The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


June 17, 2013

Roger McKinney: Touring Israel with Indian Christians is enlightening

JOPLIN, Mo. — I recently had a pretty interesting opportunity -- traveling in Israel with a group of Indian Christians. (I'm referring to Indians from India, not Native Americans.)

I should acknowledge that many of the Indians in the group are related to me by marriage. Nearly all of them spoke English in addition to their native language, Telugu, which is spoken in southern India. I was the only white guy in the group.

Christians are a small minority of Indians, making up a little over 2 percent of the population. Even fewer are Protestant, which was the denomination of this group.

We traveled through the Holy Land with a Christian tour company.

One of our stops was in Cana, a village in Galilee, where the Gospel of John describes Jesus somewhat reluctantly performing his first miracle, turning water into wine at a wedding at the request of his mother. We stopped at one of two competing churches claiming to be the location of the miracle, a common situation in the Holy Land. From there our bus stopped at a shop, where some members of our group bought bottles of wine from the location.

In Nazareth, Jesus' hometown and the home of our Arab Christian bus driver, we stopped on the hill believed to be described in Luke 4. In the passage, the adult Jesus tells those gathered in the synagogue that the prophecy of Isaiah -- that he had been sent to heal the brokenhearted, preach deliverance to captives and restoring sight to the blind -- had been fulfilled that day. The Scripture says those in the synagogue were filled with wrath and led Jesus to the top of the hill, intending to throw him off of it. The Scripture says Jesus passed through them and went on his way.

The phrase "No prophet is accepted in his home country" is found in the passage, spoken by Jesus.

A personal observation: People in Israel seemed to have a short fuse, to anger easily. I'm not referring to disputes between Jews and Arabs. I witnessed many arguments among Jews and among Arabs, and some between shopkeepers and customers.

The Indians on shopping stops bought at least two shofars -- ram horns used in ceremonies in Jewish synagogues -- to use in their churches in India. Packing them must have been difficult.

At the Jordan River, we visited the site where John the Baptist is said to have baptized Jesus, as described in Matthew chapter 3. On the opposite side of the river, in Jordan, an Arab Christian family was conducting a baptism ceremony for an infant. The Indian Christians on the Israel side cheered for them and were acknowledged from the Jordan side.

 We also visited a location outside of Jericho described in Matthew chapter 4, where there is the high mountain to which Satan took Jesus, promising him the splendor of all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would worship him. There's a monastery halfway up the mountain, which isn't a very impressive mountain.

The iconic view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives is awe-inspiring and photo-worthy.

 A focal point of the view is the golden Dome of the Rock. The Muslim shrine on the Temple Mount is the location where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended into heaven to receive the teachings of Islam directly from God. Since we were part of a Christian tour, we regrettably only saw it from a distance.

In Jerusalem, we visited many locations venerated by Christians. There was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus spent his final night and was betrayed; a church which is the traditional site of the Last Supper; and Via Dolorosa, "way of suffering," locations related to Jesus' condemnation and crucifixion, ending in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Some of the Indians, particularly the  women, were moved to tears at several of the locations.

We also visited locations holy to Jews and Christians, including King David's tomb. The Western Wall, the only piece remaining from the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., is probably the most sacred Jewish shrine. Orthodox Jews, praying fervently, are ever-present. Visitors, including myself, placed prayers written on slips of paper in the cracks of the wall.

In Bethlehem, we visited the Church of the Nativity, the traditional location of Jesus' birth, and Shepherds Field, where the Bible describes angels appearing to shepherds notifying them of the  birth.

Our hotel was in Bethlehem, in Palestinian Authority territory, a short walk from Shepherds Field. I was inspired one night by a spontaneous cultural exchange at our hotel. I heard drumming and singing outside.

Some Palestinian kids from the neighborhood were entertaining hotel guests with singing and dancing. Some of the Indians joined in, borrowing the drum and singing Christian songs in Telugu. A group of Ukrainian guests also was convinced to offer a song.

It was a fun time and an example of how music can bond people of different backgrounds.

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