Israel is known as a place of rich of history, religion and spirituality. It’s not only a nation. It’s a mosaic of a land laden with history, a people marked by faith and an epicenter of both the incredibly tragic and incomparably wonderful.

I have wanted to go there since my parents went in the 80’s; and this past spring, I was blessed with the privilege of doing so with my wife, Beth, and forty-four others from Heritage Church.

It’s difficult to prepare for, let alone capture, the myriad of emotions and experiences that come in the transition from learning about a place to actually experiencing it. There will always be a tension between expectations and experiences in any endeavor, but a journey to the Holy Land brings a unique intensity.

There’s a contrast between how we picture Biblical locations in our mind and what they actually are or were. It’s a collision between imagination and reality, between flannel graph and real life, and between expectation and truth.

Some of what I experienced paled in comparison to what I’d imagined. They were grander, more beautiful and simply awe-inspiring. Other things were smaller, lost in iconic trappings and almost inconsequential. But whether something was big or small, grand or simple, being where Jesus was is special.

Yet in all of that, I was surprised to find a greater tension between being present in a place He was and being in His presence in any place. Let me explain.

Many who go to the Holy Land do so to encounter Jesus…to experience Him through the places He went, by seeing what He saw and touching what He touched or might have touched. There’s certainly something special about being where He walked that’s powerful and moving. Kneeling on a first century road that led from the Garden of Gethsemane to the house of Caiaphas was one of those places for me.

To see, to touch, to experience is wonderful; but to know, to walk with and to relate is incomparable.

I will forever appreciate the opportunity to run where Jesus walked in a handful of hurried days. I have memories, pictures and many new relationships; but what I most treasure from my time in Israel is a deeper appreciation for the God who loves you and me. Who says, “You are uniquely mine. I am in you and with you…by my Spirit.” Who, by His grace, allows us to be in His presence irrespective of geography and invites us to not just go where His son went in the past, but to follow Him where He is going today and tomorrow.

Shawn Cossin serves as Senior Pastor to Heritage Wesleyan Church in Rock Island, Illinois.