The following article appeared in the Indian Valley Record on February 6, 2008. It appears here courtesy of Feather Publishing Company, Inc., which granted permission to post it at www.cnumc.org.
By Alicia Knadler
Indian Valley Editor
What does one remember the most from a trip to the Holy Land, besides a kaleidoscope of images, the past and present overlapped in scenes from the New Testament? For Greenville resident Larry Crowder it was the spiritual journey he will remember most, and the indescribable feelings of energy and power he experienced while following in the footsteps of his Savior. Those feelings were the strongest and most awe-inspiring at the very last step – deep under the Church of Sepulcher where he touched the rock where it’s believed Jesus was crucified.
He waded in the Jordan River, near where Jesus was baptized by John; he walked in the Garden of Gethsemane and fished on the Sea of Galilee. Crowder also brought home some disturbing images of the heavily armed military presence in the Holy Land. “They were everywhere,” Crowder said. “Marching and marching – like they were going into war.” Pastor Tana McDonald of Community United Methodist churches of Greenville and Taylorsville led the pilgrimage, as she has for many others. With her were Rosann Mackey, Bob and Betty Mosely, the Rev. Barbara Smith, Fred Skeen, Larry Crowder, Joan Heinsohn, Cathy Tolman, Yvonne Turner, and the Rev. Donald Lee, who is McDonald’s husband.
There were two primary reasons for the tour: to be with Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land and assess some of the ministries there and to embark on a spiritual journey. “Christianity has become endangered there for the past 50 years,” she said with a downward shake of her head. “The Israelis have confiscated more and more land.” McDonald claims that Christianity is on the brink of extinction there, even though Christians have been present in the Holy Land for more than 2,000 years.
She took with her a team of 11 volunteers from the Sierra-Nevada area. “Our task was to assess and prioritize work projects in Bethlehem without United Methodist mission and ministry partners,” she said. The team began creation of visionary plans for the next 18 months to five years. The plans define and describe ways in which future Volunteers in Mission teams can best be of help in the area. McDonald was happy that Hope Secondary School in Bethlehem was chosen as the first priority for work. The people of the Greenville and Taylorsville Community United Methodist churches have adopted the school as a mission project during the past three years and will have the pleasure of watching that school expand to serve three times as many youths as it currently serves.
Crowder shared his journey with the people of the Indian Mission Full Gospel Church upon his return, and they too have offered support of the school that serves both Christian and Muslim children. Many other Indian Valley residents have also “jumped on board” to help Hope School. “When church leaders put out the word that suitcases of medical and school supplies were needed in Palestine, the supplies started coming in,” McDonald Said. “In the last 14 months, Indian Valley residents contributed 10 large duffel bags full of supplies.” Many of the items donated were medical supplies that are extremely difficult for Palestinians to buy, like diabetic cough medicine for children and the elderly.
“We worshipped with Christians, visited mosques and were warmly received,” McDonald said of the trip. “We worshipped with our Jewish brothers and sisters and placed prayers from Indian Valley in the Wailing Wall or Western Wall in Jerusalem. Members of the group attended three worship services per day while in the Holy Land, where churches are open every day and not just on Sundays. And they ended their journey with three days of spiritual retreat in the upper Galilee region where McDonald said Jesus Christ carried out his most important ministries. “The Holy Land is a complex, complex place and yet stunning, exciting, alive with the presence of the living God at work in creation,” McDonald enthused. “Major transformative understandings have been born and continue to be birthed in this land of the three Abrahamic traditions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
The United Methodist mission
The United Methodist Church is a global one, and local churches are mission and ministry outposts. United Methodists partner with people all over the world to deepen and strengthen their faith and to create the kingdom of heaven on earth. “We don’t come together to get comfortable in here,” McDonald said with her hands pressed to her heart. “We do it so we can go out and do the work that needs to be done.” She will feature a little bit of their spiritual journey through the Holy Land in her sermons from the first Sunday of Lent, Feb. 10, through Easter Sunday March 23. The first sermon will be titled “The Will to Pill,” and the scripture reading will be Psalm 32. A special element will be black gospel music performed at both the Greenville and Taylorsville churches by the Indian Valley Community Choir.
Service times are 9:30 a.m. in Taylorsville and 11 a.m. in Greenville. For a list of sermon titles and scripture readings or for information about missions to the Holy Land, those interested may visit ivmethodist.com, or call 284-7316. Pastor McDonald also recommends reading a December 2007 National Geographic article titled “Bethlehem 2007 A.D.”
Editor’s Note: To view photos of the trip, provided by the Revs. Tana McDonald and Donald Lee, link to the Destinations and Discoveries page on the UMVim website at www.cnumcvim.org.