Our immediate group on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Pictured above (left to right) are: front – Marvin Thayer, Virginia Sons, Robert Sons; middle – Alva Stoner, Dixie Stoner, Deanna Beck, Ann Martin, Susan Braams, Rose Munsey, Nicole Braams; back – Andy Braams, Greg Beck, Roger Martin, Roy Munsey (hidden), and Andrew Braams.

by Pastor Andy Braams
This is the last of 21 articles chronicling our experiences from our recent trip to the Holy Lands. I have appreciated the Forum allowing the articles and the nearly 100 pictures to be published. The articles have allowed so many of you to benefit not only from the pictures of our journey, but the message behind the pictures as well. Many of you have expressed your appreciation for being able to see and read these articles. I have had many opportunities to share our pictures in a presentation format, and am concluding a six week Bible study based upon our trip at a nearby church as well. As this series concludes, I want to share some general reflections with you.
I knew Israel was a fairly small country, but I was amazed at the proximity of the various sites. In fact, when people ask me to describe the trip, I always mention the word proximity. Although we rode many places on the bus, we WALKED – a lot! We walked up and down an innumerable amount of steps, up and down many hills, in and out of caves, etc., because of how close many of the sites were to one another.
As for safety concerns, I never really felt threatened. Although our hotel was two blocks from a set of night-time battles by the Palestinians during our stay in Bethlehem, I never felt unsafe. A couple of other incidents could have been troubling as well, but because tourism is the largest segment of the economy in many of these places, harming an American tourist is not wise in their eyes. However, the economy is especially dire right now due to a drastic drop in tourism. In many places we stopped, ours was the only bus, and we never saw more than four other buses. Our guide said that in the past, many of the sites would have as many as 20 to 30 buses at any given time. Thankfully, this gave our group a lot of room to roam, but the lack of tourism has caused many challenges for the natives. Perhaps that is why we experienced so little joy from the people there.
Our full group of 43 individuals enjoyed one another’s company and laughed throughout the trip. But we saw very few smiles from the individuals with whom we had contact in Jordan or Israel (outside of the hotels’ staff). This is a shame because the greatest Man who ever walked the earth brought joy to so many in the area during His life and ministry, yet the people in this region seem to be completely void of any joy today. Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus, the greatest event in the history of the world, happened so close to where these people live, and yet the joy is absent at a level that is hard to fathom, which makes it impossible to explain.
I am so grateful to have gone, and to have shared this experience with you through print media. I am going to do something similar, but different, in a few months using social media. The timetable will likely coincide with the one-year anniversary of our trip – so a late December start date. In the meantime, I will be hosting one more viewing of the pictures at Fairfax Baptist Church on Wednesday, June 29 at 6:30 p.m. for anyone wishing to see and hear more. The presentation includes over 300 pictures, which is more than triple what has been presented in these articles.
Everyone on the trip was thankful for the opportunity to go. It truly was the trip of a lifetime for most of the group. Personally, I would go again tomorrow if I could. Time and money are all that is in my way. I plan to make (or at least take) the time, but since the Treasury Department won’t let me make money, and the police frown on me taking it, I guess I will have to save.
As I close, the calendar says that Independence Day is just over a week away. The holiday is not to celebrate that a 4 is on the calendar (“Happy July 4th!”); rather, it is a day to celebrate our independence from an oppressive tyranny (“Happy Independence Day!”). Many have sacrificed their lives, their families, and their ambitions to make that freedom possible. But let us not forget that there is One who came and sacrificed everything. Paul wrote that Jesus did this to free us from the tyranny of sin – which “reigned in death.” Jesus chose to die so that “grace might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5.21). As we prepare to remember the day we gained our independence from Britain, let us remember that true freedom comes from placing our faith (i.e. trust) in Jesus and remaining dependent upon Him. It is then that we will begin to realize that while the holy lands may be a place “over there,” the greater truth is that wherever those who follow Jesus are, as the salt and light of the world, the ground on which we stand is, indeed, holy.
Because He Lives,