Despite its transition into a high-tech, modern city, Jerusalem will always be holy ground rooted in history. It’s what makes the city unlike any other, and why 80 percent of Israel’s tourists head to Jerusalem for religious reasons or not.
“For attendees, Jerusalem gives context and culture to the holy books they believe in,” says Michael Mistretta, co-founder and COO of the Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries. Mistretta and his team organize Jerusalem Encounter, an 11-day religious tour and conference bringing 750 young Christians and pastors from around the world to experience the Bible firsthand and build relationships with Jerusalem natives. In 2016, it was held at The Pavilion (a movie theater-turned-performing arts center) and guests stayed at a mix of hotels like David Citadel, Hotel Yehuda and Dan Panorama, plus hostels.
“Our heart with Jerusalem Encounter is to bring new Christians who haven’t been to Israel to encounter the land and the people,” says Mistretta. Last year’s inaugural event resulted in an in-depth tour of the city and its surrounding areas.
Attendees visited the Sea of Galilee, one day boarding a boat to take part in a worship service on the water and another day participating in a giveback opportunity to clean up trash littering the shorelines. They then ventured to the Judean Desert to see King Herod’s Masada and float in the Dead Sea. Other activities included a visit to the Israel Museum to see a scale model of what Jerusalem looked like in Jesus’ day, as well as a tour of the Old City and morning devotionals on top of the Mount of Olives.
Jerusalem Encounter is a prime example of what tours in the city can look like for groups of any religious affiliation, as well as a reflection of what makes it a one-of-a-kind destination. It’s the only place in the world where you can follow the path Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion (Via Dolorosa) or see the rock where Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven (Dome of the Rock).
“Jerusalem will [always] have its own identity… but it will also focus on the future and continue to innovate,” says Melchior. Mix history, religious significance and the fact that it continues to keep up with the rest of the world in innovation and technology, and it’s safe to say Jerusalem has a bright future in meetings.