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Long road to Jerusalem

Brent Reaney
Northern News Services

Clyde River (Feb 21/05) - Bethuel Ootoovak had been reading the Bible in syllabics since he was six years old living in an outpost camp. At some point, he decided reading it wasn't enough, he wanted to see the Holy Land for himself.

At the end of January he spent 11 days travelling around Tel Aviv, the Sea of Galilee and the area known as Abraham's Land and he says the the places are just as he imagined them.

Clyde River's Bethuel Ootoovak sits in his office draped in a scarf worn during law school graduation ceremonies in Jerusalem. In his hands is a horn he found in Jerusalem that he thinks is from a goat. - photo courtesy of Peter Iqalukjuak

"Before, I would just read the Bible and I never saw what it really looked like, but when I saw it with my own eyes, now I'm more comfortable to talk about it because I know what I'm talking about," says Ootoovak, speaking through interpreter Peter Iqalukjuak.

After 30 years with the Anglican Church in Clyde River, he is now the community's Anglican Church leader.

The more than 300 people who regularly attend his sermons in Clyde River were so interested in Ootoovak's story that it took two recent Sunday sessions to get in all of the details.

Many people were asking what it looks like and how it felt to be there.

"It was a very good feeling and I noticed tears and excitement," he says of those listening to his stories.

Thirty-two people from around the world joined the 55-year-old unilingual Inuk on his first trip outside of Nunavut.

Leaving the territory did not seem to be a big deal to Ootoovak, as he was more excited about where he was going.

"I was most surprised and excited to be in Galilee because that's where Jesus walked on water," he says.

He also visited Jesus' crucifixion site and the cave where he is rumoured to have been buried.

The group spent time visiting schools, where Ootoovak was greeted with hugs from teenagers who were curious about how things were in the Arctic.

With an Inuktitut interpreter, he says communication was not a problem.

"But the money was a problem," he says of the trip's approximately $6,000 cost, adding that he had already spent a lot of money over Christmas.

Ootoovak says the group was told by their guide what areas they should avoid, and army personnel checked their passports at each new location.

"It was very peaceful, but there were armies there practising shooting," he says. "It was a very good trip and we learned a lot from that area."