The mere mention of the country's name evokes a wide range of emotions, one of which is longing. For thousands of years, Israel has held great significance for people from all walks of life, and those who have a heart for the land yearn to see it.
Some save for years to make a trip to the Holy Land. Those who have been blessed to go generally agree that while they were there, the Bible came to life and the visit changed them at a deep level. Many have been overwhelmed when they "walked where Jesus walked."
Charisma interviewed several prominent Christian leaders who often lead tour groups to Israel. The places that are most special to them range from the Sea of Galilee to the Western Wall, from Alon Moreh to Kfar Etzion, from the Temple Mount to the Garden of Gethsemane. Despite the wide range of favorite locations, the leaders all have one thing in common-they say their first visit had a tremendous impact on their lives.
Here are some of the places they named as their top pick:
For Billye Brim, who took her first trip to the Holy Land in 1983, Alon Moreh is not about the settlement, but rather about the tree on top of a mountain where scholars believe the Lord first appeared to Abraham when he arrived in the Promised Land (see Gen. 12:6-7).
"From this high vantage point one can see like Abram did, the Mounts of Blessing and Cursing, Shechem (Nablus), the Valley of Tirzah," says Brim, who in 1986 studied Hebrew at Ulpan Akiva in Netanya, Israel-a school founded just after the War of Independence in 1948.
Brim, founder of Prayer Mountain in the Ozarks in Kirbyville, Missouri, also notes about Alon Moreh that "though Israel has prepared a lovely place to sit under the tree, we have never met another tour group there. And in this spot we have experienced the most awesome presence of God and experiences in prayer."
The living remnant of the house of Israel
Integrity Music recording artist Paul Wilbur first visited Israel in 1983 and has been back more than 24 times. To him the "historic places are fascinating, and it is fun to ‘run where Jesus walked,' stand in the first-century synagogue in Capernaum, take a boat ride on the Galilee. "But," he adds, "so many love the dead Jews of the Bible and completely ignore the living remnant of today."
Wilbur explains: "When I connect with my brothers and sisters in Israel I feel as though I have connected with the heart of God. Jesus stated that He came to rescue the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and I believe His heart has not changed in 2,000 years."
The more intense worship and the deeper fellowship of the people have had an eternal effect on his life. Says Wilbur: "The stones are old and significant, but the living stones are the dwelling place of the God of Israel. So when you go, be very certain to enjoy the history, but be more certain to touch the living stones that Yeshua gave His life to redeem!"
Melva Lea Beacham has traveled to and lived in Israel for nearly 40 years. Her first trip at Christmastime in 1969 was the first of at least a dozen, but she also had the pleasure of living there from 2005-2006. Though she revels in many fond memories of riding the Number 8 bus every day, the one place that really captured her heart is Kfar Etzion, site of the massacre by Arab armed forces on May 13, 1948-the day before Israel became recognized as a nation.
"I take my tours there to see firsthand and have it wrench their hearts," said Beacham, who served for four years as international director of development for Christian Friends of Israel in Jerusalem. "I want them to understand what the Jewish people have to experience every day to carve out their inheritance and their place in the world that God gave them. I want people to know and understand the resistance-demonic and from the nations-that these people face."
In the countless trips John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, has taken since 1978, a particular place as well as a particular moment stands out for him. On his visit to the 187-foot long Western Wall during his first trip, Hagee had a God-encounter that not only changed his life but also launched a movement that continues to gain in prominence and influence more than 30 years later.
At the wall that day "God told me to do everything in my power to bring Christians and Jews together because they have far more in common than the things that we had allowed to separate us over the centuries," Hagee says.
To Hagee's left that day on the western flank of the Temple Mount was an Orthodox Jew rocking back and forth, kissing the Bible. "I realized we were spiritual brothers, but he was afraid of me, and I knew nothing about him," Hagee says.
Less than three years later, Hagee held the first Night to Honor Israel, which eventually led to the formation in 2006 of Christians United for Israel, now the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States.
"Every visit to the Western Wall is the most enjoyable of the 10-day trip to Israel," he says. "There is a spiritual force at the Western Wall for me like nowhere else on planet Earth. It is that spiritual experience I've never forgotten, and [that I] enjoy every time I go back."
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