Touring Egypt, Jordan and Israel

From the 2nd of May, Paul and his wife Elsie joined the Joy! Magazine tour group for an unforgettable 11 day trip through Egypt, Jordan and Israel. They congregated at the airport in Johannesburg feeling excited but nervous, not knowing what to expect of the political situation in Egypt and Israel.

Paul Erskine has a little fun at the Pyramids of Giza.

Paul shows the Sphinx who's boss at the Pyramids of Giza!

As a Christian, making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land has always been on Paul’s Bucket List. He was excited to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and feel the Bible come alive. With the turbulent times experienced in the Middle East though and after all the events in the news, from February it was uncertain if the trip was on or off.

One big rubbish dump

But Paul and the rest of the group were able to board their EgyptAir flight bound for Cairo, a city whose first impression wasn’t that impressive. According to Paul, they arrived in “filthy Cairo”, which is “one big rubbish dump”.

Paul Erskine and his wife Elsie on the tour bus

Paul and his wife Elsie on the tour bus.

Paul tried to keep up his training regime with a 1000 calorie burning run through the streets of Cairo, saying:

“I was a human target for drivers and the people living in apartments, who merely tossed their rubbish over the balcony into the street!”

A world wonder

On their first day in Cairo, the tour group were dying to see the pyramids, and the bus driver expertly weaved through the chaotic streets to the Pyramids of Giza. The pyramids towered over the surrounding urban sprawl, and the group approached them in the beating sun to a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’.

Paul Erskine with his feet in the Sea of Galilee

Paul Erskine with his feet in the Sea of Galilee.

Built as burial chambers for the Pharaohs, the pyramids are impressive up close, with most of the tour members approaching by traditional transport – on a camel!

According to Paul: “It’s a ‘must-see’, and certainly fulfilled my lifelong Bucket List ambition of seeing all seven Wonders of the World.”

Most of the group couldn’t wait to see the Egyptian Museum, home to many priceless historical artifacts, and next door to Tahir Square, where more than a million people had gathered in revolution just mere months before the group arrived, evidenced by the burned out buildings.

Looking out over the Promised Land

Paul Erskine is ecstatic after his dive at Eilat

Paul is ecstatic after his dive at Eilat.

The next day took Paul and the rest of the tour to Jordan, and Mount Nebo. This was where Moses saw the Promised Land but was never allowed to enter, and it’s believed Moses was buried nearby. From the same vantage point as Moses, Paul could see the promised land of Jerusalem…

“What stood out to me – in only 50km distance, you could see Jesus’ whole life from the city of his birth to the city of his death.”

The following day, Paul’s morning run took him to Tiberius on the sea of Galilee. As he ran along the shore of Galilee, he was moved, “wondering what it was like for Christ to have walked along these same shores in his time”.

That same day, the group visited the spot where people believe Jesus was baptised, on the Jordan side of the Jordan river. They boarded a fishing ‘junk’ to the sounds of the South African national anthem, and stopped in the middle of the lake for a spiritual worship session, which Paul will cherish for the rest of his life..

“You could imagine Jesus in the boat when the violent storm made the disciples afraid.”

Baptised in the River Jordan

Tiberius city was quite special to Paul, and he had the opportunity to meet Pastors Claude and Michelle Ezagouri of the Morning Star Ministry, whom Paul felt called to partner with, inspired by their ministry’s awesome vision.

Paul Erskine awaits his baptism in the River Jordan

Paul awaits his baptism in the River Jordan.

That day, the group crossed the border into Israel, excited for the upcoming baptism service. They visited the Mount of Beautitudes, Capernium, the Church of Multiplication, and finally Paul and his wife Elsie were baptised in the River Jordan with smiles across their faces.

The following day, they visited Mount Kamel, and saw where the final Battle of Armageddon is said to take place.

The Dead Sea was a highlight for Paul, who loved the “rejuvenating floating experience”. Afterwards, Paul got the chance to tick off two Bucket List items in one day with a visit to both Eilat and Petra.

Eilat is on the Red Sea and is one of the top 20 diving destinations in the world, so Paul had the opportunity to dive before visiting the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. Petra was built in 1 BC and lost to the world until the 19th century AD…

“As I rode through the walled city in a horse carriage towards the Treasury (which is one of the most photographed pictures of Petra), I felt like Indiana Jones in the movie where he gallops through the ancient city.”

Highlight of the trip

From Petra, the group made their way to Jerusalem, or God’s City, the highlight of his Holy Pilgrimage, where all of Paul’s preconceptions where surpassed…

“Truly a city which is worth fighting for. You could feel all the spiritual cultures fighting in the spiritual realm. Following in Christ’s footsteps, the Bible became a ‘living word’. You could understand why Muslims go to Mecca – every Christian owes it to themselves to go to Jerusalem at least once in their lives.”

Paul Erskine at the entrance to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

Paul at the entrance to the ancient city of Petra in Jordan.

From there, Paul and the rest of the tour group visited the Church of Ascension, where Christ rose up to heaven and will return one day, as well as Paternoster, the place of the Lord’s Prayer. The group also had the opportunity to worship in the Garden of Gethsemane, experiencing for themselves Christ’s hour of need, praying for the cup to be lifted the night before his crucifixion, and his disciples falling asleep.

A perfect end to Paul’s pilgrimage

The group also visited the Church of St Peter, the Church of Mary’s Mother, and the Dome of the Rock, where Paul was overwhelmed by the almost tangible spiritual realm warfare taking place.

The most moving experience for Paul was the Garden Tomb – “seeing inside that He is arisen, having communion and worship in the Garden, with your back to Golgotha (the place of the skull), and seeing the place that the Cross of Calvary was presumed to have been is now a bus station.”

For Paul, the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, was the perfect end to the trip – “in dedicating one’s life to serving Christ, and praying for peace in Israel, a nation ‘waiting’ for war at any time.

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