On a recent trip to Israel, I found myself reluctant to even be there. This sounds both sensible and selfish. After all, Israel had just attacked Syria just before we left on our trip and Syria retaliated by targeting a tourist location within a day of our arrival.
Still, complaining about going abroad sounds “snobby”, selfish and inconsiderate. So as I boarded the plane, I felt like a bona fide jerk. Personally, I felt a lot like Jonah going on this trip. Jonah – you know the dude who was swallowed up by a giant fish when he ran away from God’s plans?
I do this a lot.
Part of the reason why I didn’t want to go to Israel was I was afraid of what God would say to me. Or show me. Or particularly what He would ask me to do.
Our first stop on the tour was visiting the ancient port of Jaffa – the same city Jonah fled from instead of going to Nineveh.
“This is fittingly perfect as we embark on a journey I am reluctant to experience”, I cynically thought to myself.
As we sat in the outdoor theater and surveyed Tel Aviv to the north of us, my daydreams took me to what jumping into the Mediterranean right then and there might look like.
Drowning. A “Big Fish” story. A late afternoon swim?
I didn’t do it. I got back into the tour bus instead.
Already, Israel felt unusual. In many ways, it felt like a place that I had already been to before. It felt as though we had been there forever, and as though we were never going to leave. And that was okay.
It felt like Narnia, Middle Earth, Hogwarts – every unimaginable place that we’ve read about but never knew existed.
“This is the safest place on earth”, we were told over and over again. And as our tour took us off of our itinerary, to the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, I could see how right that was.
Yes, Israel attacked Syria right before we went over there; and yes, Syria retaliated and attacked a tourist location.
But, it was clear that this is actually God’s land. He has His hand in it.
One afternoon, we were sailing on the Sea of Galilee. Our pastor was preaching from Mark 4 where a storm came up on the sea and scared the disciples to the point that they woke up Jesus from His sound sleep. And then for the first time in 80 years, a tumultuous storm hit the Sea of Galilee. While we were on it. We were in a boat, talking about Jesus, in May.I went from 0 to hysterics in 2.1 seconds. Screaming, laughing, crying, using my friends as human shields, crouching, trying in vain to stay dry. We couldn’t see anything around the boat. Who knows where we were on the sea?
It was easy to see why the disciples wigged out. But we made it to shore, soaked yet safe.
A blessing? A miracle? Proof? Certainly, a surprise.
Later, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem – the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people. It’s the remaining part of the second Temple wall and the closest point to where the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant once were. Following custom, I wrote down three prayers and attempted to deposit them into the wall. I rested with my hands and forehead against the wall. Then I read through the prayers I had written. After I read the first, I folded it and tried to stick it into the wall. I paused at cracks and crevices in the wall where countless other tiny papers had already been wedged. Some seem to have been secured with gum, cemented into the stone – this was both disgusting and annoyingly smart.
I picked a spot on the wall littered with other sheets of paper. As I secured my paper in by shoving it into a spot, I inadvertently dislodged someone else’s prayer. I picked it up off the ground and shoved it back into the wall, which caused my prayer to pop back out. I pushed mine back in and two more prayers popped right out.
Then all of a sudden, I felt like I was in the middle of an I Love Lucy episode.
I scrambled for the prayers, trying to keep my shoulders covered with my scarf – required dress for the Holy Site – and as I pressed the prayers back into the wall, mine popped out yet again!
Exasperated and about to swear something awful, I heard God say:
So I placed the prayer on the edge of the stone and trusted that God heard it whether it blew away from the wall or not.
What impacted me most about my trip was the realness of this land – God’s chosen land – and these people – God’s chosen people. And the fact that unlike so many other stories of far away lands that we may fill our minds with, God’s story is REAL. In that place. Where I stood. The evidence is there. We only have to open our eyes to its history. To His story. And hear the nudge to share that story.
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