Not just a tour; a pilgrimage


It was 7 October 2023. Husband and wife Simon Setiawan and Sarah Yetty, members of Jemaat Kristen Indonesia (JKI) church from Indonesia, were in Egypt, leading a tour group of more than 40 people from Indonesia and the United States intending to enter Israel-Palestine. They heard about the Hamas attacks on Israel in the early morning. They were concerned about the safety of their tour participants. The Indonesian embassies in Egypt and Jordan were on the phone with them, telling them not to go into Israel.  

“After speaking with embassy officers and getting an update from our local partners, we explained the situation to the group. We said we would follow whatever the participants thought was best,” says Simon Setiawan. “The vast majority wanted to continue, upon getting assurances from our local partners that our adjusted routes were in the safe zones.”  

So that day, they entered Israel through the Taba Border, crossing into the resort town of Eilat. The wait to cross the border was long. There were more soldiers than usual at the checkpoint. The officers were friendly albeit tense. One officer asked, “You know what’s happening in Israel, right?” and was surprised when the group said they still wanted to enter. The streets were quiet, with only two other tour groups to be seen. 

From there, they went north, adjusting their plans according to the latest security updates. On one occasion, they stayed in their hotel because they heard there was a disturbance locally. In another occasion, their plan to stay overnight in Bethlehem was diverted to Jerusalem for security reasons. But they managed to visit Jericho, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, meeting a few other tour groups. 

They are making plans to go again this year, subject to the security situation on the ground. “Because we love the Holy Land,” Simon says. 

Longing to visit the Holy Land 

In 2009, for the first time, Simon Setiawan and Sarah Yetty signed up to go to the Holy Land with their church.  

“We’d been wanting to go to the Holy Land for a long time, but we knew it was way beyond our means,” says Yetty, “I was a kindergarten teacher and Simon was helping out with the church’s mission program. We didn’t have much.” 

They renewed their expired passports and prayed daily for a miracle. 

“Three months before the tour departed, a woman from a Presbyterian church that we never met before paid for our tour in full. She said she had a dream a month earlier whereby she saw someone in a shiny white robe coming to her and telling her to bless a couple to visit the Holy Land,” Sarah Yetty says.  

“And then Simon says that because someone paid our way, we have to serve.” 

God will be with you 

When they relayed this to their pastor, he said they could be tour leaders. “Even though we said we had absolutely no experience, he said we’ll be alright and God would be with us.  

“That was our first time, and we absolutely loved it,” Simon Setiawan says.  

On that first trip, they led a tour with 11 buses, about 500 people. They had to split the group and go in different directions, with Sarah Yetty leading one team and Simon Setiawan taking the rest. 

“We departed with only USD$20 in our pocket. But God kept blessing us, like everyday manna,” Sarah Yetty says. 

“After that first trip, the senior pastor asked us to calculate the expenses to visit the Holy Land and set up a business specializing in Holy Land tours. We were also told to study more about the Holy Land and took training about how to run Holy Land tours. Since then, we committed ourselves to offering affordable tours of the Holy Land, so that pastors and church workers, especially those from small towns and villages, could get a chance to go there,” Simon Setiawan says. 

“I love taking groups there, being on the land where Jesus was and seeing the Bible come to life. But more importantly, I love being on the tour bus listening to people’s testimonies: of a marriage that has almost ended up in divorce until they arrived in Cana and decided to reconcile. Of a doctor who walked up Mt Sinai with me, and only after reaching the top did he confess to having his 13th stent placed in his arteries just a week prior,” says Simon Setiawan. 

“I always say that this is not just a tour – it’s a pilgrimage. Pray that whatever God’s plan is for you on this trip, your eyes will be open to see that,” he says. 

We long for peace  

“Our prayer is for peace for the people in Israel and Palestine,” says Simon Setiawan.  

“Everyone is emotionally invested in the Holy Land. When there is a bit of instability, the whole world hears about it and got scared. When they’re scared, they don’t come, and the local tourism industry suffers, especially workers who live within the Palestinian Authority areas (Jericho, Bethlehem, Ramallah),” says Simon Setiawan. 

“We want local industries to thrive, and for ordinary people to be able to live their lives without fear. The people want stability, safety, on both sides. And this is what we wish for them too,” say Simon Setiawan and Sarah Yetty. 

—Interim Chief Communications Officer Elina Ciptadi spoke with Simon Setiawan and Sarah Yetty about their experience.