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Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

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Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

I have read many wonderful reviews on Tripadvisor regarding Isael and the Holy Land and would like to ask for honest opinions. I will be graduating from Seminary next spring and my wife and I have decided to take a vacation to the Holy Land next year to celebrate the completion of my 4 years of study. I would love some honest advice on the subject of tour companies for us and for the future. Here are the issues and thoughts I'm struggling with at the moment:

1. I feel like a guided tour would be better to save time and initial headache. Plus, I would imagine it would be cheaper than a private guide. I took a bus tour of Europe with my parents several years ago and it was a very enjoyable experience, even though I was one of the only people under 60 in the group. This leads to my next point...

2. My wife and I are in our 30's, traveling with younger folks would be nice, but not necessary.

3. As a future pastor, I would also like to become familiar with one or several companies that lead tours to the Holy Land in case the opportunity to lead or organize future tours with my congregation presents itself. I would like to establish some good relationships with some reputable companies if possible and firsthand knowledge would really help. The budget is open for my wife and I, but for leading a congregation, we might be more concerned about group rates etc..

4. One of my biggest concerns is the length of the trip. This might be more of a personal concern, not something my future congregations world probably have. I personally would like to travel for an extended period of time (15-25 days) at least for our first time to get a lay of the land. I am at a point in my life where I might actually be able to take off 15-20 days; this might not be a reality in the future. This would also allow us to have a much wider experience, personally, 10 days is just too short in my opinion to really get a true feeling for the region, for a congreation, 10-12 days might be just right.

5. With that being said, the longer trips through places like Pilgrim tend to go into places such as Egypt; as of May, 2014, Egypt seems to be a fairly unstable, how would this play into a tour’s itinerary?

6. I have narrowed my possible tour companies down to EO because of reviews and Pilgrim (mainly because they offer much longer tours) If this were you making the decision what would you suggest for a "first time to the Holy Land tour" for myself and the wife. Would you make the same recommendation for a pastor leading groups in a congregation that might be ok being limited to 10-12 days and also looking for group pricing?

Thanks for any advice you can provide.

James

Haifa, Israel
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1. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

James, Welcome to the Israeli forum. Question #5 I think you should post on the Egyptian forum. My honest suggestion is to take an organized tour for the typical duration (10-12 days) and keep another 10 days for self guided time dividing it between Jerusalem and Nazareth along with the See of Galilee.

Gippsland, Australia
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2. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

Hi James. It is wonderful that you have the opportunity to go to Israel just as you are entering your ministry. :)

I am a Christian also and lead ladies Bible Study groups,so fully understand the value of going to see Biblical places, and meet the wonderful variety of people and faiths who live there.

My husband and I have been to Israel three times. The first two visits were a month long and the last visit (just completed) was 7 weeks. On each occasion we have chosen to do an organised tour, and also spend time there by ourselves. On the first and third occasion we toured with www.maranathatours.com and had Dr. Woodrow Kroll as tour leader. The tours were both excellent, from start to finish. Maranatha tours organised everything well, the local guides we had were excellent, and the teaching Dr. Kroll gave was excellent.

On the second occasion we went we toured with www.biblicalisraeltours.com with Rev. John Delancey leading the tour. John Delancey is not only a Pastor but has studied archaeology in Israel and worked on at least one of the sites we visited (the City of David Excavations). This tour covered more Old Testament sites than the other two.

I can highly recommend either of those to you. I would suggest that you go for as long as you are able. Do the organised tour, and then stay on in Jerusalem as long as you can afterwards visiting places not included in the tour you do.

You will find that, as a pastor, you may qualify for reduced rates from the tour group you travel with so make sure you check the websites for details, and if you can't see any mention of this it won't hurt to enquire when you ask about a tour.

I personally wouldn't travel into Egypt at this point in time, but I think it would be good if you either found a tour that included Jordan, or find a short tour that you can do separately, after your main tour of Israel. My husband and I did a three day/two night tour of Jordan with www.travelujah.com two years ago. The tour started and ended in either Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Staying on in Jerusalem would also enable you to see sites in the West Bank that aren't included on the standard tours. You could check out www.abrahamtours.com and www.greenolivetours.com (not Christian tour groups but very reputable). If your finance will stretch far enough you can hire a private guide to take you into the West Bank (feel free to message me for suggestions if this interests you).

Looking for group pricing. Both Maranatha tours and Biblical Israel tours would be helpful to you. :)

Tel Aviv, Israel
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3. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

James, you might consider reaching out to several tour operators in Israel about a pastors' familiarization tour. These tours are low budget and designed to familiarize pastors with our country with the hope that they may bring their congregants to Israel in the future.

Another important point -- you keep referring to our country as the "Holy Land," but not once as Israel. As a Protestant pastor, it's of course important to walk in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth here, but no less important is to experience the modern day miracle of the reality of the Jewish State. As someone who has much experience in dealing with Christian visitors to the Holy Land, I find that most are also quite fascinated with sights connected to the establishment and the challenges of modern Israel - places such as Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and Mount Bental on the Golan Heights routinely score high marks with Christian visitors to Israel. I suggest you not miss them.

Enjoy your visit to our amazing country. May it be the first of many!

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4. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

James - Re point 3; Laila Tours is used by major church pilgrimage groups of many denominations in the UK and comes highly recommended.

http://www.lailatours.com/home/

Tel Aviv, Israel
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5. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

Had a look at the sample "Protestant itinerary" offered by Laila Tours. I repeat my previous point - walking in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land is, of course, the primary motivation of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims coming to our shores each year. But if you're travelling so far from St. Louis, MO, wouldn't you also like to learn something about the State of Israel - it's history and challenges? I was, for instance, quite astonished that the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial seems to be blatantly absent from the itinerary suggested on the website of Laila Tours. Any human being who visits our country without experiencing Yad Vashem is making a huge error. It's impossible to understand the Jewish People and their sovereign state without grappling with the greatest human tragedy in history. I urge you to work with an agency that includes such a mandatory site in any Christian itinerary.

And a "Mass" at the Garden Tomb? Any agency that's not familiar enough with Protestant theology to dffierentiate between Roman Catholic "Mass" and Protestant "Communion" might not be the best fit for a Protestant-oriented tour of Israel.

England, United...
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6. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

Laila Tours advertise themselves as providing quality Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

‘I was, for instance, quite astonished that the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial seems to be blatantly absent from the itinerary suggested on the website of Laila Tours. Any human being who visits our country without experiencing Yad Vashem is making a huge error. It's impossible to understand the Jewish People and their sovereign state without grappling with the greatest human tragedy in history. I urge you to work with an agency that includes such a mandatory site in any Christian itinerary’.

Your comment includes a number of debatable points.

Cincinnati, Ohio
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7. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

And adding to that comment, I will offer one intended as constructive. The name of the country is Israel. You may also be visiting the Palestinian territories and perhaps Egypt. But it's Israel.

When Christians visit Israel and use only the term "the Holy Land," it sounds as if they are negating the existence of the Jewish people in the sovereign state of Israel. I am a Christian, and it rankles even me, coming after two millennia of Christian supersessionism and negation of Jews and their connection to the Land of Israel.

In terms of your choices, my main objection to most Christian tours is similar to that -- they treat the country like a Christian Disneyland and in focusing on holy sites (obviously understandable), they miss modern, reformed Israel, itself a miracle in many ways. So if you do a tour, then add some time on your own. But this group can absolutely help you do this on your own altogether if you wish, with some tour guides in places where it will help.

If it would be of help in planning your trip, I would be happy to send a copy of a free, noncommercial guide to Israel travel that I offer to anyone who asks. It is a 59-page .pdf file; to get it, just write me at Labatt@fuse.net, and I will send it as a file attachment via return e-mail. And no strings -- I am not even in the travel business.

The guide is based on my own travel experiences and as said above, I am not in the travel business, so it does not purport to be all-encompassing or a substitute for a more thorough, comprehensive, and professional guidebook. For that, I recommend either Frommer's or Fodor's. It does have lots of hotel and restaurant recommendations, as well as suggested itineraries and other information about Israel travel.

My offer goes to anyone reading this, by the way, but you must send me an e-mail, NOT a message on Trip Advisor, as I cannot send file attachments through that medium and will not copy and paste e-mail addresses over to my e-mail program. I get a lot of requests for this guide and this is not my job, so I hope you understand I need it done that way.

I hope that you have a wonderful visit, and congratulations on starting your ministry!

Douglas Duckett

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8. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

If you really want an extended stay and detailed program, Masters College offers a three week in depth program as a part of their IBEX program:

masters.edu/academics/undergraduate/ibex.aspx

Or at least they did. They mention to contact their office for info on the short term projects. This would probably be your best bet if the program is still running. They have a great staff.

FAM tour are relatively inexpensive, but are usually shorter in time period than a normal trip. I do use EO for the trips I run.

Little known fact, if you know anyone in the modern Knights of Columbus/ Knights' Templar they have a program to send pastors to Israel for free.

Gippsland, Australia
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9. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

I must admit that I had similar thoughts to Dave when I looked at Laila Tours. I think it is worth making the point that the tour leader needs to be a good fit when it comes up beliefs with the person travelling in order to get the most out of a tour.

When you travel with a Christian group it does not necessarily follow that the local tour guide within Israel will be a Christian. All tour guides are trained to guide all kinds of groups and study so that they know how each site relates to the side variety of groups they lead. However, it is good to go with a tour leader that meshes well with your own beliefs because usually the tour leader leads devotions, leads a worship session, or does some Biblical teaching at some point. From my perspective, one of the reasons I enjoyed the tours my husband and I went on was because of the teaching that Dr. Kroll, and Rev. John Delancey included. The tours went to sites that I was happy, as an evangelical Christian, to go to, and they missed out other sites which related solely to other traditions.

Find someone leading a tour whose beliefs and teaching you respect and you will have a fantastic time. :)

Tel Aviv, Israel
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10. Re: Tours to the Holy Land for different situations....

Heather makes a good point. Make sure you clearly differentiate two different roles on a typical Christian group tour:

Tour Guide - This is typically licensed Israel tour guide who has been trained to work with all sorts of groups from all sorts of religious traditions. All licensed Israel tour guides are familiar with the Bible and with the nuances that differentiate between various Christian denominations. They're also well versed in the history of the Land of Israel.

Tour Leader - In the case of a Christian group, this person typically provides the spiritual dimension of the tour. He/she is often a pastor, but not necessarily so. The tour leader of a Christian group often leads devotions, prayer and offers spiritual teaching at different sites along the tour.

The most successful Christian tours are those in which the tour guide and the tour leader work in complete coordination, one complementing the efforts of the other.

For a Christian tour, I'd agree with Heather that you'll ideally want a tour leader who's theology reflects your own. The tour guide, on the other, hand needs to be knowledgeable, but does not necessarily need to be of the same religious tradition as yourself.