Editor’s Notes—Rev. Hanko was apprehensive that he would not stay busy enough in his retirement years. He soon found out that this was no cause for worry. He taught Dutch in the seminary for a number of years, he was church visitor for Classis from 1979-1989, he traveled extensively on behalf of the churches, and he traveled to Bradenton, Florida to preach there for parts of every year from 1980-1992. In this chapter, he relates the story of his trip to the Holy Land. While not taken on behalf of the churches, the trip was instructive and edifying for both him and his companions.
In 1977, when I was 70 years old, I retired. This was not an easy decision to make. I had lived an active life, and did not fancy the idea of sitting home and twiddling my thumbs. If retirement meant doing nothing, I would put that off as long as possible. But the opportunity was offered to me to teach Dutch to the students in the seminary. That would give me something to do. So with that in mind, I informed Hudsonville’s consistory, which reluctantly agreed to approve my action.
We had just moved into the new church on Beech Tree. The consistory also offered to me that we could move into the new parsonage, but since I had in mind to retire, we did not do that. It was a good thing also, for my last duty as minister of Hudsonville was to install Rev. Van Baren as minister there.
In the summer of 1978, I had hip surgery. Dr. Avery had consulted a bone doctor about my Paget’s disease, which had been developing ever since 1956. The doctors in Beaver Clinic in Redlands mentioned to me that I had this ailment, but said that likely it would never bother.1 On the world tour of 1975 I had begun to limp a bit, not so noticeably, but I stumbled readily. Later, I fell without realizing what caused it. I began taking shots for this, but Dr. Avery wondered whether more could be done to prevent it from developing further. One doctor whom he consulted said that I should have hip surgery, replacement of the ball and socket. Another doctor advised strongly against it. After some time the doctor who advised the hip surgery won out.
For a few days I was in a private room at Blodgett Hospital, after which I went through a period of therapy, telling that left leg to move. Only by concentrating on it would the leg finally move. While the surgery did help for a time, that leg was now shorter than my other one.
All the while I had not even given thought to where I would live after I retired. Somehow that problem never came up. It was Gordon Van Overloop who came over and asked me what I had in mind.2 He suggested the possibility of going to Sunset Manor, a retirement home, or buying an old house somewhere. He also mentioned that he had ordered a new condominium among the Beechnut apartments on 32nd Ave., which he would turn over to me if I so desired. We went to where some condos had already been built, looked over the lot where he had intended to buy, discussed the price, and decided that this would be the best thing to do. So Gord made all the arrangements with the owners, managed to get a cut in the price for us, and gave us the privilege of deciding how we wanted the various rooms arranged, particularly allowing room for my library.
At the beginning of 1979 we moved with the assistance of some of the family and many members of the congregation. It was a rather stormy day, with snow flying, but we managed to get all the furniture across without any damage. So Allie and I were settled in a condo, in contrast to the eight-room house on School Street. It felt like we were living in cramped quarters, like a motel. But we soon became accustomed to it, and were glad that the place was no larger.
In 1980, I had an opportunity to take a trip to the Holy Land for a mere $300. This sounded good to me, so I sent a down payment. Later I was glad that this fell through, because, upon further investigation, I found out that it was a tour of charismatics, who would spend prayer time in Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee. The reason it fell through was that Allie developed cancer in the thyroid gland. For this, she had surgery that same summer. The surgery was done in Zeeland hospital, but she had to go to Ann Arbor for treatments of radioactive iodine. She was in isolation for four or five days. We could come as far as the door to see her. After she returned home, she had to go to the University of Michigan every year for a check up.
On July 8, 1984, we left for an unforgettable trip to Palestine. It all happened because Elaine had a brainstorm, thinking that if she could get a group of our own people together, this would make a nice trip. This is what made the trip especially enjoyable; that all but three of the twenty were our own people, and a number of them schoolteachers. There were twelve of us who left a week earlier to go to Egypt. A limousine took us to Detroit, Michigan, and from there we went to Brussels, Belgium. Later in the day we were served a meal and obtained a plane that took us to Paris, France. After a bit of delay in Paris we went on to Cairo, Egypt where we arrived at three AM on Tuesday. A guide was there to meet us and direct us to a bus. It took some time to get out of the airport, which was under heavy security, but soon we were bumping and racing along with a driver who knew three English words, “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” One extra large bump caused Gen Lubbers’ suitcase to fall and coast behind us. But this was soon retrieved and when we arrived at the Hilton on the Nile, we tried to get a few hours sleep.
The first two days we spent in the large, disorderly city of Cairo. We had nice weather, hot but clear. Traffic in Cairo was mad confusion. There were six lanes of traffic, all going in the same direction, consisting of people walking, horse drawn carts maneuvering their way and cars and busses blowing their horns and trying to make time. One night at 11:30, we were still in a traffic jam. But we enjoyed seeing the pyramids, riding on camels and especially the night tour to the sphinx and pyramids under lights.
We went to Memphis, the ancient capital of the Egyptian kingdoms, where we saw a colossal image of Ramses II.
The land of Goshen is no longer the fertile country of onions, garlic and leeks, known to Israel. Since the Aswan Dam was built on the Nile, the river no longer overflows and the irrigation ditches are but stagnant pools of filthy water with a few miserable huts alongside.
We went by plane to Luxor and went by bus to Karnak. Then by boat we went across the Nile to the Valley of the Kings. We visited the tomb of King Tut and also went all the way down in the tomb of Ramses VI. What especially impressed us was how far the culture had already advanced in those days when the tombs were built. The passage in the tomb was a gradual slope. All along the perfectly aligned walls and ceiling were designs of all sorts, not rudely scratched into the wall, but carefully engraved by experts. There were alcoves along the way, also bearing all sorts of designs.
Near the tombs of the kings were caves used as dwellings. The government had made houses for the people to live in, but they preferred to stay in the caves. We visited an alabaster factory, where laborers made and painted vases and other objects from a mineral, harder than clay, yet not as hard as stone.
We then went to the Valley of the Queens where we saw the ruins of the most elaborate temple of all. It was the temple of Queen Hatshepsut, who is thought to have been the adoptive mother of Moses. She never appeared in public without a long beard to give an impression of authority.
We went back to Karnak across the Nile. We had lunch in a restaurant that was not exactly clean, especially because there was a cat running around between our legs and all over the place. There we had a salad of greens that we enjoyed at the time, but we did not realize that the water in which the greens were washed might have serious effects on us. After resting a while, because of the heat of the day, we went to the various ruins of temples of the kings. One king had built a temple to his honor, and the next king broke part of it down to build his temple. Amazing what a number of temples were lying there in ruin! There were obelisks of one solid piece, fully designed and standing 90 feet high. How in the world did these Egyptians ever raise something as tall as that?
We took the plane back to Cairo and stayed in the same hotel in Cairo. Some of our party began to feel nauseous. In the afternoon we took the plane to Athens, Greece where we were to meet the rest of the party on Sunday evening. That trip from Cairo to Athens was a horrible experience because Allie and I were very sick. The trip was a nightmare. Twice the stewardess offered me food, which was the last thing I needed. But as we approached Athens, I began to sip 7-Up, so that by the time we landed, I was able at least to stand on my feet.
On Sunday morning, some of our group went to find a church. The rest of us had a short service in the hotel. In the afternoon we took a walk in the park and saw the changing of the guard. Allie and Kathy Bouwkamp remained nauseous most of the week, but the rest of us were pretty well over our sickness.3
That evening, the other eight, who were making this trip with us, including Rich and Elaine Bos, arrived at the hotel in Athens. They had already heard in Grand Rapids about our bout with nausea. It was a pleasure to have the group complete. We had a meeting with the guide that night to make plans for the week, but most of us were eager to get some rest. John Kalsbeek Sr. was my roommate for the rest of the trip.4
On Monday morning our guide arrived and was ready to show us Athens. We spent some time at the Parthenon. On Monday afternoon the party went by bus to Corinth. We rode part of the time along the sound and we saw the pass, the cut through the rock that is used by ships to avoid the long trip around the point of the peninsula. Our guide took us to Mars Hill where Paul preached.
Tuesday morning, our guide came and we started out bright and early to go north through Greece to Thessalonica. We rode past Mount Olympus and stopped at a monastery at Meteora, perched high on a solitary cliff. There were 240 steps leading up to this lone spot. When we were almost there all the girls who failed to wear skirts or had sleeveless blouses on were forbidden to continue on their way or see the monastery. Allie and Kathy had purchased cheap skirts for such an occasion, but forgot them. All these girls gained was exercise.
We stayed along the way overnight and arrived in Thessalonica on the morning of Wednesday. We walked about on the seashore and saw many ships lying at anchor in the harbor. We also saw the ruins of the old entrance gate and visited the crypt of St. Demetrius in the basement underneath the church. Later we walked up the hill to see the ruins of the old wall and a castle situated there. Thoughts ran through our minds of what Scripture told us about this city in the days of the apostle Paul.
The next day we traveled to Delphi, where we spent the night. It was a long climb to Delphi. Imagine Paul on foot walking this rugged terrain day after day. The city itself was very hilly. We saw a number of statues with their heads broken off. The guide informed us that the Crusaders had damaged these statues in their holy wars.
The next day, July 20, we went to a port at Athens to take the ship Oceanos to visit various islands. This was indeed a highlight of the entire trip. The ship was very attractive, the scenery was beautiful, and the meals of the very best. During the day we visited various islands and at night we did most of our traveling. Our first stop was the island of Mykonos, outstanding for all of its white buildings. The most difficult part of these stops was that we had to descend a ladder to climb into a launch that took us to the island. This was not so bad when the sea was calm, but when the ship rocked we had to tread lightly. We spent some time in Mykonos and then were told to return to our boat.
The next day we stopped at Rhodes with its famous entrance to the harbor. We were reminded that Paul stopped here on his way to Jerusalem. There were many attractions for sightseers on this island, such as an acropolis and a palace. Rich, Elaine and others took an extra tour to Lindos, on the other side of the island.
As we returned from Rhodes, a generator gave out in the ship, so that there were no lights in the gangways leading to our berths. We sat out on deck for many hours, being entertained in various ways. The snack bar was also opened, so that we could enjoy whatever snacks we wanted.
On Sunday morning, July 22, we arrived at the port near Ephesus. This was another outstanding experience on our trip. A bus took us to the ruins of the former city, about the best-preserved ruins of any of the old cities. Here we could see ruins of the former Roman temple, library and the amphitheater. The guide told us to imagine about a thousand people gathered here, as he gave a big shout which resounded against the hill. We could well imagine what a riot that was when the mob turned against Paul, shouting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians.”
From Ephesus we took ship to the Island of Patmos. This was an especially interesting part of the tour. There is only one very small city on the island, and only one likely place where there is a cave and where the apostle John must have lived. From this spot one can look over the broad expanse of the sea, and it takes but little imagination to see what John saw and describes in the Book of Revelation. We did not stay very long in the cave, because there was a baptism ceremony going on there, and they did not appreciate interference.
That evening we had a short service on the ship. A few of the women who worked on the ship attended our service and stayed until about 11 o’clock talking to Don and Judi Doezema.5
On our return trip to the port of Athens the sea was quite stormy, so that some of us were either close to being or were seasick. This was our last night on the ship, so we had a farewell dinner about six o’clock in the evening.
We had already been gone two weeks. But so much had happened that it seemed much longer. On Monday we returned to the port at Athens and were ready to go on the next phase of our trip to Palestine.
At Tel Aviv we met our guide Joseph, who would be with us throughout this tour. We went by bus to Jerusalem. Before we arrived there, we were shown a large miniature of the old city as it was in the days of Jesus. We could walk around this display, and were shown the temple, the palace of Annas and the palace of Caiphas. We had a mental picture of what Jerusalem must have looked like in Jesus’ time.
From there we were taken to the foot of the Mount of Olives from which vantage point we could see, overlooking the Kidron valley, the entire city of Jerusalem. Our attention was called to the Dome of the Rock, the place where the temple had stood in Jesus’ day. We also went to the top of the mountain where Jesus ascended to heaven. From there we went to our hotel to get settled there.
Tuesday dawned and we were ready to see the Old City, called “The City of David.” We visited a mosque which could hold five thousand worshipers. Then we went to the site where the Palace of Caiaphas is thought to have stood. This was near the Kidron Valley. We also visited the place that is considered to be near the site of the upper room where the Last Supper was held. Next we were brought down into a sort of dungeon where criminals, but also the disciples, were said to have been beaten.
In the afternoon we went to Bethlehem and saw the cave where Jesus is supposed to have been born. Then we passed the field of Boaz where Ruth had gathered grain, and also passed the field that is thought to have been the place where the shepherds sat when they heard the announcement of Jesus’ birth.
Going back to our hotel, we were given the liberty to explore the shopping places and other sights near our hotel. Rich and Elaine and I went to the Damascus Gate to sit and watch all the strange creatures, including a donkey, coming out of this gate and climbing the steps out of this part of the city. On the sidewalk women sat peddling their wares. I might mention here that a tunnel showed that the old Damascus gate was 39 feet below the present gate.
On Wednesday we did not return to the old city, because a small riot was disturbing the place and the gates were closed. Nor could we go to Hebron because of unrest there. So on a hot Wednesday morning we went to Masada. Here, high up on an almost inaccessible cliff, is where Herod the Great built his palace with rooms for some of his wives and large bins for food storage. We rode up there by tram. At the time of the siege of Jerusalem, when the Romans invaded Palestine, a thousand Jews hid themselves on this cliff. When the Roman army, encamped down below, tried to ascend this mountain they were doused with hot water or boiling oil. They did succeed in building a ramp, but by the time they reached the top the Jews were all dead.6
From there we went to the Dead Sea, where some of the group went into the water. This water is so heavy with minerals that one’s rear keeps going down and one’s legs up. Swimming is impossible. We never saw such desolation as in that entire area around the sea. Even a weed or a sprout of grass cannot survive there. The area still speaks of the curse that God laid upon Sodom and Gomorrah.
Our next stop was Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. A large hexagon building now holds a number of the scrolls. We also saw there the ruins of what may have been a monastery for the Essenes, who made copies of the Old Testament scriptures.
That noon we had lunch at the restaurant of our guide Joseph’s brother in Jericho, known as “the City of the Palms.” As we rode along our guide jokingly pointed to a sycamore tree where Zacchaeus sat. We saw King Hisham’s palace and the “spring of Elisha.” On the Jericho road going back to Jerusalem we saw how forsaken this road can be, an ideal spot for robbers to beat up a man, as we read in the parable of “The Good Samaritan.”
Thursday, July 26, was an interesting day spent in the old city. There was no evidence whatever of the riot of the previous day. Joseph brought us to the Wailing Wall, but, being an Arab, wanted no part of it. This wall is thought to be the last remnant of the ruins of Herod’s temple. The women were on one side, the men on the other. Each of us men was given a small cap to wear on his head. There were a number of people standing or sitting at the wall, engaged in prayer. There was a confirmation ceremony being carried on there for a young boy. As we left we saw a group of orthodox Jews, dressed in black with the curls on the sides of their heads, their patriarch in their midst.
Next we went to the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim temple, on Mount Moriah. We had to take off our shoes to enter. This is one place that certainly looks authentic. The Rock is considered to be the place where the altar of burnt offering stood. It is part of the hill and has a large hole in the center, which empties into a large pit, recently dug out. This pit empties in the Valley of Hinnom.
From there we went to the Pool of Bethesda, which also lies in ruins. This pool is much deeper than I ever imagined it. It is said to have been 200 feet wide, 350 feet long and 25 feet deep. There is not much left of the porches around it.
Passing the Golden Gate, we went to Hezekiah’s tunnel. Some of our party went through on bare feet. The tunnel is s-shaped and is 600 yards long, leading from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. It is said that the workmen started from each end and met in the center almost in line.
We were shown the Pavement where Jesus is supposed to have been tried and condemned. With all alacrity (our guide did not enjoy being in this area), we hastened along the Via Dolorosa and to the Damascus Gate.7 At the Damascus Gate, I felt a small hand slide into my side pocket, where I had my billfold. But I grasped my billfold in time, and, still amazed at the audacity of the boy thief, gave him a whack with my cane.
Not far from the gate was the site that might have been Golgotha. It is a large rock formation with holes that resemble eyes and a mouth. If this is the place where Jesus was crucified, the crucifixion took place on a hill near the road that comes from Jericho on which the passers-by may have seen the crucifixion on their way to celebrate the Passover in the city.
Just beyond this is a garden that is called the Garden Tomb. There are olive trees there that are thought to be hundreds of years old. On one end is a cave cut into the hill, if not THE tomb, then similar to the one where Jesus lay and arose. The guide said, “If you stand here, that is, by the rock that was supposed to have been rolled away, you can see the place of the grave clothes, even as John must have seen them.”
Friday dawned and we started out for Galilee. We passed the Valley of the Dance where, in the time of the judges, the few remaining Benjamites could fetch themselves a wife. We stopped at Jacob’s well, a very deep well. This well is 7 ½ feet in diameter and 90 feet deep. Once more one wonders how it was possible in those days to dig a well that deep. Here is where Jesus may have met the Samaritan woman.
We rode between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The former is covered with green foliage, but the latter is bare. Quite fitting for the blessing and the cursing that took place there.
Our next stop was Megiddo on the southern edge of the plain of Jezreel. This is well known in Bible prophecy. Here is Ahab’s water system or tunnel, which is regarded as a remarkable feat of engineering. It has 183 steps leading down to it. Its purpose was to supply the city with water.
We went on to Nazareth. It was a long difficult climb for the bus to work its way to the city, which is built on a cliff about 300 feet high. It was from this cliff that the people of Nazareth intended to cast down Jesus to get rid of him.
After having lunch in Nazareth, we went to the Sea of Tiberius and took a boat ride to see the ruins of Capernaum. The sea is 13 miles long, 7.5 miles wide and 130 to 157 feet deep. This sea could become very tempestuous, as we saw one afternoon while in Tiberius. In Capernaum we saw what was thought to be the home of Peter. We visited the synagogue, but as for the rest, the city gives every evidence of the curse Jesus pronounced upon it.
We headed back to Tiberius, past a cove similar to the place in which Jesus spoke while sitting in a boat. Passing Magdala, we came to Tiberius, another hilly city, where we stayed in a hotel.
On Saturday morning we went to the Mount of the Beatitudes and to the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. The young guard at the border seemed glad to have a bit of company, but we could not understand each other. From there we went to the source of the Jordan River, climbed over the rocks and paused a moment by a pool where people were swimming. The Jordan has its source in the snowy peaks of Mt. Hermon and flows to the Sea of Galilee and then on to the Dead Sea. It twists and turns over an area of 159 miles while the actual distance from its source to the Dead Sea is 65 miles.
On Sunday we went to the city of Haifa, on the slope of Mt. Carmel, which overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. We went to a diamond factory and saw the operations. At Mt. Carmel we were shown the cave where some think Elijah hid from Jezebel before he fled to the wilderness south of Judah. At Caesarea we saw the aqueduct of Herod the Great, built to bring water into the valley.
We had come to the end of our tour, so, arriving at Tel Aviv, we took the plane to Brussels, where, about midnight, we saw part of the town. The next morning we bid farewell to those of our party, Corny and Fran Doezema, their daughter Dorothy and also Don and Judi Doezema, who were going on to the Netherlands, while we started for Detroit.8 A limousine and a van took us home to Grand Rapids. I think it would be well for every minister and every schoolteacher to take a trip to that area to get a mental picture of Egypt, of Palestine and the many places referred to in Scripture.
1 Paget’s disease is a chronic bone disorder that results in enlarged or deformed bones in the spine, skull, pelvis, thighs, or lower legs.
2 Gord Van Overloop is the father of Rev. Van Overloop, Jim, Tom, Greg, Randy and David.
3 Kathy Bouwkamp is now Kathy Schut and is a member in Hudsonville PRC.
4 John Kalsbeek Sr. is the father of John, Charles, and Calvin Kalsbeek, and Karla Kamps.
5 Don and Judi Doezema are members of Southwest PRC.
6 When the Jews realized that their situation was hopeless, the heads of the clans agreed to kill those belonging to their clan. When this was finished, ten heads of clans remained. These ten cast lots to determine which of the ten would kill the other nine and then commit suicide. The grisly work was soon done.
7 “The Via Dolorosa” can be translated as “The Way of Sorrows.” This refers to the path that Jesus supposedly walked to Golgotha.
8 Cornie and Fran Doezema are members of Holland Church. They have children in several of our churches. Dorothy is married to Henry De Jong. They are members in Holland Church.