Editor’s Note: Area pastor and station manager of Glory 1130 WECR-AM, Phillip Greene, recently returned from a tour in Israel with several area religious leaders — two of which are from Watauga County. The following is his firsthand account of what he and his traveling companions experienced during their journey.

“Welcome Home.” – Foteh Mickel

That is how the journey began: A welcome into the homeland and a welcome that will not soon be forgotten.

To say that visiting Israel is the experience of a lifetime would be an understatement. To see the places where the stories of Scripture happened is truly breathtaking. Stories we know, stories we have read all our lives, and stories that have meaning to us, but somehow spoke differently standing on the same ground.

To put this into words has been difficult. In fact, I would even say impossible. It is nearly impossible to capture the true feelings felt when walking in the Holy Land and be able to put those on paper in a way that can be fully understood without someone just going there.

Bob Garbett, pastor at First Baptist Church in Crossnore, may have summed up everyone’s feelings best in saying, “This trip brings new meaning and perspective to the Scriptures.”

I couldn’t agree more. It started with a dream, a longing to visit the land where Jesus lived, walked, taught and ultimately died for the sins of the world, and something I longed to do for years. Through the process of the last couple of years working on finding a way, Brother Chad Cole, pastor of Chestnut Dale Baptist Church, approached local ministers with an opportunity to experience this journey. Cole, also an employee with Wilcox Travel, had worked to open the door for a local group of ministers to be some of the first travelers back in Israel following the COVID-19 shutdowns, and with the pieces in place we were off.

On July 26, eight pastors set off on a journey to visit the Holy Land. Four of those pastors were from Avery County: Garbett, Cole, Michael McKee (Newland Presbyterian) and myself (Newland Christian), two from Watauga County: Mike Bozeman and Jonathan Arnette (The Rock), one from Carter County, Tenn.: Michael Odom; and another from Georgia: Will Scott.

Travel, a lengthy layover and the hustle of the day culminated with a second wind of being in the land we had dreamed of visiting. We hit the ground running, heading to the Temple mount shortly after arrival and seeing the steps that lead to the southern portions of the old city. Taking in the place where Jesus would have taught, where the baptisms of Acts may have taken place, and our first experience with the beauty of this ancient city, we had begun.

From Magdala to Megiddo, we traveled over the majority of Israel, seeing the places where Jesus taught, where He walked, prayed and fellowshipped with His disciples. From En Gedi to the Elah Valley, we saw the areas where much of Scripture happened, where David hid from Saul to the place he took down Goliath. We experienced close to 60 sites that spoke directly to our hearts and opened our eyes to the truth of God’s Word in deeper and more profound ways than we even expected.

“In the few days since, as I have processed some of what we were able to do and see, I’ve realized how significantly the geography of that place frames the experience,” McKee said of the experience and area. “Cyril of Jerusalem called (it) the Fifth Gospel. He recognized the land itself speaks to you of Christ and the path of salvation, something to which any Southerner steeped in the importance of place can attest.”

To give a full account of all the places we visited and the emotional and spiritual impact of each site would take more than space would allow. There was so much to take in, so much more to see and wrap your mind around, and as time allows, each of us will have something that will change our perspective as we share the Gospel with others. To fully recap the journey, we learned the importance of water and security. We learned the value of history and remembering the past as a beacon to the future. We learned the influence of tradition and the value of experience.

We learned.

“The only thing I can say that the others can’t is, after this being my third time there, this experience keeps getting sweeter and sweeter each time,” Brother Cole explained. “I’ve always said it is like drinking water from a fire hose, and that will never change. The Bible literally comes to life with every step we take and mile we drive.”

And, he is right.

There were many moments of silence as we took a breath and tried to process exactly what we had just heard, seen and how it had impacted our view of God’s Holy Word. In fact, the most common thought in my mind during the week was “Wow.” This trip has left an impact, and truthfully a desire to return. I am thankful for Wilcox and NET for allowing us the opportunity. What a blessing to see the places we have only read about and gain a new perspective on the Scripture.

I would encourage everyone to keep your ears open for a chance that you might have to do the same. I know that each of us have a desire to return and take others with us to experience the beauty of Israel.

Pastor McKee may best sum up the experience in a most profound way: “Indeed, Christ is at the center of all of it – of all the world – and of all of you.”

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