In August of 2009, I traveled with 13 youth pilgrims and 5 adult leaders to Israel, through an organization called Hands in Healing- a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. When I think of Israel, so many things come to mind. Friendship. Laughter and tears. Love. Culture. Tolerance. Memories. But the word that I automatically use to describe the Holy Land is home. I've never wanted to be somewhere so badly. To breathe in it's air and to walk on it's streets. To see the familiar sights and faces I've been longing to see. But unfortunately, I have neither the funds to travel there nor the power to turn back time. So, I rely on my memories. My experience in the Holy Land was life changing. It altered my view of the world and of Christianity. The world became a much bigger and diverse place after I traveled to Israel. The different culture, languages, and lifestyles all inspired me and widened my borders of what I considered "normality". By the end of the trip, I was used to walking into marketplaces and bartering for trinkets. It was normal to hear 3 languages being spoken around me. I didn't question the strict modest dress code. By the end of the trip, I felt at home. This foreign world was now a place I loved and couldn't bare to leave.
We began out trip in Nazareth, where we stayed at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent for four days. The rest of our twelve day trip we abided at St. George's Guest House near the heart of Jerusalem. Throughout my journey in the Holy Land, I visited and explored such places as Nazareth, Galilee, Bethlehem, Beit Shean, the Dead Sea, Capernaum, the Jordan River, and Jerusalem- all which had enormous religious, cultural, and historical significance. My pilgrimage also strengthened my faith and taught me a deeper history of Christianity. I experienced the Bible first hand and in a way, got a VIP pass into the life of Jesus. The Bible stories I had heard came to life as I stood in the very spots they took place. Something moved me deeply when I visited many holy sites there, such as the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. Israel wasn't only a spiritual trip for me, it was one filled with adventure and laughter. It would be impossible to measure the experiences, memories and bonds that were created on this journey. The nights we spent talking and laughing, the hours we spent on the bus together, the magnificent sites we explored, and all the unforgettable experiences we shared. All of these were defining moments for me and the other pilgrims on my trip. I hold all of those memories very dear to my heart.
As you can imagine, my pilgrimage to Israel was the chance of a lifetime. It's something I think about everyday and I wish with all of my heart that I will have a chance go back. I remember driving in our bus for the last time with tears running down my face. I really did not want to go home. Because for me, I was home. The land that millions of Christians, Jews and Muslims have the privilege of calling home. The land Jesus had called home. When I lie awake at night, the only thing I think about… is going home.
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