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TRAVELOGUE: A Pilgrimage to Remember!

How 186 pilgrims explore Israel courtesy Esther Ajayi Foundation

The Nigerian Xpress Online Editor, SEGUN ADIO, was among the 186 pilgrims to Jerusalem on the bill of Esther Ajayi Foundation. In this write up, he takes a blow-by-blow account of the tour experience of the Holy Land.


The Esther Ajayi Foundation, in the last nine years, had been helping Nigerians and those outside the shores to perform the pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel. The 2019 edition was not left unattended to.

It was barely two weeks to the ‘Celebrate the Comforter’ crusade of the Proprietress of the Foundation and she was poised to make good use of the season. Apart from performing the pilgrimage, the pilgrims were also supposed to use the opportunity to offer prayers for Nigerian and especially for the smooth conduct of the crusade scheduled for the Tafawa Balewa Square on Lagos Island, on July 20.

So, on Monday, July 8, 2019, about 186 intending pilgrims flew out of Nigeria on the bill of Rev. Mother Ajayi to Israel for the yearly pilgrimage for Christians. Many on the Jerusalem trip could not have immediately dreamt of being addressed as Jerusalem Pilgrims (JP), but they were fortunate to be selected.

Interestingly, the intending pilgrims were not drawn from the Cherubim & Seraphim Church alone. There were numerous members of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), The Church of the Lord, The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCGG), The Apostolic Church, Christ Apostolic Church (CAC) and so on on the tour.

More interesting was the fact that the intending pilgrims were not only from Nigeria. Rather, they were also drawn from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia and some even flew in from the United Kingdom. However, due to the high number of the intending pilgrims for the trip, they were shared into three different flights to and from the Holy Land.

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The first batch flew to the Tel Aviv International Airport, in Israel, via Kigali International Airport, in Rwanda, while two other batches flew to the Holy Land via Istanbul in Turkey.

So, after stop overs at Kigali and Istanbul, the whole team arrived the vast and sprawling Ben Gurion International Airport in the outskirt of Tel Aviv in Israel for the eight-day pilgrimage in the early hours of Tuesday, July 9.

First to arrive was the team from Kigali aboard a Boeing 737 RwandAir flight. The first team was immediately cleared at the immigration point and stood waiting for the second team which eventually touched down at the airport about one hour later.

L-R: Rev. Mother Esther Abimbola Ajayi, Nigeria’s Ambassador to Israel, Dr. Enoch Pear Duchi and rev. Apostle Dr. Ademuyiwa Ajayi at the Nigeria House, Tel Aviv, Israel

The Ben Gurion Airport soon wore a carnival-like mood when Rev. Mother Esther Ajayi and her husband sauntered into the Arrival Section of the airport to the warm embrace of the first team that had arrived earlier. Another hour later, the last batch arrived the airport and we all checked out without any hitch.

Just before we boarded the four ultra-luxury buses parked for the teams’ final trip to the town, there was a half hour revival at the Ben Gurion Airport where several Israelis and international visitors to the country joined in the revival amidst drums and loud songs.

If the intending pilgrims had thought that they would be ferried straight to their hotel, they were wrong after all. From the airport, the Esther Ajayi Foundation convoy drove to the Nigeria House in the heart of the city of Tel Aviv on No. 34, Gordon Street, where they were received by Amb. Enoch Pear Duchi and members of the Nigerian Embassy.

At the Nigerian House, Rev. Mother Esther Ajayi, her husband and the intending pilgrims were warmly received by Amb. Duchi who did not hidehis admiration for what the woman of God had been doing for Nigerians in Israel as well as some Israeli citizens in that country.

After Amb. Duchi had addressed the delegation and welcomed them to Tel Aviv, Rev. Mother Ajayi proudly told the Nigerian envoy that the team was in the country to pray for a smooth success of the ‘Celebrate the Comforter’ event holding in Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday, July 20, 2019, while promising that all the carefully-selected pilgrims would do the nation proud in the holy Land.

The team soon boarded some luxury buses from Tabar Tours waiting for them and headed for another journey to Nazareth in Galilee where they checked into the Tabar Hotel and Golden Crown Hotel in the heart of city.

Recall Nazareth is the city of the Holy Family. Nazareth, a city well over 2000 year-old, began the story of the Saviour of Mankind, Jesus Christ. After check-ins in both hotels, the night beckoned and dinner was served. Everyone soon disappeared into their rooms for a busy Tuesday.

On Tuesday, July 9, after sumptuous breakfasts in the hotels, the Tabar Tours buses conveyed pilgrims to explore not only the hilly but luxuriant Nazareth city, but also its spiritual eloquence. But while other pilgrims toured the holy sites, the bus conveying Rev. Mother Esther Ajayi, her husband and other key members in her entourage, including the press crew, occasionally paid scheduled visits to communities and establishments where the Esther Ajayi Foundation’s largesse are hugely impacted. Thus, Rev. Mother Ajayi and her team headed to KSULOT School where she partnered with the City Education Department of the Nof Hagalil (Nazareth City), on the ‘Computer for Every Child’ project.

Merav Sasson Amoral, who conducted the delegation round the school, described Rev. Mother Ajayi as an “unbelievable character whose love for the needy is limitless.”

She also commended the woman of God for what she is doing all over Israel. In her words, “Mother Ajayi is investing in the Exact Child Education Way scheme here in Israel which is letting the children to learn more about new ways of studying in the 21st century.The woman means well for every child she comes in contact with especially vulnerable children in Israel.”

Speaking at the end of the tour of the school, Rev. Mother Ajayi said she was fascinated by the faithfulness of the managers of the school for the judicious use of the funds given to them and for letting the children of the lower class, for which the project was designed, be the main beneficiaries of the scheme.

The beneficiary kids, who were under 10 years old, were enveloped with joy on sighting Rev. Mother Ajayi, whose benevolence was inexplicable. From the Ksulot School, the team rejoined the rest at the surroundings of the Sea of Galilee. It was a day to explore all the areas Jesus worked and performed miracles in Galilee.

The bus, therefore, sauntered towards Capernaum from the Ksulot School, the fishermen’s town that would later become Jesus’s new home. The team walked down the terrace to bank of the Sea of Galilee where pilgrims had opportunity to wash their heads and parts of their bodies and prayed too.

Beside the Sea of Galilee is the Church of St. Peter otherwise called the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. That was the church where Jesus Christ prepared the table. The church is also called the MENZA CHRISTI or Table of Christ. From the Church of St. Peter, we headed to Tabgha (the famous seven springs) where Jesus fed 5, 000 of his followers.  A church is built there now and is named Church of the Multiplication of the Loaf and Bread. With a short ride, we arrived at the Mensa Christy Church. This was where Jesus gave Peter the Primacy of the Church.

From there, the pilgrims were driven to a restaurantwhere the entire teams ate to their fullest. Of course, none of the pilgrims would forget the Peter’s Fish they were treated to at the canteen (It soon became a sing song that ‘if you were in the Holy Land for pilgrimage and you did not eat Peter’s Fish, then that pilgrimage is incomplete’).

After about 45 minutes of sumptuous meal, the teams headed for another side of the Sea of Galilee. There, the teams were divided into two with each getting a cruise experience on top of the Sea of Galilee.

On the boat where Rev. Mother Ajayi and her husband rode, they were treated to a mix of Nigerian gospel songs by three Galileans who obviously knew the kinds of Christian songs Nigerians cherish when they visit the place. The Rev. Mother though danced her heart out in the boat cruise, she would soon go into prayer sessions as she prayed for all pilgrims she brought to Israel and also offered prayers for a successful organization of the ‘Celebrate the Comforter.’

Special Apostle Segun Adio, Apostle Muyiwa Adeyemi in Bethlehem during the trip

After about 30 minutes boat cruise on the Sea of Galilee, the boats paddled ashore and every one disembarked and headed for the four Galilee Tours luxury buses parked for us. Of course, the Day Two of the pilgrimage was meant to explore all that Jesus did concerning river. So, pilgrims were driven for over an hour through Tiberias to River Jordan. It was at the famous river that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ.

As was the tradition for all pilgrims, we had opportunity to be re-baptized in the same river where Jesus first had that experience well over 2, 000 years ago. At the bank of the River Jordan, there were some large engravements concerning the significance of the baptismal experience of the river sponsored by individuals and groups from many countries of the world.

Since shops in that part of the world close by 4:30p.m, we were driven back to our hotels in Nazareth for the conclusion of the tour for the second day in the Holy Land.

Day three of the tour was Thursday, July 11, 2019, and pilgrims on the Esther Ajayi Foundation tour were up early as usual for the day’s activities. So, from the Tabar Hotel in the heart of Nazareth, pilgrims headed for the House of Annunciation (the House where Angel Gabriel appeared to Virgin Mary where he foretold the coming of the Lord). Pilgrims were shepherded round the church built on the café that Mary lived in those days.

Next was the visit to St. Joseph’s church which was built on the remains of his carpentry shop. There, pilgrims prayed and took pictures to satisfaction. Rev. Mother Ajayi’s international statesmanship was in full display all through the Israeli trip.That was why at intervals during the trip, there were occasions when Israeli officials ensured they appreciated the impact of Rev. Mother Ajayi in that nation.

That same Thursday, while others explored other holy sites, the team in Rev. Mother Ajayi’s entourage visited a make-belief 1st Century Nazareth settlement, which, though was set in the heart of the modern city of Nazareth, yet relieved all the relics of the times of Jesus Christ.

For the tour round the old Nazareth garden, Bro. Daniel Stanger, who works in the living village, took Rev. Mother Ajayi and her husband as well as those in her team round the beautifully-crafted garden which said it all about how Nazareth was at the time.

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For about an hour, the team was shown round the ‘village’ from the stable of the shepherds of flocks, to the farmlands with lush green crops scattered round the vast expanse of land. The tour guide took the team to the cloth-making stable of Hannah in her loom.

After a tour of hilly ‘village’, the team went into the restaurant at the settlement called Nazareth Village Kitchen, where also the setting and the foods served were not of this generation but that of the 1st Century. If was learnt that each year, the village received about 90, 000 visitors from across the world.

Same day, the teams visited Mount Tabor or Mount of Transfiguration. Remember that in those days, Jesus and three of His disciples; Peter, James and John had gone to the same mountain to pray. Then Jesus began to shine with bright rays of light. On the spot, Moses and Elijah appeared next to Jesus and Peter, seeing this beseeched the Lord to prepare three Tabernacles there; one for The Master, one for Moses and one for Elijah. The third day was obviously a tiring day and after the revealing revival at Mount Tabor, we retired to the hotel for a deserved rest.

Then came Day Four of the pilgrimage, it would later turn out to be perhaps the most significantday for some of the pilgrims. As scheduled, couple pilgrims were to renew their marital vows at the Church in Cana. Cana was where church turned water into wine and since then, the church had maintained that status until today.

So, on Friday, when some other groups first visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Rev. Mother Ajayi and her team headed for Cana.

Some of the pilgrims had the opportunity to renew their marital vows at the Church in Cana being the church where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding ceremony during his time.

The marriage renewal ceremony was conducted by a Ghanaian priest who served in the church. So, after about almost three hours from Nazareth (No thanks to the snarling traffic of the town), we headed for Bethlehem and the bus pulled up at Sababa Tent Restaurant where, to the utter surprise of the pilgrims, Nigerian delicacies (semovita with egusi, efo-riro and ogbono soups) were served.

The manner at which the pilgrims devoured the semovita could not be easily comprehended by the Palestinian cooks that prepared and served the food.After the meal, all the teams headed for the birth place of Jesus upon which Church of the Nativity in the heart of Bethlehem is built today.

The church is controlled and maintained by the Palestinian Government. It was the only church that was not destroyed when ‘enemies’ attacked the town. The pilgrims also visited the Church of the Visitation, where Holy Mary and Elizabeth met. After a long day of visits, the teams checked into Paradise Hotel in Bethlehem.

Day five of the tour saw the pilgrims visiting the famous Dead Sea which took the buses about an hour from the Paradise Hotel. Being a Saturday, pilgrims were told, is usually a deserted city as native Jews do not drive, not light matches on Sabbath Day; hence the smooth ride to the Dead Sea.

If was all fun for the pilgrims as they had a field day to bath themselves in the Dead Sea, which is reputed the lowest sea level in the world. It is significant to know that the Dead Sea floats on the water. So amazing!

The communities surrounding the Dead Sea also had historical links to the eventual emancipation of the Jewish settlements. Authorities of the area did well by preserving the historical evolution of the Yahad community which they did with a movie documentary and a field existential experience. It should be noted that the Yahad people wrote the Holy Bible.

From the Yahad community scenery, the teams landed at the Yahad Restaurant and had lunch.From there, the teams were driven to Jericho, where they all had camel ride. After the camel ride, they headed for the base of the Mt. Temptation where they rode a cable car and later landed on the mountain where the Devil tempted Jesus. Not far from the Mount of Temptation was what was left of the Water of Marah which was turned from its bitter state to sweetness. The team ended the day’s journey here and drove to Bethlehem.

Sunday, July 14, was the first worship day for the pilgrims in the Holy Land and trust Rev. Mother Ajayi, she does not joke with church worship. So, as early as 5:00a.m, every pilgrim on the trip assembled at the capacious base hall of the Paradise Hotel in Bethlehem where a full non-denominations church service was held.

With Elder Dotun Enilolobo leading the service, Special Apostle Segun Adio read the only lesson while Bishop Tamba from Sierra Leone delivered the sermon. Bishop Tamba used the occasion to praise the dexterity of Rev. Mother Ajayi towards the emancipation and advancement of the white garment churches everywhere in the world.

It was also the day pilgrims would hit Jerusalem after the three days stay in Bethlehem in Palestine. Hence, after breakfast, the pilgrims mounted the Galilee Tours ultra-luxury buses for the trip to Jerusalem.

Once we arrived in Jerusalem that Sunday, we all visited Mount Olives from where Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem occurred. We walked the sloppy Palm Sunday Road down to the Gethsemane Church opposite East Jerusalem. Beside the Gethsemane Church is the Sycamore Tree that Zacchaeus had climbed to have a glimpse of Jesus when He just began His ministry.

It was significant to note that on getting to the Gethsemane Church, a service was on and Nigerian pilgrims joined the service notwithstanding they did not understood the language with which the service was conducted.

From the Gethsemane Church, the pilgrims went to see the Chapel of Dominus Flevit, the Chapel of Peter Nostor and the Church of the Agony. We ended the tour of that part of Jerusalem at the Garden of Gethsemane where He was arrested.

We left the Garden of Gethsemane for Mount Zion through the Zion Gate to visit the Last Supper Room (the Coenaculum) where Jesus and the disciples ate the last supper during the Passover Night.Recall the first set of Christians had lived at Mount Zion.

We also visited King David’s tomb and the Church of the Dormition where Mary fell asleep. From there, we walked about six minutes to the Church of John the Baptist. It should be noted that at each of the holy sites, pilgrims did not allow the opportunity to offer critical prayers passed them by. Where we could, we always join other pilgrims from other parts of the world to pray and worship.

From the Church of the John the Baptist, we were driven to the prestigious Jerusalem Gate Hotel, which would be our abode for the next two days.

Monday, July 15, was the Day 7 of the pilgrimage and the luxurious Jerusalem Gate Hotel came alive upon the arrival of the Nigerian pilgrims there.But there would not be too much site-seeing yet as pilgrims still had some important places to visit.

So, after disembarking from the buses, the pilgrims entered the Old City walls through St. Stephens Gate (Lion’s Gate) and visited the Church of St. Anne (which is the birth place of Holy Mary).

It is of importance to note that when the city was attacked many decades after the monasteries and churches were destroyed, the attackers deliberately spared the Church of St. Anne.Thereafter, we visited the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the man afflicted with sickness for 38 years.

After the Pool of Bethesda, the pilgrims filed towards two significant churches located in the same compound; the first church is the Church of Flagellation built on the spot where Jesus was flogged and tortured by Roman soldiers.

The second church is the Chapel of Condemnation believed to be where Jesus was given the Cross to carry enroute his point of crucifixion.It is instructive to note that these churches are located in the Muslim Quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem.

For most Christian pilgrims from all nations, the most emotional sites in the Holy land has and will always be the 14 Stations of the Cross. It is otherwise called The Via Dolorosa, which is a Latin words for ‘Sorrowful Way’, often translated ‘Way of Suffering’. It is a processional route in the Old City of Jerusalem, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion.

The 14 Stations of the Cross starts from the Church of the Flagellation where the Lord was flogged and tortured by Roman soldiers.

The Second Station is Chapel of Condemnation believed to be where Jesus was given the Cross to carry.  So, from the Chapel of Condemnation, pilgrims, many of who their souls became sorrowful as they were shown Jesus’ path to crucifixion followed their tour guards to discover each of the ‘Stations’.

The Third Station is where Jesus fell under the Cross while carrying it. The Fourth Station on the way to crucifixion; was believed to be where Mary the Mother of Jesus met with her son while carrying the Cross to Golgotha.

The Fifth Station refers to the biblical episode in which Simon of Cyrene takes Jesus’ cross, and carried it for him. Station Six is remembered as the place where Veronica wiped sweat off the agonising Jesus while on the way to the Crucifixion.

History was told that the handkerchief with which veronica wiped the face of Jesus came up with a copy of the face of Jesus on it.

Station Seven was marked as the place where Jesus fell under the Cross the second time. Station Eight was where Jesus encounters some pious women on his journey, and was able to stop and give a sermon to them. The present Eighth Station is adjacent to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint Charalampus.

At the entrance of the Patriarchate is a column with a Cross on it, marking the 9th Station of the Via Dolorosa.

According to tradition, at the Tenth Station, Jesus was stripped of his clothes by his accusers.

Jesus’ tribulations multiplied from the Eleventh Station as it was the place he was nailed to the cross. The Eleventh Station was actually the Golgotha. It was at the Twelfth Station that Jesus died on the cross.

The Thirteenth Station is at the Stone of the Anointing.

The Fourteenth and last Station was where Jesus was laid in the tomb. Pilgrims fulfilled a life-time dream when they were allowed to file into the tomb one after the other to pray at the tomb the Saviour was laid.

For the pilgrims on Rev. Mother Ajayi’s entourage, they were opportune to visit the popular Wailing Wall (or the Western Wall, or Kotel, known in Islam as the Buraq Wall). There, we prayed and even wrote in prayer requests and left them at Wall as is the tradition there.

After there, pilgrims met at the famous Jaffa Market where they went shopping preparatory to their return journey to Nigeria.The personal experiences of the almost 200 pilgrims could not be immediately codified in a single document, but the fact remains indestructible that the journey from Freetown, Accra, and parts of Nigeria to Israel would forever remain evergreen in the memories of the beneficiaries.