The Journey Home & reflections on the Holy Land
Above picture Summer Sunset Swainbost Ness Isle of Lewis
Saturday morning 5th June We are leaving Netanya and Israel today for the long journey back to the UK and for some of us to Lewis. After leaving Netanya, we make the relatively short journey to Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. The airport is named after David Ben-Gurion the first Prime minister of the modern state of Israel, and one of the prime movers in the founding of the state after independence. We said our goodbyes to Moshe at the Carmel hotel before we left Netanya. We arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport and pass through not one but FOUR very thorough, and actually quite scary security checks. The staff are very young, very thorough and very scary. Attractive young female staff, all carrying holstered 9mm pistols, scrutinise our passports with cold eyes as if trying to unnerve us. Glyn warns us under no circumstances are we to crack a joke, or talk back to staff, but simply answer everything asked of us. With our EU passports bearing the UK Royal crest, we have much less difficulty than other passengers. In the queue beside us a middle eastern looking lady is being subjected to a barrage of pointless and hostile questions.
“ What is your name ?”
“What sort of a name is that ?”
“An Arabic name”,
“That is not what I asked you, I asked you what sort of a name is that?” The name was obviously Arabic but also the name of Mohammed’s favourite wife, and maybe this was what was being hinted at.
We are scanned, checked and thoroughly examined on four occasions. At one point DJ forgets to take off his belt, sets off an alarm and so is detained and searched by security. Hold baggage is also scanned, and yes you’ve guessed it, DJ’s baggage was pulled out for examination. From the departure lounge we were bussed to the waiting Swissair plane which did not taxi out to a runway, but took off directly from the runway, as armed guards patrolled the perimeter. This is apparently to avoid the aircraft being a target at slow speed to Surface to Air Missiles , etc. There has never been a successful terrorist incident at Ben-Gurion airport and after experiencing the security there, I can understand why.
After an hours flight we landed for a stopover in Zurich once again. I was impressed with what I saw of Zurich. It is a very modern, clean, well organised place from what I could see. But then more drama awaits whilst in the departure lounge at Zurich. We were permitted to go to shops for souvenirs, etc Whilst sitting with the Graham sisters, I realised that I had mislaid my passport. Panic ! Peggy and Calumina started praying, and the Lord answered the prayers of these two spirit-filled women. In a panic I tried to retrace my steps , and met pastor Glyn walking towards me holding up my passport in his hand. I had left it on a shop counter. I am so thankful to God as otherwise I would have been stranded in Zurich airport like Tom Hank’s character in the film The Terminal. We arrived at Heathrow on Saturday night, and stayed overnight at a nearby airport hotel in Hounslow West London. We arrived back in Stornoway safe and sound after flying from Heathrow to Glasgow on the Monday morning flight. I am happy to be home again to big welcome from Alison and Catherine.
My final thoughts
Although the trip has been short I have greatly enjoyed being here. At times it has been moving, eye-opening and challenging, but always a blessing to be in the land and places where Jesus walked. It has been an intensely interesting, exciting and spiritually uplifting experience. I know others who have been left cold by a visit to the Holy land. In my opinion that is all down to the organisation of the trip and the quality of the guide. Someone I know well recently visited and declared that he hated the trip and would not want to go back. We went with Glyn Morgan an unashamed evangelical baptist pastor from Wales. He brought the Bible to life for us, as did the surroundings he took us to. We did not go near some of the best known tourist sites, for instance we avoided the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is thought by many Christians to be frankly idolatrous. There was a division of opinion about this, Moshe our guide, an educated and informed Jew, fully believed this was the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus of Nazareth. Glyn said to us quietly out of earshot of Moshe that he disagreed.
The Church of Scotland have a presence in both Tiberias and at St Andrews Jerusalem, yet I feel no affinity whatsoever with these churches. Much of what they do and stand for is as alien to my thinking, as the mumbling priests in Cana, the ringleted orthodox Jews in Netanya, or the strident BDS ( Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) activists who campaign on the city streets today. Sadly the Church of Scotland’s presence in the Holy land, is more about left wing politics and outlook than to witness to the fact that “Salvation is from the Jews” ( John 4:22).
Looking back over my short time there, it is clear that I take for granted many of the freedoms I enjoy in this country. In many ways, Israel is a police state albeit the only truly democratic one in the middle east. Something Israel’s many critics try to gloss over. Israel has many faults and failings and I am not blind to them, but we must continue to pray that God would bless all the people of the land, and restore His backslidden people to himself .
Glyn told us that a congregation can always tell from a preacher’s preaching whether he has visited the Holy land or not, I hope that in future my preaching will tell the gospel story from having experienced the place albeit for a very short time. So many passages of scripture have been brought to life for me, in a way that books alone never could. Emmaus, Galilee, Capernaum, the Wilderness of Judea, the Mount of Olives, the City of David, Gethsemane and many other places were not as I imagined but have nevertheless been impressed upon my mind in a more meaningful way than ever before. In the will of God I will someday return.
With the passage of time many changes have taken place, and sadly some of those who went on the trip to Israel are no longer with us. Both Glyn Morgan and our Israeli guide Moshe have both passed away since then. We were particularly shocked to hear of the passing of a fit active and vigorous man like Moshe.
Since then my friend Donald John Smith Domhnall Iain an Tucsan has also passed into the nearer presence of the Jesus he loved and served, and is now forever with the Lord. Due to his bad leg Donald John struggled through many of the places we visited, but gamely kept going through these difficult and tiring spots like Nazareth and the Old City of Jerusalem. He has no infirmities now, for ‘the former things are passed away’ and I look forward to one day walking with my friend on better streets and of a better city.
‘Gus am bris an là, agus an teich na sgàilean, till; bi cosmhail ri earb, a ghràidh, no ri laogh fèidh air beanntan Bheteir.’ Dan Sholaimh 2:17
Dedicated to the memory of Donald John Smith Domhnall Iain an Tucsan , Shader Barvas Isle of Lewis.