Last summer, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel for a Bible tour; it was a trip that expanded my world view and opened my eyes to new cultures. It was a trip that opened my heart to people who the media says I should stay away from and be scared of. This past week, I returned from an incredible journey back to the Holy Land. Last year’s trip was hit me is a historical and factual way–which I really needed: to see the Bible in front of me. This year, though…wow, this year’s trip hit me in a spiritual that I, honestly, wasn’t expecting. Much like Scripture is living and breathing and can affect us in different ways in different seasons, my time in the Holy Land was different in a different season of life (even if it was only a year later).
After a day full of flying (and 30 minutes of some persistent Israeli questioning), our team met up in the airport in Israel. The only thing missing? 9 of our bags. But even that couldn’t keep us down. That evening, our team began to form a bond like no other. The Lord definitely hand-picked this team. Almost instantly a community and family was born.
After spending the night in Nazareth, we had a quick shopping trip the next morning before starting our hike. I got some “Salomons” at a shop in the market. My first warning sign should have been that I could see the glue holding the soles to the shoe. But the man selling them assured me they were good shoes. =) Definitely not real Salomons. Definitely not good shoes. A couples miles into our hike, I could tell something wasn’t quite right. We stopped at a gas station, and I surveyed the damage. Yikes. Within a couple of miles, I had some pretty gnarly blisters. I sterilized some scissors with an alcohol prep pad, popped those suckers, and started walking again. Not going to lie–it was quite uncomfortable and felt every rock along the Jesus Trail.
BUT the Lord definitely taught me through those first few days in Israel. I’m normally a fast-walker, but that wasn’t exactly an option. Instead, I walked in the back of the group…slowly but surely. I took time to enjoy the beauty of the landscape (and to take a lot of pictures =) ). The past few years the Lord has been showing me my pride and teaching me about humility and this fit right into those lessons. Side note: careful praying for humility…the Lord will most likely give that to you. Oh boy, oh boy…
Time on the trail was awesome (really–). Our team grew closer as we hiked, studied Scripture, shared our stories (and our part in the Story), and just hung out together.
Our last day on the trail was my 25th birthday. My sweet, sweet friend M.E. made sure to make it the best day ever. On top of being in Israel (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite places on Earth), there were surprises all day long! When we finished the hike down the back of Mt. Arbel (probably my favorite hike of the trip), there were balloons and party hats all around. Such a fun surprise! That night at dinner, I was surprised with a birthday cake complete with a Palestinian candle. So, so fun. The team also gave me a sweet birthday card. I re-read it this morning and was so blessed by that crew all over again. 25 is one for the record books, my friends.
After that begin a time of ministry in the West Bank. We hosted an eye clinic and kids camp in an area that had never had a team from the U.S. before. This was a sweet, sweet time for all of us. Our team did a great job being flexible, stepping up and stepping out, and deeply loving the people of this town. I had the opportunity to spend some time with a sweet, sweet family on evening. They served us roughly six courses and told us we needed to eat more! eat more! During this time, we talked about life, family, and all kinds of other things. Precious Grandma Hani didn’t speak English, but we became fast friends. I told her that she reminded me of my grandmother because she has so much joy….and a whole bunch of grandchildren.
After our time in the West Bank, we headed to Jerusalem for a couple of days. Our first night there, we went to the Western Wall. I’d visited here last year, but it honestly didn’t mean that much to me. This year I was struck in a whole new way. The people there were praying so fervently with so much passion. But they don’t know Jesus. What if this passion for the law was turned into a passion for Jesus, the One who has overcome the law? What if those of us who confess Jesus as Lord had this much passion for Him?
On top of the wall is the Dome of the Rock. This is another place of worship entangled in legalism. We were there during Ramadan. This was a historic year, as Israel allowed Muslims from the West Bank and Gaza to come into the Old City and worship at the Dome. We got in the midst of the crowds one day and goodness–that was a lot of people! It was expected that there would be 250,000 Muslims in the City. As we heard calls to prayer and “sermons” I was heartbroken for these people. They’re fasting and worshipping in vain. It is will never satisfy them and is a futile effort to be close to God. However, the Lord has been known to do incredible things amongst Muslims during Ramadan. As they are searching and praying for God to reveal Himself, join me in praying that He would reveal Himself in the face of Jesus. Pray that Jesus could come to them in dreams and visions even tonight–that they would experience His peace and love.
My prayer is for the walls of legalism to begin to come down within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. Lord, reveal true self to those who worship within those walls! Jesus, make Yourself known to them!
While we were in Jerusalem, I made the only spontaneous decision I think I’ve ever made (take that, Type A personality!) and changed my ticket to stay a couple of extra days (grateful for a workplace that allowed me to do this!). The extra days gave me the opportunity to go to the Negev Desert with part of our team.
This was an absolutely out of this world experience! We spent the night with Magdalene and her husband, Bedouins who live in the desert. Her English was minimal (but more than our Arabic!) so the evening was spent telling stories through a lot of charades and pictionary. This was such a special night. Magdalene has been having some interesting dreams for the past couple of years. I know that the Lord is working in her. Please join me in praying for this new friend.
Our team laid hands on her and prayed for healing and for her to know Jesus. We shared the Gospel with her, the best medicine we know. We aren’t sure how much she understood, but we know that the word of the Lord does not return void (Isaiah 55:10-11).
After Magdalene and her family went to bed, we had a sweet time of worship under the stars. After that, we had dance party complete with glow sticks in the middle of the desert (don’t worry, the IDF didn’t shut us down =) ).
The next morning, Magdalene fixed us a delicious breakfast, and we said our goodbyes. I don’t think any of us really wanted to leave. Her sweet, hospitable spirit made us want to spend even more time with her.
After another day in Jerusalem, it was time for me to head back to the States. I have never had such a hard time leaving a country or a team. Most of the time I’m ready to go back at the end of the trip; I feel as though the trip is over, and it is time to go home. This time was different. I felt no closure in leaving. I wanted to stay and learn more, grow more, meet more people. I know that I will be back…hopefully sooner rather than later.
I learned a lot on this trip about my sin and somethings I have been wrestling with overwhelmed me a bit, but that’s a post for another day. One of the greatest lessons I learned is that the power of the Holy Spirit is real. The Spirit can overcome language barriers, race barriers, and cultural barriers. We saw this first hand as countless people told our team they a difference in our team in the way we loved each other and the way we interacted with each person we met.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
There is so much more to say, but that’s enough for today. I would love to talk to you more, show you more pictures, and pray for the peace of the Middle East with you. The Lord is at work in the Middle East. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to see a glimpse of this first hand and to meet some of the families who are boldly sharing their faith in a part of the world the rest of the world wants to run away from. Thank you for your prayers, thank you for the sweet birthday messages while I was gone, and thank you for joining me on this fun journey the Lord has allowed me to be a part of.