Fortunately for me as a reporter in Gombe state, I was blessed to be part of the Gombe state contingents of the 2018 Pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel.
Day 1: Tel Aviv, Joppa And Gratitude For Journey Mercies
From the moment we stepped off the plane, at the Ben Guerion airport in Tel Aviv, after about 12 hours of flight all the way from Gombe, the atmosphere felt different. The 204 contingents of which I was a part of, felt the magnitude of the journey we were undertaking as I saw the excitement on the faces of most of the participants.
The excited pilgrims were led by the majority leader of the Gombe state House of Assembly, Hon. Amos Fabulous, who also doubles as the leader of the delegation accompanied by the Secretary to the State Government of Gombe, SSG, James Pisagi, the executive secretary of the Gombe state Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, Joseph Bega, wife of the state deputy governor, Suzie Charles Iliya and other officials of the board.
The pilgrims who were clad in their pilgrim uniform, completed their Immigration and customs formalities without any hitch, and proceeded to Joppa where they commenced their pilgrim tour with a visit to St. Peter’s Church and the house of Simon the Tanner where the impure animals vision took place as recorded in the book of Act 9:36. We then drove along the crest of Mt Carmel to Tiberias.
While thanking God for journey mercies, the board secretary, Joseph Bega, commended the delegation for conducting and exhibiting a high sense of discipline throughout the period of the trip, despite some little hitches and challenges.
The arrival was exciting and timely to the Pilgrims because it was the eve in which the entire world was getting ready to celebrate and usher in the New Year. I saw both the religious and social excitement of the trip on the faces of the Pilgrims as we got prepared to march triumphantly into 2019 in the footsteps of Jesus with a high sense of expectations.
Apart from the excitement of being in the holy land to experience an eight day tour of some places where Jesus walked, lived, preached and performed miracles, to us it was a rare and timely privilege for prayers and meditation while we celebrate the new year.
All the Pilgrims that spoke with me expressed their excitement over the trip, saying their expectations are high especially since the trip coincided with the new year celebrations.
“This trip is very significant to me as I celebrate the new year, I am also privileged to physically walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ,” remarked Akila Emmanuel.
“It is an opportunity for me to pray to God to forgive me over the mistakes and failures of my past and move ahead with a new determination.”
Mama Saraya Audu, who is in her 70s said “I am feeling fulfilled and over excited today, because for a very long time I have been longing to come but to no avail, until this year God made it possible for me through my son who decided to pay for me.”
Mama who is diabetic, said despite her health challenge which she is no longer experiencing eversince arrival, says she is excited because the visit will grant her the opportunity to see those things that she has been reading about in the Bible.
Day 2 : Galilee, Nazareth And The New Year
After about 12 hours rest at Restal Hotel in Tiberias, our journey began with a visit to Mount Tabor in Galilee, the site of the Transfiguration, after a very joyful New year service of words and prayers led by Rev. John Tati. Although, Jesus performed many miracles while on earth but for us Christians, the Transfiguration is one of the most well known and celebrated so it was one of the places that the Pilgrims instantly got connected with as the prayed for “transfiguration in the image of Christ.”
We then drove up the scenic route to Nazareth, a town where Jesus lived most of the 30 years of his life on earth and visited the place, now called Mount Precipice where the wrathful inhabitants of Nazareth wanted to cast Jesus down headlong.
Next stop was Nazareth, the home of the family of Jesus, and the place where angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Scattered all over the church ground you’ll see different mosaic versions of the Annunciation from different countries.
Considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Nazareth, the Church of Annunciation was built over the house of the Virgin Mary, where angel Gabriel appeared to her and announced that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus.
And located right beside the Church of Annunciation we also visited the small cave where Joseph’s carpentry workshop once stood. Today, you can only see remnants of the cave as they have already built a church on top of it to honor him.
After spending about one hour in Nazareth, pilgrims then visited the site of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River. Finally, we descended to the majestic Sea of Galilee, it was a very emotional moment because as we sailed along the historic Galilee river on a ship named after King David, we celebrated the new year singing praises to God, some of the participants also used the occasion to share their excitements and testimonies.
Day 3: Church Of The Beatitudes, Canaan, Church Of The Multiplication Of The Loaves And Fish In Tagba, Capernaum
After the usual ritual of morning devotion and prayers, we started the day tour with a visit straight to Galilee by visiting the Beatitude church, where Jesus preached the sermon on the mount. From there we headed to Canaan, the place where Jesus performed His first miracle where he changed water into wine.
After having a fish lunch we proceeded to the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish in Tabgha, the place where the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes took place and the nearby Church of the primacy of St. Peter, which commemorates, and marks the spot, of Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter as chief among the Apostles.
Right around the area we also visited the “Capernaum” also known as the town of Jesus, where we saw the 4th synagogue and remnants of what is believed to be St. Peter’s house.
Day 4: Jericho, The Mount Of Temptation And The Dead Sea
Pilgrims woke up that morning full of excitement and expectation as they were to live Taberias to Bethlehem enroute Jericho, the most ancient city in the world. Jericho is also the city, where Zacheus the tax collector climbed the Sycamore tree to view Jesus.
On arriving Jericho at about 11:20 am we rode on a cable car all the way up to the Mount Of Temptation. The mountain where Jesus was tempted by Satan as recorded in the Bible. Later that day, pilgrims visited the Dead Sea, the lowest spot in the face of the earth, where they cooled off by floating in the salty water, believing that the water has spiritual powers to heal skin diseases and other ailments.
But the leader of the medical team, Dr. Mahdi, said contrary to the belief that the water has spiritual power to heal, “The dead sea water is full of mineral elements and salt, magnesium, sodium, aluminium and others. Because of the content of this various minerals and salts, that makes the water medicinal in nature. Medically we know all this contents are corrosive or acidic to the skin, so if you over expose yourself to it, it will burn your skin. Then is not surprising that when somebody has some skin diseases, it can cure the diseases, so people come from all over to go into that sea to bath.”
Day 5: The Garden Tomb, Holy Communion, Mount Zion, The Cenacle And The Church Of The Nativity
Driving from Bethlehem to the Old Jerusalem city, our first place of visit was the Garden tomb, exploring the tomb of Christ, where pilgrims worship and celebrated the resurrection of Christ and also took the holy communion at 10:30 am, another privilege accorded Gombe Pilgrims in the Holy Land. We later drove to Mount Zion to visit the upper room and the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, which is built over the ruins of the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest before whom Jesus was brought for trial.
In the same area, we also visited one of the most famous events in the life of Jesus, The Cenacle or the room where Jesus and His disciples celebrated “The Last Supper.”
After our visit to Jerusalem, we returned back to Bethlehem and had lunch of Pounded yam, with variety of Nigerian soups, then paid a visit to the Birth place of Jesus.
The grotto inside the Church of the Nativity is said to be the oldest worshipped site in the Christian faith and the basilica is the oldest major church in the Holy Land.
In here we were able to feel and touch the grotto where Jesus was said to have been born. Pilgrims later participated in a Prayer session at the Shepherds’ Field, where the angels proclaimed the birth of Christ to the wise men.
Day 6: The Church Of The Pater Noster, The Church Of Agony, Garden Of Gethsemane, The Wailing Wall, 14 Stations Of The Cross, Pool Of Bethesda And The Church Of Saint Anne
After our usual breakfast, we visited Jerusalem, outside of the old city of Jerusalem, we visited the Church Of The Pater Noster, also known as the ‘Our father Church’ located near Mt. Olives.
In there we saw mosaic of different languages, a version of the Lord’s Prayer “Our Father” and the Grotto that is believed to be the place where Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to His disciples.
We also visited the “Church of All Nations” also referred to as the “Church of Agony” or most famously known as the Agony in the Garden. In here enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus is said to have prayed before His arrest.
Next to the Church of Agony is the Garden of Gethsemane, a garden often mentioned in the bible when we were young. More importantly, it was known as the place where Jesus prayed to His disciples and slept the night before His crucifixion. We then drove back to Bethlehem for lunch break.
On returning to Jerusalem after we had lunch in Bethlehem, we entered the citadel of the Old city through the Zion gate via the Jews quarters our first stop was the Western wall, also known as the wailing wall where pilgrims prayed for some minutes.
From there we started our walk and prayers as we follow the footsteps (14 stations of the cross) of Christ to His crucifixion via Dolorosa. The Via Dolorosa street is marked by nine Stations of the Cross; with the remaining five stations being inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We ended the day at the Pool of Bethesda. The Pool of Bethesda is a pool of water where Jesus healed the man who had been crippled for 38 years (John 5:1-9).
And right beside the Pool of Bethesda is the Church of St. Anne. A Roman Catholic church.
Day 7: Relocating To Jerusalem, Unity Prayer Service, Jaffa Market And The Holy Sepulchre
Despite the Cold of that Sunday morning, Gombe state Pilgrims woke up as early as 6:am with excitement as it was a day to relocate to Jerusalem and also to reunite with Pilgrims from other states for a Unity prayer Service organised by Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC), to pray over the peace of the nation.
The prayer points were centered on the restoration of peace in the country bedeviled by insurgents attacks, communal clashes between herders and farmers and the forth coming election. The excitement was also in connection with the pilgrims high expectation of visiting the famous Jaffa Market in the old city of Jerusalem to purchase souvenirs for their love ones.
During the prayer session which lasted for over two hours, the preacher Dr. Ferdinand Nwoke, admonished Nigerians to repent and return to God as a basis for God to listen to their cry.
He said Nigeria is going through many challenges because Nigerian Pastors and Christian politicians have turned away from God, competing in pursuit of mundane things.
He however noted that there is a glimpse of prosperity in the midst of the haze of challenges facing Nigeria, which God is about to reveal but only if we truely seek His face in genuine repentance.
After the prayer session which lasted for over two hours, Pilgrims proceeded to observe the remaining stations of the cross which ended up at the Holy Sepulchre before proceeding for shopping.
After 2 hours shopping at Jaffa market we finally retired to Caesar Hotel in Jerusalem for the remaining two days in Israel.
Day 8: The Knesset, The Israeli Supreme Court, The Jewish National Library, The Israel Museum, Growing In Faith And The Journey Back Home
It was another exciting day as pilgrims enjoyed JP ceremony with the President of Tailor made tours, Mrs Josephine Zanders and her staff. She spoke wonderfully about Nigeria and Nigerians. After we had our lunch and presentation of JP certificate and badge we then visited the Jews Parliament Building known as Knesset.
Visiting the Knesset was never on our travel list, but to finally see the building up close, that, I will always remember. Near the building is the Israeli Supreme Court, the Jewish National Library, the Israel Museum and other government offices, like the ministry for internal affairs.
Many of the pilgrims started the trip knowing little of each other or of the Holy Land. But through their shared experience, they grew in faith and fellowship, a fact that was observed by the pilgrims and leaders on the trip.
Trip leader and SSG of Gombe State, James Pisagi, said: “The pilgrimage to Jerusalem is a great opportunity to bring our people together.” He said by embarking on the spiritual exercise they are strengthening their faith discovering Biblical sites.
He said at the beginning of the trip most of the pilgrims never knew each other but as the journey continued, they got acquainted in fellowship with each other. Another beautiful aspect of the pilgrimage was the presence of 16 contingents from Yobe state, led by the state coordinator of the Yobe state Christian Pilgrims Commission, Baba Hamza Buba, who described the experience and fellowship as”wonderful”.
Madam Blessing said “I feel privileged to be a part of this life-changing experience.”
“We were able to share amazing experiences in the most fascinating places in the world,” She added.
According to her the trip has not only boosted her spiritual knowledge but has also created her an opportunity to meet with wonderful people. “Through out the trip, I met many wonderful people and they guided me and showered me with care. I would never forget this life changing experience which allowed me to understand what Jesus went through while on earth. My faith has been strengthened.”
No doubt the experience was exciting and spiritual. It is like turning the Bible from black and white to colour.
However, whatever has a beginning, also has an end. Our eight days triumphant journey on the footsteps of Jesus Christ ended on Tuesday 8th January at about 6:48 pm as our plane landed Gombe state international airport.
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