The South Dakota Assembly of God District invested in lead pastors and their spouses. In doing so, it sent them to Israel for them to know God’s Word in history, archeology and in culture. Feb. 11- 23, five pastors from South Dakota along with their wives went to Israel.
Pastor Mikal Simmons of Yankton says this was a “working vacation.” That was evident with a 5:30 a.m.-8 p.m. daily schedule, and walking more than 40 miles during the 12 days, visiting historical, archaeological and geographical sites.
Their Israeli tour guide went by the name of Gil and specialized in political and historical knowledge of Israel.
Dr. Waverly Nunnally, also a guide and a leading expert on Early Judaism and Christian Origins, educated the group in his respective area. Dr. James Bradford, General Secretary of the Assemblies of God, led the group in spiritual connections.
“Dr. Nunnally described this as a tour of literary archeology where we dissect the Hebrew words in the Scripture to see how they actually related to the original readers/hearers,” Simmons said.
Sarah, Pastor Mikal’s wife, added, “I spoke with Dr. Bradford’s wife, who’s been on 12 of these tours. She said this particular tour was the most deeply informative due to the combination of our three guides. It made me so grateful to be a part of this particular group.”
“When I arrived in Israel, I felt safe,” Mikal said. “The Israelis made it clear they were grateful for America’s leadership and generosity. We also observed Israelis working side by side with the Palestinians. It was a different picture than what I received from American television.”
The group visited several locations in the Negev Desert of southern Israel — Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev, where they studied Abram. They also traveled to the Wilderness of Zin, where Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years
In Bethlehem, the group visited the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.
Pastor Simmons offered an interesting historical fact: “Centuries ago, the Babylonians were destroying all temples and churches. However, they spared the Church of the Nativity because inside they found a mosaic depicting me who looked like them.” The Bible calls these men, “the wise men.”
The group visited Elah Valley, which was the battlefield where David brought down Goliath with a slingshot.
On the way to the Sea of Galilee, an archaeological dig recently found a town that existed during the time of Jesus: Migdol, the home of Mary Magdalene. Simmons noted that the Bible has been and currently is being proven by archaeological discoveries.
Mikal described that in Matthew 5:14, when Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.”
“He may have been pointing to an actual city (Susita) that could be seen in the distance,” Mikal said. “The city was a popular landmark used to note when the Shabot (Sabbath) would begin on Friday evening based on when the sun had set far enough to no longer shine on that city.”
They visited the Temple Mount, which for Jews worldwide is considered the most holy of places even though Jews are not allowed to go past a certain point, and now only Muslims are allowed to worship there due to political controls.
They also visited the Western Wall. “This is the closest most Jews can get to where they believe God’s presence rests and so this is where the devout come to pray, study and worship,” Mikal said. “It was quite fascinating.”
The group visited two possible locations that historians believe could have been the site of Jesus’s crucifixion. The fist was The Garden Tomb where a cliff looks like “a skull.” Mark 15:22 says he was crucified at “Golgotha (meaning the Place of the Skull).”
The second has more historical backing as the probable location of his crucifixion. It now resides inside the Old City Jerusalem near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which in Jesus’s time would have been just outside the city walls.
“It is believed a possible reason for this place having the name Golgotha was because of the piles of human skulls in that area due to the vast number of crucifixions done by the Romans in that time, sometimes even up to 400 crucifixions in one day.” Sarah noted.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built on top of what is believed to be the tomb where Jesus’s body was laid.
“Overall, this trip greatly impacted us not only as pastors but as individuals,” Mikal said. “We are so grateful for our district leaders and church investing in our ministry and lives.”