The last few years dealt a devastating blow to the record-setting numbers of Christian tourists who had been visiting Israel prior to the spread of COVID-19.
Families in both Jewish and Arab areas were out of work for months. As two weeks turned into two years, many of us wondered if the spiritual, as well as practical, industry of tourism would ever recover.
Now, the floodgates have opened once again.
Israel is not only a “bucket list” item for millions of Christians around the world – it is our spiritual home that cannot be replaced by any other location around the globe. I cannot tell you how many pastors, families, and individual believers I have personally witnessed to be utterly transformed by making their own pilgrimage to the Holy Land... it has happened over and over and over again.
As I often say, travel to Israel should come with a warning label: highly addictive!
The desire of a vast sector of modern-day Christians to not only visit the State of Israel but to actively support the Jewish people is both authentic and historic – a force that might have been delayed, but cannot be denied, when it comes to making pilgrimage regularly to a land they have grown to love. More than half of the senior pastors we have brought to Israel on familiarization journeys in the last several years are now planning their own follow-up trips with large groups from their congregations.
The 20th-century miracle of the rebirth of Israel has no equivalent in history. Think of it – a people scattered and dispersed for hundreds of years, having assumed the form of a diverse plethora of multicultural and linguistic backgrounds, now returning to their homeland, reviving the ancient language of Hebrew, and building a modern state from the ground up in the land of their forefathers… absolutely unparalleled.
Christians like myself – and thousands I have personally brought to the Holy Land – have been captivated by this remarkable historical feat. And now that the travel restrictions (at least for the foreseeable future!) have lifted in Israel, I believe that now is the time that we will see the largest influx of pilgrims ever to make their way to Israel.
In the unique (and incredibly challenging) period of world history in which we now find ourselves, I believe that we may very well be on the cusp of the greatest manifestation yet of Isaiah 2 being fulfilled in the modern era:
“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
Many people shall come and say,
‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:1-2)
On the heels of a few millennia of Christian anti-Semitism, we in the Christian world have some spiritual repentance and some catching up to do, to repair a connection to the land and people of Israel that should never have been lost. And it is happening.
The unique relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been strained at times, but is still an alliance of mutual respect and unbreakable connection for millions of Americans and Israelis. And while the U.S. tops the list in terms of numbers of total pilgrims to the Holy Land, there are nations in other parts of the world that are leading the charge as well.
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, in the pre-pandemic year of 2019, France, Russia, Germany and the U.K. rounded out the top five in numbers of visitors to Israel, with others such as China and Ukraine making it into the top 10. Despite obstacles in the last few years, travel to Israel is truly a worldwide and steadily-increasing phenomenon.
I believe that something is happening today that goes far beyond the current events that are taking place around us. The spiritual connection between Jews and Christians is growing… and growing fast. And at the center of it is a revitalized land of Israel that speaks to people from all different world cultures. Brazilians, Chinese, Finns, Ethiopians… all have been finding a home in Israel – a home that is here to stay.
Could it be the greatest wave of tourism yet? Many factors play into the answer to that question – but the match has already been lit to a tinderbox of Israel support that shows no signs of slowing down.
Like old family members separated for years, Christians are finding in the Jewish people their own “brothers” and “sisters” – and in the very existence itself of the nation that the Israelis have rebuilt with divine assistance.
And the Christians – this time in history – will not be letting go.
Bishop Robert Stearns is the founder and executive director of Eagles' Wings, a global movement of churches, ministries, and leaders.