We are back from our 10-day trip to the Holy Land! If this is the first time you’re reading about our trip, we partnered with an organization called Passages and took 34 of our Young Women for America leaders to Israel! It was absolutely incredible in every way possible. Each of us are returning back to the U.S. changed. God worked in the hearts of our Young Women for America leaders, and it was a true blessing to watch their eyes and hearts open and transform. Each day was packed full of tours, sites, and speakers giving us a comprehensive overview of Israel.
Here’s an outline to our trip and feedback from a few of our leaders!
Day 1 “In the Beginning”
We arrived in Israel after a long 18+ hours of sitting in airports, security, and flying. When we landed, we drove straight to Caesarea! We were able to learn about and explore King Herod’s old palace, see what’s left of this ancient city and how they use it today! We stayed in a hotel right on the Mediterranean Sea in Netanya that night; it was beautiful!
Day 2 “Home Town of Jesus”
We visited Alfei Menashe, a town overlooking the West Bank. We explored the archeological site of Tel Shimron in the Jezreel Valley. Then we went to Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood home, where we visited the museum, the old village, had an authentic Nazarene lunch, and toured the Church of Annunciation. We ended the day at Mount Precipice, where you can see Mount Carmel, Mount Tabor, and the Valley of Armageddon. Then we drove to the Sea of Galilee and stayed at a hotel right by the water! Amazing!
Day 3 “Neighbors to the North”
We traveled to Jish, a northern town in Israel, where the Christian minority Aramaic Maronite church meets, one of the highlights of our trip! The pastor, Shadi Khalloul, met with us and shared his heart to protect their heritage and give a voice to his people, and about the persecution that Christians in the Middle East face. He also taught us the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language in which Jesus prayed it. We then visited the Golan Heights, which overlooks the borders of Lebanon and Syria. The United Nations has a station of soldiers there to whom some of our YWA leaders talked and asked questions. We ended the day at Caesarea Philippi and with an incredible speaker, Dr. Feydra Shapiro, who discussed what she wished Christians and Jews knew about each other.
Day 4 “Ministry of Jesus”
We spent this entire day around the Sea of Galilee. The first site was the excavation and remains of the town of Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene. They have a beautiful church there with amazing mosaics; we sang “Amazing Grace” together in the dome. Second, we went to the Mount of Beatitudes. Janae led a devotional about the Sermon on the Mount, and the girls were given time to reflect and spend some time with God. Third, we traveled back down to the shore of the Sea to Tabgha. I (Kelsey) was able to lead our group through Jesus’ shore miracles. As we sat on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, we were able to envision Jesus feeding the 4,000 men and then appearing to His disciples after the Resurrection. From there we went to Capernaum, discussed some of Jesus’ teachings there, and saw the excavation site. Before boarding a boat at the Sea of Galilee, some of us enjoyed a traditional “Saint Peter’s Fish” lunch right on the shore! While we were on the boat, we reflected on Jesus calming the storm and walking on water. (So cool!) From the Sea of Galilee, we went to the Jordan River, where 19 of the girls were baptized — five of them for the first time!
Day 5 “Desert Day”
We went to Masada, which is the part-natural, part-manmade fortress that Herod the Great created in 37 A.D. It was attacked by Rome in 73 A.D. after the Romans destroyed the Temple. From there, we went to the archeological site at Qumeran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We had lunch and spent the rest of the afternoon floating in the Dead Sea! After some mud baths and the saltiest bath ever, we got ready for Shabbat. We welcomed Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) at the Western Wall with hundreds of Jewish men and women. We were then hosted by different Jewish families for a traditional Shabbat dinner. We were able to experience what these dedicated religious families do every Friday.
Day 6 “New Covenant”
This was our “Jesus Day.” We started at the Mount of Olives, which is the most beautiful view of Jerusalem. From there we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane, read Jesus’ prayers in the garden, and took time to reflect. We then entered the city of Jerusalem and walked the “Via Dolorosa,” ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We ended the day at the Garden Tomb, with a time of reflection, worship, and communion. Personally, this was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Whether this is the exact place that Jesus was buried and resurrected (while there is reason to believe it is), the truth of what Jesus has done remains the same and more real to us after this site.
Day 7 “Patriarchs, Kings, Prophets”
It was “Old City” day, where we toured each quarter of the Old City in Jerusalem. We started at Mount Zion and visited the location believed to be the “upper room” where Jesus and the disciples had the Last Supper. Next, we visited the City of David, archaeological site of ancient Jerusalem of the pre-Babylonian era, including the overlook where David would have seen Bathsheba. We then toured the Southern wall excavation, Hezekiah’s underground water tunnel and water reservoir. We finished the day at the Siloam pools, where Jesus healed the blind man.
Day 8 “The Jewish State”
This was a sobering day, as we spent the morning at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum and memorial. In the afternoon, we went to the Israeli Museum which houses a model of old Jerusalem and the Dead Sea Scrolls. That evening, we heard from a female soldier in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). This was another highlight for our leaders who asked many questions and stayed after to speak with her one-on-one.
Day 9 “Neighbors to the South”
We drove from Jerusalem to the border of the Gaza Strip and toured Nativa Elseron, a Kibbutz right on the border. A woman named Ronni shared her story and the realities of living on the border with constant threats, bomb shelters, and missile alarms. This was one of the most impactful and intense visits for our group; we were one of the few tour buses able to make this stop. There had been fires in the area from kites sent over from Gaza the week before and rocket fire the next week. It was eye-opening to see firsthand the tension at the border, the fear that is their reality. “Why would we leave? This is our home,” was a common answer to the question “Why do you stay here?”
Day 10 “Tel Aviv Day”
We spent our last full day in Tel Aviv, before flying out late that night to the United States. We toured Jaffa, the port from which Jonah fled, and the House of Simon. We also visited Independence Hall, where Israel declared its independence on May 14, 1948. We sat in the room and listened to recordings of David Ben-Gurion pronouncing the establishment of the State of Israel.
As you can tell, this trip was FULL, a little exhausting, but absolutely amazing. I left out so many details, speakers, and shorter visits, but I think you get the gist. Thank you for praying for us! Check out our @YWforA Instagram, the #YWAinIsrael2018 hashtag on Instagram, and our Young Women for America page on Facebook for more photos! Here are some thoughts from our leaders:
Ashley Henson, YWA President at the University of Alabama:
“How could I ever begin to describe the 10 days that changed my life forever? This land and its people have touched my life in countless ways. I watched as the pages of the Bible came to life before me, and God revealed Himself to me through every place and person. I felt His presence like I never have before, and I left with an indescribable peace that I never imagined I could feel. I went on this trip expecting to find a nation ravaged by years of war, a people exhausted from constant tension. Instead, I found a nation of joy. Every person I encountered, no matter their religion or nationality, greeted me with a smile and a joke. Despite the conflict in the region, hope lives on in the people who call Israel home.
“I pray that hope never fades. I pray that we, as Americans, can one day feel even a fraction of that hope for our nation. I pray that we never take for granted the freedom and security we are blessed with. and I pray that we never forget those who struggle around the world for the same freedom and security.”
Valeria Tkacik, YWA President at Ave Maria University:
“My Israel experience was more than great; it was life changing. From Nazareth to the Western Wall, I felt God’s presence everywhere I went. When I shared a smile or a laugh with any of my YWA members, I knew that I shared that moment with Jesus Himself. I cannot wait to see how God blesses these girls’ lives! So thankful to travel to the Holy Land with my concerned women!!
“To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him, the greatest human achievement.” ~ St. Augustine of Hippo
Abby Voggenreiter, YWA member at Liberty University:
“My time in Israel changed my life. From picking up rocks in the Sea of Galilee to visiting the peace wall along the Gaza Strip, I learned so much about all that has happened and is happening there. Coming home I brought with me a bag of Israeli snacks, but also a passion for Israel and all of its people! I will never stop praying for the Israeli people, especially the ones that had such a huge impact on me while I was there (Efrat!!). And to the amazing girls I got to travel with; each one of you taught me so much about life and friendship. I am so, so blessed. The past eleven days have given me memories that I will carry with me forever. Thank you to each person who poured into me during this trip; our God is real. He is alive! And we all got to walk in His holy land! I am so thankful.”