Women to share stories from the Holy Land

SALEM – Two Salem residents moved by their experiences during a recent trip to the Holy Land will share their stories and photographs at 7 p.m. Jan. 7 and 14 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.

From the spot in Bethlehem where Jesus drew his first breath to the Mount of Olives where he prayed in the nearby Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death, Beverly Henderson and Pastor Connie Sassanella of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church walked and drew inspiration from all the places they had read about and studied.

“It gave me an appreciation of all the things that are there. It’s like it brought it more to life,” Henderson said.

The former instructor and director of the Hannah E. Mullins School of Practical Nursing had never traveled to the Holy Land before, describing their travels during a two-week period in November in the places where Jesus lived and preached as awesome.

The site that meant the most to her was the Garden Tomb, which is located in Jerusalem outside the city walls and close to the Damascus Gate. The rock-cut tomb is said to be the burial place and place of resurrection of Jesus.

They arrived early in the morning and she was able to go inside the tomb by herself, leaving her in awe. After she came back outside, tour groups came and sang hymns and paid homage, with Sassanella commenting that many of the visitors, who were from all over the world, were crying from emotion.

This was Sassanella’s second trip to the Holy Land. For her first trip in 2010, she and church member Allison Boron traveled to Jerusalem to visit the historical sites and Sassanella’s daughter, Libbi, who was attending Hebrew University at the time.

This time around, she felt honored and privileged to experience it all with Henderson and be able to share what she had learned previously.

During the travelogue which will occur over two nights, she and Henderson will share what they experienced, not only with photographs of the Biblical sites but also with stories about the places they stayed, the food they ate, the out-of-the-way places they discovered and the people they met and got to know.

The two didn’t do the trip as part of a tour group – they traveled on their own, renting a car and staying in different places. For anyone planning to visit the Holy Land, Sassanella suggested coming to the travelogue and seeing the Holy Land from someone else’s eyes. She also suggested reading a lot about the destinations.

From her studying and from seeing the places up close in person, Sassanella said she’s been able to incorporate that passion into her sermons.

Some of the places they’ll talk about in detail include the walled city of Jerusalem, the new city Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives overlooking the old walled city, the Sea of Galilee area where the ministry of Jesus took place, the Jordan River, and the West Bank Palestinian areas of Bethlehem, where Jesus was born; and Jericho, where the Mount of Temptation can be found; and the tree of Zacchaeus, who climbed up to get a better view of Jesus.

Sassanella and Henderson also received a private tour of Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives run by the Lutheran World Federation, which is the only hospital in Israel that will treat Palestinian children with diabetes and cancer. They picked olives used to make olive oil to be sold as a fundraiser for the hospital.

Sassanella explained that churches and places of worship were built over top of the archeological finds as a way to preserve them and make it possible for people to visit them. She described a church built with a glass floor over the home of the apostle Peter. She described another place known as Kursi, where the mosaic tile dates back to the fifth century.

She had photos of an ancient boat which dates back to the time of Christ which has been preserved and put on display. They also visited the Holocaust Museum and the Israel Museum and many other places besides getting to know the people in the region, including their day-long Palestinian taxi driver who took them home to meet his family and cook them dinner.

Each presentation, which will cover different parts of their trip, will take about an hour and a half. There’s no cost to attend.