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Is a trip to the Holy Land in your plans this year?  If so, congratulations!  It will make a profound impact upon your spiritual life.

A trip to the Holy Land is a big investment of time and money, so get as much out of it as you can by taking some time to prepare for it, not just by packing a suitcase, but by preparing your heart, mind and body for this journey to the land of the Bible.

The view to the south of Biblical Cana of the Beit Natofa Valley

The view to the south of Biblical Cana of the Beit Natofa Valley

1. Learn some geography

It may sound unnecessary, but knowing a little about the geography of Jerusalem and the rest of the land will make an immense difference in the quality of your trip.  After all, God chose to lead His people to this particular land in order to teach them specific lessons about their relationship with Him.  It makes sense that you should know something about this land God chose before you set foot on it.

The best resource I know for learning the geography of the land of the Bible is the Regions on the Run Introductory Study Package by Jim Monson.  Allow yourself a few weeks to work through this material, then take the maps you have completed on your trip. Look at them on the bus between stops at sites to get your bearings. If possible, look at them on site. Show them to your tour guide. They might want to show your maps to the entire group to help everyone get a better understanding of a site’s geographical significance and how that influenced a Bible story.

2. Get a Bible Atlas

Once you have an understanding of the geography, you will find a Bible atlas very useful. Here are my recommendations.  A Bible atlas moves chronologically from Genesis-Acts explaining events in lieu of their geographical setting.  A great introductory Bible atlas is the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible.

Dr. Gabriel Barkay, teaching JUC students at the City of David

Dr. Gabriel Barkay (red shirt, seated), teaching JUC students at the City of David

3. Take a small Bible

You will need a Bible at every site you visit.  Bring a small one that doesn’t add weight to your luggage and that you don’t mind carrying around in a backpack all day.

On my last trip to the Holy Land I left my Bible at home and took an iPad Mini instead.  It weighs about the same as my printed Bible and there are dozens of free Bibles available for download to it.  Also, I can take notes and journal on it, and Skype with friends and family back home as most hotels have wireless internet available at least in their lobby.

If you do take a digital device like an iPad, be wise.  Travel in the Holy Land is like being in a big American city like New York or Chicago.  You’re not in danger as long as you use common sense and listen to your tour leader.  Be conscious of when and where you’re using your device and any other valuables, like your passport, and keep them with you or locked in your room at all times.  (Your passport should always be kept with you.)

4. Learn about the citizens of the Holy Land

It is no secret that the land where Jesus came to bring us peace and reconciliation is also filled with conflict.  Whatever your perspective on the conflict it is important to remember that God loves all of the people living here and getting a better understanding of both the Israelis and the Palestinians is an important part of preparing for your trip.  Learn a little of the background to their stories by reading Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel and The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.

Map of Jerusalem's Old City. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikipedia.

Map of Jerusalem’s Old City. CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikipedia.

5. Get a map of Jerusalem’s Old City

Most tours spend a couple days and nights in Jerusalem’s Old City.  If you have a map during the time your guide is not with you, you will be the group’s hero.  Chances are, no one in your group will have been there before, and even if they have, Jerusalem’s twisting streets are easy to get lost in.

A good map with all the street names and both modern and ancient points of interest is the Israel Touring Atlas and Easy Guide.  Here are my other recommendations for printed resources for your trip to the Holy Land.  Familiarize yourself with the layout of the Old City and its hills and valleys before you get there.

Jerusalem's hills and valleys from West to East
Hinnom Valley, Western Hill, Tyropean Valley, Central Hill, Kidron Valley, Mt. of Olives

6. Get in shape

No matter what tour you are on, there will be a lot of walking.  Some sites on your itinerary may require climbing a lot of steps or walking long distances on uneven surfaces.  If this sounds like a problem to you, communicate with your tour leader.  He or she can help you evaluate what sites you can expect to be able to easily access, and which sites you will not.

Of course, no one wants to stay on the bus, so if your mobility is only hindered by a lack of regular exercise, do what you can to prepare now.  Start walking in the shoes you plan to wear on the trip.  Hopefully you’ve chosen an excellent guide who is worth hearing.  Walk now so that you can keep up with your guide.  You don’t want to miss out on what they have to teach you.

Hiking to David's Waterfall at En Gedi

Hiking to David’s Waterfall at En Gedi

7. Bring the right supplies

Bring Euro-style power adapters and/or converters.

Check the weather for the time of year you’ll be there.  Bring clothes you can layer.  Particularly bring shirts that cover your shoulders and at least 1 pair of pants or a skirt that covers your knees.  These are required for entry into some holy sites including Dominus Flevit on the Mt. of Olives, and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  Don’t be the person who only brought shorts on the trip, and is stuck walking around the Temple platform with a hoodie wrapped around his legs to hide your knees.  It happens regularly, and it’s pretty embarrassing.  When you’re walking around the Dome of the Rock with a hoodie around your knees there’s no way not to look like an ignorant American tourist.

The most important piece of clothing you will bring is a pair of comfortable walking/hiking shoes that you have ‘broken in’ before your trip!  If you bring brand new shoes that you haven’t yet broken in you’re almost guaranteed to get blisters and be stuck on the bus when you want to be outside exploring.

Jerusalem, Old City

Jerusalem, Old City

8. Prepare spiritually

Everyone who travels to the Holy Land to learn more about the land of the Bible is affected spiritually.  As you prepare for this trip always pray for the journey, your fellow travelers, your tour guide and bus driver.

Read through your itinerary ahead of time.  Find a good devotional book on the Holy Land and read the devotionals on each site you’re visiting.  Make that a part of your daily Bible study so that you can recall it when you’re there.  I recommend The Christian Traveler’s Guide to the Holy Land, by Charles Dyer, and The Way of the Lord, by N.T. Wright.  If you only get one, get Dyer’s book.  Part 1 gives a lot more detailed information on preparing for your trip than what I’ve provided here, and Part 2 gives a very brief overview of all the sites that usually show up in a tour itinerary.  As a bonus, Parts 3-6 provide the same site overview for Egypt, Greece, Jordan and Turkey.

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Grace and peace.