My favourite tales when I was growing up were always stories taken from the bible particularly about the exploits of the people of Israel and how God intervened in their lives.
With fond memories I recall the story of Moses famously dubbed the "Prince of Egypt" by ABC Studios in one of its Best Sellers Cartoon series. Moses' story is filled with a rich history of God's providence, protection and call for a nation state which characterizes the nation of Israel to this very day.
Armed with these insights from scripture and a heart filled with longing, I embarked on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land to have a first hand experience of a place that holds great significance in my faith.
The words of the Psalmist "like a deer that yearns for running streams so my soul is yearns for you my Lord" was not only on my lips but propelled my yearning to experience Jerusalem. Amidst the foray of immigration activities and the preparations to get all pilgrims organized, I settled into quiet thoughts about the mystery and wonder that awaited me in a land the world holds very dear to their hearts.
Our arrival at the Ben Gurion International Airport Tel-Aviv, signaled the beginning of a memorable spiritual journey for me. The warmth and hospitality we were greeted with undermined the many stories of hostility between the Israelis and the Palestinians that flood the world media.
All checking-in formalities concluded, I settled in for my first experience of Mediterranean Cuisine which as a true African did not disappoint my taste. On the other hand, I looked at the whole culinary experience as part of the spiritual sacrifice needed to fulfill my pilgrimage obligations in the Holy Land, and like a true soldier I marched on.
From one holy site to another, with a warm heart I experienced the events that happened within the walls, hills and plains of Jerusalem. Visiting the Church of the Annunciation in Canaan, the site of the first recorded miracle of Jesus filled my heart with deep gratitude for the gifts of mothers and motherhood all over the world.
This is because Mary was the instrument through which God gave us our Redeemer and her motherly role will forever be a symbol to women for all generations. A visit to the River Jordan where Christ was baptized afforded us pilgrims an opportunity to renew our baptismal covenant with God and re-dedicate our lives to his service. A visit to all the sites gave us reasons to be thankful and appreciative of the sacrifice Jesus made to redeem us.
This gratitude the other pilgrims and I expressed with our Nigerian melodies as we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee; where Christ walked on water. Singing and dancing, Peter's story came to mind and the words of Christ about faith kept reassuring me that despite my fear of sailing, I will not drown because the Lord of all life walked on this very water.
The experience was not all sweet as I came to discover, a visit to the Pilate House and Prison brought home the horrific experience Mel Gibson tried to capture in his movie "the Passion of Christ". For some moment my mind tried to recreate the scene and put myself in the place as if it were happening right before me.
It was hard to imagine such suffering for a people yet unborn and more so for a people who refused to accept his teaching. Like the Centurion at Calvary, I said truly Jesus is the Son of God, as I walked the path of his stations of the cross. When I touched the spot his hand created on the wall as he rested and climbed the hill to his place of crucifixion, I stopped to contemplate the Son of God walking the face of earth.
Jerusalem indeed is history personified because for generations to come it would hold tales of the greatest man to ever walk the face of the earth. It would hold tales of the never ending mystery between the Jews and Palestinians which only the hills and sands in Jerusalem can answer. Jerusalem for me, and judging by the many testimonies of pilgrims with me on this journey, is truly the long awaited bride of Christiandom.
It is a place where faith and patience meets as exemplified in the life of Jesus. Despite the attacks and cruelty of the people he lived among and worked many miracles for he never gave up in his quest to save all humankind. He taught faith and lived the faith and going on this journey has deepened my faith as a Christian.
I enjoin all Christians to avail themselves the chance to encounter Jesus in the very plains, hills and Sea that shaped his earthly life and ministry. Pilgrimage is about the personal experience of walking closely with our Redeemer. It's about experiencing the very place he lived; worked and walked. It's about coming to terms with the very stripes that ensured our healing and moving from the historical nature of salvation to its ever green reality in our lives.
Oh Jerusalem! Our happy home! When shall all Christians come to thee!
Iwuoha is a staff of Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission, Media Unit, Abuja