Woman’s Passion for Travel Leads Her on a Pilgrimage to Israel

A couple slender copper olive leaves serve as a visual reminder to Judy Hatfield of her recent journey to Israel and the intense spiritual connection she felt while traveling through the Holy Land.

The tiny leaves fell from the ancient olive trees of the Garden of Gethsemane, the place Jesus went with his disciples to pray the night before he was crucified. Forbidden from plucking leaves from the trees, Hatfield gathered what she could find from the heavily picked-over leaves on the ground, and combined hers with those given to her by her travel companion and best friend, Crystal Crisp. The leaves are now preserved as brooches, constructed by local jewelry maker, Paula Beck, for herself and Crisp.

“I thought they were so amazing, just to think they were from the olive trees in the same area where Jesus had been during his time on Earth,” Hatfield said. When she looks at her keepsake, that’s what comes to mind, along with the memory of standing in the jail cell where Jesus was lowered the night before his crucifixion; of walking the winding path of the Via Dolorosa, believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion; and countless other memories gathered on a trip she’ll never forget.

Returning from any vacation might mean coming home with telltale signs of adventures in the sun, or unpacking a suitcase that’s a little fuller than when you embarked on the trip. But for Hatfield, she arrived home to Oklahoma City with much more.

To put it simply, she was changed.

A passion for travel

A lifetime of globe-trotting preceded Hatfield’s nearly two-week-long transformative trip to Israel.

In fact, Hatfield has stuck pins in the map all over the world, and has only two states to check off her U.S. bucket list. The voracious traveler spent a month taking in the beautiful landscapes of Tuscany; jaunted through Paris a few times; spent a couple weeks in Argentina; cheered for the U.S. teams at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia; navigated the Danube by riverboat from Prague to Budapest; toured the Dachau concentration camp in southern Germany; and the list goes on.

Hatfield loves to research in preparation of trips. She wants to immerse herself in the spirit and culture of each destination, so digging deep into history, language and local recommendations is a must. What makes traveling even more fun is Hatfield has a tried and true sidekick in her best friend, Crisp, a resident of Tyler, Texas. The two have been nearly inseparable for 25 years.

“We both have a passion for travel and new experiences, and we’re both super high energy,” Hatfield said. “There’s no drama, and we always look on the bright side, so we’re really easy travelers.”

The two had planned to hike Machu Picchu together for Hatfield’s 70th birthday, but as the date grew closer, an overwhelming desire to see Israel came over Hatfield, and it was settled. In February 2019, the two would join about 40 others from Crisp’s church, Green Acres Baptist Church, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Journey through Israel

Their first three days in Israel were spent in a kibbutz, or communal settlement, while they explored the Sea of Galilee.

“That Sunday, we had a service on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, and if that doesn’t make you think twice about walking where Jesus walked … I’m getting chills right now talking about it,” Hatfield recalled. “We experienced where Jesus calmed the storm, and Peter walked on the water, and all these wonderful experiences that you could see happening right before your eyes because you are right where they were.”

They witnessed the breathtaking blueness of the Dead Sea; made a stop in Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 11 caves; visited Masada, the location of the siege by Roman troops that ended in the mass suicide of 960 people; rested their heads in a kibbutz in Jerusalem; stopped in Jericho and saw the tree where Zachariah yelled at Jesus, “Have mercy on me”; and sang as a group inside Church of Saint Anne, which blesses all singers with perfect pitch.

“We started singing ‘Amazing Grace.’ There was not a dry eye in the house. All these people started walking into the cathedral looking at us like we were a choral performance, like we were there to sing to them. And we were all looking at each other thinking, ‘Can you believe how we sound? This is unbelievable.’”

The group also traveled through the desert where Israelites wandered for 40 years and Jesus was tempted by Satan.

“Israel had been experiencing a 10-year drought, but just before we came it rained and rained and rained, and the drought was over. The pastor leading our group said it was the first time in 40 years he saw green on the desert.”

Another emotional highlight of the trip was being baptized for the second time in her life, but this time in the Jordan River. Hatfield found it difficult to find words to explain the feeling, but knows she will carry the special memory with her forever.

Also etched into Hatfield’s memory forever is her visit to Golgotha, the skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem that’s the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, and the Garden Tomb, considered to be the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection.

“That experience of coming out of that tomb and knowing He is risen, indeed, I couldn’t even speak,” Hatfield said. “All I could do is cry and know Jesus is here; he died for our sins.”

Return from Israel

Hatfield had left the States as a dear friend, Shelley Pruitt, battled stage four brain cancer, and returned home to find she had little time left with Pruitt. Just as Hatfield had tucked those tiny olive leaves away, she also brought back a smooth cross of olive wood from Jerusalem with one special recipient in mind.

“Shelley’s son told me she kept it in her hand all day and then passed away the next day,” Hatfield said. “They buried her with it in her hand. She was a woman of strong faith, and I know she is now in Heaven with no pain and one of the most optimistic angels there ever was, just like she was when she was alive.”

Hatfield feels now, after her trip to Israel, she can be an even bigger supporter to friends, family, and other loved ones, to help them through trying times, and help them find light in darkness.

“In coming back to Oklahoma, I see my life changed,” she said. “I’ve always been a very positive person. I try to give more than I take, but now that’s been raised exponentially. Every day I just want to praise God and try to use my gifts to better the Kingdom, of course, but help other people who need my strength, because I’m a pretty strong person, a pretty strong Christian. I’m more filled, more at peace, more content. I know where I’m going. It’s just that kind of wonderful experience. I really believe everyone on our trip had that same experience.”

Judy Hatfield booked her trip to Israel through Bentley Hedges Travel Service. Contact one of Bentley Hedges’ professional travel agents to book your next adventure at their office at 10021 S. Pennsylvania Ave., in Oklahoma City, online at bhtravel.com or by calling 237.3333.