Following Jesus’ Trail
Like the Good Samaritan, like Mary with her expensive perfume, like Zacchaeus in the tree, unexpected lessons from unlikely characters were a major theme of Jesus’ ministry in the Galilee.
Two millennia later, the Jesus Trail is giving wanderers and pilgrims the opportunity to learn surprising lessons of their own while walking, literally, where Jesus did.
EMU grads hard at work
Now five years old, the 38-mile Jesus Trail was co-founded by David Landis, a 2004 EMU graduate, and an Israeli friend, Maoz Inon.
“The Jesus trail is unique because of the cross-cultural encounters between Christians, Muslims and Jews. The experience is in the people that you meet,” says Landis.
“It’s very similar to what Jesus experienced 2,000 years ago.”
The trail runs from Nazareth to Capernaum and has been open to hikers since 2007, attracting international attention. In summer 2009 it was officially blazed as part of Israel’s extensive trail network.
About 1,000 people hiked all or part of it the trail during that first year alone, reports Landis, who works full-time with his wife, Anna Dintaman-Landis, a 2005 EMU grad, developing, promoting and guiding visitors along the Jesus Trail.
Hikers explore Galilee from Nazareth to Capernaum
While any trip to the Holy Land places familiar Bible stories in geographic context, the Jesus Trail – often hot, steep and rocky – allows hikers to experience the land and the people of the region much as Jesus did. Well-known points along the way include Nazareth, Cana (of water-to-wine fame), Capernaum and the Mount of Beatitudes.
As in Jesus’ day, the modern-day Galilee is a diverse place itself. As it winds from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth and the lakeshore village of Capernaum, the base for his brief ministry, the Jesus Trail passes through towns and villages inhabited by religious, secular and messianic Jews and Muslims, Christians and Druze Arabs.
“We play on that idea of Jesus walking through diverse communities, and give people an opportunity to do something similar,” David Landis said.
Roanoke College religion professor Gerry McDermott explored that diversity for an essay about the Jesus Trail published in the April 2010 issue of Christianity Today. He hiked the trail with his son and asked every local person willing – Muslims, Jews and Christians – to talk a simple question: “What does Jesus mean to you?” The conversations were “absolutely fascinating,” he reported. Read more…
Sustainable and responsible ecotourism
Dave and his co-founder Maoz designed the trail with sustainability and principles of ecotourism and responsible tourism deeply in mind. They encourage local residents to consider themselves stakeholders in a project that brings business and prestige to their community.
They believe when local business owners and visitors meet face to face, more tourism dollars stay in and benefit the community and more positive respectful relationships can be built.
Hikers are encouraged to:
- Follow Leave No Trace environmental principles.
- Think local. Eat local foods, hire local guides, use local transport, talk to local people, try to experience local culture rather than seeking out the familiar or comfortable.
Engagement within communities along the Jesus Trail is a major goal for Dave and Anna. They encourage hikers to spend nights in homes that offer lodging, eat in local restaurants and take advantage of people’s knowledge at points of interest on the route. Those who live along the trail, they said, are generally honored that so many travelers are eager to hike it.
The increasing impact of the Jesus Trail
“We hope the trail can be an outdoor classroom,” says Anna from their home base in Nazareth.
In addition to faculty and students from other universities, EMU Middle East cross-cultural groups regularly hike the trail, led by long-time EMU Bible professor Linford Stutzman and his wife Janet.
The Stutzmans have led myriad cross-cultural groups to the Middle East, and spent a 2005 sabbatical sailing the journey of Apostle Paul in Acts. In fact, Linford led David and his classmates on a 2002 Middle East cross-cultural. “My cross-cultural changed my life, and pointed me in this direction. I was a pre-med major and this experience developed my global mindset. My cross-cultural time is linked directly to the Jesus Trail.”
Here’s a snippet of current EMU cross-cultural student Janelle Dean’s journal in April 2012, the week of the group’s Jesus Trail hike: “32 people. 40 miles. 4 days. Nearly 75 blisters. Smiles all around.”
During day three of their hike, students considered a question from Linford Stutzman. Janelle blogged:
Linford talked to us about Jesus’ ministry starting when He was around 30, giving him around 3 years to complete everything He came to earth to do. What would we do with 3 years to do whatever we wanted? I think this question really put life into perspective for a lot of us. We shouldn’t delay doing what we most want to do in life because we don’t know if we’ll have the time 10 years from now. I know it really encouraged me to live my life completely for Jesus. As I am realizing how hard it is to walk in His physical footsteps in the Holy Land, I’m realizing even more how difficult it is to follow in His spiritual footsteps. It is definitely something to strive for!
“I believe Jesus is getting very busy on his trail,” said Linda Hallel, a Jesus Trail volunteer, during a 2010 interview for Crossroads, EMU’s alumni magazine. “A lot of people who’ve come and walked were looking to find something, and [they] seem to have found it.”
About EMU’s cross-cultural program
EMU’s well-known cross-cultural program is one of the strongest cross-cultural study programs in the country – part of what makes EMU a Christian university like no other. Most EMU faculty have lived and worked internationally, and take cross-cultural groups off the beaten path to explore an immersion into another culture.
Led by experienced professors and their families, cross-cultural students travel to Central America, the Middle East, South Africa, India, China, Ireland, and more. They are immersed in another culture, living with host families, learning the local history from those who lived it, and experiencing local culture first-hand.
Heading into its third decade, the cross-cultural program is a life-changing experience for most students.