Holy moments in the Holy Land


On a replica first-century boat, the Oklahoma clergy educational tour launches into a journey upon the Sea of Galilee.

In July, Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. fulfilled a personal vow to help Oklahoma Conference clergy grow in their discipleship. Forty people joined him on a trek through the land where Jesus walked.

Inspired by his first trip to Israel, in 2010, the bishop designed this experience especially for newer clergymen and women. He hopes it enhances their fruitful witness throughout their careers.

Here is one traveler’s story.


On the Fourth of July, 41 of us began a pilgrimage from Oklahoma to Israel, where we were blessed to experience the Holy Land firsthand. Led by our bishop, this was an educational experience like none other.

"Family! Family!" That’s what we heard time and time again in the thick Israeli accent of our tour guide, David Assael, as he daily shepherded this United Methodist family.

Our journey began atop the Mount of Olives, where Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the site of his ascension, among other Gospel scenes. We got a great view of the entire Old City of Jerusalem, including the Temple Mount.

And from there it was easy to picture the struggles for travelers of Jesus’ time. The rocky terrain would have strained the fittest person. The constant rolling hills would have turned any simple stroll into a strenuous workout—which we soon confirmed personally.

Gazing over that landscape was our first opportunity to bring the Bible to life, or, as stated by David Powell, "to have a mental picture of what we read."

That’s exactly what happened throughout our pilgrimage. The Bible took on new meaning. Now we can open our Bibles, turn to a passage, begin reading, and truly visualize the scene to understand the passage.

One vivid experience came when we journeyed into the Arab Market in the Old City. As we approached the Damascus Gate on the north end of town, we saw the merchants with their booths. We heard them shouting prices, trying to entice buyers; we could barely move along the streets. In our minds, this chaos must have been similar to what Jesus encountered when he cleared the temple.

On the second part of our trip, we took a detour on the Old Jericho Road, the same road Jesus and his disciples traveled 2,000 years ago. When we reached the end of that winding route, a man with a donkey stood there. Of course we recalled the story of the Good Samaritan. There we were, in the middle of nowhere. That man and his donkey could have been our only rescuers if we had been that story’s victim today.

Day after day we encountered memorable moments. In the Galilee area, we gathered at a location set up for baptisms in the Jordan River. The bishop led us in a "Remember Your Baptism" service. Taking up some water, he made a cross on each person’s forehead.

It was a significant moment not only because of being in the Jordan River, but also because of a special scene we witnessed.

Each of us each stepped into the water, received his or her cross, and stepped out. Soon it was Ryan’s turn; he is the bishop’s son. After the bishop blessed his son, they embraced. Their tearful hug touched the hearts of us all.

For me personally, two places along our route especially stood out. The first was at the Shepherds’ Fields, where we entered a cave that likely resembles the stable in which Jesus was born. The second was on the Sea of Galilee, as we floated in a replica first-century boat. I envisioned what that would have been like for Jesus, who traveled on that sea on many occasions.

In addition, I cherish a quote stamped on a pillar at Tabgha, in the Church of the Multitudes. It reads: "Jesus, love incarnate, is constrained to help wherever He sees His children to be in want. But He waits for empty hearts, for hands stretched out, wherein He may lay His gifts."

Far exceeding even the opportunity to visit sites where Jesus may have walked was the educational impact of this trip. We expanded our minds. For example, we read in Matthew 19:24: "I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

Jesus probably was not talking about a sewing needle, I now know. The city of Jerusalem was once surrounded by high walls; at night, gates within those walls were closed to protect the city. But we learned of doors, about 6 feet high, within some gates, that could be accessed after-hours. This door, in Jewish tradition, was referred to as "the eye of a needle." For a camel to go through this door, the burdens it carried would have to be removed.

Is this to what Jesus referred? We may never know, but this information opened our minds to new understandings.

My message to anyone who dreams of one day visiting the Holy Land: Go! Turn your dream into a reality. It is worth the investment. Your ministry will be enhanced greatly as you learn, and then your congregations will hear your wonderful stories and also will grow as Christians.

Over and over again, as our group prepared to go on this wonderful trip, I heard other clergy say they wished they had gone earlier in their ministry careers. And since returning, I’ve heard my fellow travelers talk of incredible new holy moments as they have preached from Scripture based on locations where they stood only a few short weeks ago.

(Editor’s note: Tour member Larry Lockwood is a layman at Wewoka UMC and the husband of Rev. Amanda Lockwood.)

Tour group members: Bishop Hayes, Ryan Hayes, Derrek and Rebekah Belase, Michelle McCarty, Linda Lusnia, Kay Buchanan, Yvonne Buchanan, Cindy Robertson, Eric and Elizabeth Horton-Ware, Jeff and Adriane Jaynes, Richard and Lacricia Norman, Wendy and Ron Perceful, Chad Perceful, Sheri Lashley, Ruth Atterberry, David Johnson, Barry Collins, Jim and Barbara Stilwell, Barbara Fyffe, David and Beverly Powell, Les and Gay Bussell, Trina Bose-North, Claudia Lovelace, Kyle Kiner, Marsha Purtell, Mark and Susan Whitley, Don and Linda Tabberer, Jacki Banks, Joyce Whiteley, and Amanda and Larry Lockwood.

From left, Chad Perceful and his parents, Ron and Wendee, all clergy, pause on the road to Jericho.

At the Mount of Olives, Claudia Lovelace sits on a camel.

Massive stones from the temple at Jerusalem frame Bishop Hayes and his son Ryan.


Beverly Powell steps through "the eye of the needle" within a Jerusalem gate.

A teeming market seems little changed since Jesus’ time.


A panoramic view of Jerusalem greets Oklahomans from atop the Mount of Olives, where they began a tour of Israel with Bishop Hayes in July. The gold-topped Dome of the Rock is clearly visible. After a 2010 trip to Israel, the bishop intentionally developed this tour for newer clergy, to encourage their growth in faith and ministry. Beside the Jordan River, Bishop Hayes calls the travelers to remember their baptism. From left, Marsha Purtell, Barbara Stilwell, and Kyle Kiner wait their turns to wade through thigh-high water in Hezekiah's Tunnel at Jerusalem. They carried flashlights to see in the total darkness.

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