By The Rev. Tim Surratt
This past October, a group of 11 men from our diocese and about as many from other places took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — to learn, to walk in the steps of Jesus, to bond, to pray, to seek and to find, to be changed by the Lord — basically, to be better men of God.
The trip called “Behold the Man” (BTM) is part of our Diocesen men’s ministry led by the ubiquitous Jay Crouse. Many men have taken previous BTM trips to the holy land earning them acceptance into the Order of the Cross for doing so.
The schedule loosely followed the life of Jesus in micro and included what you’d expect and have heard about from Holy Land tours — visits to En Gedi, the Dead Sea, Masada, Qumram, the Jordan River, and the top spots in the city of Jerusalem — but that’s where the similarities end. This was a pilgrimage; a carefully crafted trip across land and an inner journey through our own hearts and souls.
We began in the Negev desert, taking long hikes and camel rides, pondering the brokenness of our lives, and staying in the tents of a Bedouin campground (think of it as an Arab KOA). On the first night, most of the men migrated out of necessity from their assigned tent to the one I was staying in due to the exceptional snoring of one of our dear brothers. From there we went to Jericho, Nazareth, and the Mount of Beatitudes with our journey culminating in the old city of Jerusalem. It was a compact version of Jesus’ life and travels.
At each stop we were treated to scholarly and historical teachings from the Rev. Dr. Peter Walker. This learned British professor served as both “one of the guys” and leader. An expert in the Holy Land and author of dozens of books, Peter’s presence distinguished our trip from the myriad of other tours crowding every popular spot in the Holy Land. Known by the curators of historical sites, shop owners and professors in the area, Peter’s relationships with so many locals earned us access to special places, people, and information.
We also had spiritual input and guidance from our trip chaplains, The Revs. Arthur Jenkins and Mike Lumpkin. They connected the place to the story and then to our lives. Their talks would inspire and challenge us and sometimes cut our souls like a knife. We were given time to respond with silence in the wilderness through journaling, small groups, and prayer.
I liked the lonely places the most — the places of solitude and those where our Lord suffered. One day we took a long silent hike through the Negev desert and finished with a time of impassioned worship and spontaneous prayer. That day — and many times during the two weeks — I piled rocks on the ground as if to make a plea to God to notice that I’m here, to “show up” and convince me I’m not invisible. That’s what the desert will do to you — make you want Him more and other things (hopefully) less. Ponder this: Jesus could have walked across the same packed sand or touched the same rocks that I did. It’s amazing. These rock piles, called Cairns (pronounced more like “Karen” in the backpacking world), are akin to the Ebenezer “Stones of Help” in the Old Testament. For me, I’ll remember that God did things there, and He hasn’t finished doing things yet.
Another favorite time for me was our visit to the wailing wall of the Old Temple — at which I could pray for myself and others and pour out my soul’s praise, desires and hurts. Thousands of years of prayers have been said by people at that place. (If you want to, find out from Jay Crouse about the John Deere hat I wore to this sacred monument!)
The feeling of being looked after was another profound experience I had during the trip. We were partnered with another man to room with, travel with and keep up with. I can’t remember the last time someone in my life stopped on a walk or in a bus or at dinner to simply ask, “Where’s Tim?” (That is unless, of course, I owed them money!) Or to offer the simple, amazing gift of inquiring: “How’s it going?”, “You okay?” or “What do you want to do tonight?” The trip bonds men together. Men don’t get a lot of bonding these days. We’ve misappropriated a line from the scriptures to mean “I don’t have to be my brother’s keeper.” Nonsense. We’re supposed to be.
But understand; the trip wasn’t designed for our comfort or leisure. There were plenty of challenges:
Since our real lives and ministries are not filled with “easy” things but filled instead with a call from God to do the right thing and conquer sin and accept challenges, the trip raised our standards for being men of Christ. People of almost every religion walk the streets of Jerusalem, giving us the chance to experience the tension, the history, and the passion of their faith.
Although I haven’t spoken with or seen most of these men since we returned home, some emails have been exchanged. I know I could call and trust any of them at any moment if I needed to. I believe I’m prayed for and remembered and sometimes even thought about — and that’s a pretty good thing in today’s world.
If you’re wondering whether or not you should go – you should. And force the men in your life to go as well. The trip will make you and each of them a better man.
The Rev. Tim Surratt is the Rector of Christ the King-Grace Church, Waccamaw on Pawley’s Island.