Pilgrims talk about the Holy Land



WHERE THERE WAS NO WATER"                                   NUMBERS 8

Pilgrims murmuring in the Wilderness

"It was there, in the Wilderness of Zin, that Abraham sent Sarah's handmaid Hagar packing, along with their son Ishmael.  In a truly heart-rending scene, after exhausting their supply of bread and water, Hagar consigned the little boy to the shade of the scrub-brush, that she might not have to "look on the death of the child" (Genesis 21:16).  It was to the same vicinity that Moses would one day return with the newly-liberated, but bickering and "murmuring" Children of Israel.

From Sde Boker, final resting place of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, we set out in homemade "safari trucks" led by an Israeli named Yankele.  Yankele remarked that the way was rougher than he had ever seen it, owing to a rare desert gully-washer that had come earlier in the spring.  Our two four-wheelers dropped into "granny-gear" time and again, as they gnawed and crawled their way from dip to divide, rocking and reeling, sometimes threatening to topple.

Promised to us "murmurers" at the end of our wandering was "manna and quail" set picnic-style under a tarp strung between the vehicles.  But prior to the luncheon we walked a hundred yards to a rare oasis, and sat down in the simmering shade of the scrub-brush.  We thought of Isaac and Ishmael, and the start of a conflict that would persist.  We thought of Moses and the People, and a patience that would not persist.  We experienced the stillness, apart from which none can know God."

Dr. Steve Pressley
 Associate Pastor First Baptist Church
Greensboro, North Carolina

Traveling in Safari Trucks in the Wilderness of Zin

Photo:  Steve Pressley

Safari Trucks about to depart for the Wilderness of Zin

“There, in the Wilderness of Zin, we learned, among other things, just why the Israelites had so many good reasons for challenging Moses and Aaron, complaining because they had been denied the comfort and security of Egypt.  Somewhere in these environs they wandered for four decades before claiming their lands of promise. Before our Beduin desert lunch, each pilgrim, with Bible and emotions, withdrew to a silent place for reflection and prayer.

During this incredible block of time alone we each in our own way experienced the wilderness all around us.  With sight, and sound and taste and touch and smell, we were engaged by the desert itself.  The terrain is remarkable, but the gifts the Wilderness of Zin shared with our 48 pilgrims will long be remembered.  Here is a set of impressions I received from our pilgrims:

• I never spend much time alone with God, but here in the desert I did. (An 82-year-old woman on pilgrimage)
• Even the lizards looked friendly, and thank God we saw no snakes!
(A church organist who hates snakes)
• All a Beduin needs in this wilderness are water and a black goat. (Yankele our guide)
• I expected to meet Moses coming around every rock formation; it was so real and made the Exodus come alive for me.
• Amid the desert wastes and quietness, I truly experienced my own personal exodus.
• I met God amidst the rocks, the heat and the barrenness in ways I have never encountered my Creator before.

Whenever Gila tells you, ‘Take this tour,’ do it.  It is truly exceptional, a spiritual smorgasbord in a wilderness wonderland!”

Dr. W. Randall Lolley,
Christian pastor and theological educator, retired
Raleigh, North Carolina

"A Holy Land Pilgrimage bombards the senses with breathtaking images of David's
Shining City, the tranquil Sea of Galilee, the grassy northern kingdom of Dan
with its roaring river, the meandering Jordan, the wondrous cities of Caesarea
and Nazareth, and, of course, the magical Dead Sea.  However, experiencing the
Wilderness of Zin in the Negev Desert helped me to put my life in perspective.

The ruggedly beautiful mountains, the glorious canyons, and the verdant oases
invite us pilgrims to listen, reflect, and contemplate the mysteries of the Eternal
in our own lives.  Murmuring through the canyons, the wind whispers eternal
truths -- just as here God spoke to Abraham, Moses, and the Israelites over 3,000
years ago.  This pilgrim views life's ups and downs in a new light, from a
different perspective, after spending time in the wildness and mildness of the
Wilderness of Zin."

Sr. M. Clare Sweeney
Tempe, Arizona

Pilgrims hiking to Ein Akab in the Wilderness of Zin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Sister Clare and a group of Arizonan pilgrims hiking to Ein Akab

"Our afternoon on the Stations of the Cross and especially at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was conflictive and uncomfortable, filled with the tensions that are palpable in the Holy City.  The trip to the Negev, however, brought it all into perspective and lifted my heart higher than it could have gotten without the day in Jerusalem.  The Negev Desert relieved the stress of Jerusalem.

Yankele, our driver, described the desert as a place of fear and danger, with many unfriendly animals and plants and elements, that made sense to a group of Arizonans. That is our desert: the animals all bite and sting, usually with poison.  The plants all have thorns and many have poison, too. The sun and lack of water can kill
quickly, as the deaths of illegal immigrants make clear every summer.  But then Yankele added the healing grace of the desert: it is a place of peace and contemplation. It has oases.  There is quiet.

Oasis in the Wilderness of Zin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Oasis in the Wilderness of Zin:  Ein Zik

You can find God in the desert and be alone with Him.  You cannot do that in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or on the Via Dolorosa, and yet the desert puts the Holy City in focus.  Christ is for everyone and that diversity is not a clean and simple process.  It pits believers against each other, and against other human beings at the
cutting edge of belief and territorial interests in a small country.

Oasis in the Negev's wilderness of Zin

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ein Akab in the Negev's Wilderness of Zin

There is so much blood on the sacred soil, and that blood comes up in Jerusalem. There is blood on the desert, too, but the soil absorbs it in stillness and the immense scale of the landscape.  We have dry, rocky hills in Arizona, but not of the same scale and grandeur.  The harsh but beautiful landscape provides a presence of an awesome, holy God, accessible in His wilderness, not lost in the hubbub of urban humanity.  Yet the desert completed the Jerusalem experience and gave me peace for that time, too."

Dale Furnish
Tempe, Arizona

Wilderness wildflower

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Wilderness wildflower




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin