The career of Brad Sanderson (SDARL III) has taken many twists and turns – from vocational education program director to banker, and now to the ministry in east-central South Dakota. Brad serves two churches in the Lake Preston/North Preston Lutheran Parish. As part of his ministry, in February 2020, he began a 10-day trip to Israel along with 22 other clergy members from across the United States.
“Because of my SDARL experience, being able to connect with people from across the country in a shared travel format is much easier,” Brad said. “I didn’t know anyone else on the tour before I went. The prospect of visiting the Holy Land was something I’ve shared with other SDARL graduates who are interested in a similar trip. Being with a designated local travel guide who has experienced the political and religious changes in the region was invaluable.”
Brad’s journey began at Tel Aviv, on the Mediterranean coast. The group toured the old city of Joppa, which is encompassed by modern-day Tel Aviv. Traveling north along the coast of the sea, the group stopped at Caesarea Maritima (Caesarea by the Sea), viewing the ruins of that ancient Roman city/government center. Traveling east from there, the group toured the area around the Sea of Galilee, visiting the towns of Tiberias, Magdala, Capernaum, Nazareth, and Cana. Among the sites visited were Mount Tabor (the Mount of the Transfiguration), the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Annunciation, the Church of the Synagogue in Nazareth, the site of the first miracle of Jesus in Cana, and the Jordon River.
The pilgrimage continued with the group traveling from the relatively green area in the north of Israel to the desert area in the south, including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea area. While in Jerusalem, the group toured the old city of Jerusalem, viewing the East Gate where Jesus entered on Palm Sunday, which included the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrow, and the 14 stations of the cross). In Jerusalem, they visited the Tomb of David, the possible site of the upper room (from the Maundy Thursday narrative), the temple mount (Mount Zion) on which now stands the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Church of St. Peter. Across the Kidron Valley from the old city is the Mount of Olives, which contains the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Agony, the Ascension Chapel, and the Pater Noster Church.
In Bethlehem, which is south of Jerusalem a few miles, the group toured the Church of the Nativity, which sits above the possible site of the birth of Jesus. Bethlehem is also the ancestral home of King David from the Old Testament.
The Dead Sea is located east and south of Jerusalem, and is situated in a huge rift valley, which stretches from eastern Asia, through the Middle-East, and into Africa. The Dead Sea is 1400 feet below sea level (the lowest spot on earth) and is the saltiest body of water in the world (33% salinity). Near the southwestern side of the Dead Sea is Masada, site of a fortress of Herod and a stronghold of the Jewish rebellion against Rome.
The group was not at all concerned about safety during their time in Israel. A couple of highlights of the trip for Brad included visiting the synagogue in Nazareth where Jesus read from the Torah before being set upon the people of the town and nearly thrown off the cliff at the edge of town, and also a worship service in an ancient stone chapel in the old city wall just below Station VI of the Way of the Cross.
The group did not have time to learn much about agriculture of the country but Brad and his fellow travelers did find out that Israel is self-sufficient in their food supply and uses wonderful techniques of relatively high saline water to irrigate.
Brad says “thanks” to the Knights Templar for selecting participants, organizing the tour, and planning a very interesting, informative, and memorable tour.