I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that is built as a city that is compact together; to which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord— an ordinance for Israel — to give thanks to the name of the Lord. (Psalm 122:1-5)
These verses have long served as an inspiration and a call for Christians from across the globe to make the spiritual journey to the Land of Israel. Christian travelers from around the world make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land to see in person the places they have read about in the Bible. Followers of Jesus Christ want to see and touch the places where their Savior lived and walked. The religious fervor of these pilgrims leads them to spend considerable amounts of time and money as they experience Israel firsthand.
As many people know, tourism in Israel is both religion and politics. There is no separation of church and state for the hundreds of religious pilgrims who arrive daily at Ben Gurion Airport. Surrounded by enemies, Israel logically looks for friends who will support and defend them. Jewish leaders in Israel rightly understand that Christian pilgrims, especially Americans, who visit and fall in love with the land, will likely choose to stand with the land politically. These American Christians return home as likely voters who expertly locate the email addresses and phone numbers of the White House and the US Congress, expressing their new understanding of the importance of the Unites States strongly supporting its ally, Israel.
I am one of those American, Christian, Protestant, Evangelical pastors who regularly brings tour groups to the Holy Land. While not all religious leaders admit to owning all four of those labels, I do. My tour groups enjoy wonderful times of prayer, Bible study, communion and fellowship as we follow in the footsteps of the Son of God. I want my traveling companions to have greater biblical knowledge and stronger faith after visiting the Promised Land. I want them to love God more after witnessing countless examples of God’s faithfulness and provision.
However, I am not just a student of theology; I am also a student of history and politics. I read this news site, and others like it, daily, to stay informed about the political and military happenings in what is not just an ancient land but also a thriving yet-threatened modern land. Therefore, my tour groups often wake up to a daily reading from both the Word of God and the morning newspaper. While the Word of God undoubtedly takes precedence in teaching faith and doctrine, the morning paper helps tourists understand that modern people with modern struggles live modern lives in this ancient land.
I want Christian tourists to understand the co-existence of the then and the now in Israel, and I encourage other Christian leaders to do the same. Help your tour group members to observe the old and embrace the new. Set the example for them by studying the glorious past of ancient Israel while experiencing the miraculous future of modern Israel.
For the present and future Christian tourists reading this, remember to seek out both. Learn to know and love the ancient land where Jesus lived and ministered 2,000 years ago. Also, discover the beauty of the modern state of Israel by sharing a coffee or a meal with a local resident. Choose to shun the bus on occasion and simply take a walk, letting God orchestrate connections with other pilgrims and with your Israeli neighbors. You can come to Israel and focus on the ancient while ignoring the modern, but why would you?
For the Israelis reading this, please continue to do what you do so well. Tolerate the traffic and the crowds and the questions. Show your amazing hospitality to the curious travelers from faraway places. You already love this land and the God of this land; why don’t you help others learn to do so as well?