I was privileged to spend two weeks in the Holy Land with my wife and sons in March 2023. We were guided by Brian and Peri Zahnd (pastors of Word of Life Church in St Joseph, Missouri) and Jack Sara (Palestinian native of Jerusalem and president of Bethlehem Bible College). Over 8 days they took us on a clockwise tour from Jaffa on the Mediterranean shore up the coast to Caesarea Maritima, then inland to Mount Carmel, Megiddo, Nazareth and Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee; south down the western shore of the lake and parallel to the Jordan river, through Bet She’an to Jericho, Qumran and the Dead Sea; then westwards to Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives and Bethlehem. We added a walk along the Emmaus Trail to the west of Jerusalem before returning to the airport in Tel Aviv where we had first arrived, just east of Jaffa.

The trip has left a profound impression on us, but not necessarily in the way we expected. As my wife, Helen, put it: “For me the trip was not the pilgrimage; it was the start of my pilgrimage.”

“May we see what we need to see, hear what we need to hear, think what we need to think and feel what we need to feel.”

Brian Zahnd’s prayer for each of us each morning

My strongest initial impressions from this trip might be summarised with the words ordinary, familiar and radical.


I expected magic – places glowing with some sacred aura and a tingling in the air that would overawe and transport me. I expected some grandeur befitting the wondrous and miraculous things that God said and did in the person of Jesus. I expected some obvious footprints as indelible evidence of him having walked that way. Instead I found ordinary grass and flowers, hillsides and homes, lakes and rivers, rocky ruins and bustling streets – such as you might find almost anywhere.

“Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel?”

Naaman in 2 Kings 5:12

To be sure, in every place of Christian significance, grand stone edifices have been erected. They are creatively designed, filled with beautiful mosaics, paintings and stained glass, and overlaid with silver and gold. With a few exceptions – like the Church of the Nativity, the Holy Selpulchre and the Chapel of the Upper Room – the current buildings are from the 19th or 20th centuries. They are more about the modern response of Armenians, Franciscans and Orthodox to the places than they are part of the places themselves.

When God “became human and made his home among us” (John 1:14), he did not book out the great amphitheatres in important cities like Caesarea, Bet She’an or Jerusalem;

he spent most of his life in a no-name hillside village of a few hundred people (Nazareth) and based his ministry in a lakeside fishing village that was no more than a few hundred metres from one side to the other (Capernaum):

To hear his great “Sermon on the Mount,” you did not need a ticket to some venue of renown; you had to walk up a hillside to a place so ordinary that no-one really knows where it was anymore.

Capernaum was not a seat of power or prestige, but it was on the “Via Maris” trading route between continents, so that all sorts of people from all sorts of places would be continually passing through – carrying what they saw and heard from the Sower in all directions, like seeds swept up on their pappi by winds blowing through a field of dandelions.

God works his magic in and through the ordinary – everywhere and at all times.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The extraordinary thing is not the land where Jesus walked but rather that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us – in our ordinary surroundings – and that he still does.

> Familiar