I was stoked to become one of the 3.6 million people to visit the country of Israel last year. Traveling on a tour with other pastors from my conference, I wondered how to make this experience more than just an interesting vacation. It ended up dramatically exceeding my expectations and being one of the most significant experiences in my recent life.
Here are five keys that made the difference:
1. SHARE What You Learn to Lead People to Jesus
I have been on trips before where I take thousands of pictures. When I get home to the busyness of life, they become a large file on my computer that almost never gets opened again. I didn’t want this to happen, so I scheduled an evangelistic reaping seminar based on my Holy Land tour experience. It would take place three months after I got back. I announced to my church members before I left, “I wish I could take you all with me on this tour to the Holy Land. Since I can’t, I will do my best to bring the Holy Land back here to you. Invite your friends on this exciting whirlwind tour of the Holy Land and the Bible.” They started getting excited about it.
Jesus impacts us in a special way when we are seeking to impact others who don’t know Him yet. I believe this was the single most powerful key for maximizing my Holy Land tour experience. My tour was not aboutmeanymore. It wasn’t even about my church members. My tour became all about reaching people in my community with the distinctive everlasting gospel of Jesus Christ.
I was hungry to learn, so I would have something to share. I brought a pocket-sized notebook and pen and feverishly took notes. I used time on the bus to catch up on notes when I got behind. I brainstormed ideas with my seat mate for how to share what we were experiencing.
I needed a plethora of photos to draw from for my Power Point presentations. At each site, I took three kinds of photos- 1) Just the site, 2) A selfie smiling with the site in the background (proof I didn’t just get it off Google!), 3) Some dramatic or interactive photo (whenever possible). For example - Posing as Uriah dying by the wall at Rabbah; Drinking water like Gideon’s men at the Spring of Harod; Attempting to lift catapult stones at Masada; Jumping “over” Jerusalem (in the background while atop the Mount of Olives); Stomping in the winepress at Nazareth Village; Riding a camel at Petra; etc. I knew the more creative my pictures were, the more interesting my evangelistic presentations would be.
I also decided to make a video series of 2 - 3 minute devotionals at the various sites. This was a challenge while constantly in a group setting, but blessing hundreds of people through the videos on social media was more important to me than getting a few awkward looks from the people around me. My church members enjoyed watching and sharing the videos, only building more hype for the evangelistic seminar.
When I got back, I spent a month praying, studying, sorting photos, reviewing my notes, writing my presentations and creating my Power Point slides. We advertised the seminar in the community. I personally invited as many interests from our church as possible. During the seminar, I shared pictures and stories from places I visited that transitioned into major Bible truths. Here are some examples: 1) We toured Petra, the “Lost City” now inhabited by nomadic Bedouin and drew connections with the “Lost City” of the New Jerusalem that we belong to. We are nomads on earth journeying toward our heavenly home. 2) In Capernaum, we saw the synagogue where Jesus cast out an evil spirit on the Sabbath. Then we studied on what Jesus and the Bible teach about the Sabbath. 3) At Qumran we learned about a group of people who were serious about the Scriptures, saw themselves as a spiritual priesthood, and wanted to usher in the coming of the Messiah. Then we affirmed their desires (not their practices) and studied from the Bible how Jesus is raising up a movement of people in the last days who are serious about the Scriptures, a spiritual priesthood and will prepare the world for the second coming of the Messiah.
“Secrets of Hope” seminar presentations online on my YouTube channel “Dustin Serns”
The members and guests loved it. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully. We celebrated 11 baptisms/professions of faith at the end of the seminar. Seeing archaeological sites was far more exciting when I saw God use it to change lives!
2. SEIZE Opportunities to Worship
Some of my best memories from the trip came from seizing opportunities to worship outside the structured tour time. When we stayed at the Sea of Galilee, I woke up early and spent the morning on the beach with my feet in the water. While the sun rose over the lake, I prayed and read from my Bible about Jesus calling His disciples. When we stayed in Jerusalem, a small group of us woke up before 5:00 am and hiked up the Mount of Olives. At the top, we watched the sunrise, sang songs and prayed together. I will never forget those moments. On bus rides I spent time in reflection and prayer. At mealtimes, I asked my colleagues what had inspired them so far. My entire trip was a worship experience.
3. SEE Yourself in the Story
At each site, seeing myself in the story made the Bible come alive in my heart in a powerful way. Walking on the landscape where Jesus walked was more meaningful than standing in the churches built on top of it. For example, I spent 5 minutes at the church built on the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane and 15 minutes in the olive grove across the way praying under an olive tree. I praised Jesus for His incredible faithfulness even in the midst of my failures.
4. SEARCH for Humor and Irony
Searching for humor added a lot of joy to my experience. I found little things ironic, like a forklift parked next to the giant sycamore tree in Jericho (where was that when Zacchaeus needed it?) or a church built over top of the roofless house in Capernaum where Jesus healed the paralytic (an overreaction to a destroyed roof?).
The clashing sensitivity among groups in Jerusalem became almost hilarious. The Jews would love to rebuild the temple. They have already developed the plans, built the furniture and even raised the money. The only thing standing in their way is the Dome of the Rock shrine, which 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide consider the 3rdholiest place on earth. No wonder whenever a Jew wants to tour the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount they have to be escorted by seven Israeli troops holding machine guns. Capturing the humor of the tension helps us better understand and communicate some of the conflicts we see on the news today that dates all the way back to the time of Abraham.
5. SEEK Adventure Over Comfort
Attitude is everything. Choose to let discomfort only add to the epic-ness of the adventure. That’s what helped me step off the airconditioned bus into the scorching sun with a smile on my face. I chose not to care about the sweat pouring down my back as long as I could walk where my biblical heroes walked. Sprinting in panic through the airport when we almost missed our overseas flight connection became a reminder that God is in control and inconveniences give us “more stories to tell.”
Dustin Serns is the pastor of the Port Orchard Church in Washington