Reflections on a journey through the Holy Land

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Guttenberg and Colesburg residents joined a larger group touring the Holy Lands in Israel, pictured here near Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. (Photo submitted)

By Molly Moser

Pastor Shane Anderson and members of St. Paul and St. John’s Lutheran Churches in Guttenberg visited the Holy Land on a nine-day journey in January. Diane Schilling, Lori Anderson, Kathy Krieg, Matthew Anderson, Anne Glime, Karilyn McArthur and Matt Esser of Guttenberg and Colesburg traveled through Israel, visiting many places of biblical significance. 

“When Pastor Shane and I first talked about this trip he said, ‘It’s going to be life changing.’ And it has been,” reflected Kathy Krieg. “This trip has challenged me to do more – not for myself but for other people.” Her sister-in-law, Eugenia Perry, added, “Just knowing that I was at the same place that Jesus had been was very emotional for me.”

On the first day, the group sailed across the Sea of Galilee to Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Church of the Fish and the Loaves at Tabgha, and the Chapel of Primacy. Then, they visited a synagogue in Magdala – one of seven in Israel from the first century and currently the oldest excavation in Galilee. The synagogue ruins were first discovered in 2009 during excavation for a beachfront hotel. Archaeologists uncovered a delicately carved stone featuring a menorah and a coin minted in Tiberias in 29 CE, proving that the synagogue dates back to the first century and the time of Christ’s ministry.

Other site visits included Nazareth, Jericho, the Mount of the Olives, a cave in Bethlehem revered as Jesus’ birthplace, and the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus and his disciples gathered the night before the crucifixion. Travelers continued on to Mount Zion and visited the house of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus was questioned, and to the site believed to be the location of the last supper. 

The local group traveled with EO Tours, joining others from across the U.S. A professional Christian tour guide provided biblical context at each site. People from all over the world, dressed in many types of clothing and speaking various languages, gathered at each site. “Everywhere we went, no matter where we were, there were no instances of anti-Americanism. Everybody went out of their way to make you feel good and make you feel at home,” said Rev. Anderson. 

The pastor was visiting the Holy Land for the second time, and encouraged members of his group to reflect each evening on all they had seen and heard that day. The highlight of the trip for him, he told The Press, was seeing the impact it had on travelers in his congregation. 

“Church Pater Noster is probably the highlight of the whole trip for me. It is the place where Jesus taught the apostles the Our Father,” said Shane's wife, Lori Anderson. She described an outdoor space encircled by walls bearing the prayer in 88 different languages, including some no longer in use. “This is a prayer everybody knows. We’re taught it from as soon as you can speak until you can no longer speak, so this was the most meaningful thing for me,” she said.

Matt Esser’s most memorable part of the journey is especially relevant during Lent. “My highlight would be walking the path that Jesus would walk and the 15 stations of the cross, stopping and saying a prayer at each one, and then getting to the Church of the Sepulchre,” said Esser. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a major pilgrimage site for Christians that commemorates the crucifixion and tomb of Christ’s burial. “To feel the place, and actually stand in the place where Christ was crucified, and then go to the tomb where he was buried… the experience is just overwhelming.”

Other high points included a five-mile hike – or bareback ride on a donkey for some – on an old road from Jerusalem to Jericho, reminiscent of a common journey in Jesus’ time. Travelers enjoyed freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, trying new foods like persimmons, and the locally made breads and cheeses. Lunch was enjoyed in restaurants each day, and commonly featured falafel. 

“This trip really impacted my faith – being able to see everything and put everything in context; being able to actually touch the places and feel the stones of many different sites,” said Matthew Anderson, son of Shane and Lori. “It makes everything clear. It takes the words and paints a whole new picture, so I know now when I go back to the Bible, I’m actually going to be able to picture the places I went to.”

“I’ve traveled a lot and there’s not a trip that has had an impact on me like this one. I don’t think I’ll ever read the Bible the same way, or say the Lord’s Prayer the same way,” reflected Diane Schilling. “I think I’m going to be called to be a better person. It’s not about me. It’s about what I can do to help others and live more like Jesus.”

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