• FEATURES \ Nov 23, 2001
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    Tourist Downturn Hits Garden Tomb
Tourist Downturn Hits Garden Tomb An unexpected victim of the troubles in the Middle East is the Garden Tomb, the British-owned tourist site in East Jerusalem.

Normally, over 250,000 tourists every year visit the quiet Garden and 1st century tomb, which tells the story of Christ's death and resurrection. But during the past year of unrest, the number of visitors has shrunk steadily with just 1000 visitors per week in October compared with 7000 a week two years ago.

The Garden Tomb Association, based in Britain, has now reduced staffing, shortened the opening hours and suspended the open-air Sunday morning service for the winter months. And, for the first time in 100 years, an appeal has been made for funds. Although the Garden is now open only in the afternoons from Monday to Saturday, the Trustees are determined to ensure that "pilgrims can continue to be shown round and experience the wonder of the empty tomb."

The former Bishop of St Albans, the Rt. Rev John B Taylor, has said, "Whenever I go to Israel, I discover, that apart from the Sea of Galilee, visitors find the most holy place is the Garden Tomb."

On a recent visit, Victor Jack, chairman of the Garden Tomb Association, was most impressed by the positive attitude of all the local staff. "They are united in their commitment to keeping the Garden open as a vital center of Christian witness, and are sharing many of the tasks which were previously covered by teams of volunteers," he said.

An appeal for 175,000 pounds sterling (about $262.500 US) has been launched to keep the Garden open, to provide for the needs of the ministry and to help fund capital projects, which have now been stopped. These include the preservation of the tomb itself, a major ongoing project under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and refurbishment of a giant underground cistern, which irrigates the Garden.

Peter Wells, the Association's General Secretary, comments, "These are difficult days, but we are not downcast or defeated. We know the One who conquered fear and death. In His strength we face the future with hope and joy. We also look to our friends throughout the world to support our ministry in prayer at this critical time."