Holy Land journeys: A disciple-making tool or Christian vacation?


Walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the land of the Bible is the ultimate hands-on disciple-making experience for Christians — not just a vacation to a destination related
to church. 

Educational Opportunities Tours (EO) President/CEO James Ridgway recently interviewed Rev. Tom Smith about how Holy Land journeys have changed lives and inspired the faith of people who traveled with him in the Holy Land.

Rev. Tom Smith

James Ridgway: How did your first Holy Land journey influence your life and ministry?

Rev. Tom Smith: It’s safe to say that it began to affect me even before I returned home. But the immediately noticeable influence was the way that it affected my preaching and teaching. I found myself painting word pictures of a passage of Scripture as I would preach or teach. I would give little tidbits of what it means to go ‘up’ from Jericho or the winds affecting the Sea of Galilee as they funneled into that area. It was like I had an entirely new resource to add to my library as I prepared for a sermon or class.

Ridgway: When did you decide to start taking groups to the Holy Land? How did the people respond?

Smith: I went the first time without a group. But after returning, my excitement was obvious. I talked about it constantly. 

James Ridgway

As soon as I was introduced to Educational Opportunities and learned of how I could ‘earn’ a trip, I decided to go back and take as many people as possible. As soon as I mentioned that I was putting a group together, people started signing up. 

A journey to the Holy Land is in the hearts of a lot of people — not as a vacation but as part of their faith development — so there was natural interest in participating. Folks were excited that they could travel with me because they trusted me as their pastor. 

Ridgway: Afterwards, what did you see in the lives of those who experienced the Holy Land?

Smith: They were changed. They engaged with Scripture differently. They talked about the way they heard the sermons differently. They began to participate more readily in Sunday School, study groups or accountability groups. Many of them became more open and expressive of being leaders in the congregation. They have a renewed/revitalized faith, it seems. 

Ridgway: What other benefits come from the Holy Land journeys?

Smith: One of the things was how close the group became. They bonded with each other as they shared the experience. 

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They also bonded with me, as their pastor, differently. Instead of hearing me teach or preach a couple of hours per month, they spent 12 to 14 hours a day talking and experiencing this profoundly moving journey. We formed some truly lasting bonds. 

They also came back with a deeper understanding of the current issues facing people in the region. They experienced not just what the news media shared, but what they themselves saw. They could ‘put a face’ to it, and it opened doors/eyes in a way that nothing else could do.

Ridgway: How does a pastor plan a journey to the Holy Land? 

Smith: There are two ways a pastor could begin this journey. 

First, they could participate in an EO Familiarization tour. After experiencing the Holy Land personally, they could start planning a group journey. Personal experience helps while recruiting a group. 

The second way is to jump right in and organize an EO Holy Land journey for their group by going to www.eo.travelwithus.com and reviewing the different itineraries offered and finding one that best suits what they and their folks would love to see. Then, they can reach out to the EO team to partner and build the journey that will help make disciples for Jesus Christ. The EO staff will provide all the tools necessary — including ongoing support — to build a life-changing tour for the congregation. 


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