Remembering the Holy Land

Karen Scribano   -  

As St. Mark prepares to take a group of members to the Holy Land next spring (April 2024), Dick and Kris McKlveen reminisce about the trip they took there with a group from St. Mark back in 2016.

“We never talked specifically about going to Israel, but once the idea came up at St. Mark, and feeling confident that Pastor Mike would put together a good trip, we were on board,” says Kris. “Plus, we wanted to get to know more people. We had only been members for about four years at that point, and we didn’t know many people outside of choir.”

Their group consisted of 31 people, led by Pastor Mike and Chris Foss. To help build relationships, they all had “buddies” that they had to check in with regularly, and bus seats rotated each day so that they never sat across from the same people.

Dick remembers, “Most days, Pastor Mike would have a devotional before we started out that was related to the locations we were going to be visiting. That really helped tie things together.” Continues Kris, “He challenged us to see what was new, and to be aware of what thoughts were going through our minds concerning what we knew, or thought we knew, of scripture.”

The group would visit a site or two in the morning before stopping at a local place for lunch.  Dick notes, “We loved the food! Lunch was usually some kind of flat bread, hummus, vegetables, lamb kabobs, or other interesting foods that are not typical in the Midwest.” The group did more sightseeing in the afternoon before heading back to the hotel for dinner.

Among their favorite sites were those where Jesus did his preaching to the crowds – the Church of the Beatitudes and the Church of Multiplication, located where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fish.  “They were just beautiful places by the Sea of Galilee that have been built and preserved, and inside the Church of the Beatitudes were all the beatitudes written around the dome,” remembers Kris. At the Sea of Galilee, they got to ride in a wooden boat that was similar to boats that Jesus and the disciples would have used.

One of her favorite memories is when Pastor Mike performed a “remembering our baptism” ceremony in the Jordan River. “There was a place set up where you could walk down some steps and into the river.  We waded in and Pastor Mike reaffirmed our baptism with the river water.” She also treasures a memory from the day they went to Canaan.  “We had finished our touring for the day, where we had experienced the story of the wedding at Canaan.  It was a beautiful evening, and we all gathered outside at the hotel.  Lynn and Ladell Gossen were celebrating their 50th anniversary, complete with wedding cake. I remember sitting in a circle as they shared how they had met, and then others started sharing about how they had met, and it was just a really special evening.”

Dick fondly recalls being in the Church of the Nativity, which is located where Christ was born. “We had to go single-file down some stairs to where the manger was supposed to have been. There was a star on the floor and you could touch that. Once we were all down there, we stood in the room and sang a few carols together. That was really memorable.”

They were surprised by the narrow streets of Bethlehem, where their tour bus got stuck and had to back out through parked cars and around curvy streets, and by the walls around different settlements.  Going through checkpoints was also an eye-opening experience for them. Thankfully, their guide and bus driver were very good and gave the group confidence in their leadership.

“This trip allowed us to experience places that we’d read and heard about all our lives. I can visualize so many things now. It made the scriptures come to life for me,” says Dick. “Plus, this trip was a good way to bring ourselves into closer relationship with people at the church.”

Kris agrees, “I loved being there. It expanded my horizons in so many ways to be in that country, and it made stories in the Bible so real to us. To be able to experience that with a group of people that were all so wonderful to be with, that was definitely a plus. We really feel a strong connection with everyone that was on that trip.”

Dick would like to share this thought with the group preparing for next year’s trip:  “The first day, as we were getting on the bus, Pastor Foss had 3 challenges for us: 1) learn something we didn’t know before, 2) allow this pilgrimage to personally grow us spiritually, and 3) embrace the chance to build community, encounter diverse cultures, and meet new people and friends. I think we did all of the above.”