Rich Shetler and Jon Fielitz were among local residents who went on a trip with Smithville Mennonite Church to the Holy Land around the New Year.
Rich Shetler, member of Smithville Mennonite Church, rides a camel in Israel.
Smithville Mennonite Pastor Todd Martin and his son, Thaddeus, on a tour this winter to the Holy Land spearheaded by Smithville Mennonite Church.
Smithville Mennonite Pastor Todd Martin and juice bar owner Rimon, who Martin makes sure to visit each time he makes a pilgrimmage with church members to the Holy Land.
Among all the signage in Arabic, a bright blue sign stands out high above a doorway overlooking a busy street bazaar in the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Yellow banners hang from the walls of the little corner juice bar listing in English nearly every beverage imaginable including Arabic and Turkish coffees, tea, cappuccino and a variety of juices.
And among all the countless residents, visitors and tourists who come and go and pass by, Rimon, the longtime owner of the café, always recognizes his Wayne County friend, Smithville Mennonite Pastor Todd Martin.
Rimon sells “possibly the freshest most delicious fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice in Jerusalem,” according to Martin, who had the opportunity this winter to see how the Christian business owner has been doing since the pandemic and, of course, to enjoy a stein full of the tasty deep purple juice.
On trips to the Holy Land, while Martin loves to visit the Garden Tomb just outside the Old City as well as other key places that were part of Jesus’ life and are highlighted in Bible stories, he enjoys meeting people as well.
“I love meeting vibrant Christians in the Holy Land,” Martin said. “It’s a hard place to be a Christian. You are sandwiched between Jews and Muslims, and it’s just powerful. There are vibrant Christians there.”
Above all, Martin loves taking local Christians on pilgrimage. About a month and a half ago, he took nearly a dozen area residents on pilgrimage. While this was a return trip for Martin to the Middle East, this was a first-time trip for some fellow travelers including Smithville Mennonite Church member Rich Shetler and Kidron Mennonite Church member Jon Fielitz who shared about their experiences recently.
Shetler, who lives just outside of Orrville, documented the 10-day trip well. Many of his photos, and the photos of others who went on the same trip, are available to view on Smithville Mennonite Church’s website at smc585.org.
Shetler became inspired to take the trip after hearing about previous trips through Martin and he said his father-in-law, Herman Myers, had visited the Holy Land in the 1970s before he was a pastor at Kidron Mennonite Church. A photo of Myers sitting on a rock at the Sea of Galilee is on the cover of his book, “The Unlikely Making of a Mennonite Minister,” which he published in 2010 by AuthorHouse.
“He always enjoyed that and I wanted to see what he saw,” Shetler said. “The one goal was to sit at the Sea of Galilee.”
From the first day in the Holy Land, the travelers were fulfilling goals they had for the trip. Shetler was able to sit on a rock at the Sea of Galilee on the first day of sightseeing. And Fielitz said the choppy water that day only enhanced the experience as he envisioned how Jesus calming the sea would be beneficial to boat travelers as the waves rocked their boat.
“Everything was significant until something became more significant,” Felitz said. “That was really something to be sitting there and looking out at the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River is the tributary that fills the Sea of Galilee and to just imagine that’s where Jesus did the Sermon on the Mount in that area.”
Fielitz, of Dalton, said he may consider the trip a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.
“I always wanted to walk where Jesus walked,” Fielitz said. “Just to be on that ground and see the sights that he saw. … It was always in my heart to go.”
Fielitz has done some traveling before, including mission trips to Guatemala, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. A trip to the Holy Land was important to Fielitz, he said. Not to build his faith, but to gain more of an appreciation of the geography and to be able to visualize better the places that are highlighted in the Bible.
“It was a significant trip but I don’t need to go there to build my faith,” Fielitz said. “My faith is really based on Scripture and my experience with God. It’s great when I read now I can visualize these places, … It does in a sense bring Scripture alive. Until I was there I was trying to imagine this.”
Originally, he had planned to make the trip to the Holy Land in 2020 with family members. COVID-19 forced the trip to be canceled. The opportunity for another trip presented itself, and Fielitz was able to join the group of Smithville parishioners.
“The more the merrier when you go to the Holy Land,” Martin said. “Taking people on pilgrimage is what I love to do.”
On Dec. 28, the group left behind cold and snowy Northeast Ohio. They flew from Cleveland to Washington D.C. and from there embarked on the nearly 11-hour trip to Tel Aviv. They flew through the night.
“It was quite an ordeal to get to our bags and get through customs,” Shetler recalled.
Once they arrived, the group joined with another church group on the tour and Fielitz noted how the merger was seamless and new relationships and new friendships were made. He also noted the range in ages as the group was made up of younger and older adults including some parents and their teen children.
“That was really neat that we had these young people,” Fielitz recalled. “It was just interesting and it was fun. It was a diverse group and we had a good time together. We rode on a 50-person bus.”
The travelers experienced plane, car, tour bus, and boat travel, and Shetler even had an opportunity to ride a camel. Fielitz said their tour guide on the bus was energetic and extremely knowledgeable and imparted a steady stream of historical and current information.