UNION COUNTY — Former Union County resident and educator Henry Sparrow and his wife, Linda, had never visited the Holy Land when they found out about an opportunity through their brother-in-law, the Rev. Dr. Mike Alexander of Belin United Methodist Church in Murrells Inlet.
Each year, Alexander — who has visited Israel 16 times — takes a group to visit, and one week before a trip last January, he informed Sparrow two spaces had opened. Henry and Linda decided to take the week to prepare, and they took an 11-day trip of a lifetime.
Henry said he clearly remembers what Alexander told him before the trip.
“He said, ‘If you go, you will never be the same,’” Sparrow said.
The Sparrows decided to go on the tour with a party of 38, including three Methodist ministers. They awoke each morning for a devotion pertaining to an area of the country which they would visit by bus.
The group spent two nights in the City of Galilee, going out on a ship into the three-mile-wide and 26-mile-long Sea of Galilee, which is the source of water for the entire country. The River Jordan flows into the Sea of Galilee, and people continue to fish there every day. Hundreds of people from all over the world visit the site each day. Sparrow said his memory of the Sea of Galilee is hard to put into words.
“My wife and I were re-baptized at the same site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus,” he said.
The Sparrows also visited Nazareth, where Jesus was raised. He said there is a YMCA on the site of Jesus’ home in Nazareth, and there are people there dressed in the attire of Jesus’ day.
They also visited Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, and the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus drug the cross to the crucifixion. Sparrow said someone drags a cross across that same terrain each day.
“As you might expect, they take religion very seriously there; every hotel had the Ten Commandments over the doors” Sparrow said, explaining that much of the population is Jewish and there is little activity between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday.
“There are hardly any cars on the roads on Saturday.”
Sparrow said there were other cultural differences which amazed him during his trip.
“There are three things you won’t find in Israel — dogs, pigs and clean cars,” Sparrow joked. “It is so dusty, all the cars are caked with dirt all the time.”
Sparrow said he saw very few large cars or pick-ups, mainly because there is a large tax on vehicles to help pave roads.
“It keeps the cars small and inexpensive,” he said, pointing out that gas was more expensive there than in the U.S.
Sparrow said he also found it interesting that families there are taxed for each television they have in their homes.
Sparrow said there are 8 million people in Israel, and it is the size of New Jersey. He said there were Israeli flags flying everywhere he looked.
“They are very proud people, and they are very proud of their country,” he said.
Sparrow said everyone in Israel is required to join the military at age 18, and females are required to serve three years, while males serve four years and stay in the reserves until age 50.
He said Israeli people are also proud of the fact that they are totally self-sufficient in terms of food, without importing any.
“The soil is so fertile, especially around the Sea of Galilee,” Sparrow said. “You see row after row of grapefruits, oranges, dates, all kinds of things. The lifestyle just amazed me.”
Sparrow said he would recommend a trip to the Holy Land to anyone, and he believes his brother-in-law was accurate when he made the statement that the trip would change his life.
“He was right on,” Sparrow said. “It’s one thing to hear a sermon or read the Bible, but it’s another to see those places firsthand. It’s hard to put into words when you go to some of those sites. We saw the birthplace of Jesus and and the birthplace of Mary. Those things are a whole new revelation.”
Sparrow said Belin United Methodist is already preparing for another trip to the Holy Land for January, and anyone who is interested may find the church’s contact information on its website — www.belinumc.org.