A trip to the Holy Land
“On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand and cast a wishful eye,” Miss Floy Coleman would make us stand to sing this song. She wanted our chins up and the sound to come from somewhere down by our diaphragm. “….to Canaan’s fair and happy land where my possessions lie.” “Come on boys and girls,” she’d exclaim, “sing it like you were there!” “….I am bound for the Promise Lanaannd, I am bound for the Promise Land.”
Of course, the problem was, we weren’t! Not literally anyway. We were in the basement of the First Baptist Church in McKenzie, Tennessee. Didn’t no one in the “Tiny Tuners” have any idea where Israel was. The furthest I’d ever been away from home was the short ride over to Lawrenceburg to visit Pa and Gran.
That song and that image from deep in the catacombs of my boyhood church came so vividly alive last week as I stood on the banks of the Jordan River. I was tempted to rip my shirt off, yell out, “It took sixty-five years Miss Floy, but I made it” before diving in and swimming to the other side! I held my tongue and my place. I didn’t want to embarrass Pastor Geoffrey Lentz and the thirty other Methodist who had invited a reprobate Baptist along on their Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Jesus was baptized in this river. I remembered the long ago Sunday in April of 1957 when Bro. L. H. Hatcher plunged me beneath the water. There sure ought to be a connection…..but with the selfish, self centered life I’d been living sometimes it was hard to find! We had a fifteen minute service on those hallowed banks that would rival any I’ve ever bowed my head in.
These Methodist were serious about this Pilgrimage! And you talk about a good group of people. Each one of them without exception went out of their way to see to my comfort and needs. I shall forever be grateful to them….and for them.
They weren’t playing around. They’d come to walk where Jesus walked!
We prayed and sang in every hamlet, crossroads, church and Pilgrimage spot our guide, Shmuel Ben Or, could find! He was a special gift on this trip. Jewish, of course, and his knowledge of the land, the people, ancient times, Biblical times, classical Roman times, modern relationships in the Middle East was all astonishing. But his passion for this place is what stood out to me. You’d a’thought it was a chosen land. And his was a chosen people.
I thought of Miss Floy, Bro. Hatcher, Mom and Dad…..and every other Christian influence I’d ever had as we drove up the Mount of Beatitudes or across the Golan Heights or into Cana or stood on the Precipice and glanced over at Mt. Tabor on our left and the Jezrell Valley as it spread out below us.
I’m not kidding about these Methodist singing. Right in the middle of a prayer, a song might break out! If we were on the Mount of Olives, the pastor had the appropriate song ready. It was the same at Capernaum, Nazareth, the Garden of Gethsemane, Bethlehem….. Listen, we sang “Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho”…..RIGHT WHERE JOSHUA FIT THE BATTLE OF JERICHO!
It took us a minute to come up with a song as we left the Dead Sea. At 1300 feet below sea level it is the lowest spot on earth. As we slowed to miss the camels grazing on the side of the road, we broke into the old cowboy spiritual, “I’ve got friends in low places…..”
We were privileged to take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee…..right in the middle of the biggest storm to hit these waters in two thousand years! The temperature was dropping five centigrades a second, the wind roaring, the boat rocking and the rain was coming in sideways. Bishop Graves was bravely going on with his homily. I nudged Cathy—somebody had to do something—and told her to sneak below deck and see if there was a man in a white robe and sandals sleeping down there!
We were about half way up the Via Dolorosa on the trail leading to Golgotha when it dawned on me; Jesus did way more than trudge up this lane for the sins of mankind. He stumbled, fell, bled and crawled up this very path to that hill to die in my place!
I stood that afternoon with my head against the Western Wall and marveled at the wonderment of it all.
You talk about a life changing trip. Way more than I even imagined! I don’t do travel logs so you’re going to have to go for yourself. I will give you Pastor Lentz’s number if you are interested. And you need to go with that same group of Methodist that took me over there…..they will demonstrate The Way for you.