ST. LOUIS—Lee Sanders, associate pastor of education at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, is all about connections.
As Sanders led a group of Christians in a recent trip to Israel, he helped them make the connection between Bible reading and the Holy Land.
“When a believer makes the trip, it enhances the study of God’s Word and encourages faith,” Sanders said. “When someone involved in Bible teaching goes, the trip helps them describe God’s Word. This has been applicable to my own teaching.”
Cheryl Hill, member of First O’Fallon and a recent pilgrim, agreed that the visit helped her see the Bible lands.
“I knew it was real,” she said, “but to visually see the places changed my idea of Israel. I realized how my idea of Israel was shaped by movies and certain pictures. I envisioned a desolate desert that was flat and barren. Before, I never thought of the hills and I wasn’t seeing the land of milk and honey. God really did provide all the Israelites needed.”
Serving as co-host for the trip, David Rubemeyer, former pastor and member of First Baptist Church, Elsberry, also talked about connecting with God.
“I think it is important for all Christians to make the trip,” he said. “God reveals Himself during this time. Although I had been before, in certain areas, I sensed the Lord going deeper in my life. He peels back layers in my walk with Him and I experienced it through this trip.”
Sanders’ plan for the trip provided worship times in addition to learning the history.
“Since I’ve been so many times (15),” he said, “I know there are certain spots that are great for worship. The Garden of Gethsemane for a Sunday worship service is wonderful. I think about teachable moments and I look for times to give people private time with the Lord.”
The Garden of Gethsemane was especially meaningful to many of the travelers.
“The Garden was so moving,” Hill said. “It weighed on me when Lee gave us the picture of the stone olive press and discussed how my sins caused Christ to shed His blood for me.”
Sharon and Paul Enke, members of First O’Fallon, both named the Sea of Galilee as a favorite.
“When we stood on the area of the beach,” Sharon said, “it was easy to imagine Jesus looking out at the disciples struggling with the nets while He made breakfast for them. The sea is still so authentic and the beach is still the same.”
Sharon also commented on why it was important to walk where Jesus did.
“We were honored to walk and pray where Jesus did,” she said. “It is like knowing someone so well and never being in their home. This gave us the opportunity to be in His hometown, a land He loved and cherished.”
Paul described the trip as an emotional one for him.
“When we got our first look at the city of Jerusalem,” he said, “I thought of all that occurred over the thousands of years in this place and the significance to Christians and to history.”
Hill and Rubemeyer discussed the significance of the dedication/re-baptism in the Jordan River.
“I wanted to share this experience with my sister and my dad. This was a re-baptism for me,” Hill said. “I wanted to feel closeness to God and show my obedience to follow Him in my life.”
Rubemeyer did the re-baptism for the group and he also had a family connection.
“It was such a privilege to baptize my brother,” he said. “It was a re-baptism for him, but when Mark heard that he would have the opportunity for baptism, he decided to take the trip.”
According to Hill, the organization of the trip was significant.
“We started the trip by visiting the house of Simon the tanner in Jaffa (Joppa),” she said. “The house where Cornelius found Peter was important to Gentiles becoming believers. Then, during our trip, we had both an Israeli and a Palestinian guide culminating in the Garden Tomb with a Christian guide from South America. It was exciting to trace the path of the gospel through this multicultural land.”
Sanders is now making plans for another trip to Israel Nov. 11-20.