Editor’s note: Tom Lathen, pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Temple, recently returned from a visit to the Holy Land and is sharing the following story about his travels.
The Holy Land is open. After 18 months of tight control of the movement of everyone in and out of Israel, the government is allowing fully vaccinated individuals (in tour groups) to come to Israel.
Two things commonly acknowledged in Israel are the country’s dependence on tourism as a source of income and the country’s pride in considering today’s Israel as “the 5th Gospel”.
Tourists, who are also called pilgrims, come to Israel because it is a center of activity for Jewish, Muslim and Christian history.
There is an uneasy cooperation in Israel. Riding from Jerusalem to Bethlehem one travels through an Israeli government checkpoint. Bethlehem, you see, is in an area known as the West Bank and under Palestinian control.
We hear so much about walls living in Texas. But there are walls that separate Israelis and Palestinians throughout the country.
When we visited Israel in late October, we were required to have a third COVID-19 vaccination. We were also required to have a negative COVID test within 48 hours of our arrival. Another test was required before we could leave and travel to Egypt. Egypt in turn required another test before we could leave to begin the long journey home.
Tourist pilgrims are warmly welcomed in Egypt and Israel. While Israel is a small country, traveling from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea and then on to Jerusalem shows travel in the time of Jesus and his disciples was a pretty long walk — about 75 miles.
The most challenging part of travel in Cairo/Giza, Egypt is the 20 million people living in the city. Roads are constantly packed and without an understanding of the language getting anywhere would be just about impossible.
We were blessed to spend two weeks in Jerusalem and Egypt. Sites that are precious and meaningful to Christians, Jews and Muslims do coexist in a calm environment. While there are walls that separate some areas, there is a common desire for peace.