Last March I went to the Holy Land. It had been a lifelong dream to walk where Jesus had walked and see the sights — and sites — that I had read about in the Bible my entire life. I wasn’t disappointed.
I stood on the Mount of the Beatitudes from which Christ delivered the Sermon on the Mount. I walked beside the Sea of Galilee and stood on the rock where Simon Peter made his peace with Jesus and enjoyed grilled fish for breakfast. I got in trouble with the law for climbing on the rock, but it was worth it because I stood on the rock where Simon Peter made his peace with Jesus.
I crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat — and, no, I didn’t attempt to walk on the water. Bear Bryant was the last person to do that, I believe. I remembered my baptism by wading out into the River Jordon. I walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and climbed a sycamore tree in Jericho and stood on the Mount of Olives and atop the shepherd’s field outside of Bethlehem. I walked the Via Doloroso and prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and touched Calvary and walked into the empty Garden Tomb. I even saw Masada and floated in the Dead Sea. I did it all. And ever since I returned home there has been a yearning in my heart to go back and do it all over again.
So I am. We are leaving Feb. 25. You are invited. (Pause for a gasp, here.)
I know what you are thinking because I have heard it from every quarter. “I wouldn’t go over there now! It’s just not safe!”
Bull hockey. Would you go to downtown Atlanta to see a play at the Fox Theater? Would you go to Chicago for a Cubs game? Would you visit the Lincoln Memorial or the Statue of Liberty? Would you go to Detroit? Would you walk down the street in Helen, Ga.?
I might not go to Detroit, but I would do all those other things in a heart beat — and have. I know. I know. I’m not afraid of anything or anybody and maybe you are a little more cautious than I am, but let me offer some actual facts to a candid world.
Yes, I know there is a war going on over there. They have been warring since before David hit Goliath with that stone. They are warring in Ferguson, Mo., too. I walked down the streets of Tiberius, along the Sea of Galilee last March at midnight and couldn’t have felt safer if I had been walking home from watching Blunt Paterson toss two no-hitters at Snow Field in Porterdale. It was the same in Jerusalem.
Yes, there were soldiers with Uzis just about everywhere. Soldiers with guns is a better proposition than gangbangers and thugs with guns, let me tell you that right now. Let me share a couple of other items of interest.
On Dec. 18, 2010, Kristen Lukin, an American living in London, was killed by Palestinian terrorists, while hiking with a friend in some isolated mountains, west of Jerusalem. That was the last time an American tourist was killed in Israel. Four years ago. And we aren’t going to hike in any isolated hills. Since that day 1,845 people have been killed in Chicago. In Chicago, y’all. One city.
Before Ms. Lukin’s life was tragically ended, the last American tourist killed in Israel was on April 17, 2006 when Daniel Wultz of Westin, Fla., died of wounds sustained in a restaurant bombing.
Two Americans have been killed in Israel, by Muslim extremists, in 10 years. It is a lot safer to travel to Israel than it is to remain in the United States. Nine people were murdered in separate incidents in Detroit on June 27 of this year.
Israel is not a violent country. The United States — now the United States is a violent country. Some areas are more violent than others of course, but this weekend’s tragic accidental shooting in Helen proves that we are not completely safe anywhere at anytime.
So I, for one, refuse to live my life in fear, regretting what I didn’t do. The pilgrimage I made to the Holy Land on my 62nd birthday was one of the most amazing adventures of my life — despite the fact that I picked up a stomach bug at the Newark airport and was incapacitated for about 18 hours one day. The rest of the trip was so worth it, and I cannot wait to become reacquainted with my old friend Amnon, the 78-year-old Jewish Christian who guided us safely around Israel last spring and has agreed to do it again.
Y’all come go with us. You will never regret it.