Lori Johnson has been on a bus in Israel many times, looking out a dusty window as Mount Tabor looms in the distance.
A rounded peak that rises 575 metres into the sky, it is a significant religious location for many faiths.
For Johnson, it is the place where Jesus was transfigured – in three major books of the Christian New Testament, he shines with rays of light as long-departed prophets Moses and Elijah appear next to him. Jesus talks to them, and then is called ‘Son’ by a voice from the sky.
It is regarded by many as one of the most significant miracles in the bible, but for many modern tour companies, it is a holy site that is not worth the trouble of visiting.
“You have to take this little crammed taxi-bus on a little road with hair-pin turns and a cliff right there,” Johnson says with a chuckle. “If you get motion sickness, you’re in trouble. But you get the top and you get to look over the Valley of Armageddon, which is written about in Revelations. This is the actual mountain where Peter, James, and John watched the transfiguration of Jesus, and the vista you’re looking at is what they saw.
“There’s a church there and it is beautiful, and the view is incredible, but tour companies will pass it by and I wonder, ‘How are you not going up there?’”
That’s a problem the Chilliwack woman aims to remedy as she starts a new business venture called Trinity Tours.
“It frustrates me that people pay money to go to the Holy Land and they’re not experiencing everything the way they could be,” said Johnson, who has been to Israel seven times and will lead her first group of pilgrims to Jerusalem in February. “Israel just rocked me to my core in all ways. Whether it was joy or agony, it’s such a profoundly emotional and spiritual experience no matter how many times you go.”
“A big part of this is wanting people to experience what I’ve experienced.”
Trinity Tours sprang out of a pilgrimage that Johnson took to Italy in 2015.
A professional photographer who works with several corporate clients in Chilliwack, she had her camera out, snapping pictures of everything she saw.
“People who were on the tour with me saw that I wasn’t taking pictures with my phone, and they started asking me, ‘Can we have some of your pictures?’” she recalled. “When I got home, I ended up making a travel book, and I put a digital copy of it in our little Facebook group. I had 18 people ask me if they could buy it and I’m like, ‘Yes! Yes you can.’
“The money I made from selling those books almost paid for my trip.”
Hands up if you’ve gone to a spectacular location and snapped tons of pics that turned out to be terrible.
Johnson sensed an opportunity.
“When you travel to somewhere like Israel or Europe, it’s a huge deal and often a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” she said. “I’m thinking you’d want some really great pictures to remember it by, right?
“About a year later I did my first pilgrimage to Israel and the exact same thing happened, and when it happened again on my second trip to Israel, I thought, ‘There’s something here.’”
Johnson put together a business plan to present to tour companies, 100 per cent convinced she was pitching a win-win scenario.
“Take me with you. I’ll pay for my trip and give you a value-add to give to your pilgrims,” she proposed.
She was shot down several times, but didn’t want to let it go.
Combining her faith with photography and travel – three of her passions – became something of an obsession.
“To bring those three things together and make a living at it, in my mind I was thinking there’s no better job for me,” Johnson said. “It’s all I could think about. And I’m a big believer that when God wants you to do something, he puts it in your head and in your heart. So while the logical part of me said, ‘Let this go. I did my best. I tried hard. It’s not working and I’m going to go back to what I was doing,’ this idea and feeling would not leave.
“Finally it came into my head, ‘Why not do it yourself?’
But what would it take to start her own tour company? For starters, a travel licence through B.C. Consumer Protection with a daunting application packet that she laughingly described as inches thick, written in Greek and requiring accountants, notaries and lawyers.
It was so intimidating that Johnson stuck it in a drawer, and there it stayed, gathering dust for the longest time. But still, a nagging feeling wouldn’t go away.
“I kept hearing, ‘You could and should be doing more,’” she said. “So I went to the drawer and pulled out that packet, and this time it looked like it was written in crayon for a five-year-old. It all made perfect sense.”
Johnson got her licence, and when she returned home from a trip to Tel Aviv last March, she created a Facebook page and website for Trinity Tours (trinitytours.ca) and started planning her first solo excursion.
She’s got three small groups booked for 2020, the first one heading overseas in February.
There is no ‘featured’ destination. Everything from the Sea of Galilee to the Garden of Gethsemane to Mount Tabor gives Johnson a different feeling.
“There’s a place called Golgotha and there’s a hole in the rock where the cross that Jesus hung on was placed,” she said. “You can put your hand in that hole, and it’s such amazing thing to do that and be where Jesus bled.
“Everything in Israel gives me a different emotion, but there’s always a sense of awe.”
While Trinity Tours is a fledgling business, Johnson also describes it as her ministry.
“When you go to the Holy Land, no matter how many times, you are in the exact place Jesus, the Lord and Saviour was. He walked here. He sat here. He taught here. He was suffered his Passion here,” she said. “It’s such an amazing place and seeing people experience these things for the first time is almost as powerful as when I experienced it for the first time.
“I feel so blessed when I get to photograph that and capture that moment for people.
“I’m getting goose-bumps thinking about it right now!”