I’m going to begin blogging about our trip to Israel in sections so it’s not so overwhelming to write or read…y’all know I’m not usually at a loss for words around here 😉 I am also going to try not to let the tragic ending of this trip taint the experiences had. It was an amazing trip, and it was a joy to spend some of Taylor’s last days with him. As his tragic loss is mourned, his beautiful life is celebrated, and it was an honor to know him, if even just for a few days.
While the Dead Sea was the biggest thing to be crossed off of my Bucket List this trip, Jerusalem was hands down the place I was most excited to visit. I so looked forward to walking the land that Jesus once walked! Sadly though, this was my least favorite experience of all we did – which is really hard to admit. Let me explain, I wanted our day in Jerusalem to be a pilgrimage day, a day where we felt the Lord’s presence in His Holy Land, but I instead felt like the enemy is alive and at work in this Holy Land. It pains me to admit that, but that’s honestly the impression that I got. It makes sense that the devil would be on attack there – but I didn’t go into this visit expecting that to be the case.
Patrick and I personally did not have a positive experience in Jerusalem – for a lot of reasons, all of which I will share. It is not my intent to discourage travel to Israel, my intent is instead to educate on travel to Israel. In my research I had not read any warnings of what we experienced, so I especially feel the need to share so others traveling there can be aware.
We arrived in Israel too late in the morning to be able to participate in a guided tour, so we got a taxi and decided to explore ourselves. I did A LOT of research on Jerusalem and had our entire day planned out. Our taxi dropped us off at the Garden of Gethsemane, where I planned to pray and prepare ourselves for all we were about to experience.
It is a beautiful garden filled with Olive Trees that date back to Jesus’ time. Isn’t that wild?! I was standing among trees that stood watch while our Lord prayed before His death.
Upon entrance, a man named Faared approached us. He was standing in the gate, and we assumed he worked there. He took us around the Garden and into the church next door telling us about the history. Because I did my research, I knew a lot of what he was telling us, though he did share some things I wasn’t aware of. After the 10-15 minute tour of the Garden and Church, he suggested we go to the Mount of Olives, which is located on a big hill right above the Garden. This is where it is believed that Jesus Ascended into Heaven. We had planned to visit there at the end of the day, but figured we’d get it out of the way since it was cold and rainy. Faared offered to get us a taxi to the top, which I accepted. When Faared got in the front seat of the Taxi, red flags started to raise, but I KNEW we were in trouble when the driver insisted we pay him when we get back to the bottom and drove away leaving us alone with Faared at the top of the mountain. I quickly asked Faared if he worked for the Garden as a tour guide to which he responded “yes”. When I asked him if he expected payment to take us around he told me not to worry about it and just enjoy. Patrick and I were both extremely uncomfortable and wanted to get away from this man immediately. This completely took away from the experience of being on the Mount of Olives. We told Faared we already had a day planned and needed to get to the bottom of the Mountain as soon as possible. When we got to the bottom he of course gave us a spiel on how we could now pay him. I handed him $5 to which he pushed away saying wasn’t good enough. The cab driver also appeared demanding payment, so I handed the $5 to him, to which he also pushed away stating that we were “stealing” from him. Faared, I admit was worth more than $5, even if we didn’t agree to his services prior, but the taxi driver was not deserving of more than that…he drove us up a hill, that is all!
We calmly tried to explain that we never agreed to any type of tour for any amount of money, but that didn’t stop them. Faared demanded $40 and the taxi driver demanded $20. I handed Faared $20 and told him he should run away with it because he was getting any more money from me. He smartly disappeared. Agreed to or not, he did walk us around and did deserve something, though $20 I think was generous for his MAYBE 30 minutes of service. I refused to pay the Taxi driver $15 though, and another Taxi driver walked up and said to give him $10 to get him off my back. I gave it to him and boldly told him that HE is the thief, not us. Which I still can’t believe I did – eek!
It was an awful and expensive way to start our pilgrimage into the Holy Land. I did the math. We could have done a legit guided tour of Jerusalem AND Bethlehem (Which we didn’t make it to) for $230 – including transportation from Tel Aviv. We ended up spending $250 on our two swindlers and the taxi cab drivers. Friends, definitely choose guided tours over exploring yourselves!
We walked into the Old City of Jerusalem with that negative start weighing on us, and I’m pretty sure we let it affect our overall experience. I wonder if that encounter hadn’t happened if we still would have left feeling how we felt? We left feeling unwelcome 🙁
Upon entering the gates of the Old City, we started to look for the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took while carrying the cross. We knew it started in the Muslim Quarter, but weren’t sure on exact location. As we walked towards two guards to ask for directions, they instructed us that we couldn’t come any further. I responded that we were looking for the start of the Via Dolorosa. They rudely told us we passed it. Only later did we realize the gate they were guarding lead to the Dome of the Rock, which non-Muslims can see only during certain times.
At the 3rd Station of the Via Dolorosa, we encountered another Faared, so friends, if you ever go to Jerusalem, please be aware that these types of people are out there! Again, I would suggest doing a guided tour of Jerusalem. We did two guided tours later in this trip and both were amazing experiences! I’m quite certain if we were on a tour we would have left with a much better experience!
Most of the Via Dolorosa was lined with shops, which made Patrick and I both think of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple. We now fully get why He was upset and why He got so angry, because we felt the same! As I tried to empathize with the walk our Savior made for our sins, shop owners haggled us to buy from them. It was very distracting and took away from the spiritual experience I was hoping to have.
The Via Dolorosa ends in the Christian Quarter, which I was sure I would feel more welcomed into, but again not the case. I may have felt the most disrespected here which is heartbreaking to this Christian woman 🙁
The final five Stations of the Cross are located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a stunningly beautiful church! This church is built over the area where Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and resurrected from the dead. The final station location is a giant tomb in the back of the church. As you can see from the picture above, there was an extremely long line to get in as people spent time praying once inside the tomb. The tomb has two rooms inside of it. When we got inside the first room, someone behind us started banging on the open door demanding those in front of him to hurry up. When we got into the second room, where Jesus was buried, the man came in and yelled for us to hurry up and said “you only need 10 seconds to worship” – stunned is an understatement! I don’t know who this man was, but he was some sort of clergy as he was wearing a traditional robe. I just looked at him in disbelief. Part of me wishes I would have said something to him along the lines of “I’ll worship as long as I wish!” or “Actually we shouldn’t spend 10 seconds NOT worshiping!” but I was honestly so shocked that this was the treatment I was experiencing – inside a church – inside of what we as Christians honor as JESUS’ TOMB!!!
I knew we would not be allowed to go into the Dome of the Rock, as it was past the times non-Muslims could visit. I really didn’t have a huge desire to go in it, however I did want to see it. It’s a beautiful building, and probably the most iconic in the Jerusalem skyline. As Patrick and I walked to see it, two guards saw us coming and made the cut-throat gesture while telling us to stop while people all around us walked freely. Okay, so we aren’t Muslim, but we weren’t wearing a sign broadcasting that! I just felt so unbelievably judged in that moment! So apparently you can’t even SEE the Dome of the Rock up close if you aren’t a Muslim! I did snap a photo of it from the top of the Mount of Olives.
Lastly we wanted to see the Western Wall, the most Holy spot in Jerusalem for Jewish people.
We again felt a little judged here as well, but overall they were the most kind to us in this quarter. Upon entering, a guard told us we couldn’t take our bags in, yet once we trustfully left our goods behind, we noticed a lot of others carrying bags :-/ Not a huge deal, but still we felt like we were targeted and treated differently because we aren’t Jewish.
Good to know, the Wall is divided into two sides. The left is for men and the right is for women. We couldn’t understand why we got turned away on the left and assumed it was for Jewish people only, but when we got turned away from the right side we asked why and they told us. I came to realize that people in Jerusalem just tell you “No” without giving you a reason!
Although this was a heavy post to write, I think it was a necessary one. John 10:10 states “The thief comes only to steal, and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” I think the enemy did come to steal from us – he stole our joy along with our money this first day of our trip. I know the enemy came to kill – only the enemy could be behind the thoughtless death of our friend this trip. However, the enemy cannot destroy us – especially Taylor – because through Jesus we have life to the full!
I urge you to please keep Israel in your prayers. It is a country divided – literally divided by the West Bank Barrier. Coincidentally, Jerusalem means “peace” – yet as Pastor Charlie put it this past Sunday, there will never be peace in Jerusalem because you can’t divide a city – yet that’s what Jerusalem is, a divided city in a divided country. Seeing this first hand makes me fear for the current division in my own country. I pray we can remain united…but that is a whole other blog post! Pray for us, pray for them, pray for Brussels…our entire world needs prayer during these troubling times.
Okay I’ll end on a lighter note with photos from our time in Jerusalem!
Be Blessed + Be A Blessing