I left my brother’s house for the Seattle Airport at 5:30am on Monday morning, January 23rd and arrived at our hotel in Bethlehem, West Bank (Israel) just before midnight Tuesday night, January 24th. Two long days of travel to finally arrive!
I’m on a one week familiarization tour with Good Shepherd Travel out of Texas. Elias, who visited our church last October selling olive wood ornaments, crosses, nativities, etc. to support Christians in Bethlehem, invited me on this trip. He works for this travel company that his relatives run out of Bethlehem. They sponsored 50 people on this trip – mostly pastors and some spouses, mostly Lutheran but not all, and mostly from the eastern parts of the US with a few of us westerners. It is their hope that if/when we decide to take groups from our congregations to the Holy Land we will consider using their services. They’ve been great.
Elias is a native of Bethlehem. He is a Palestinian Christian. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Bethlehem. He met his wife Katie when she visited the Holy Land with her dad and a group from their congregation. He dad is a Lutheran pastor in Polson, MT, which is where Elias and Katie now reside. They came to St Luke last October to sell their olive wood pieces – that’s when Elias invited me on this trip. Elias also has a volunteer ministry of taking supplies (blankets, toiletries, etc) to Christian refugees from Syria who are in Jordan. Since he is not paid for that, 100% of donations go directly to purchasing supplies he takes to refugee families.
Though I’ve been to Israel once before in 2009, it is not a place I would tire of visiting. I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity, and to get to know sisters and brothers in Christ – fellow pilgrims.