Interview w/ Chris Katulka in Israel
There’s no better way to teach about Israel than by going to Israel—and that’s what Chris is doing this week! We’re catching up with Chris in the Holy Land, as Steve turns the tables to interview Chris about his time with The Friends of Israel’s Up to Jerusalem tour.
After two years of halted tourism, Israel has spent the last year returning to doing what it does best: introducing tourists to the beautiful land of Israel. Chris shares his highlights from his current trip—his favorite moments so far, the sites that resonate with him most, and the insightful Bible teaching he has shared with our group. If you’ve got the itch to tour Israel, this week’s show is just what the doctor ordered!
If you’d like to follow along with our Spring Up to Jerusalem tour, check out our tour blog at gofoi.org/tourblog.
Steve Conover: Welcome to The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. Chris Katulka is in Israel, but that doesn't mean you won't be hearing from him today. He's co-leading our Up to Jerusalem tour. We'll spend the entire episode with Chris from the Holy Land.
But first in the news, the Middle East dynamic has shifted once again with new relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. China brokered the deal that reconciled the Sunni and Shiite countries who were at odds after the Saudi embassy was stormed in Iran in 2016. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia announced they will resume diplomatic relations and opened their embassies once again.
We're leery of this rekindled relationship between the Saudis and Iran for two reasons. First, what does this mean for Israel? The Saudis and other Arab countries have partnered with Israel over their common enemy, Iran. And second, China's flexing its influence in the Middle East, which diminished the United States leadership in the region.
As promised, Chris Katulka joins me now. And Chris, you are co-leading our Spring Up to Jerusalem tour of the Holy Land. How are things going so far?
Chris Katulka: Steve, it's going fantastic. I am sitting here in my hotel room right on the Sea of Galilee. Jim Showers, our executive director and myself, have about nearly a hundred people from all around the United States and Canada that are touring with us through the Holy Land for our Spring Up to Jerusalem and things are going so well.
Of course, our crew that's visiting all the various sites with us, are learning so much. We've been to so many places in only the few short days that we've been here. But I have to tell you, people are being blessed by the places that they're going. They're seeing both biblical sites and sites that pertain to modern Israel as well. And people have just been telling me how rich this trip is.
It's been fascinating because it's been nice to meet people on this trip and they've never been to Israel before. It's maybe been something on their bucket list. But now that they're here, they are just so thankful to be able to partake in such an amazing experience, to be able to see the Holy Land for themselves. And so people have just been telling me how much they've enjoyed it, and I can't tell you enough how much people love our tour guides here as well, our Israeli tour guides. And so they're learning a lot, engaging with the Word. It's a fantastic time, Steve.
Steve Conover: Yeah, I know when I meet someone that hasn't been, I just wish I could transfer the feeling I have inside into them just for a second, so that they would understand just how wonderful it is to go to Israel for the first time. Now, the last time I was there was last year, and there were many famous sites that were very quiet. There wasn't a lot of tourism. Are you seeing tourism return back to normal this year?
Chris Katulka: Steve, it is so funny that you are asking this question because I remember you saying how nice and quiet it was, being able to go from site to site. I have to say tourism is back to normal here in Israel. There are tourists all over.
In some ways, it's much more busy, which can sound like a negative, but it's a positive in my opinion, for the State of Israel because tourism plays such an important role and a great way to support Israel is to go visit Israel. And so we're seeing people who were anxious to get to the Holy Land prior to the pandemic, now finally able to get back over here. And so Israel is seeing a return, a boom in tourism almost back to the levels it was prior to the pandemic. And so it's been really encouraging. I'm not going to lie, Steve, I'm a little jealous of your experience, where it was quiet and calm. But no, it's back to normal. We've been encountering other groups from all around the world, from Germany all the way over to Asia and South America, so tourism is back and people from all around the world are anxious to be able to see the Holy Land again.
Steve Conover: I'm so glad to hear that for Israel's sake, that many people are returning to visit and tour the Holy Land. What part of Israel are you in right now?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, right now we are up in the northwest corner of the Sea ... I'm sorry, we're up in the northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee. We have been touring all the areas that are connected to Jesus' ministry here in the Sea of Galilee. What's amazing is that if you think about it, 70% of Jesus' ministry is connected to this one section in the northern part of the sea. And so, we've been touring all around this area.
We're about three days into the tour, and it's been a great experience to be able to see all of the biblical sites, especially the sites pertaining to Jesus' ministry. But I have to tell you, the weather, I've never ... I've been coming here since 2004. I've led many groups, Steve, but this is the first time we've ever had this much rain.
And you know what? Fortunately, it's going to clear up now, but we were on the boat on Sea of Galilee listening to a message from our executive director, Jim Showers, talking about Jesus walking on water and being able to stay faithful when the storms come, which is a great message that he gave right on the Sea of Galilee. And at the same time we were in the middle of the storm. So, it was a perfect example of what it means to be faithful to God, even in the midst of the storm and to follow Him, to keep our eyes focused on our Lord and Savior. But the rain calmed down just in the nick of time and we were able to get right back to doing our touring. So it's been a fantastic time so far up here in the northern section of the Sea of Galilee.
Steve Conover: You mentioned the Sea of Galilee, which is one of my favorite spots. What are some of the other standouts that you've experienced so far on this tour?
Chris Katulka: One of the things that I absolutely love that was a really deep moment I think, for the entire tour, was our baptisms that we did today. We did baptisms for several people who were interested in being baptized in the Jordan River. We had our two pastors, I have a pastor on my bus, Jim has a pastor on his bus, who baptized 14 people. And then somebody from another group asked if they could join us. And so, she was baptized as well, which was fantastic. They all shared their profession of faith in the Lord Jesus. And we got to hear 14 testimonies of how God saved our participants on the tour, their story of their salvation, their testimony, and how they came to faith in the Lord Jesus and then they were baptized in the Jordan River.
I have to tell you, that is a really, really deep experience for everybody because it takes us ... When you're traveling through the land of Israel, you learn a lot about the Bible, you learn a lot about Jewish history, you learn a lot about biblical history. But it's always important to keep ourselves grounded in God's Word as we're doing this. And to see a spiritual moment like this as believers are being baptized, dedicating their lives to the Lord, or maybe even rededicating their lives to the Lord, it really gives a deeper sense of being able to tour through the Holy Land and that God is at work in people's lives as we're moving throughout Israel.
Steve Conover: Does it ever get old for you? Is each tour something that you would say is a unique experience?
Chris Katulka: It never gets old, and the reason why is because every time I go, I always see people experience the Sea of Galilee for the first time. I have to tell you, when you see someone experience the Sea of Galilee for the first time, their eyes open up and they see where their Lord and Savior did ministry and his fame was spreading throughout Israel. When you see that look on someone's face, when they connect the dots in the Bible, or maybe they learned something new that they didn't know about the scriptures that they had been reading their whole life, that makes each moment for me different and it makes each moment special.
I get butterflies each time I come to the land and I get excited. So, if I'm getting butterflies coming back and this is more than 20 times now, then I have to tell you something, I'm confident that other people are having the same feeling as they're walking through the land and seeing these things. So for me, I never get tired of it because I love it when people's faith deepens in the Lord as they go deeper and studying God's Word and seeing the land and how the land brings God's Word to life.
Steve Conover: Now, we were chatting before we started this recording, and I know you went to one of the favorite food spots that we have on the tour. A lot of people before they come with us, they ask about the food, and I think the Monday night dinner is often a favorite when people look back at their time. So, what did you experience tonight?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, tonight was our Lido Decks night, where we eat on the Sea of Galilee, not on it, but on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in the city of Tiberius. And I'm going to tell you, Steve, the Israelis know how to throw a great dinner. It almost feels like endless food and it's all delicious food and a great time of fellowship. It's that time when everybody gets to sit together and to fellowship with one another. And you know what I love about these trips too? Is that as people are sitting and eating, they're talking about the tour, they're talking about the Lord Jesus. They're fellowshipping with one another, and a lot of times these individuals don't even know one another. So, they're brothers and sisters in the Lord and they are discussing the things that they're learning in the Bible and they're unified through these things. So it really shows a sense of fellowship, biblical fellowship as we're touring through the land together.
Steve Conover: Yeah, I had a thought when we were on our last tour over there, it was probably day five and I realized there are people here that I'm getting to know, that I've spent more time with in the last five days, than some families that live far away. So, you do really get to know one another and it's a special time.
So, if someone is interested in joining us, what would you say? If they're on the fence and they're considering it but they're not sure whether they want to go and they're not sure if they want to go with us, what would you tell them?
Chris Katulka: Well, first of all, I would say to them, you have to go to the Holy Land. It's an experience that will change your life, and I hope at some point you get a chance to do it, but I'm going to tell you one of the reasons why you should go with the Friends of Israel.
We've been leading trips to the Holy Land since 1977, that's 50 years of leading trips to Israel. So, our expert staff who have been leading trips for decades, are trained in leading trips and our expert tour guides, our Israeli tour guides will give you an experience that I don't think you're going to get anywhere else. An experience of not only being able to engage with Israel from a biblical perspective, but at the Friends of Israel we want to support and love Israel and the Jewish people. So, we also teach about the history of modern Israel.
You can't escape it because as you're traveling through the land learning about the Bible, you're also encountering Israel's modern history. So, with all the expertise that we have in the years that we've been doing it, we know leading experts in Israel, in politics, in what's going on in Israeli culture, who come to speak to our groups. They even get a chance to understand what it's like to be a Christian in Israel as well. And so, our trips are more than just a tour, they're a real pilgrimage for the Christian. And that's why I would encourage somebody to come with the Friends of Israel, to get a Jewish perspective, if you will, on the Scriptures, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and to gain a good understanding of what's going on in the Middle East as God has brought Israel back to the land.
Steve Conover: For those that are interested in joining us and think they might like to go on a tour, Chris, I'm going to ask you about your favorite biblical site. It can be your all time site, it can be one that you're thinking of more as you tour this time and one modern site. So, for the biblical site, what would you say has been the most influential biblical site on your understanding of scripture?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, this is a tough one because there are so many important sites when it comes to how we understand the Scriptures, but the one that always stands out, and it's the actual end of our tour, it's the reason we call it Up to Jerusalem because we save Jerusalem for the last days of the trip on purpose. And that's why I think Jerusalem is really the most influential place to visit in understanding the Scriptures.
I was just telling my bus today as we were traveling through Galilee, one of my new friends that I've met on the bus said, "Chris, I had no idea how important all these locations were in the Bible and how close they were to one another." He's only two or three days in, and he's already, his mind is already blown and overwhelmed by the trip. And I said, "Just wait till you get to Jerusalem because when you get to Jerusalem, all the pieces that you've been learning about from the moment that you land, from the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea, once you get to Jerusalem, it all begins to come together and make sense."
And the reason for that is because Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and it dates back 3,000 years. It's special to God, and it's not just special to God in the past. It's not just special to God in the present, but it's special for God in the future as well, prophetically. So, all of the pieces really come together once we get to Jerusalem. So, Jerusalem is my biblical site Steve, when I think about a significant location for understanding the Scriptures,
Steve Conover: It really is beautiful when you come up to that city wall, no matter how many times you've been there, and you get a glimpse of Jerusalem the first time on that particular tour. How about a modern site that you love, especially one that might illustrate God's promises to Israel?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, this is a good one. I think one of my favorite modern sites for the State of Israel is probably what's called the Ayalon Institute, which is actually a place that we visit on our tour. Most tours don't go to the Ayalon Institute, but it's a location that helped establish the State of Israel.
And not many people know about this amazing story, of how God was able to use a group of young adults to help manufacture ammunition, to help the Jewish people during the War of Independence. But it was a secret, undercover mission that was done right under the noses of the British people, in order to help establish the State of Israel and to think that this location, had it not been the Ayalon Institute, this place where these young adults were making nearly two million bullets underground. If that had not been there, then we might not have a State of Israel today to go visit. So, it's a fantastic location to see in person, to walk through that modern underground factory and to see how God was moving at this time to help reestablish the state of Israel. And we love taking our tours through the Ayalon Institute.
Steve Conover: It really is a special place. Now, I know you are sharing some of the teaching for this tour. Is there a passage of Scripture that has been especially meaningful to you as you introduce others to the land, this trip?
Chris Katulka: Steve, we talk about this a lot on this program, and I think it's because it's at the heart of the Friends of Israel, and that is the passage that comes from Genesis chapter 12, and I was just teaching about this today, that when God made a promise to Abraham, He promised them a land, that's the land of Israel, descendants, that's the Jewish people, and a blessing. And that God would bless Israel by protecting them, and that also, God would give them a divine purpose through that blessing to bless all the families of the Earth.
And when I think about that promise, it's the reason that we're here today and it's the reason that Gentiles from all around the world, the nations are flying to Israel right now to see the Holy Land. It's not just something that was from the past, that we look at in the museums and it doesn't exist anymore.
No, the Jewish people are alive. The State of Israel has been reborn. It's here and it's available for us to visit. And why is that possible? Because God made an unbreakable covenant with Abraham in Genesis chapter 12, in Genesis chapter 15, the Abrahamic promise that really shows the meaning for why we come to this land. It says to Abraham, God said to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you," in Genesis 12:3. And we take that very seriously here at the Friends of Israel. We believe that God was saying to Abraham that we should be blessing Israel and the Jewish people because it's through the Jewish people that God would bring blessing to the whole world, and He did through his son Jesus, the Messiah. And that is why Christians from all around the world are coming to see where Jesus walked to walk in his footsteps and to just think about that, that it all wraps back to a promise that God made to Abraham, is the reason that we're going because God wanted to reconnect, to reintroduce Himself to the world that had forgotten Him. His creation forgot Him, Steve, and now God was going to reintroduce Himself to his creation through one man, Abraham, His descendants and His ultimate son, Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham, the son of God.
Steve Conover: Yeah. One of my favorite moments on any tour is when we finally get to Jerusalem and you see the ancient walls in the hillside. Perhaps you are listening and you'd like to join us on an Up to Jerusalem tour. I invite you to prayerfully consider joining us and contact us. We can talk to you and you can learn more about how you can join us on this October tour as we go Up to Jerusalem. Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: Recently, I unintentionally walked home by a different route, to Mea She'arim, the most religious quarter of Jerusalem. I was shocked when I saw three young religious Jewish men gambling on the street. I asked them, "Am I dreaming or is it true what I see?" The three looked at me with surprise and one asked, "What do you think you are dreaming?" I answered, because the Bible says, "You cannot serve God and money." They said, "Who are you that you think you can tell us what to do? We have our heads covered, but your head is uncovered like the goyim." They were calling me a Gentile.
I replied, "Do you think you must please God by covering your heads? But He desires your hearts to be covered with flesh and not stone." At this, one said, "Tell us who you are."
"I am a Jew who is saved and believes in the living God," I said. Someone responded, "You think you must tell us how to live? We have enough teachers." I said, "But there is no one to tell you the truth about the Lord." They began to curse me, but the Lord had told us, bless those that curse you. As they were shouting, an elderly rabbi walked by who was ashamed of their behavior and invited me to sit with him.
The rabbi said, "Tell me who you are." I responded, "I believe in God and have been born again." "What?" He exclaimed, "You cannot mean you were dead and are alive again?" "Yes, I was dead in sin, and now I am alive because I am born again to the Spirit." He leaned close and said, "Please speak quietly. Even the walls have ears in this place." He seemed thirsty for God's word. He continued. "I was born in Mea She'arim. I know every stone in this place because I have never left this area. I am the seventh generation of my family to be born in Israel, and I was educated here in Jerusalem."
I told him, "I am sorry that you have lived all your life in darkness without God. Man walks in darkness. You can see with your own eyes the picture before you. Now they're gambling and after that, who knows?"
"How can we stop this?" he asked. "By trusting Messiah Jesus and following him in the waters of baptism?" "What?" He exclaimed, "Never. This is what the traitors do."
"To become born again and have received the Holy Spirit," I told him, "You must give your heart to the Lord. Baptism is a sign that you have received Jesus as your savior."
He did not want to hear about the Holy Spirit. So I asked, "Would you like to hear what our prophets have written about the Holy Spirit?"
"Yes, he replied." I gladly read Ezekiel 36 versus 25 through 27. "How do you know these things?" he asked. "Because I am walking in the light," I replied.
He told me, "I have lived my whole life here. Do you want me to leave this place now?" I responded, "How long will you continue in darkness? Do you want future generations to live in darkness also? Remember that Moses went to Pharaoh even though he was afraid because the Lord promised to go with him." He was close to crying and wanted to hear more. I pleaded, "My dear friend, leave all this darkness behind you and let us walk together in the light of the Lord Jesus who died for you." Before he left. I said, "Remember, no more darkness." To which he replied, "Only light."
I thanked the Lord he was with me and directed my path to that place. I pray this dear old rabbi and the three young men will come to know the true light of the world.
Steve Conover: Thank you so much for being with us today. We sure hope you join us next week. Chris spent some time with Elliot Chodoff. He's a political and military analyst who specializes in the Middle East conflict and the global war on terrorists. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, edited by Jeremy Strong, who also composed and performs our theme music, engineered by Bob Beebe, Mike Kellogg read Apples of Gold, and I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. Our mailing address is FOI Radio PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Again, that's FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099, and I'll give you one last quick reminder to visit us at foiradio.org.
The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide evangelical ministry, proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.
Up to Jerusalem Tours
See with your very own eyes the Land where history and the Bible converge. On this exceptional tour you will visit ancient biblical sites, interact with people and places of modern Israel, walk where Jesus walked, and so much more.
Why not embark on a once-in-a-lifetime experience and enjoy Israel with our veteran staff, experienced Israeli guides, and lovely accommodations?
Apples of Gold: You Have Never Seen the Light
As Zvi was walking home, he happened to take a different route. He walked through the most religious area in Jerusalem. There he saw three young religious men gambling on the street. When he confronted them, they started heckling him. An elderly rabbi came up and asked Zvi to come with him. As Zvi and the rabbi talked, Zvi was able to share his beliefs. Like Nicodemus, the rabbi hungered for God’s Word. Listen how God used Zvi to speak the Truth of God in this rabbi’s life.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.
Your gifts help us to continue proclaiming biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah, while bringing physical and spiritual comfort to the Jewish people.