Title: David Hathaway
It is 50 years since David first went to Israel. In May 1961, after 11 years as a full-time pastor and evangelist in Britain, David's ministry to Russia and Europe began as a result of organising the first ever overland expedition by road to Jerusalem, travelling behind the Iron Curtain through Arab countries and into Israel. David was determined to attend a World Pentecostal Conference in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost! Everyone from the motoring organisations to the British Foreign Office said it was too dangerous: there were the hazards of crossing behind the Iron Curtain through communist countries, on unknown roads, without suitable hotels. He was warned, in Turkey they would be killed by bandits, and in Syria, shot as spies. And it was impossible to make the two-way crossing by road in and out of Israel! Even David's father, a great preacher and man of faith, prayed desperately that God would stop him - but David's heart was set. He believed that if he went by faith, revival would come and he would experience another Pentecost.
David says, referring to his experience in Israel that first time:
Why did I first go to Russia, why do I have the ministry I have today? My first visit behind the Iron Curtain was 50 years ago. I was an evangelist, a pastor in England, yet I saw how people had lost the anointing, lost the power. I was determined I would have an experience with God that was incorruptible! I heard that the first World Pentecostal Conference in Jerusalem would be held on the Day of Pentecost, in May 1961. I was married, with twin girls, how could I get there? I could not afford the airfare, but I was determined to go! I decided to go by road, which was impossible, no one had ever done it before! But God was with me; and because I took eight others with me, and organised the whole expedition, it cost me nothing!
Physically, there were many obstacles. Politically, there were three major, almost impossible barriers. The first problem of getting through the communist countries, particularly Bulgaria in our own vehicle, without KGB guides escorting us, seemed impossible, even after we had got our visas! The most serious seemed to be the fact that the Syrians did not allow travellers to cross from their country into Israel! This was overcome by the expedient of using two passports and duplicate customs documents, one set with the word 'Israel' totally obliterated as even the sight of the name would have had us shot at the border - the other which had to be totally hidden lest the border search revealed it, stated 'valid only in Israel'! But the final problem which made the journey impossible was that having travelled through Syria and Jordan into Israel, neither Jordan nor Syria would allow me back! After much prayer, God showed me that I could come out by sea with the bus on the deck of a rusty Greek boat into Athens, then resume the road journey home!
The route took me from my home in Dewsbury, to Lydd in Kent, where we flew with Silver City Airways on a Bristol Freighter to France. (In those days, in order to get a vehicle to France, the quickest way was to drive onto a plane and fly across!) Upon arrival in France we would drive through Belgium, Germany, Austria - and then cross through the Iron Curtain into Yugoslavia, Bulgaria - then into Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel!
There were nine of us in the yellow painted Commer minibus which rolled up to the Yugoslav border in May 1961. We travelled via Belgrade and Nis before climbing the unmade road which ran between remote villages and over the hills towards the Dragoman Pass and the Bulgarian border. We looked apprehensively ahead as our eyes took in the forbidding panorama of barbed wire, minefields, armed guards with dogs, which seemed designed to keep us out or worse, when we had crossed, to prevent any possibility of our escape back to freedom. All of us admitted afterwards that we were afraid.
At the Bulgarian border, officials took away our passports and visas for scrutiny; then we had to stand and wait while the frontier guards made a thorough search of the bus, taking out most of our carefully packed food and camping gear, obviously looking for something, yet never telling us what. Finally, after what seemed one of the longest hours we had ever spent, they seemed satisfied and allowed us to continue our journey.
By this time we were tired, and we were glad to be able to drive on the few miles to the capital city, Sofia, where we spent a short time before looking for the camp site where we were to stay the night. It lay on our direct route out of the city, on the roads towards Turkey and Istanbul, and did not take us long to find. To our horror it looked more like a concentration camp than a holiday site, surrounded by high barbed wire fences and entered through massive iron gates!
On arrival, we had to surrender our passports, and as darkness fell, after we had pitched our tents, the gates were locked and we realised with some trepidation that they were taking no chances with us. We were virtually prisoners.
The following morning we were immensely relieved to find the gates open and our passports ready to be collected. In spite of a strict warning not to deviate from the route we had filed with the authorities, we surreptitiously retraced our course into the centre of Sofia, our minds full of curiosity and our cameras full of Kodachrome. Having satiated the former, and exposed the latter, we continued our journey.
But when I got to Jerusalem I was so disappointed! I had gone for only one reason: to experience another Pentecost. There were 3000 in the conference: 2999 tourists, and me! Nothing happened, nobody laid their hands on me, and I didn't feel any power, nothing! I had done everything to be there; spent two years organising in order to meet with God, and nothing, absolutely nothing happened! And I came home.
Exactly forty years later, May 2001, I was again in Jerusalem in the same hall, but this time to evangelise. Before it started, I spent days walking round the hall praying and crying out to God, "40 years ago I was so hungry, so determined to receive new power from the Holy Spirit, but You didn't do anything!" God answered me, "After you came here, what happened?" I said, "My whole life changed!"
This overland journey to Israel marked a major milestone in my life. It was the first time that anyone had made the crossing by road from Britain to Israel - we beat by three months a similar expedition by a party from Cambridge University! It also led directly to the foundation of my travel company; and was the first of many incidents enabling me both to evangelise and smuggle Bibles into many communist countries; which culminated in my imprisonment and miraculous release from a Czechoslovak jail; and which has led to my ministry today.
All I know is that my experience with God is step by step - and I have not reached the end of the road yet! Every step, however difficult, however impossible, is another miracle towards experiencing the power of God in my life!