Pastor Experiences ‘Closeness’ To God During Trip to Holy Land
Editor’s note: This is the final piece of a two-part story about Reverend Bill Dawson’s trip to the Holy Land. The story reveals not only reveals Dawson’s faith, but his future plans.
SISTERSVILLE – The Rev. Bill Dawson of Sistersville United Methodist Church discussed some of thing he discovered while touring Israel. When Dawson visited the country for about two weeks in mid February, he and group of pilgrims visited the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. His remarks have even more relevance in the wake of the Easter holiday.
“Walking where Jesus walked is a powerful experience,” he said. “Sailing the waters of the Sea of Galilee, standing on the shoreline and realizing that Jesus was here gives a person goosebumps. In Jerusalem, we go to the original floor of the Antonia Fortress, this was the place where Jesus was beaten and battered by Roman soldiers. Some of us are moved to tears as we realize that it happened where we are standing.”
The tour group visited the home of Caiaphas, who was the High Priest during the time of Jesus and mentioned in the Gospel narratives. Dawson said it was at his palace where Jesus was put on trial and eventually imprisoned before being handed over to the Romans.
“At the home of Caiaphas, we are permitted to go to the holding cell and read the story of the trial of Jesus,” he said. “Knowing that he was held there and suffered, really hits your heart and soul. This thought causes me to evaluate my life and to pray to be a better example.”
And therein lies the power of God’s grace.
“Being there and realizing that it was because of ‘our’ sin that He had to suffer and die in the first place,” Dawson said. “It hits you because the realization is that God Loved Us so much that he really did send His only son. Jesus died for us, and I feel unworthy, but at the same time, so grateful for God’s Love and Grace! It makes you want to tell everyone and invite all people to experience God’s Grace!”
Dawson said his faith is stronger after every trip he takes to the Holy Land.
My faith is always strengthened after every trip” he said. “Going to Israel allows a believer to “shed” the Westernization of our Christian faith, to unpack the Biblical story in the places where they actually occurred.”
Depending on the tour group’s guide, Dawson said, the Biblical stories from a Jewish perspective or a Palestinian Christian understanding. He said everyone comes away with knowledge.
“Guides have shared that when they lead some of the “televangelists” from the United States, these evangelists bring viewers/partners with them, and often the ‘Evangelist’ wishes to appear as the expert when it comes to the Bible Stories,” he said. “In reality, the Guides have had to correct these religious leaders about the teaching of the scriptures and enlighten the Evangelists about the original interpretation.”
Dawson said as a seminary graduate, he was trained to look at the original meaning of scripture, pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me to the truth of the text, and begin from that perspective.
“Deeb Dides, our guide last month, showed us what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,'” Dawson said when referencing the quote from Matthew 17:20.
As this scripture was being shared, the tour group was was in Bethlehem en route to a “man-made” mountain called the Herodion. In 40 BCE, after the Parthian conquest of Syria, Herod fled to Masada. On the way, at the location of Herodion, Herod clashed with the Parthians and emerged victorious. According to the Roman Jewish historian Josephus, he built a town on that spot in commemoration of his victory, and enhanced it with wonderful palaces and he called it Herodion after himself, Dawson said as he recalled with ease Josephus history, who renowned works detail early Christian history.
“King Herod had it built so that people all over the region could see what he was able to accomplish,” Dawson said. “Even today, the Herodion can be seen from various parts of Israel. Jesus utilized something familiar with the people of His day to talk about faith. So if Herod could have enough faith to move a mountain, then what can you and I accomplish if we have such faith?”
A Closeness with God
Dawson said it is this type of insight and background on the Bible that enhances his faith and opens the scripture to a deeper level of understanding.
“I believe it not only strengthens my faith, but I am able to bring that knowledge back and share it with Christians in Sistersville,” he said. “All of us gain a deeper understanding, and our faith continues to grow.”
Dawson experienced an “oneness” with God while on a boat in the Sea of Galilee.
“I am always reminded of the places, the stories, the miracles, and the reality of being there, in the Galilee,” he said. “The captain of the boat will play Christian music while the boat floats across the water. The music and the stories are going through my head, and I can really feel the presence of God in a dynamic way. Watching the other passengers, especially those on their first trip to the Holy Land, and seeing their tears flow, the watery eyes, and knowing that they are feeling the same emotions that I am is a powerful moment for all of us.”
Another moment Dawson said he experienced a closeness with God was when he was leading a devotion and Holy Communion in 2013 within the Garden Tomb area located in Jerusalem.
“It was a sunny day, the birds were chirping, and it was a beautiful day to be outdoors, especially in Jerusalem,” he said. “As we recalled the Last Supper from scripture, I invited our group to bow our heads in prayer. Simultaneously, the birds went silent too. As I was praying, I found myself totally amazed at the silence of nature all around us. As soon as we said ‘Amen’, the birds began chirping again. That was a powerful ‘God’ moment for me and our whole group. Everyone will have a ‘God’ moment at different locations during a tour to Israel. Where and when those moments occur all depends on the person and where they are in their own ‘Christian’ walk.”