When Cathy and I became believers in the Lord Jesus Christ in 1977 the Word of God came more alive in our hearts. I already held a teaching position in a couple’s class at First Baptist Church El Dorado and knew facts related to the land of Israel. I knew God had promised the land to Abraham and his descendants beginning in Genesis 12 and confirmed the promise by a covenant in Genesis 15. The land God gave him extended from the river of Egypt northward to Mount Hermon and from the Mediterranean eastward to the great river Euphrates. The Jews still claim these lands as their God-given possession, although the land they occupy is much smaller.
For years following our salvation we were encouraged by friends to make a trip to the Holy Land, but we resisted. I frequently said, “I have a free trip coming one day” (to the new Jerusalem)! My thinking changed when Brother Bill Stafford with the International Congress on Revival (ICR) announced a planned trip to Israel sponsored by ICR in February of 1996. Cathy and I contacted my sister Marilyn Berry and husband George of Austin, Texas, and they enthusiastically made plans to go with us. We had wanted to get them involved in the ministry of ICR, and this was a great way to introduce them to Brother Bill and other ICR members.
We left El Dorado on February 1 in the midst of an ice storm and were very fortunate to arrive in Little Rock without having to turn back. The details are not important, but we ended up flying out of Memphis to Atlanta to connect with other members of the ICR team who were also flying to Israel through Zurich. Upon arrival at Tel Aviv we were met by our tour guide Jimmy DeYoung and his wife Judy, along with 2 members of our group who were coming from Budapest, Nina Stevenson and Ildiko Barbarics who served with the Word of Life ministry.
Our hotel in Jerusalem, the Holiday Inn was a welcomed sight after a very long and at times scary journey from El Dorado. An interesting fact concerning all Holy Land tours is regardless of who is leading your personal tour, there is always a tour guide from the Department of Tourism of Israel The expense for their time is always paid by your group. Our guide from Israel was Kenny Garon who was a transplanted Jew from Louisiana. He was very cordial and polite and everyone in our group tried at one time or another to tell him about the wonderful claims and promises of Jesus Christ. He received our witness with courtesy and grace, but as far as I know was not convinced or converted.
The first place almost every tour group visits in Jerusalem is the Yad Veshim which is the Holocaust Museum. This beautiful but extremely somber reminder of the atrocities against the Jews at the hands of Hitler’s Germany causes everyone who visits to never allow this to happen again. Most of us wept as we walked from room to room remembering the over 6 million who were killed for no other reason than they were Jews.
Having Jimmy DeYoung as our guide was a special blessing. He and his wife Judy were missionaries of the Word of Life Ministry, and he is a world-renowned expert on end times prophesies. His insights on the Word of God relating to the life, ministry and death of our Savior were life giving and changing not only for Cathy and me, but for everyone in our group. To be able to ask questions as we traveled and walked the streets of the many sites of Israel was invaluable. I was totally unprepared for the emotional impact travelling in Israel would have on me. On many occasions both Cathy and I shed tears of joy with the others knowing this was the very place Jesus walked.
We traveled by bus a few miles south to Bethlehem, the place of Jesus birth. The city is controlled by the Palestinians, so movement in the small town is limited. The supposed place of his birth is obscured by a Byzantine church built on the spot of the manger scene. There was nothing at that place which was humble, modest or inspiring to me.This was the only disappointing spot for me on our tour.
The following day we traveled northward to Galilee stopping at Caesarea where Peter converted the first Gentile, Cornelius to Christianity. There was an amphitheater built by Herod the Great where Paul probably spoke to Felix while imprisoned there. We sat in the amphitheater just imagining all the wonderful events of history which occurred in this place. We continued north to Mount Carmel to view the spot where the prophet Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal. There was a statue of Elijah to commemorate his victory over the 400 men by the power of God.
There were so many sites which brought to life the ministry and teachings of Jesus while He was on earth for those 3 years. I will forever remember the spot on the Mount of Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught His disciples recorded in the passage of Matthew 5, 6 and 7.
Upon returning to Jerusalem we visited the area near Golgotha where Jesus was crucified, and then spent time at the Garden Tomb where He was buried and then rose from the dead on the 3rd day to atone for all our sins. It was there we all took the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of His death burial and resurrection. It was a tremendously impactful experience, and we were all moved to tears of contrition and thanksgiving.
A huge experience for Cathy and me was the fact that Marilyn and George were so impressed with the people they met on that trip involved with ICR they decided to begin making mission trips with us going forward. Over the next 8-10 years we made many trip together serving alongside Brother Bill and all the ICR team. George subsequently served with me and others on the Board of ICR and helped direct and shape that ministry to serve countless thousands around the world. I am forever grateful Cathy and I didn’t delay our trip to Israel where Jesus did a great work on us.
The team members pictured in the above photo are: Front Row: Judy DeYoung, Jimmy DeYoung, Kenny Garon (guide)
2nd Row: Nina Stevenson, Ildiko Barbarics, Mia Oglice, Clay Coffey, Ibby Coffey, Virginia Beth Coffey, Buster Coffey, Ruvin (bus driver)
3rd Row: Costel Oglice, John McAnally, Sherril Schroeder, Bill Stafford III, Bill Stafford II, Cathy Moore, John H Moore, Marilyn Berry, George Berry
We were standing with our backs toward the Temple Mount looking across the Kidron Valley. We were facing the Garden of Gethsemane which we toured.