SPECIAL REPORT: Journey to the Holy Land Part 1

(WTVM) - It's the central location of the Bible - and Israel has also been in the news a lot lately. I had the opportunity to go there recently, with a group of 35 pastors, most of them from Georgia on this "Journey to the Holy Land."

The 35 Georgia pastors that went were not on a vacation, but a journey through time in Israel, going back 2,000 years, to bring the Bible to life, and according to Pastor Bill Smith, "see some of the things Christ would've seen, experience some of the stuff He experienced."

"This is about 4 years of Bible college wrapped up into one week," Pastor Jodi Garrison added.

Sabin Strickland, a pastor in Roswell, GA told me, "This is my first time in Israel, having a wonderful time experiencing the culture, and the people."

One of those people was our guide for the week, Abraham, who kept us moving fast, seeing dozens of historical sites.

"Truly, this is a miracle land and a miracle people, and we ought to declare their story wherever we go," said Jay Bailey, Solid Rock church pastor in Midland, GA.

It took an entire day to get from Columbus to the airport in Tel Aviv, the first time to Israel for many of us. One of our first stops was the Sea of Galilee, where we took a haunting boat ride.

"Here now, on the Sea of Galilee, is truly miraculous to me, just to be here," Athens, GA pastor Jerry Alexander said.

We took camel rides and went to the Mount of Beatitudes, where the Gospels say Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

"To stand at the place where Jesus preached the best sermon ever (Sermon on the Mount), it really moved me," Gainesville, GA pastor John Belangia told us.

The Next stop was the city mentioned the most in The Bible - Jerusalem.

Macon pastor Norman Yukers said, "The hair on the back of my neck stood up when I could see Jerusalem from a distance."

You could sometimes hear Muslim chants over the loud speaker. We walked down the Mount of Olives, down to the Garden of Gethsemane, where it's been told that Jesus prayed before he was crucified. We met a Franciscan priest there. He gave our group olive branches from the famous garden.

"Literally, the words Not My Will, but thine be done, just screamed in that place," Atlanta pastor Mel Rolls said.

Our Jewish guide says some trees here may be 2,000 years old.

"To be able to now take scripture and say look, when we're talking about what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, I was there and let me tell you what it's like," Yukers said.

Our guide took the group of pastors to the place where Jesus was arrested, then put into a pit, which our group went down into, singing songs in that pit.

Dennis Lacy, pastor of North Highland church in Columbus said, "We worshipped and we sang together and we took communion...there's a presence...when you walk in that tomb, that's truly amazing!"

He's talking about the Garden Tomb, empty and where Christians believe Jesus was buried and then resurrected.

There was plenty of singing, dancing, and praying at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall, where our group was surrounded by thousands of Jewish people, separated from their temple by that wall.

"We came here (Western Wall) at the beginning of the Sabbath. It was amazing to see the devotion that people have towards God," Decatur, GA pastor Marlin Harris.

And from the tunnels around the Western Wall, we then went down by the Jordan River, where it's said Jesus was baptized 2,000 years ago. The last famous body of water we went to in Israel was The Dead Sea, known as the lowest place on Earth and made up of 33% salt.

"It was more like floating than swimming," Pastor Brad Lacy said.

And on land, the pastors walked on what they saw as holy ground - steps that the group was told Jesus actually walked on.

Riverdale, GA pastor Jason Rollin said, "Who knew that Jesus, the center of His ministry, was 2 hours away from Jerusalem, and that's a drive, not a walk."

"What I saw here, I get it! We walked in His shoes, we retraced His steps," Pastor Rolls added.

"A deepening experience to come and walk where Jesus walked to see the people, see how they'd still do life," said Brad Nowell, a pastor in Dexter, GA.

Victor Styrsky, a leader with Christians United for Israel said, "They (pastors group) didn't realize the smallness of the countryside and grandness of the Jewish people."

"I've got to touch what I read, I got to experience what I've imagined and I thank CUFI for this opportunity," Bishop Shantae Younger said.

CUFI is "Christians United for Israel, the largest pro-Israel grassroots organization in the world," according to the group's associate director Shari Dollinger, part of the group in the Holy Land.

CUFI helped organize this trip, one that had a profound impact on these Georgia pastors.

"Everything of the Christian faith started right here, this is the foundation where it began," said Matt Rustin, pastor of New Harvest Church in Hamilton, GA.

"I've actually seen and experienced and smelt, tasted, touched a lot of Biblical things," Pastor Rollin summarized.

Friday night, we will air part 2 of this "Journey to the Holy Land" special report, as we take you to dangerous borders in and around Israel, talking with Jewish soldiers and military leaders about how conflicts in the Middle East impact America.

And in a month, there will be an event in Columbus, GA about the Holy Land, called "A Night to Honor Israel." It is June 10th at the Columbus RiverCenter, featuring keynote speaker Pastor John Hagee, founder of CUFI.

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