a couple of times, Anton told us that no tour group does more than we do in ten days. Kyle counted up at least 41 different sites we explored together, from Dan and Caesarea Philippi to En Gedi and Jerusalem and Jericho and Nazareth. We prayed at the Western Wall, recited the Apostles’ Creed in the Jordan River, sang at the Garden of Gethsemane, and ate more than our share of ice cream and shwarma,
Every paragraph of Holy Scripture contains geography, landscape, architecture, people, food, customs, dress, animals, agriculture, and ritual that serve to communicate the history and fact of our God and his activity in our world. And now we’ve been immersed in it – physically, emotionally, spiritually. We’ve explored the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes first-hand. We’ve embraced the story of our Lord’s faithful love as it swells and deepens to penetrate our hearts and souls in brand new ways.
And I can’t wait to go back.
We’re doing it again in November 2024. We’ll start taking reservations in October 2023.