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Holy Land Travel pursuing Justice and Peace

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Christian tourists travel to the Holy Land to see the holy sites and to touch the land where Christ was born, crucified, buried, and resurrected. For me, seeing the place where Jesus breathed, lived, and did ministry profoundly changed my life. My first book Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World had yet to be published but was at the printer. I had a heart for the world and wanted to address global poverty, and other issues of justice related to race and gender. I had been serving as a pastor in a local church when God called me to the Middle East during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

One of the most profound things I noticed over the years has been the ways that Christian tourists often ignore what’s happening in the lives of the people living in the Holy Land today. Some Palestinian Christians describe that type of tourism as the “Disney Land Tour” that focuses on holy sites and historic places but ignore the Christians who have been living in the land for thousands of years. Followers of Jesus in Israel and the Palestinian territories often implore: “Come and see the living stones of the land, not those that are dead.” Might all Christian tourists take this encouragement to heart! 

So what would it look like to travel to the Holy Land in a way that is constructive while pursuing and advocating for both justice and peace? Here are five suggestions if you and your church community are thinking about taking a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land: 

Visit the Sites of the Bible and Meet with the Living Stones of the Land 

The Bible comes to life in unexpected ways when you travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories. In one snapshot of a camera on the Sea of Galilee, you can see the places where Jesus preached the Beatitudes, fished on the lake, ministered in Capernaum, and met Peter on the shore after his resurrection. The land profoundly shapes the way we read and understand the Word of God. This is a good and beautiful thing! 

But do not limit your travels to only the “dead stones” of the holy sites and the historic places. Rather, meet with Christians living in the land, many of whose families have been living there for thousands of years. When Palestinian Christians are asked “when did you become a follower of Jesus” they often respond by citing the Arabs present at the time of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell upon the early church (Acts 2:11). Reach out to Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) at if you’d like to be introduced to Jewish and Palestinian Christians living in Israel and Palestine. 

Multinarrative Experience 

When Christians travel, many travel to the Holy Land with a one-sided understanding of the multifaceted story of the people who live there. Some churches want to travel to Israel and ignore Palestinian Christians who are their brothers and sisters in Christ. Others want to only visit with Palestinians while ignoring the history and narratives of the Jewish people who have long struggled in a world fraught with anti-Semitism. We often say the two sides of this conflict are not Israelis and Palestinians, but rather those who are working for peace and those who are not. There is not one monolithic perspective in either Israeli or Palestinian society. Be sure your travels include disparate voices and enter into a multinarrative experience so you might be exposed to the richness of both the people and the land. For example, CMEP partners with MEJDI Tours sending pilgrims to the region with the opportunity to hear from both Jewish and Palestinian guides. 

Learn about the Geopolitical Realities 

While the focus of your trip might be a Bible tour, do not ignore the current realities unfolding all around you. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict exists as a contemporary struggle that began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Learn about the history of the conflict and how Christians around the world have often not played constructive roles in promoting peace, reconciliation, and justice. CMEP provides historical context and introduces churches to education resources and materials to help travelers understand the realities they are witnessing. When Jesus talks about Christians being the light of the world (John 8:12), his exhortation does not allow us to ignore the places of challenge and struggle. Be sure to learn and understand key terms and realities of the conflict such as the occupation, the separation barrier, military control, security considerations, restricted mobility, and other realities. This will help us as individuals and our churches be responsible travelers who are not shutting our eyes to the realities we are witnessing. If you are looking for a place to start, consider the book A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land

Allow God to Break Your Heart for the Things You Learn 

When I was at World Vision, we used to always quote Bob Sieple who said, “Break my heart for the things that break the heart of God.” It is a spiritually transformative process to allow God to break our hearts for the suffering we witness. Allow yourself to enter into the stories of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, many of whom have experienced profound struggles. Learn about the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people, including Christians, for self-determination and the opportunity to live freely and not under military rule. Learn about Israeli Jews actively working and advocating for a different future for their country and people. These stories break our hearts and also motivate us to engage in constructive ways.

Come Home Committed to Engage 

If your hope and prayer is to travel on a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land in pursuit of both peace and justice, one will not return without your heart being motivated and compelled to engage. What does engagement look like? Join CMEP in praying for peace by reading our Prayers for Peace (P4P) blogs and using them to direct prayer in response to the stories of Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the Middle East. Sign up for our newsletters so you can be kept informed about what’s happening in the Middle East on a weekly basis. Join CMEP and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in our advocacy efforts to pray for peace and work for justice so that all people living in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and the Middle East might have hope for a prosperous future.

Photo provided by the author of Tent of Nations in 2017


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