It’s Never Too Late: Go to the Holy Land

Kathie Lee GiffordBy Kathie Lee Gifford14 Minutes

Excerpt taken from It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life by Kathie Lee Gifford

Go to the Holy Land

Give me Your courage to conquer my fears,
Your feet to travel the path that is narrow
To sing Your praises, the joy of the sparrow,
And faith to believe all things work for the good,
Patience to wait for the things that I should,
Grace through my troubles to persevere,
Discernment to know when temptation is near.
Give me Your eyes to see only the good.
Give me Your heart, Lord, to love as You would.

A motley group of both family and friends came with me on the NBC series filming trip to Israel to study rabbinically. I didn’t want to take only believers, so I asked the Lord to reveal who He wanted to go. One by one they responded: a Sikh, a Hindu, Scientologists, an atheist, an agnostic, brokenhearted Catholics, and a couple of confused Baptists. Oh, yes, and two Navy SEALs! Plus my kids and Cody’s girlfriend, Erika, and Frank’s daughter, Vicki.

Really, Lord? I wondered. Our teacher, Rod VanSolkema, was going to have quite the challenge to keep all those diverse faiths and backgrounds in mind while deciphering the Scriptures in a way that illuminated truth to each individual. Our group’s diversity encouraged many spirited discussions.

One by one I watched each person begin to relax and lean into Rod’s teaching. Rod is not only a pastor, he’s also a youth athletic coach. He is a gifted teacher with a tender, servantlike heart, and I adore him and his wife, Libby, who also teaches alongside him.

In this mean-spirited, “my way or the highway” kind of world we were becoming even then, I loved watching the Word of God wash over this special group of men and women from different cultures and faiths. They truly looked to me like the kingdom of God.

By the end of the trip it was obvious that everyone had been impacted in a life-transforming way. Clearly the power of Jesus, the Holy Land, and God’s Word were profound. Later, I documented this method of study in my book The Rock, the Road, and the Rabbi. When you build your foundation on Truth—the Rock Himself, Jesus (Yeshua)—then walk along the very paths He walked when He became flesh and dwelt among us, then study the ancient texts of the Bible in the original source languages—Hebrew and Greek—all heaven breaks loose!

Most everyone was baptized in the Jordan River, but every single member of our insula (family) gathered together on our last morning to take communion in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a joy to have reached a place of peace and acceptance of one another. We still stay in touch.

Watching my children being baptized in the Jordan River was one of the highlights of my life. After I left the baptism site to secure a car for a member of our group who needed assistance, I heard one final splash along with cheers from our group.

What? I thought. What was that? I believed everyone who wanted to had already been baptized. But I was wrong. Let me explain.

On the Wednesday after Frank died, once we had celebrated his extraordinary life in our backyard, we had a family prayer time at Praise Point—Frank’s favorite place on our property.

We each took some of his ashes and had our private moments of remembrance of the beloved man we already missed. On our way back up to the house I said to Vicki, his daughter, “You need to know that your daddy died a very contented man. He was at peace. The last few years of his life, since he went to Israel, he kept saying to me, ‘I’m not afraid of dying, honey. I’m actually getting really curious.’”

Vicki was understandably heartbroken and trying to process yet another devastating loss in her life. But there was one more thing I knew I had to tell her.

“Even so, there was one thing that still concerned him.”

“What?” she asked.

“You, sweetie. You’re his only child who still doesn’t know Jesus. He wanted you to have that peace in your life too.”

That next year, while on the trip to Israel, my sweet friend Anne Neilson saw Vicki sitting on a rock and sobbing as each member of our insula went into the Jordan River to be baptized.

“I want to go in there,” she said through her tears, “but I don’t have enough faith.”

Anne’s tender heart broke for her. “You’ve seen all the beautiful mustard seed plants everywhere?” she said.


“Vicki, the mustard seed starts out as the tiniest seed in all of botany. Yet nothing can destroy it once it takes hold and begins to grow. Honey, that’s all you need to get you in the water. Just the faith of a mustard seed. Do you have that much?”

“Yes,” she said, “I do.”

After almost thirty years of sharing the hope of the Savior with her to no avail, that beautiful day at the Jordan River she surrendered to all she didn’t yet understand and fell back into the arms of Pastor Rod and our dear Navy SEAL friend, Remi Adeleke.

I arrived home from Israel on a Saturday to find a message from someone at the Israeli Ministry of Tourism office in New York. Would I please meet with them on Monday to strategize for the future? The future? I wondered. I thought this trip had been a one-time thing; a purposeful attempt to allay the fears of visiting Israel. We had accomplished the mission, and all felt great and grateful.

After my first day back at the show, Chrissie, my longtime right-hand everything, and I sat down with them at Neary’s, my favorite restaurant in New York City, to learn what was on their minds. After a few pleasantries they began to share how they wanted me to be the spokesperson for Israel for the North American continent.

“What do you mean?” I naturally countered.

“We want you to be the face of Israel in all of North America . . . to be in every square inch of our land, telling our story.”

My heart leapt. I’d been praying for something like this for years.

“Gentlemen,” I began, “I don’t even have to pray about this!” (Impulsive? Yes. But in my exuberance I simply charged ahead.) “This is all I’ve wanted to do since I was twelve years old.”

They were obviously pleased until I said this: “But I’m going to say something now that you’ve probably never heard before.” I paused. “You can’t pay me one penny for it. I want to be able to sit with the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or any other publication and say honestly that I have never received a dime of compensation for performing these services. That my actions have all been completely done out of my love for God’s land and His people.”

They looked at each other incredulously.

I smiled at them and said, “That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to cost you something.”

Now I had their attention.

“I want people to visit Israel—the Holy Land—and study rabbinically so that they come to an understanding of the power of God’s original Word in the Greek or Hebrew.”

They nodded that they understood.

“So every time I come for you to represent the State of Israel, I want you to sponsor fifty pastors or seminary students to come with me—to study alongside me. Then when they return to America, they will take with them a profound new excitement about their relationship with Yeshua and exponentially share it with others. It will cost you about three hundred thousand dollars—peanuts compared to what it would cost you to hire me through my agent.” They instantly and eagerly agreed, so we spent the rest of our time together discussing the possibilities. We all left the lunch feeling excited about the future before us. Until week after week passed with little or no word from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism office. Crickets.

Our lunch meeting was in late March. Immediately afterward I had contacted the King’s University in Dallas, Texas, to organize the fifty students and pastors that they deemed most deserving of a ten-day, all-expense-paid rabbinical trip to Israel. They were thrilled, of course, and soon the departure day arrived—without one word from the tourism board and not one penny in the coffers to pay for their trips.

I felt I had no choice but to pay the entire amount. I couldn’t disappoint all of these people whose dreams of studying in the Holy Land were about to come true. I was furious with the way things were, and very sad about the obvious miscommunication between us, but I made no mention of it publicly.

Though it was hurtful, I tried not to let bitterness take root in my heart. I convinced myself that God would use it all for good. And in time, of course, that’s exactly what He did. Later, I received letters from every one of the students, who shared how blessed they had been, how they were individually affected in a positive way by the experience, and how they planned to share their education with others. This was the end that I’d hoped for and the answer to the specific prayers that I finally did pray.

Nothing can sour my love and enthusiasm for the Word of God as proclaimed in the original Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Nothing can diminish my love for the land and for the people— both Jewish and Palestinian who inhabit it. And nothing will ever be able to discourage my faith in the sovereign God who sees all things and works everything for His good in spite of it.

Fifty pilgrims went to Israel that fall and came back transformed individuals. Praise His name. Don’t you think maybe it’s time for you to follow your own heart to the Holy Land? You know it’s never too late . . . Shalom.

Taken from It’s Never Too Late by Kathie Lee Gifford. Copyright © 2000 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.

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Photo credit for book cover and headshot: Jeremy Cowart