In 2004 Julia and I made our first visit to the ‘Holy Land’. It was an eight day ‘pilgrimage’ organised by the church we belonged to at the time and very much like all the other ‘church tours’ you see charging round all the ‘holy sites’ – and some of the not so ‘holy’ – at break neck speed. We saw just about everything that there was to see then, but hardly had time to really take anything in. Nevertheless it was still very wonderful to ‘walk where Jesus walked’ and to be able to absorb something of the atmosphere of this remarkable land where Jesus lived and taught and died and rose again!
That visit, eight years ago, wetted our appetite. Ever since then we have wanted to return. Indeed, we have tried unsuccessfully to do so several times since that first visit. We didn’t want to just ‘do the tourist thing’ again, however. We wanted to visit for a longer time in order to try and get behind the veneer and get to grips with what is really going on. There is a real cacophony of voices today, both in society and in the church, expressing every kind of opinion as to the ‘absolute truth’ of what is taking place in the middle east. It is all very confusing and we wanted to find out, first hand, what really was happening. We had developed a heart for the various peoples of this land and we needed to know more in order to pray more intelligently and help (if we could) more definitively.
When we heard about the Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary Sabbatical Programme, therefore – the opportunity to spend a whole month in Israel-Palestine visiting the key sites, exploring the issues with people who really did understand the situation, and engaging in ministry with some of the key players – we immediately saw this as a God-given opportunity. We had some money put aside to fund such a visit and, although it would cost us around £3,000 each. this was not an exorbitant amount given the fact that we would be there for a whole month and that everything – travel, accommodation, food, teaching, trips – was covered. I already knew several of the NETS staff through my connection with Spurgeon’s College, so I knew we would be in safe hands. Given the cost of our previous eight day trip this was definitely a good deal.
The Sabbatical turned out to be all that we hoped for … and more. The flights were easy even though we were flying by EasyJet. The accommodation was more than adequate – even though we were mostly staying in guest houses and budget hotels rather than luxury hotels. Saint Margaret’s in Nazareth had a marvellous courtyard, Villa Nazareth (where Julia and I stayed for a few nights) was delightful, and the Ritz Hotel in Jerusalem was great. The food was an interesting new experience. It was plentiful, different – lots of different salads and lots of chicken – but delicious, and we all got addicted to Arabic coffee! The various sites we visited were amazing – both the ‘holy sites’ and the historic sites – and it was so good to have plenty of time to explore them properly with excellent guides from NETS. The Christian fellowship we enjoyed, both with the staff members at NETS and the various Christian congregations we were able to visit and worship with, was great. The teaching we received was first rate – somehow managing to combine a high academic standard but presented in an interesting and informative way with plenty of time for questions and discussion. It was so good to have a variety of people, coming from different corners, to share their personal insights with us in our teaching sessions. In this way we were given a wide understanding of the issues confronting all those who live in and around ‘the Holy Land’. We learned so much through this Sabbatical, and returned home much better informed although with few answers and very much aware of how complicated the situation really is.
Both Julia and I would heartily recommend this Sabbatical to everyone who really wants to get to grips with the Israel-Palestine situation. This would be a great trip for anyone who can make the time and raise the money to go. It would be a great trip for any Pastors who have a ‘sabbatical’ coming up and haven’t yet decided what to do with it. In fact why not suggest to your church that they send your Pastor on this NETS Sabbatical, and pay for him or her to go of course?! Your church would ultimately benefit from it. Or why not go yourself? I can guarantee that it will be memorable and beneficial … and maybe even life-changing! You can find more information about the NETS Sabbaticals at http://www.nazarethseminary.org and about NETS itself.