By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Ever since he was a young child studying the word of God as a student at St. James Lutheran School, Sunday school, and vacation Bible school, Tyler Zander of Howard Lake knew he wanted to someday visit the places where all the Biblical stories and events took place.
Recently, the 2009 Mayer Lutheran High School graduate was able to do just that with a visit to the Holy Land through Concordia University of Nebraska, where he attends school.
“Once I found out that Dr. Meehl (a theology professor at Concordia University) was taking a group over in the summer of 2012, it was one of the easiest and quickest decisions of my life I was going,” Tyler said.
Joining him on the trip was his mother, Tami. “I was very blessed to be asked by Tyler to come along on this amazing journey,” Tami said. “It was a very special time spent together in the land where Jesus was born, lived 33 years on earth, and was crucified, died, and was buried.”
Four more Concordia University students joined them on the trip, along with some parents, Meehl, and a number of alumni and friends of the university.
“This journey was definitely a wonderful opportunity for me to develop friendships with these amazing Christian people,” Tyler said. “I now feel very blessed to know them.”
Tyler will graduate from Concordia University December 2013, earning a degree in Lutheran secondary education with concentrations in theology, English, and English as a second language.
“I know that my experiences from this trip will greatly influence my future classroom, as I hope to teach theology,” Tyler said.
Although the Zanders had always believed what the Bible told them about the sites they visited, “To see it in living color was amazing,” Tami said.
One of the first sites the group visited was the Jordan River, where John the Baptist did his ministry and baptized many, including Jesus.
“I started weeping the day we stepped into the Jordan River, and didn’t stop for the next week,” Tami said. “We visited site after site of historical significance and historical amazement.”
Having a strong faith before going on this journey, Tyler knew that he did not have to “see” all of the sites for him to believe what the Bible said happened there, he said.
“I will say, though, that being able to see those places gives me a new perspective on the Biblical stories I grew up hearing and reading about,” he added. “Seeing those places makes everything you hear about feel more real to you and deepens your understanding about it all.”
Both Tyler and Tami found the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to be a very moving place to visit.
“You could feel the reverence and magnitude of the piece of earth that once provided a birth place for our Savior Jesus Christ,” Tami said.
The church is built over the place where tradition states Jesus was born, Tyler said.
The top floor is the actual church dedicated to Jesus’ birth, and the bottom floor was the place where Jesus was born.
“It was very spiritually moving to me to know that I was standing where my Savior came into this world to save us from our sins,” Tyler said.
Another favorite site for Tami (and there were many, she noted) was Massada, a palatial fortress built and occupied by King Herod from 37 B.C. to 4 B.C.
“The fall of this city ultimately led to the fall of the ancient kingdom of Judea,” Tyler noted.
The fortress sits atop a mountain, and a cable car has to be taken to reach the top.
“When we got to the top, there was an incredible view of the Dead Sea,” Tami said.
The group took an afternoon to swim in the sea, which has such a high mineral content they floated without effort, Tyler said.
Other places visited by the Zanders were:
• Elah Valley, where David, who eventually became King David, killed the Philistine giant Goliath with a slingshot and a stone;
• Megiddo, one of three cities built by King Solomon, and said to be the site of the end of the world;
• Sea of Galilee, where the miracle of Jesus walking on water and a large amount of his ministry took place;
• Capernaum, where the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 took place;
• Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph;
• Qumran, a city near the Dead Sea where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered hidden away in caves in giant jars:
• Jericho, the famous city where God commanded the Israelites to give a loud shout and sound the trumpets to make its walls fall.
The miracle led to the defeat of the city by the Israelites, and was one of the first cities defeated as they entered the Promised Land;
• Via Dolorosa, the path through Jerusalem traveled by Jesus carrying the cross;
• Herodion, a city designed and built by King Herod, where his tomb was recently found and excavated;
• Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is built at Golgotha, the place Jesus died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, and arose from the dead Easter morning;
• Jewish Holocaust Museum, which is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust; and,
• the wailing wall, which is the most holy place for those of the Jewish faith, where they come to pray and meditate.
Both Tami and Tyler found the trip to be a life-changing experience.
“I learned on this trip that we are a very small part of this world, and that we have a very big purpose while we are here,” Tami said.
“We are the modern disciples of Christ and we are here today to spread the word of God to all who will hear. The trip brought me great peace that what I believe is true and right and good,” she added.
“Not enough words can describe all that I experienced and learned on this trip,” Tyler said. “I got to experience a new culture, and learn about Biblical history while knowing I was walking where Jesus walked. There is no place else in the world like the Holy Lands.”