So now we have all been home for a week – what did we all learn? How will we be different as a result of having visited? Might anything there be different because we came?
I am fairly sure that everyone of us has been changed in some positive way. Some of our group have talked about faith being deepened and the Bible coming alive, others about being profoundly moved by the needs of Christians there and deeply disturbed by the current political situation.
I can only write about what I have gained from this pilgrimage. So for what it’s worth here are few of the truths that are begining to emerge for me, starting with a not very spiritual observation:
Getting up earlier means you can pack an awful lot more into each day. It also means that 11.30am can feel like 4.30pm! However, I’m trying to stick with an earlier wake up routine as falling asleep at night seems improved.
We are called to follow Christ, not merely to observe him. The Christian life is often referred to as a ‘walk’, in other words it is active not passive. Walking implies movement forward and movement forward implies change. As pilgrims we are called to a life of constant growth and transformation – if we are not changing, maybe we are not alive? These thoughts began at Lake Galilee where we heard again Christ’s call to those early disciples ‘Come, follow me’ and then as we moved through the story we saw how their lives were totally transformed. Our Christian life is to be lived in response to the same instruction, we are to undergo similar transformation.
We are a gift to one another as companions. There is a proverb, african I believe, which says ‘if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. I’m slightly tempted to add: ‘if you want to go fast AND far, don’t try it with 45 people on a bus’! There is a down-side to being a group, especially for the independantly minded or the more physically capable BUT there is such a BIG upside to being in a group that it is worth it.
I was very moved by the love, care and looking out for one another in the group, which was so much more than merely ‘checking everyone was present’. Our slower or older members brought out the gifts of compassion and patience in others in a way that was lovely to see. (Please don’t let anyone feel labelled because I’m sure at different times we were all ‘the last out the loo’ or ‘the last back on the bus’).
For nine days we formed a beautiful mini picture of the church. And I say this because I know that church is often not easy. Sometimes in church when we have fallen out over some setback or if we have become frustrated by other people who seems to have different agendas or unreasonable attitudes, it’s easy to forget how vital it is to have one another as companions on the way.
On this pilgrimage we saw how when one or the other of us faced a challenge, it was mostly the connection with the other pilgrims that pulled us through. One pilgrim didn’t get lost because she knew where to find some others, others didn’t get left behind because some pilgrims took a slower pace. Others waylaid by illness or accident found themselves upheld by the prayers and practical love of those were well.
New friendships were made, new insights were discussed, new discoveries were made. Books were recommended, paracetamols were shared, and our minds were stretched by the Biblical story of the places we saw, the icons shared with us by Bishop John and the political and human story explained by the speakers we met.
Here in the UK we take for granted that we can belong to a church. But how would we feel if Christians comprised just 1% of the population and we lived in world dominated by two major world religions, often at odds with one another?
I wonder how I would react if I were in such a potentially isolating situation? Perhaps I might become embittered, defended and more likely to give up my faith? Or would I, like my brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, do my best to stand together and work hard to show the love of God by my actions in a country where sharing the love of God in words might be considered inflammatory?
Christians in the Holy Land do indeed make up less than 1% of the population but they offer a third of all the provision of health and educational services. That is astonishing! And mostly through these ministries, they serve with love those of other faiths. What an incredible witness to the gospel of Christ sending us out to make life better for everyone.
So treasure your companions, we are all pilgrims on the way together.
Finally some thanks. Thank you to everyone who came and thank you for your great generosity and the generosity of your churches. We were able to take donations of over £4000 to distribute to the charities we visited and I know that many of you individually forged links to those that particularly touched your heart which will I’m sure be a mutually enriching connection going forward.
Thanks to Lightline – the UK based company that organised the tour from this end and Via Emmaus who partnered with them in all the arrangements whilst we were there. Thanks to Peter Sabella, our very capable and incredibly knowledgeable guide who enriched our journey in so many ways.
Peter’s book Closed for Renovation, on the Road to Emmaus.
Thanks to Wael, our very skillful driver who executed manouvres that left us breathless and skillfully avoided multiple collisions due to unpredictable other road users on narrow and very busy streets (you had to sit near the front of the bus to fully appreciate the sheer number of near misses, maybe you were glad you didn’t know that!)
Thanks for the wonderful meals in all the places we stayed the Pilgerhaus by Galillee,