The “trip of a lifetime” spawned opportunities for the group to visit iconic sites where Jesus took part in significant events that Christians still recognise today.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) represents millions of Christians, churches, and denominations to the nation and people of Israel. It reaches out into more than 170 countries worldwide, with offices in over 90 countries.
Luce Gukisuva, has been visiting Israel for many years under the umbrella of the Fijian ICEJ.
Gukisuva lives in Rarotonga and has been praying for a Cook Islands group to form and go to Israel under the ICEJ.
This year’s self-funded trip was organised by Gukisuva and local resident Helen Tatuava.
“It was a dream come true for me to see the first Cook Islands group take part in the 2017 ICEJ event in Israel,” Gukisuva said.
The organisation’s purpose is to stand with Israel in support and friendship, to equip and teach the global church regarding God’s purposes with Israel and the nations of the Middle East, and be an active voice of reconciliation between Jews, Christians, and Arabs. It also aims to support churches and congregations in the Holy Land.
Local lawyer Paul Lynch who was a member of the Cook Islands group that visited Israel, said that for Gukisuva, the trip was an answered prayer.
“There is now an opportunity for Cook Islanders to travel with a registered group to the Feast of Tabernacles and the Holy Land each year.”
Before the trip, Lynch said he didn’t know much about Israel’s history
“It is an amazing place and I came back home to Rarotonga with a new perspective on Israel and the history and current situation there.
“I got to enjoy the uniqueness of Israel, and its people both Jewish and Arab who live side by side. To have a future, they must find a peaceful solution to their conflicts.”
Lynch described the trip as “mind-blowing” and said he was able to experience it with his wife and daughter.
“I have travelled to many places in the world, but there is nowhere like Israel.”
Israel is a country of contrasts, said Lynch.
“It’s made up of beaches and mountains, cool and hot climates, deserts and old cities, the familiar fast food chain stores like McDonalds, and date palm forests. Modern and ancient lifestyles (exist) side by side.”
To see iconic sites in real life that he had previously only ever read about in the Bible was a significant feature of the visit for Lynch.
“The ‘Feast of Tabernacles’ and the ‘March Through Jerusalem’ were standout events.
“One highlight was seeing all the places that I had only read about and to realise they still existed and that historical events had taken place there,” he said.
Paul’s daughter Manine said the trip was an eye-opener for her and that she really enjoyed meeting new people and visiting sites featured in the Bible.
“I have a passion for Israel and I believe as Christians we should stand with Israel.
“It is an awesome opportunity for Cook Islanders to travel in general, but because we as a Christian nation are brought up reading the Bible, it’s amazing to actually visit places and meet the people of Israel.”
Many nations around the world were represented at the March through Jerusalem event and Manine said this was a real highlight for her.
“I was proud to represent the Cook Islands and I got to hold the Cook Islands flag amongst 5000 other people.
“It was amazing to see different countries come together to stand with the nation of Israel.”
The 18-year-old said she learned a lot through the Israel experience, and it was the people she met who made the trip worthwhile.
“There was an American couple who lived in Jerusalem. They opened their house up to people who were in the Israeli Army who didn’t have a home to go to during the weekends or on holidays.”
She said the couple provided their visitors with a place to stay, food to eat and basically became their family.
“I admire their love for people and I’m reminded of how God’s love for His people is demonstrated through these acts of kindness.”
Among the group of Cook Islanders who visited Israel was local pearl merchant Nancy Kora who took the trip to celebrate her birthday.
“I definitely have a passion for Israel and it probably comes from being a Christian,” she said. For Kora, the highlight was visiting the Dead Sea and Mount Masada where King Herod built palaces in around 30 BC.
“There are so much healing properties in the mud at the Dead Sea; people come from all over the world just to bathe in it.”
Kora says the whole Bible came alive as she walked the areas Jesus had walked and was baptised in the river Jordan where John baptised Jesus. She stood on the Mount of Olives where Jesus wept for Jerusalem and visited the tombs of the patriarchs.
The group attended the ICEJ conference and Kora said was a great start to touring the Promised Land.
The Cook Islands can now be registered directly with ICEJ, which gives Cook Islanders access to discounted group travel every year.
Lynch encourages Cook Islanders who aspire to go to Israel, to join the next travel group in September next year.
“Start planning, praying, dreaming, and you can do it.”
The group that travelled to Israel will meet tonight at the New Hope Church at 7pm to share the experience of their trip to Israel and plans for the 2018 visit.
The session is open to everyone.