Journey brings history to life

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories about a trip to Israel taken by a local pastor. Future stories will include details of the differences, and similarities in culture, people, and a view of the area and way of life from a personal perspective instead of just what is seen on the news. This first story covers the places visited, and their relation to Biblical events.Posted March 14, 2013



ACR Editor


When Pastor Allen Wickstrom of Hettinger had the opportunity to join a group headed for Israel it he didn’t have to think very long to accept it. The weeklong trip was full of experiences both expected and surprising.

“The entire country of Israel can fit in lake Michigan with room left over,” he said. “So while we did a lot of driving and traveling, most of the time wasn’t spent on the road, other than the flights to get there.”

Actually seeing the places he has been talking about, as Pastor of the Assembly of God Church was an eye opener, he said, but he thinks it would be for anyone.

“So much of the time we have preconceived ideas of what other countries and people are like, not just Israel. The thing about Israel is, we have thousands of years of history written and revolving around that area. Just seeing what Israel looks like geographically and seeing all of the archeological sites, really brings life to accounts in the Bible,” he said. “It has affected how I preach, because now I have seen and can relate what I have seen to Scripture. I was especially impacted by the people.”


The places

Leaving New York at 10:30 p.m. one day and arriving in Tel Aviv at 2:30 pm the next day didn’t slow the group of approximately 28 people down, and they started touring immediately. Wickstrom explained the places they visited, and the Biblical references to each location.

“The first place we went to was Joppa, a suburb of Tel Aviv and port city on the Mediterranean,” said Wickstrom. “This is where Jonah sailed when he was running from God, and also where Peter was staying at tanners house.” The house is now privately owned, but he said they could see the house and could take pictures of the door.

The next day they drove to Ses Aria by the sea, built by Herod in honor of Caesar.

“He made it into a man-made port by sinking barges filled with a substance when combined with water turned into a concrete-like material,” he said.

Wickstrom said the ruins were interesting in themselves, as many of the cities they visited had been conquered over and over during the centuries by different people – such as the Byzantines and Romans. Sometimes buildings were casualties of war, sometimes they were intentionally torn down, and other things built on top with the materials that could be salvaged.

The coliseums, amphitheater type entertainment centers for chariot races and other events were evident in several places.

“Most of the cities were also close to the water in some way,” he said. “Water is like gold, still, and the water supply for the country comes from the Sea of Galilee, and the water level is monitored very carefully.”

There are salt water springs underneath where the pumping stations are, and if the water table gets too low, they could become active and ruining the water.

They drove to Mount Carmel, where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, and then to Megiddo, a huge city located on the trade route.

“This is also where the Battle of Armageddon will be fought, in the valley right below Megiddo,” said Wickstrom.

If the city came under attack, the people could get to a water source by walking 600 steps down to a source of water, and come out under the hill to safety.

“These weren’t casual strolls,” laughed Wickstrom. “We figured out we walked probably 30 miles while on the trip.”

The next stop was Nazareth, which is located on a ridge of mountains on the t op of a very steep terrain. “The city is mixture of both Jewish and Muslims in additions to Christians,” said Wickstrom. There is a huge Catholic Church located there. There are also posted warnings against speaking against the prophet Mohammed.”

After the mountains the group dropped to 600 feet below sea level and went to the Sea of Galilee.

“The winds and rough seas were rough, so we couldn’t sail all the way across,” he said.

In the northeastern corner of Israel ruins of Cesarip Phillipi, also called Banias, one of the sources of the Jordan River.

“At one time the Greeks had a temple there to honor the god Pan, who was half goat and half human. He played the flute and we saw the alter where they had dancing goads and could see many of the ruins where they had placed various statues,” said Wickstrom.

Israel annexed Golan Heights from Syria during the six-day war, and there are still active mine fields there.

“The cost of clearing the mines is too much, so they just fenced it off and posted warnings,” said Wickstrom.

Wickstrom visited the Mount of the Beatitudes, and a Catholic Church stands where the Sermon on the Mount was given. He also saw the “Jesus Boat,” which was found in the mud of the Sea of Galilee went down, and the boat had been preserved in the mud. This was Nat Capernaum, and ancient synagogue. The boat started to deteriorate when it hit the air, but he said the skeleton on the boat gave a good idea of what kind of ships were used at that time.

They visited the Jordan River, were some of the party were baptized, and then down the Jordan valley to a place called BeitChaen, a city under excavation that was destroyed by an earthquake.

“Driving into the west bank of Palestine, the area has guards, and we had to go through checkpoints before we could get in,” said Wickstrom. “The guards and the people were nice – friendly, and didn’t make us feel threatened.”

They went to the Dead Sea, where some floated in it, as it is impossible to sink due to the high salt content (about 30 percent) and Wickstrom said the water itself felt very strange.

“It was almost like you needed to wash your hands to get the water off of it. Qumran was where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.

Jerusalem was an adventure in itself. Spending three nights there, Wickstrom said they felt totally safe walking around town at night, with no feeling of danger. “Then we went to the Mount of Olives, and started the tour of the garden of Gethsemane, and went to Bethlehem to see many of the tradition sites, such as the site of Jesus’ birth in the shepherd’s fields. We went into the old city to visit the Temple Mount, and walked in the western wall tunnel that runs underneath the Western or Wailing Wall.

The wall is divided into two sections, one for men and one for women,” he said.


More modern times

The last day of the trip Wickstrom said the visited the Holocaust Museum. The museum was of concrete, and built in an A frame configuration, he described.

“Once we got in, they ‘shepherded’ us through the museum, as the people in the camps had been,” he explained. “It was set up chronologically, and contained railroad cars, pictures, videos and weapons, as well as list of names.”

“The part that hit me personally was when the allies landed in Normandy, my dad was there. There was a teacher at the museum with the girls from her school there. I said my dad was there. The teacher asked me if he had seen one o the camps. When I replied he had, she asked if he ever talked about it.

“I told her no, he didn’t, and she didn’t seem surprised by that.

The children’s memorial was very emotional, he said. One walks into the room and it is dark, with eight candles for light, but reflecting off of a system of mirror so it appears to be starts twinkling in the sky. The names of the children who died in the camps were read in Hebrew, English, and the child’s native language.

The last day the tour visited the Garden Tomb and held a Communion Service there.

“I would love to go back there,” he said.