When he isn’t busy churning out words, longtime Asheville Citizen-Times columnist Bob Terrell has another passion: taking church groups to Israel. He’s led 28 such tours, and he’s planning another one for April of 2010.
“I first went in 1973” when invited by a friend, he recalls, “and I really fell in love with the place. It’s an absolutely beautiful country.”
Beyond that, however, Terrell says that as a Christian, he finds special significance in many of the sites.
“We begin in the garden of Gethsemane; we go to the Mount of Olives, to Bethlehem, Jericho, all around Jerusalem, to the Dead Sea,” he explains. “By the time we end near the tomb where the stone was rolled away, many of the people in the tour, they’re speechless. It’s incredibly powerful.
“It’s the greatest thing a Christian can do,” Terrell continues. “You get to see it all firsthand—to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and the disciples.”
Often, the tours combine Israeli destinations with travels to other areas that played a role in early Christianity. “We’ve been to Egypt, Turkey or Athens, Greece, as well as Israel, to give the people on the tours a better view of different countries,” he explains.
Over the years, Terrell says he’s tapped many different businesses to help get his groups there and back. These days, he’s working with the Asheville-based Economy Travel and Tours; owner George Kort, a Palestinian immigrant, got his start as a tour guide in the region.
“I love the people over there, but many of the Israelis really aren’t interested in doing it,” notes Terrell. “We used Israeli guides a few times, and they kept trying to hand us propaganda—they didn’t really seem to understand the Christian side of it. But we’ve always enjoyed working with the Arabs. There was one Palestinian guide we used for 20 years, and he was a good friend of mine. He died recently from cancer.”
Terrell says he’s even found the possibility of living in the Holy Land tempting. “My roots are here; my family’s here; my home is here. But a friend of mine retired, and she bought a house in Galilee overlooking the sea.”
“My, that’s tempting. I wouldn’t do it, but I’m absolutely in love with the land. I could see myself living there.”
Info: Economy Travel and Tours, 304 Summit St., Asheville NC 28803 (274-9576).