10-day trek to Holy Land reminds pastor of his true life calling
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When Christ followers read the Bible, they're often met with exotic names and geography of an ancient Middle East. But Parkway Church's senior pastor, the Rev. Mike Hurt, desired a firsthand viewing of the places mentioned in the Scriptures. And about a month ago, he finally had the opportunity to embark on a 10-day excursion to the Holy Land.
"It was amazing to visit the Holy Land sites and to see the biblical significance. You just realize how true the Bible is," Hurt said.
Even though Hurt said he was not a skeptic of God, or the content of the Scriptures, he wasn't overly enthusiastic to take the trip - at least, in the beginning. In passing people would emphasize how the trip would change his life, but Hurt wasn't convinced 10 days in the Middle East would change anything about his faith.
"As I heard that, I'm a little skeptical because people say everything is life-changing. A hamburger can be life changing; an enchilada can be life-changing. And I'm a touch skeptical, it's just my nature," Hurt said. "But then I got over there and realized how life-changing it is. I realized the more that they dig out of the ground the more the Bible proves to be true ... And so we're able to sit in places and see the history and see the reliability of scripture first hand."
The trip was led by Hurt's friend and former colleague Lon Solomon, of McLean Bible Church in Washington, D.C. Solomon is a messianic Jew, and leads multiple trips to the Holy Land each year, Hurt said.
The group began their journey in the Galilean region of northern Israel, spending three nights near the Sea of Galilee in Tiberius.
"We toured five or six locations a day, seeing where Jesus performed miracles. We saw where Peter's mom lived, and saw synagogues where Jesus taught," Hurt said.
Hurt described the area as desert like, yet surrounded by an unusual amount of plant life.
"It was very desert like, but the hibiscus, vegetation and plants were just like what we'd have in our gardens here," he said. "It felt like home except we were where Jesus was walking. And I've never equated south Texas with the Holy Land."
Next, the group ventured to the religious epicenter of Jerusalem, where they lodged in the Leonardo Hotel. Hurt described Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, as a bustling city that seemed unmoved by its own considerable history.
"I thought it was going to be Six Flags of Jesus everywhere we went with neon signs with arrows pointing here," he said. "The heartbreaking side was that it wasn't Six Flags of Jesus. It was 'life is normal' for the vast majority of people even surrounding these holy sites."
While in Jerusalem, the group toured the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.
"It was amazing to me because I always think of the Mount of Olives as I read scripture, as being a good distance away from Jerusalem because this is where Jesus would retreat. He'd camp there. He would pray there. He did great teaching there," Hurt said. "But it's not a great distance. It was about 10 or 15 minutes to walk there," from the city. "That was one of the surprises."
Hurt was especially fascinated with the Garden of Gethsemane, which rests at the foot of the Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed to God the night before his crucifixion.
"The spiritual significance there was huge," he said.
They also visited the area believed to be the tomb where Jesus was buried.
When the group departed Jerusalem, they traveled to southern Israel and Egypt, and took day trips into Jordan. While in Egypt, Hurt said they visited St. Catherine's Monastery, near the location where tradition claims the burning bush spoke to Moses. The group also toured the foot of Mt. Sinai to view the valley where the Jewish people gathered when Moses received the Ten Commandments.
"That was an amazing spot as well," Hurt said.
The final day was spent sightseeing, and then the group began the long journey back to Texas.
Now that he's returned to Victoria and had time to decompress, Hurt said there were many interesting lessons he took home with him - ones he plans to use behind the pulpit.
"It's similar to coming back from a mission trip because you've spent so much time and energy focusing on what the Lord's up to and how he's working in the world. And then you step back into the everyday life," Hurt said. "That's where I had to remind myself, 'OK they got comfortable living near the supernatural. I can't get comfortable because I'm walking with God every day even when I'm not in the Holy Land.'"
It's the simple things now that capture Hurt's attention when he's reading scripture. The words become stronger, and the places, more visual.
"I've been reading a lot of the Psalms lately, and I realize when I'm reading 'Psalm of Ascent,' Psalm 120, that you're reading that on your way to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is in the mountains. It's up from everywhere," he said. "And if you didn't realize you were going up to Jerusalem, you wouldn't realize that."
And since Hurt's profession includes explaining and exposing the scripture, he said he's pleased that he'll be able to reference and teach the Bible from personal experience.
"When I dig back into the gospels for teaching it will be powerful to say, 'I was there.' I can get the real feel for it and give you the flavor, and I can tell you which way the wind blows off the Sea of Galilee," Hurt explained.
But perhaps the most significant lesson Hurt learned in the Holy Land, is that his trip reminded him what his true life calling is.
"I'm absolutely more determined because I was able to walk in those places where Jesus walked, the territory where he impacted lives. And that just drives me back home and shows me this is my place and he is my message," Hurt said.