The following report is a summary of some of the blessings and challenges we experienced at The Garden Tomb in 2017 – a year in which we saw unprecedented growth in visitor numbers; and some glorious testimonies from people who visited the garden and encountered the Risen King. As I write this letter on 29 December a man asked one of our staff how he might be saved. The most wonderful message of all was shared with him, and he responded to the Good News of God’s Grace by committing his life to Christ.
Seeing and welcoming increasing numbers of visitors from around the world is exciting; and the completion of projects brings a sense of fulfilment [and relief!]; but seeing people’s lives change as they hear and receive the message of God’s love made known in Christ Jesus – this is the very Heart of the Ministry of the Garden Tomb. Below is a summary of the year in words and pictures.
It’s winter, but there are signs of a new season coming. The trend that started at the end of 2016 continued into 2017. Visitor numbers are up significantly compared to last year. In particular, the number of Chinese and Indonesian groups continues to grow.
Stand with us in praying that the lives of many thousands of people will be transformed as they visit the Garden Tomb and hear the Good News of Jesus the Messiah.
February & March
Volunteers from the UK helped refit one of the volunteer apartments, and plans are finalized for renovation of the Garden Tomb shop. 20 new volunteers will join the team this year, working alongside the others who give 2-3 months every year to serve at the Garden Tomb.
We were delighted to welcome Roger Carswell as our Easter speaker. Roger spoke at the Good Friday service and at the two English language services on Easter Sunday morning. On Easter Saturday we had an Arabic / Hebrew service attended by local Israeli and West Bank believers who came together to celebrate the Messiah’s death and resurrection.
On Easter Sunday we had 1,700 at the 6:30am sunrise service, followed by 900 at 9:30am. This was followed by a Scandinavian service at 11.00am.
The Nablus Road Open Days: an event organised by the Palestine Hotels Association. Along with other local institutions churches and businesses on Nablus Road we opened the garden to the public for 3 consecutive evenings. We were overwhelmed by the response and interest of local people, and in total about 2,800 local people visited the garden – most of them Arab Muslims. On the final evening we received over 1,300 visitors. We gave tours in Arabic and handed out over 2,000 Arabic leaflets explaining the life death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
The Shop Renovation work is well under way, and the aim is to reopen the shop by September. We continued to serve Garden Tomb visitors from our temporary shop, which was set up in The Pines one of the GT meeting areas.
July & August
As summer sets in, temperatures rise and visitor numbers decrease. Our guides have more time to spend with small groups and individuals. Shop Renovation work continues through into August as the busy autumn season approaches.
After a year of planning and 5 months of dust, noise and sweat – the new Garden Tomb shop opened on time!
And most important of all – the message of the Gospel of Grace continued to bear fruit.
Report from a GT guide: “A young man from London followed a number of groups I guided. Asking him why, he said he liked what he was hearing, and style of presentation. Asked ‘are you a believer in Jesus?’ he said he wasn’t but was seeking. He later asked if he could come to church and on Sunday he joined a group of us going to a local Baptist church. Something was definitely going on with this man, a
Chinese Malay from East London. After a further chat with him two days later we said the believer’s prayer together”.
The busiest month in the history of the Garden Tomb [to date!]. Over 43,000 people visiting the garden. On one day about 3650 people visited, and 2,100 of them attended a worship service as part of the annual Tabernacles Celebrations. To facilitate this 60% increase in visitor numbers [when compared with October 2016], we started opening the garden at 8am in the morning, and ran tours all day until we closed the garden at 6pm.
New opportunities present themselves
With the enthusiastic support of the Municipality we held 2 evening concerts in the Olive Grove, opening the garden up to local people from both East and West Jerusalem. These were followed by 2 more concerts in November and a Carol service in December.
November: another record month!
A classical music concert in The Grove GT staff lead worship, as visitors from China dance and wave flags The numbers of visitors continued to rise. In November we welcomed over 45,000 people exceeding the record breaking October figures. The 2 evening concerts in October were followed by 2 more concerts in November. We plan to continue these events in 2018 as a means of reaching out to local people.
December ended as January began, with record numbers of visitors. By the end of December we had welcomed almost 325,000 people to the garden, compared with 243,000 in 2016 – this despite turmoil in the region, and throughout the world. On 23 December about 400 people attended the Garden Tomb Carol Service.
As we look back we see a year marked by the favour of God! I am truly amazed at God’s faithfulness and grace; and by the sheer hard work and servant-heartedness of this amazing Garden Tomb team of local staff and overseas volunteers.
What about next year?
No one knows what the future holds, but indications are that we will see visitor numbers continue to increase. In anticipation of this we plan to open the garden 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, from March 2018. More volunteers are needed; and also more local staff.
We need people with language skills [particularly Mandarin, Indonesian, Spanish and Portuguese] and – most important of all a passion for sharing the good news of the Kingdom of God to come and join the team. We need more grace wisdom and love. We need more Holy Spirit Anointing, more of the Mind of Christ; and more of the Father’s love for people. And we need your prayers!
I join with the whole Garden Tomb Team, including Trustees, in wishing you a Blessed and Glorious New Year. Thank you for your continued friendship, encouragement and faithfulness in prayer.
1 Timothy 1:17 “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen”.
Blessings from Jerusalem!