Out of Comfort Zone to Holy Land Pilgrimage

Experiencing the Past, Present and Future of God’s Kingdom

by Rev. Matt Parker Wrzeszcz, Associate Pastor, Elmhurst Yorkfield

The Pilgrimage Group on the Sea of Galilee

The Pilgrimage Group on the Sea of Galilee

My wife Jennifer and I thought we would travel to the Holy Land someday (after all we are both pastors). When asked by Wheaton First if we would provide spiritual leadership for the pilgrimage, we jumped at the chance. Okay, maybe ‘jumped’ isn’t the right word. After all, we are parents and this pushed us out of our safe, suburban comfort zone. We had some fears (feel free to ask us), but we moved forward. We knew God would always be present (even half-way around the world). After finding family members to stay with our daughter, we were on our way.

We unintentionally began creating expectations. While we did not know exactly what to expect, we knew our understanding of the historic places where Jesus stood, walked and ministered would change. While we did not know exactly who to expect, we were introduced to people who were also on a journey. Regardless of expectations, we were not disappointed. It was a trip of a lifetime.

After a long (LONG) plane ride to Tel Aviv, our guide Raed met us and we headed to Nazareth. He was an unexpected joy who shared the historic and biblical significance of each site; bolstering our ministry.

We met with Father Elias Chacour, a Melkite Greek Catholic Priest, who was once Archbishop of Nazereth and All of Galilee, and discussed the relationship of the church at Ibillin and the residents. The church-sponsored Mar Elias High School and Arab university is comprised of over 1400 Christian, Muslim, Druze and Jewish students. The schools bring people together in positive ways. While the Magi brought Jesus treasures, we brought Father Chacour gifts of M&Ms to share with the students (see page 12 of the February 2015 Our Common Ministry for more on Father Chacour and the school).

That same evening, we met with several residents of Nazareth, including students from the Nazareth Academic Institute and administrators from the Holy Family Hospital in Nazareth which offers treatment options to the diverse communities of the Galilee. In 2012, the hospital received gifts of medical equipment from Abraham’s Children. We were shown the equipment the next day and encouraged to petition for more donations. I was struck by the passion, care and love these people had for their ministry with the residents of the Galilee.

During the pilgrimage, we saw places where the past, present and future of God’s kingdom intersect. We travelled to Jacob’s Well, located in modern day Nablus. As we left the bus and walked along the busy streets, a nearby minaret signaled the call to prayer for area Muslims. Entering the church gate, we encountered an oasis of quiet and solitude. Below the church, a stone well dropped deep into the earth. Pulling the water to the surface, we remembered the history of Jacob, the one who began this well. We were reminded of Jesus and the encounter with the Samaritan woman. Drinking the cool water, we remembered the blessing of Christ’s living water. Stepping back onto the busy street, we returned refreshed and changed. We saw such amazing sites and places of wonder.

Upon returning home, many asked, “Did you feel safe?” The hospitable people of the Holy Land allowed us to feel (and be) safe and feel God’s presence.

We are grateful for new friends and traveling companions, for the generosity of others .We are grateful for Seminars International, and for Greg and Susan Drinan, who organized numerous details. We are grateful for the ministry of Abraham’s Children, the Nazareth Academic Institute, Holy Family Hospital, Tent of All Nations (Google them) and so many others. Most of all, we are grateful to God, for always being present in the people, places, trials, and laughter that surround us. Last of all, if someone ever asks if you want to go to the Holy Land, JUST GO!

This article was originally published on page 9 of the June 2015 Our Common Ministry, the presbytery’s newsletter. Download the complete issue.

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