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Walking down the Bible times

By | March 8th 2012
By | March 8th 2012

From the Old Testament’s Dead Sea to Bethlehem and other places Jesus lived and visited, a tour of Israel practically relives the Bible story, writes FRANCIS GITAU

Israel, the Promised Land of the Bible, is today a modern, thriving, bustling and vibrant country. For centuries, the sites of many of the most stirring events in the history of mankind lay dormant beneath shifting sands and crumbling terraces, until the land was reclaimed by the people of Israel returning from exile.

On arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, Israel, I silently thanked God for allowing me to step in to experience what I had read in the Bible for many years.

I was in the company of other tourists from Kenya and our first stop was Jerusalem. En route, I was shocked to notice that life was going on normally because the picture I had on mind was that of a warring country. No gunshots, no tanks or soldiers fighting all over as is mostly depicted in the media.

Almost all buildings in Jerusalem are constructed with a white stone referred to as Jerusalem Stone, making the city look white and very appealing.

Visiting the Western Wall was a solemn moment for me. Here, God appeared to King Solomon and told him, "Ask anything you want". I wondered what would be my answer were I to be asked such a question. Long life, riches, wisdom or what? I had prepared a list of prayer requests, which I stuck to the wall, hoping they would be answered.

Garden Tomb where Jesus was buried.

Holocaust Museum

Then we visited the famous Mt of Olives on the East of Jerusalem. To be standing on this mountain was beyond my wildest imaginations. My mind went quickly to the last moments of Jesus on earth. To realise that I was standing on the place where Jesus was when he left the planet to heaven was just awesome.

Our next stop was the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed in his last moments. Olive trees as old as 2,000 years are still on this garden today. I stood beside one of them and recalled the story of the disciples on that same garden sleeping under a tree instead of praying as their master had told them. To be where Jesus made his last prayers before facing the cross was another precious gem to my faith.

Our next stop was the Garden Tomb where Jesus’ body was laid for three days. As we entered the tomb, I imagined what must have gone through the minds of the women who visited the tomb and found Jesus’ body missing. It was almost a reassurance that he had risen.

One of the sobering moments during the journey was when we visited the Holocaust Museum called Yad VaShem. Going through it required strength and courage. The historic scenes of pogroms, torture, starvation and murder that the Israelites suffered in the hands of the Nazis are illustrated in art and sculptures. I left that place wondering how such things could happen to fellow human beings.

Dead Sea

During our visit, we also had the opportunity of interacting with Israelites and Arabs and sampling falafel and shwarma, famous delicacies in Israel. I also tasted kunafa, a sweet snack, from one of my Arab friends. Those I interacted with were warm and welcoming. I also learnt that they value family because they enjoy sitting and eating together.

We made occasional stops to buy souvenirs like the menorah, posters, key holders and olive oil using shekels — the Israeli currency.

Bethlehem did not escape from our list of favourite sites. Here, we visited the Church of Nativity where Jesus was born. Seeing the various sites felt like reliving the Bible. A few metres from there are the shepherds’ fields. I couldn’t help visualising angels singing and conveying the message of the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds and how they danced excitement.

Going south to the Dead Sea was an unforgettable experience. Said to be King David’s refuge, the surface and shores are 423 metres below sea level, making it the earth’s lowest elevation on land. We had heard that one could float in this sea and we couldn’t wait to prove it. I slowly laid my body on the water and lo and behold, I was floating like a balloon! Even those who didn’t know how to swim among us were floating.

The mud pools by the shore side are more than eight times saltier than the ocean and have a therapeutic sensation. After half an hour of wallowing in the mud, I showered. I couldn’t believe how smooth my skin had become. I felt like a new-born. The Dead Sea was one of the world’s first health resorts and it served Herod the Great.

Blossoming gardens

Driving through the Jordan Valley, we headed north to the Sea of Galilee. We passed near Jericho and the story of Joshua going round the city seven times and the walls of Jericho crumbling down came alive in my mind. On arrival, we did a boat ride on the sea and I pictured Jesus and the disciples crossing the sea. I was even tempted to walk on the water as Jesus did, but the tour guides could hear none of it.

The icing on the cake of this Galilee experience was feasting on the tasty ‘Peter’s Fish’ just by the seaside.

My best moments came when I took a dip in River Jordan to be baptised, the same place where Jesus was baptised.

We had the chance to visit many other sites like the mountain of Beatitudes, Valley of Armageddon, Mount of Transfiguration, Cana of Galilee, Nazareth, Mt Carmel and Capernaum — Jesus’ hometown.

Visiting the former deserts of Israel, we were awe-struck to see how arid parches of land had been transformed into blossoming gardens and farms. We saw apples, mangoes, oranges, bananas, cucumbers, watermelon, tomatoes and dates among other fruits and vegetables flourishing in what was once a desert. The place was truly flowing with ‘milk and honey’ as the Israelites had been promised.

After that visit to the former deserts, I concluded that it is a joke for Kenyans to suffer food shortage because we have all the resources to produce plenty of food not only for domestic consumption, but also for export.

Since the visit to the Holy Land, Bible reading has been very exciting. The places mentioned in the Bible are no longer strange to me.

I can also relate with current issues in Israel the memories are kept alive through the many photos and videos I took.

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Walking down the Bible times
From the Old Testament's Dead Sea to Bethlehem and other places Jesus lived and visited, a tour of Israel practically relives the Bible story, writes FRANCIS GITAU
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