JERUSALEM, Israel – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says American evangelicals are the best friends Israel has.
Netanyahu met with leaders on President Trump's Evangelical Faith Advisory Board, who told CBN News they were not representing the president on this trip.
Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Museum and Heritage Center in Jerusalem, arranged the meeting.
The 17 evangelical leaders who visited Israel recently were guests of Israel's Ministry of Tourism. CBN News Bureau Chief Chris Mitchell met up with them at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem's Old City.
Mitchell spoke with Harvest Ministry Pastor Greg Laurie; Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; and Dr. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.
"Jerusalem is like home…and because of our faith and because so many significant events that we read about in the Bible happened right here in this very place," Laurie told CBN News.
Pastor Greg Laurie
The trip is part of an ongoing program intended to strengthen and deepen ties with evangelicals in the US.
"Most of us on this group actually lead groups and so this is a chance to see the latest discoveries and have briefings by government officials about what's happening in God's land," Dr. Jeffress said.
"This is a spiritual pilgrimage anytime you come to this land," said Graham. "Many of us connected because we have been a part of the president's faith initiative. We're not here representing the president but we are here as friends and supporters of Israel."
Pastor Jack Graham
Shahar Shilo, who serves as a tour guide and consultant for the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem, told CBN News the Bible comes into "full color" in Israel.
"We're always saying, before coming to Israel when you read the Bible, you see it in black and white. Once visiting Israel, every chapter, every story, every time you read about Paul, Peter or Jesus or St. Mary, it's all vivid and vibe," he said.
"And everything comes in full color, full HD, full 4K. Something happens in your soul. And you'll never, well we say you'll never be the same again. This is my message to our brothers and sisters from the Christian world. Visiting Israel is a part of your soul and your heritage, not mine only, yours as well. And if you wish to understand yourself better and the Bible and your friends and the next time you go to church, you need to be here. It's a mission for life."
While many of the leaders had visited Israel before, they still talked of seeing new things, like the Kishle.
"We just saw a spot a few moments ago I've never been to before that they think might be the actual area where Christ was tried," said Laurie. "That was amazing to me."
"Here at Herod's palace when we're told in the scriptures Jesus was taken from Pilate into Herod's castle or palace and here we were, here we are for the first time in my life to see it. So it always gives you a bit of a shudder doesn't it, to think and to realize that it could have happened here," Graham said.
CBN News asked the pastors about the importance of US-Israeli relations.
"I'm very encouraged by the stronger ties that America has with Israel now. I think in some ways, America needs Israel as much as Israel needs America because there is a blessing promised in the book of Genesis to those that would bless Abraham and his descendants, the Jewish people," Laurie said. "So as I think as we have stood with the only real democracy in the Middle East and not just that, but they've been our true friends and allies, and they're such wonderful people."
Jeffress said "there's also a geopolitical reason for supporting Israel."
Pastor Robert Jeffress
"We understand every other nation of the world has the right to name its own capital. Why shouldn't Israel? And let's face it. Israel is our only reliable ally in the Middle East.
"Jerusalem is the capital already, practically," he continued. "You know this isn't something that just happened in the last few years. [Some] 3,000 years ago, [King] David was the one who named Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We're simply confirming what history has already taught us."
Although this trip is meant to encourage visits to Israel, these men see it as a pilgrimage that goes deeper than tourism.
"Because I think it enriches your life so much spiritually and the Bible is sort of like the GPS of Israel," Laurie said. "You follow your Bible around this city and around this land and you'll see so much and that's so important. But not just 'cause it's an historic place but also what's happening here today and what's going to happen in the future one day."
Jeffress said "there's something about a trip to Israel that transforms a person's faith forever."
"You know a lot of times we read the scriptures and we think of these places almost as mythological places with holy mist coming up out of it, and when we come here we see once again that our faith is not built on fiction, it's built on historical fact, and I find that people have a whole new way of understanding and believing the Bible after they've been to Israel."