19 January, 2022

Holy Land Trips Beginning to Ramp Up Again

by | 10 November, 2021 | 0 comments

By Chris Moon

After more than a year-and-a-half hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark Ziese is eyeing a return to Israel.

MARK ZIESE

The Holy Land guide—owner of Bible Land Explorer LLC—said he’s ready to get back at it.

“I haven’t even taken a flight in . . . a year and a half,” Ziese said.

But Ziese has a slate of trips planned for 2022. And so far, most of those look like they are a go as the Christian tourism industry in Israel begins to ramp back up.

Ziese spent 25 years as a professor at Cincinnati Christian University and another 6 at Johnson University, recently retiring as dean of the School of Bible and Theology. He first got into travel to the Middle East while leading students on regular trips to an excavation site in Jordan.

He eventually was leading 10 tour groups a year to Israel through Bible Land Explorer.

“Right up until COVID struck, we were set to have a banner year,” Ziese said.

IMPACT OF COVID-19
The coronavirus put a temporary end to international travel in the spring of 2020.

“We all sort of shuttered and watched it run over the news, and one by one by one all of the groups canceled, so we were just down to nothing,” he said.

In recent months, however, Israel has cracked open its door to tourists. Ziese said the travel company he partners with has been part of a pilot program taking tourists to Israel.

Mark Yeh, director of sales and marketing development with Educational Opportunities Tours, confirms that Israel “opened their borders to groups of visitors in June,” but on a limited scale. “Our groups were among the first to be approved to enter the country.”

After a spike in COVID-19 driven by the delta variant, Israel shut its borders for a number of weeks in August and early September, but reopened in mid-September. Yeh said at least 600 are expected to travel to Israel with EO Tours this month.

Ziese said Israel is doing well in vaccinating its population, with nearly half its people receiving a booster shot thus far. Vaccines will be required for travel there in the future, he said.

TOMMY BAKER

A ONE-YEAR DELAY
Ziese does most of his work with churches and colleges in the Restoration Movement.

One of the churches working with Ziese is First Church in Burlington, Ky.

The church typically takes a group to Israel every other year but had its 2021 trip pushed back to March of 2022, said Tommy Baker, executive pastor.

“It’s been a minor snag for us,” Baker said.

He said three people have withdrawn from the trip because of Israel’s COVID vaccination requirement, but 21 people still are on board to travel, which is about the size of a normal group.

Baker is optimistic the trip next year will proceed. Political unrest in Israel seems to be more of an issue than COVID-19, he said.

“Some are kind of nervous,” he said. “They’d like to see someone else go before they go.”

‘READY TO ROLL’
Another church working with Ziese is Fern Creek Christian Church in Louisville.

CRAIG GRAMMER

Lead pastor Craig Grammer has a “Journeys of Paul” trip planned in May 2022 that will take participants on a cruise through the Mediterranean, visiting sites like Ephesus, Corinth, and Athens. That trip had been planned for 2020 but was pushed back because of the pandemic.

Only two or three out of the 40 people signed up for the trip have backed out.

“Everybody’s ready to roll,” Grammer said. “We are ready to get back out there and to travel.”

Fern Creek Christian Church also has a “Footsteps of Jesus” trip planned for 2023 that will take participants to Israel.

Grammer said he’s maintaining open communication with his group. The COVID-19 pandemic is just one thing on people’s minds. Some also might be wondering about safety in light of this summer’s rocket attacks against Israel by Hamas.

“It’s one of those things where this can change,” Grammer said. “We’re just sharing with people that if it’s not safe, we’re not going to go.”

But Grammer said he’s always felt safe in Israel. And there’s nothing like a trip to the Holy Land.

AN UNPARALLELED EXPERIENCE
Grammer said he structures his trips as pilgrimages, rather than as simple tourist excursions. He allots time at various stops for journaling and prayer.

At the garden tomb, for instance, he instructs participants to journal about their feelings being at the site of Jesus’ resurrection. Then he collects their writings and mails them to participants the following Easter.

“It needs to be on your bucket list,” Grammer said. “And when you go to these places, and you put history, archeology, and geography together, you forever read the Bible in color.”

Chris Moon is a pastor and writer living in Redstone, Colorado. 

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— SIDEBAR —

EO Tours Anticipates STRONG 2022

Israel’s full reopening to tourist traffic is a welcome development for Educational Opportunities Tours, which typically leads numerous groups to the Holy Land every year through various tour packages.

EO Tours, a Christian travel ministry based in Florida, was ready to go in June when Israel welcomed the first few tour groups back into the country. Then, after a hiatus on travel to Israel in August and the early part of September due to a spike in COVID-19 (caused mainly by the delta variant), EO has resumed its travels there with more than 300 traveling to the Holy Land in October and at least 600 scheduled to travel there this month, said Mark Yeh, director of sales and marketing.

But Israel is just one among many potential destinations that have reopened to tourists this year.

“Travelers have been visiting countries around the world with EO since April 2021,” Yeh said. “Our travelers and staff have been in the Holy Land, Turkey, Greece, Italy, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Germany, Austria, England, Iceland, Netherlands, Scotland, Cyprus, France, Portugal, Spain, numerous Caribbean islands, and Alaska.”

Yeh said EO expects to serve approximately 2,000 travelers in October and November alone.

“Our guests have greatly appreciated the ability to travel again,” he said. “They have worked through the protocols and travel requirements with the help of our staff.”

“EO is looking forward to the number of travelers growing month by month as we head into 2022,” he said, with the Holy Land and the Oberammergau Passion Play in German two of the largest draws for next year.

“We have a very full slate of Bible Land cruises [for 2022], including a cruise in May featuring Mark Ziese and another in September with Don Wilson.”

—Jim Nieman

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