Israel: Where Faith Comes to Life

February 14, 2023 by Megan Uhr

Israel is where my faith came to life. Where my faith became tangible.

Visiting Israel gave me a whole new perspective on what is important. I walked where Jesus walked. I prayed where Jesus prayed. My faith grew in ways I never thought possible. The Bible came to life here. This trip changed me, and for that, I will forever be grateful.

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As I sat in Cornerstone one morning, I heard Rev. Matt Tuggle, Executive Minister of Contemporary Worship & Program Ministry, talk about an upcoming Israel trip that HPUMC would be taking. I immediately looked at a few friends sitting next to me, and I could see, in their eyes too, that this was something we all wanted to do. We knew it wouldn’t be easy to make it happen, but deep down, we all knew this trip would be worth it. And boy, were we right.

I grew up in a Christian home and have been going to Highland Park United Methodist Church my whole life. My faith had always been a part of my life, but it wasn’t until after college that I started making my faith my own. I started reading my Bible regularly, getting plugged in at church, and asking deeper questions about what I believed. I struggled with doubt and was hungry for the truth. I wanted answers, so I committed to reading the Bible cover to cover. I wanted to learn more about God and what it meant to live as a true disciple of Jesus. When I heard that HPUMC was taking a trip to the Holy Land, I thought, what better way to seek God than to take a trip to the land where the whole story started…Israel.

As I got off the plane in Israel, I was immediately stunned by the beauty of the land. I began to quickly understand why the Bible calls it “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Palm trees dotted the landscape, lush green pastures filled the Galilee region, beautiful rolling hills filled the Jordan Valley, and Jerusalem glistened with a beauty rich with history.

I remember standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee at the Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter, the traditional location of the events in John 21. It was stunningly beautiful, quiet, and serene. I pictured Jesus standing on this very shore after His resurrection, looking out at the same view, calling out to His disciples fishing in the sea. I pictured Peter jumping from the boat and swimming to Jesus, and Jesus asking him three times, “Do you love me?” and telling Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Standing in the literal footsteps of Jesus brings your faith to life in a whole new way. There truly is no other feeling like it.

I will also never forget standing on the shore of the Jordan River, dressed in my white baptism robe and gazing out at the water as the sun was setting. As Worship Pastor of Cornerstone, Aaron Long led us in worship and Matt reminded us about the meaning and significance of baptism, a surreal feeling hit, knowing I was going to be submerged in the same river where Jesus was baptized. I pictured this river over 2,000 years ago as John the Baptist baptized Jesus. I pictured heaven opening and the Spirit of God descending like a dove on Jesus. It truly was such an incredible experience that I will forever remember.

However, one of the most profound moments of the trip was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. As I sat there in prayer, I felt this overwhelming sense of God’s love for me as I meditated on John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” I pictured Jesus in this very garden, praying on His knees, full of agony and despair, knowing what awaited Him. Jesus could have walked away from Jerusalem and traveled back to Galilee to escape His arrest and betrayal, but instead, Jesus said yes to me, picked up His cross, and walked toward Calvary. I pictured Jesus carrying me on His shoulders, yet ultimately sacrificing Himself for me so that I can have eternal life through Him.

I will forever remember being in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional site of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and putting my hand in the hole believed to be where Jesus’s cross once stood. This is when the reality of the crucifixion hit me. Calvary isn’t just something we read about in a book. It is a literal place in a literal city.

It is a literal hill where our Lord and Savior willingly submitted to death by crucifixion to save us from our sins. John 15:13 states, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” I pictured Jesus in this very spot thousands of years ago. I pictured the temple curtain tearing in two as Jesus drew His last breath. As I touched the rock believed to be where Jesus was laid after His crucifixion to prepare Him for burial, I was reminded that the story doesn’t end here. The story continues three days later as Jesus walks out from that tomb, and the story continues today as Jesus sits at the right hand of the throne of God, interceding for us and seeking a personal, intimate relationship with each and every one of us.

As I stood on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus ascended to heaven and where He will return at His second coming, I stood in awe of the beauty of Jerusalem. Walking the same path Jesus took on Palm Sunday from the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley, and to Jerusalem, the whole Easter story now has an even deeper meaning to me.

From standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee to remembering my baptism in the Jordan River to standing on Jesus’s teaching steps to praying on the Mount of Beatitudes, communion at the Garden Tomb, and so much more, God used this trip to change me. I learned so much more about my faith and visited so many sites from the Bible. I read the Bible in a whole new light now.

And experiencing this trip with my home church made this trip even more incredible. I created new relationships and strengthened existing ones. We laughed, we cried, and we worshiped together. I fell in love with the land of Israel and will forever be grateful that I took this leap of faith and journeyed to the Holy Land.

So here is my advice—the next time this trip presents itself, take that leap of faith and go. It truly is the experience of a lifetime, and you will grow in ways you never thought possible. God really does use this land to change people. He used it to change me, so I know He will use it to change you!