Israel’s skies are reopening, will Christians return?

Christian World talks to Christian Zionists who have been locked out of the Holy Land. Now, they are making initial plans to come back.

 David and Natalie Kiern in Israel  (photo credit: Courtesy David and Natalie Kiern)
David and Natalie Kiern in Israel
(photo credit: Courtesy David and Natalie Kiern)

Christian tourists made up more than 50% of visitors before COVID and they have been largely locked out of Israel for the last two years. With Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s announcement on Sunday that beginning March 1 Israel’s skies would be open to all, regardless of vaccination status, many of these travelers will be able to return to the Holy Land again.

But even as the planes refill with Christian tourists, some say their lives have been severely harmed by the country’s travel rules.

Rev. Anthony Abma of Vancouver is a professional Israel advocate. He visited Israel 30 times between 2000 and 2019 and not at all since the start of the pandemic. 

Anthony and Rebekah Abma (Credit: Courtesy of Anthony and Rebekah Abma)Anthony and Rebekah Abma (Credit: Courtesy of Anthony and Rebekah Abma)

“The ramifications of the COVID restrictions, locally and internationally, were – and still are – disastrous on every level,” he told Christian World.

“My occupation has been to travel and speak among churches and groups to inspire and promote support for Israel,” said Abma, “Without being able to travel or host tours to Israel … my income was severely affected, which also negatively affected my ability to promote the objectives of Return O’ Israel, Christians in Support of Israeli Sovereignty.”

The project raises funds and awareness of projects in Israel.

Now, he hopes that Canadian travel rules will enable his flights too - though Canada is still not allowing unvaccinated Canadians to travel. If so, he’ll be on one of the first planes, he said.

'I hope a day will come when I can stand at the Sea of Galilee'

Despite the fact that Maxine David, a Christian from Halifax, Canada has never been to Israel, her desire to travel to the Holy Land is strong and multi-generational. 

“I need to go to complete something started by my parents as they were led by the Lord to travel to Israel in 1999 as part of establishing a church in the eastern part of Canada,” she explained. “It's part of a nation-wide Christian movement … to stand with Israel and the Jewish people on the basis of Isaiah 54. This started in the late 1980s. My parents endured all kinds of fiery trials to talk out their spiritual journeys with the Lord and so did I.”

She said that her father brought a staff back from Israel in 1999, which he gave to her son. David has kept the staff at home as a reminder “that my role, as part of God's regenerating covenant from my parents to my children, is to one day go to Israel with this staff and take a full circle journey from a Canadian point of view.”

Health concerns and government regulations during COVID have kept David from visiting. 

Instead, “as an Israel-loving Canadian, I've decided to 'symbolically' complete the journey by taking the staff around various parts of Canada and claiming this nation for God, to stand in solidarity with Israel. 

“I hope a day will come when I can stand at the Sea of Galilee myself, or meet with the Lord on Mount Zion,” she said. “Yet my heart is already there,” she asserted.

'We love Israel'

Elizabeth Andrews, a Messianic Christian from Tampa, Florida, has a very personal reason for wanting to get back to Israel: Her son is married to an Israeli and the young couple is expecting their second child in mid-March. 

Andrews and her husband haven’t been to Israel since December 2019 and their daughter and son-in-law haven’t been since 2015, after a planned visit in April 2020 was canceled due to COVID.

When the announcement about reopening the border on March 1 was made, Andrews immediately hopped online, “looking at possible travel dates. My hope is to travel there at least once a year [and] stay for long periods, if possible, when my husband retires.”

Her expected March trip will be her eighth since she started visiting the country in 2010.

“Besides loving to visit our children, we love Israel,” Andrews said.

The couple plans to visit a children's home in Netanya and a school in Shiloh, to revisit Hebron and meet with members of the IDF.

'Millions of Christians ... have longed to walk the streets of Jerusalem'

Christian filmmaker David Kiern from Nashville has visited Israel nine times. 

His first film I AM ISRAEL is about “the Land of the Bible and the people who call it home.” Plans to film the sequel, which he said, “features true stories of Jewish people whose hearts are personally connected to the Temple Mount,” have been delayed for two years. 

“For the entire year of 2021, I really couldn't wrap my head around the fact that Israel was inaccessible,” he told Christian World.

Friends from Israel gleefully texted Kiern the morning that Israel’s March 1 reopening was announced. 

One of the scenes in his new film will be filmed at the Kotel during the Priestly blessing on Passover, so “as long as Israel doesn't change this new policy, we'll be back in Jerusalem [for that],” he said.

“Millions of Christians, including myself, have longed to walk the streets of Jerusalem these past two years," Kiern said. “We believe that Jerusalem is not simply a great city, but is the place where God's eyes and heart will always be. As non-Jewish foreigners, we've been separated from Israel and the spiritual heart of the earth for two years. I pray this never happens again.”