By Mark Dreistadt
The Israel Ministry of Tourism once again invites a group of megachurch pastors on an educational tour.
I first visited Israel in 1993; since then I have returned 17 times. On most of those occasions I have taken other people with me. There are two reasons for these trips. First, I fell in love with the land and people of Israel. Secondly, I want as many people as possible to experience the profound spiritual impact I experienced in the Land of the Bible.
My greatest joy is introducing pastors and Christian leaders to Israel for the very first time. These are individuals who have devoted their lives to studying the Bible. They know the biblical places: the mountains and rivers, the places of battle and the sites of miracles. They know all there is to know about the Book. But for all too many this is a land that exists only in their mind’s eye. When pastors visit Israel, they discover new truth and perspective — they experience a unique spiritual dynamic. I love watching their eyes light up as God brings new understanding and insight.
This spring I was invited by the Israel Ministry of Tourism to again host their annual Megachurch Pastors Educational Tour of Israel. This is one of my most enjoyable experiences in my role as the Christian advisor to the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
Adventure of a lifetime
Reserved only for Christian leaders and their wives who meet the strict qualifications, this nine-day adventure is the trip of a lifetime. This exclusive opportunity is for senior pastors who have never been to Israel, and who lead churches where peak attendance exceeded 2,000 people in the past year. The trip includes six full days in Israel loaded with historical, cultural and spiritual experiences and it is fully underwritten by the Israel Ministry of Tourism.
In April 2011 six pastors, and five of their wives, participated in this spiritual adventure. We all met for the first time at JFK airport in New York. We would be flying together on the EL AL Airlines 11:50 PM flight. However, upon arrival we discovered that our flight had been delayed. This gave us several additional hours to get acquainted before we began our journey together.
This group included several denominations: Lutheran (ELCA and LCC), Non-Denominational Charismatic, Assemblies of God, Christian Missionary Alliance, and Non-Denominational Evangelicals. Yet, within minutes the entire group bonded and began to enjoy each other’s company like they had been friends for years.
Because our flight was late departing, we were several hours late arriving in Israel. But that didn’t slow us down. We were treated to an amazing welcome dinner in Tel Aviv. Then after a brief visit to Jaffa (biblical Joppa) we reached the Dan Panorama Hotel for a short but much appreciated night’s sleep.
The next morning after enjoying the almost endless variety of food at our Israeli breakfast, we headed up the Mediterranean coast. Each of the pastors had been given two devotional assignments and they were ready to share their hearts as well as receive. As we visited the various biblical sites, the appropriate leader would share his thoughts about the scripture that took place in the very location we were standing. The impact is tangible and profound.
During our first day we visited Caesarea, one of the largest excavations in Israel, Mount Carmel, where Elijah fought the prophets of Baal, Acre (Akko) the biblical port of Ptolemais and later the capital city of the Crusades. Finally we drove inland to the Sea of Galilee.
Our second day was spent around the Sea of Galilee, walking in the footsteps of Jesus, sailing on the Sea of Galilee, visiting the Golan Heights and the Yarmuk River Valley and concluding our day with a baptismal service in the Jordan River.
On the third day it was time to head to Jerusalem, but not before stopping at Nazareth Village, Megiddo (Valley of Armageddon), Bet Shean and Qumran on the way.
The fourth day was Sunday and we decided to head to the Dead Sea for the day. We visited Masada (the most visited site in all of Israel) and the Masada Museum, floated in the Dead Sea, stopped by En Gedi and paused for several of our group to enjoy a camel ride.
Jerusalem in two days
Only two days remained and all of Jerusalem lay before us. It’s almost impossible to visit Jerusalem in two days but we did our best. The biblical Jerusalem included the Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Caiaphas’ house, the Upper Room, the Western Wall, Southern Temple Steps, Via Dolorosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. In modern Jerusalem we visited the Israel Museum, the Biblelands Museum and Yad Vashem.
Jim Mindling, senior pastor, Church of the Open Door, Cleveland, OH, says, “We are thoroughly taken by the reality of Scripture as we see it come to life here in Israel. It is more than words on a page, history in letters. We are thankful that these facts are written for us to further believe. This life-altering experience only highlights what we are now able to see because we have seen with our own eyes this amazing place.”
Many of the biblical sites had a profound impact on our group. Sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes gave special meaning to the words of the Sermon on the Mount. Sailing on the Sea of Galilee and realizing this is the water upon which Jesus walked.
Each of the pastors experienced a spiritual transformation and determined to return again with people from their congregations. This was not because of any promotional effort or specially orchestrated event. As they experienced the land of Israel for themselves they came to realize how spiritually significant the trip would be for their people.
Mark Johnson, Calvary Temple, Springfield, MO, comments, “I must say it’s a bit overwhelming to be in all of these significant places that I have heard, read and studied most all of my life. It has been so faith affirming. I’m extremely grateful God has given us this opportunity.”
Mark Dreistadt is president of Infinity Concepts, Export, PA, a firm that represents the IMOT. www.goisrael.com
- Larry Argenbright, senior pastor | Bethany Lutheran Church, Elkhorn, NE
- Arlen Salte, CEO | Break Forth Ministries, Alberta, Canada
- James Mindling, senior pastor | Church of the Open Door, Cleveland, OH
- Nasir Siddiki, senior pastor | Wisdom Ministries, Tulsa, OK
- Mark Johnson, senior pastor | Calvary Temple Christian Center, Springfield, MO
- Terry Fulks, senior pastor | Crosspoint Community Church, Oconomowoc, WI
If you would like to know more about planning your life-changing trip to Israel order your free Christian Leader’s Tool Kit at www.IsraelToolKit.com.
If you are a senior pastor of a church with a peak attendance of 2,000 or more and have never been to Israel — you may qualify to participate in the next Pastors Educational Tour of Israel. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information and begin the application process.