What started off as a throw-away comment six months ago became a reality – A father-daughter pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I’m back from my 12 day tour and yet it still feels so surreal. Thinking about my experience is still like flicking through postcards of key landmarks. Between all the social media updates, I have been describing this experience to friends as ‘full of flavours and emotions’. I can’t say I feel any ‘holier’ or a heightened sense of spiritual growth but I’ve certainly learned a lot more about the history and how it all fits in with the theology of the different Christian denominations.
As part of this dream of touring with Dad is literally just that. Touring with Dad. We signed up for a Chinese-speaking tour to make it easy for my dad to understand the biblical references. In all honesty, this posed a language barrier for me. I’m a fluent colloquial Cantonese speaker and have limited capacity to digest Biblical references in Chinese. If there is anything to complain about my tour, it would literally be just that!
Originally, I was going to put up a post every single day to capture my learnings of each of the Holy Land landmarks and my feelings on each. Well, clearly that went according to plan… NOT! Our itinerary was very tight. We had 44 spots to visits within 10 days across Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Most days started at 6am and ended at 7pm, after which we would have dinner and back up for the following day.
To honour the best experience for myself and my dad, I decided to cut out the ‘daily blogging’ from the itinerary. I mean, it’s not like I don’t have 1000 photos to remind myself of the places I’d been to. Facebook will have a backup as well. So there, I didn’t need much convincing to drop that part of the schedule. If you’re a blogger, you might appreciate this…sometimes, you just NEED A BREAK from your blog.
So, I’m wrapping the whole experience up in ONE post. Here are the highlights of my trip:
1. 12 DAYS, 5 COUNTRIES, CROSSING BORDERS X 6
- To get myself there, I travelled from Australia to Hong Kong.
- From Hong Kong to Jordan, laying over in Thailand.
- After arriving in Amman, it was mainly road travel on the tour bus. We crossed over to Palestine and then to Israel, repeated that again.
- With our final destination at Tel Aviv, I made it all the way back home through the same route.
2. MIGRAINES, MEDICS & A DRIP
I’m a migraine sufferer. I hate exaggerating but I probably didn’t say that with enough might. I AM A MIGRAINE SUFFERER.
This poses huge problems for me when travelling as things such as jet-lag, sleep deprivation and general stress are the main triggers for my migraines.
The packed itinerary also made it very hard to fit in any yoga, which has been the most effective treatment for my migraines.
5 days of migraines, vomit bags and think highlight 1 above, landed me in the hands of Israeli medics and a drip in the hotel room.
A little dent in the trip but hey, who can claim to have had medics administer a drip on you while travelling in Israel?
Praise God, everything worked out just the way He plans and I didn’t miss out on much on those bed-ridden days.
Petra, for the smarts and history of the Nabateans. Cultural appropriation at its best!
Bethlehem, city where Jesus was born. I remember wanting to go there and imagining what it was like during Christmas Carols when i was 7. To stand there by the manger just brought tears to my eyes. There was a lot of dealing with my emotions of being there and acknowledging the birth of my Saviour.
The Dead Sea, where they found the Bible scrolls in the Qumran caves and also seeing my dad float around like a child again in the Dead Sea. I’m a really logical person and so I often find myself battling between the LORD and facts. I love the fact that the Qumran caves stored the whole book of Isaiah, disproving skeptics that it was written after the coming of the Messiah. BOOM! As for my dad swimming like a fearless child? That was the apex of the trip.
The Sea of Tiberius, where Jesus challenged Peter’s love for Jesus and told Peter he was going to be a martyr. Here, one of our tasks (as per what we did with each stop) was to meditate on how much we love Jesus and to find a heart-shaped pebble by the sea. I closed my eyes and picked up a pebble….low and behold, it couldn’t be more of a perfect heart. Talk about red, hot tears! Jesus spoke one line to me, “I am your LIFELINE.”
- Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem and Via Dolorosa – Walking Christ last footsteps before His crucifixion and stopping by the 12 stations mentioned in the Bible. The walk was about 45 minutes in total from where Jesus was sentenced to Calvary. Walking through paved streets with shelter from the sun, with a completely healthy body and no wooden slump on my back made me feel so undeserving of what Jesus did for us. As walked through the journey, I couldn’t bear to think about the circumstance the Lord Jesus had to go through. It pained my heart to think about it. That’s when I also knew that our thought life, our emotions and physical being is one. This verse spoke so loudly to me, “To love the Lord, your God, with heart, soul, mind and strength” (Mark 12:30).
4. RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE
- The first question I got asked when I told or was telling people about travelling to Jordan was “Is it dangerous?” We joined a credible tour which knew what they were doing. In fact, I was blessed to have such an awesome Pastor leading our tour and a tour guide who is only one of maybe 20 Israeli Chinese. No amount of research I can do or planning will be more powerful than just trusting God’s protection. The short answer is “yes, it can be” but “no, it wasn’t”.
- What I did not expect was the mutual respect and tolerance of the religious differences. Sure the Muslims, Jews and Christians were not living together in the same community but they are devout followers of their faith. There is no ‘hiding’. Yet contrary to the my imagination of ‘distinct segregation’, I saw communities, individuals, walk past one another with mutual respect. In fact, this was very evident in Jordan between the Christians and Muslims.
- Coming back to Sydney Australia and seeing what’s on play in the media and news, I do really question whether we can call ourselves a liberal, democratic country or really, are we religiously intolerant?
- I’m not oblivious to extremists who terrorise in the name of religion in the neighbouring region. What I am referring to, though, are the average Joe’s walking on the streets who really just want respect for what they believe in. I suppose this morphs into a ‘culture and ‘sociology’ conversation, which frankly I’m no expert in. So, I’ll leave it as that – my personal experience and observation.
5. THE CHINESE CHRISTIAN. IS THERE SUCH THING?
- When I was in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian local (who revealed himself as well-travelled) asked me whether I was Christian. “I’ve been to China before and didn’t meet anyone who has heard of Jesus. In fact, I don’t know any Chinese who is Christian.”
- Whilst some may view the above scenario as obscure or even ignorant, the truth is that touring with a group of local Hong Kong Christians gave me a perspective of such thing as “Chinese Christians”. It’s ‘division’ of Christianity and please don’t assume I’m suggesting that. What I truly believe is that we are all members of the body of Christ and have different functions living in God’s creation.
- So what are “Chinese Christians”? Without implying ‘cultural appropriation’ in the purest form of the Christian faith, I do however quote this from Dr Sharmeen Black (School of culture, history and language, Australian National University in her interview with the ABC regarding Christian Yoga and Cultural Appropriation):
“If we look into history, there is little evidence of cultural traditions and religious traditions that are completely separate from each other”
- How does this apply to the Chinese Christian? The traditional Chinese culture has been rooted in ‘hard work paying off’ and ‘reaping the benefits of your own labour’ and being completely self-reliant. Against this cultural backdrop, it’s perhaps hard to explain, let alone accept, the notion of ‘salvation by grace’. I found that our leading pastor of this tour made several references to how a Christ-loving Christian should behave. And there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that except that one’s behaviour was ALWAYS the pivoting point. If I compare this to American preachers, more often than not, there’s the emphasis of veering away from the ‘doing’ and pivoting off of a ground of ‘loving’ Jesus first. Now, you may think I’m generalising from my experience with one particular pastor but allow me to say that the tour members comprised of members from different local congregations and they all found the messages very palatable. This suggests to me that in a wider sense, the notion of ‘Christ-loving’ behaviour being the driving force behind one’s relationship with Jesus is likely a theological approach adopted locally.
- I guess this is the observation I made based on the many preachings from the two Chinese pastors in the 12 days: the approach for spreading the Gospel is still in many ways rooted in the “WORKS of a true Christian”. This approach works well for the Chinese but is dangerous territory when one starts to question how much they need to do…….very interesting subject and not one I want to dwell on for too long in this post.
- Lastly, let me repeat that this is by no way, shape or form, a theological debate. As a Chinese and Christian, I probably wouldn’t identify as the Chinese Christian observed but 100% proud to be a different functioning part of the body of Christ. (Romans 12:4)
I do thank you, if you made it to the end of this post. Thank you for reading. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you and I hope that in one way or another, it has given you some food for thought on travelling to the Holy Land amongst many thoughts today. God bless!