By The Rev. Ginny Aebischer, Assistant to the Bishop

Imagine walking the streets of Jerusalem or sloshing through the waters of Hezekiah’s tunnel. Imagine learning on the steps of the Temple Mount; praying at the Western (“Wailing”) Wall or in the Garden of Gethsemane and then kneeling inside the tomb where it is believed that they laid our Lord after he died. Imagine worshipping at the Church of the Nativity over the site where Jesus was born, and having a Service for the Affirmation of Baptism at the River Jordan. Imagine the story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man as you sit on the steps of the Pool of Siloam which have just been uncovered, or out on the Sea of Galilee feeding the seagulls as you listen to the reading about Jesus’ calming of the sea when he was on the boat with his disciples. Imagine floating in the Dead Sea, standing on top of Masada and exploring the area where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. Imagine one day after another unfolding, rich with conversations, among Christians, Jews and Muslims about the impact of history and what it means to actually live in the Holy Land today.

In January 2016, 40 folks from across the SC Synod, including a few “adoptees” from other parts of the US, couldn’t imagine how this Pilgrimage/Study Tour to the Holy Land would change our lives. But we soon discovered that this was a life-giving, life changing and utterly inspiring experience. Dr. Monty Luker, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures in the School of Theology of Lenoir-Rhyne University at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary was our Instructor. Dr. Luker has lived, studied and taught in the Holy Land for 30 years. Many of us had him as our Professor of Old Testament in seminary. Others know him by reputation. He has an amazing way of bringing each step of this journey to life. Across the span of time, everything comes to life when you are actually walking the places that Jesus walked and taught, lived and died, and rose again.

Our group of travelers included a lovely mix of Church members, pastors and seminarians. This group became like a family and enjoyed learning from one another as much as we did from the land itself. Many congregations in the SC Synod contributed to a fund to make it more possible for our seminarian candidates to go on this journey. We are very thankful for the financial support that was given to help make this possible for the seminarians.

The candidates made a beautiful presentation to our Synod Council and I asked them to also share their own written reflections of this trip with the readers of our SC Lutheran. We are sharing these with you over the next two issues of the SC Lutheran and we all hope these reflections will give you a small taste of what this Pilgrimage to the Holy Land has meant to those of us who traveled together. Perhaps it will also whet your appetite to join your friends in the SC Synod the next time we go. Because there are so many wonderful parts of the story that simply cannot fit on paper, I also invite you to consider asking one or more of the candidates to come and share the story with you and your congregation in a Sunday School class, a SC WELCA or Lutheran Men’s gathering, or in any other way that can be arranged.

I hope you enjoy our candidate reflections.

Originally printed in the May-June 2016 edition of the South Carolina Lutheran. Subscribe today for only $10 for six issues a year by calling the office at 803-765-0590.

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