In 1948, the United Nations carved out a very small territory to serve as an oasis for the Jewish people in the world. Israel is a tiny country with a population of about eight million people of all faiths. While the Jews may be in the majority, Muslims are the second largest group with about 1.5 million Muslim citizens. The religious minority communities include the Druze, Ba’hai, and Christians, each comprising about two percent of the country’s eight million inhabitants.
The Holy Land
Israel, without a doubt, is the Holy Land for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Yet, the majority of the 3.5 million tourists that came to the Holy Land last year were Christians. In fact, a record-breaking number of Christians came to The Holy Land during the Christmas holidays last year.
Only one in four were Jews, and the remaining minority represented non-Judeo-Christian faiths.
For many Christian faithful, those statistics are not surprising.
“As Christians, we have a duty to see where our faith began, how it stems from Judaism,
and how Islam is also a part of the region and history. It perhaps helps to understand the conflict and plight of all the people in the region,” says Maria Arza who lives in Buffalo. Her grandmother, with an “unwavering faith,” was 82 when she traveled to the Holy Land. She lived another 18 years after her solo trip to Jerusalem and other holy sites.
Arza’s daughter, Marivi Howell-Arza, hopes to graduate next year from Duke University. As an Arabic major, she spent two months in Lebanon, so she naturally wanted to visit Israel.
“It was a profound experience. Visiting the holy sites really helped me put into perspective all the important events that happened there in my faith, and feel closer to God. My faith is definitely much more solidified after seeing these sites with my own eyes instead of imagining hypothetical locations.”
Walk Where Jesus Walked
Lizette Olmos concurs with Howell-Arza. “To be in the exact locations where Jesus walked, and major milestones in the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus, is an experience like no other.” Olmos was chosen to join a one-week educational seminar for elected officials, political leaders, and activists.
“I had been wanting to go to Israel for some time to deepen my relationship with God and my faith. I think it is important for Christians to visit the holy sites because it is a profoundly deep spiritual experience like no other. Traveling to Israel was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and one of the most meaningful trips of my life. During the mission, we saw, and experienced, some of the most important religious and political sites in Israel while participating in a series of meaningful discussions with a wide variety of government officials, military personnel, academics, community activists, and journalists.”
Lynda Queamante’s mom was a nun from the age of 16 until her late 20s. Last year, she was watching one of her favorite shows on Catholic TV when the host announced a pilgrimage to Greece and Israel. Although she’d already been to Israel on a previous pilgrimage, she felt that going with her favorite Spanish-speaking priest would be even more memorable, and she wanted Lynda to join her.
Queamante found the experience “incredible. My spirituality, or faith, deepened. I prayed before, but it’s much more personal now. I’ve been reading the Bible since I was young. But, it’s truly amazing to be able to read it and imagine myself in the places mentioned since now I’ve been there. It’s important for Christians to visit Israel for firsthand experience. It really brings the bible to life in a unique way. My biggest advice would be to visit Israel with a religious group on a pilgrimage. I think you get the most out of a trip when you have someone bringing you to the most important places and giving you a deeper explanation.”
Angela Sustaita-Ruiz wants to visit Israel later this year with her husband and young children as part of a tour that a Dallas mega-church is coordinating. That tour is organized by Gary Frazier, Ph.D. of www.dcttravel.com who has traveled to Israel more than 150 times since 1971. The former Protestant pastor has taken tens of thousands of Christian congregants, and more than 2200 Senior Pastors, on his bible-related trips to Israel.
Invest in Spiritual Growth
“Why is it that a country that has a little over six million people, and a landmass that will fit inside the Garden State of New Jersey… is in the media, virtually every single day, every year? Why is that? One of the things that we do in the secular culture in which we live is remove God from the equation. When you do that, you’ll never understand the significance of Israel. The bible says that ‘God has his eye on Israel. (Deuteronomy 11:12)… and whoever touches the Jew touches the apple of His eye (Zechariah 2:8).’ God has a unique relationship with the Jewish people and the land of Israel. When we say Israel is important…it is an undeniable fact of history that Jesus Christ both died, and was resurrected, in Israel. These are not fairy tales nor figments of one’s imagination.”
Frazier calls the land of Israel “the fifth gospel.” He says we’re living in a unique time when people are “bible-illiterate.” He says ten days in Israel can net you more knowledge that you can learn in seminary in a year. He is determined to make a difference, pastor by pastor, congregation by congregation, tour group by tour group. “To go to Israel is an investment in your spiritual growth because it’s the single greatest opportunity for accelerated spiritual growth that you’ll ever make.”
For those looking to pick up a tour in Israel, Tourist Israel offers day trips to Christian sites like Bethlehem and Nazareth, as well as Galilee. Additionally, the company offers Christian-themed nine or 13-day travel options.