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Holy Land to hold sunrise service

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By John Barnhart

A newly refurbished Holy Land USA is set to welcome people to a sunrise service Easter morning.

The service is scheduled for 7 a.m. and will include special music, a message and refreshments. Mike Cutler, Holy Land's general manager, said that the service is scheduled so that people will have plenty of time to get to their own churches' Sunday morning services afterwards.

"We work to compliment the local church," said Cutler.

Holy Land is normally open from April 1 through Nov. 15 each year. However, Easter comes early this year, unusually early. It's the earliest Easter since 1913 and it will never again come this early in the lifetime of anyone now living.

Holy Land USA consists of 250 acres on Dickerson Mill Road, a five minute drive from Bedford. It's set up as a three-mile journey trail that illustrates the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Many points on the trail illustrate Jesus' parables. According to Richard Dooley, Holy Land's operations manager, teams dramatize events on some days at these sites.

The centerpiece of the trail is a representation of Calvary. It has three wooden crosses atop a rocky outcrop. A representation of the empty tomb is at the base of this outcrop and this is where the sunrise service will be held. It has seating (unpadded) and the sun will rise over Calvary and the three crosses.

Dooley said that Holy Land USA was established by Bob Johnson in 1972. It has since become a tourist attraction, drawing tour groups from all over the east coast and Dooley noted that Holy Land complements the Bedford community. Three out of four people who come to Holy Land come from out of state on bus tours. After taking the journey, the groups usually stay in the area and visit other sights. They have had groups as large as 400 or 500 people come through.

"It all fits into a network for tourism that is fabulous," he said.

Holy Land, however, is not a money-making venture. It's a501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation and admittance, if you walk, is free. There is a small charge if you aren't up to a three-mile walk and want a riding tour, which includes a guide. There is also a guest house which accommodates up to 42 people.

Permanent residents consist of animals. Open pastures host sheep and donkeys, domestic animals that were common in the ancient Middle East. Wooded areas, and most of the acreage is that, host the wild inhabitants of local forests. Cutler recently spotted a gang of wild turkeys there.

A new believer can get baptized in the Jordan there, sort of. The journey trail winds through a valley around a creek that's been dubbed "The Jordan River" and it forms a pool, at one point, that can be used for baptisms. The scale of the stream isn't far off of that of its namesake. The real Jordan River, Dooley notes, is about the size of Goose Creek.

The creek once served a different purpose 150 years ago. Dooley said that the site once hosted one of the largest distilleries in America. It made apple brandy and the creek provided water to power the distillery's water wheel, which turned the machinery that crushed the apples and extracted the juice. The dam that feed the water wheel's mill race is still there, but it has a large hole in it. Dooley said that a hole was blown in the dam, many years ago, to prevent bootleggers from using the place.

The distillery's buildings are still there, too. They've been converted to a different use.

Another piece of local history on Holy Land's acres is a two-room log house. The house, made of chestnut logs with a large stone fireplace and chimney in its center, is between 125 and 150 years old.

Riding tours of Holy Land are accomplished via wagons pulled by trucks. The wagons are covered and have seats and this is how people attending the sunrise service will get to Calvary. There won't be any charge for this Sunday morning.

Holy Land USA relies heavily on volunteers. Dooley is a retired pastor, with 45 years in the ministry. Cutler owns a business and the president of the corporation that oversees Holy Land, Mike Dotson, is senior pastor of Tree of Life Ministries in Lynchburg.

For more information on Holy Land, USA, call (540) 586-2823 or write to them at Holy Land, USA, 1060 Jericho Road, Bedford, Virginia, 24523.