God’s goodness knows no limits. As I sat on the train, homeward bound, I reflected upon that truth. Even when life seems confusing and there are difficulties and choices to be made, the Lord knows how to bless us abundantly beyond what we can ask or imagine. “Abundantly” does not even seem the fitting adverb in my case.
The past week and a half was a veritable whirlwind. Our days were so jam-packed that there was very little time to reflect, sleep or write. We each wanted to enjoy Jerusalem to the max, and enjoy each other too. This is probably a good time for me to mention the new friends I made. On the flight to Tel Aviv, I sat down next to a blonde girl who was speaking French to a man over her shoulder. I assumed that they were not with the Passages group, conjecturing instead that they were a sophisticated young European couple. After a short while, the person on my other side asked if I would switch seats with his friend so that she could sit next to him. Only later did I find out that “the sophisticated young European couple” were actually part of my group. Matt & Amanda Erickson are sweet newlyweds with a penchant for travel and hearts for the Lord. When I told them my initial impression of them, they were delighted. After all, Matt learned French to impress Amanda – a French major – and they both studied abroad in France. What made the story more hilarious was that Amanda presumed I was a Hebrew-speaking Jewish girl, because of my coloring. So that’s why she didn’t reach out and speak to me. However, over the course of the week, we became fast friends. I also bonded closely with the six other ADF delegates as well as two new friends named Gerald and Candace. It was so special to share moments and experiences with them, but it was also wonderful to discuss what we’d learned through deep conversation.
There really is so much I could say here, so I’ll tell you some overarching thoughts as well as some anecdotes.
One of my greatest struggles during the trip was to really connect to the idea that I was walking where Jesus had walked. The novelty of the landscape and culture were so great that sites were sometimes merely interesting rather than reflective of our Lord. Yet, at Mt. Beatitude on the Sea of Galilee and also at Golgotha, I truly felt a connection. It is in reflecting, however, that I see how blessed I was. The Bible has already come alive for me in a new way. To have images of the sights talked of in scripture is a privilege few will ever have.
Early in the trip, we visited a Kibbutz. None of us really knew what to expect, but what we were told blew our minds. Our tour guide – a woman who had been born and raised on the property – explained the dangers that the residents faced because of the location of the communal living area. It was right on the border with the Gaza Strip. We all stood aghast as she explained the trauma that many of the children suffered, detailing stories of shrapnel and sirens. What we truly could not understand was why she and her son stayed. What could bind them so closely to the land that they endured this lifestyle to live there? It was one of the most profound cultural lessons I received while in Israel. The idea that Jews have been so long without a homeland that whatever becomes home binds them so closely that they will withstand much to cleave to it. The idea that where one is raised is home, and only something of the greatest magnitude can make you leave your roots and family. The idea that leaving equates to relinquishing the fight. “We are soldiers without weapons,” she told us. Wow.
Two of my favorite days were Tuesday and Friday. On the former, we took a sunset cruise on the Sea of Galilee. We all laughed and talked as the sea spray brazenly splashed our smiling faces. Then, the music came on, and we learned Jewish group dances. What fun! Following that, we had a traditional fish supper. After the meal, our guide Avi came up and asked how we liked the repast. I smiled as my reply, but apparently not exuberantly enough. Avi came up behind and, saying “smile! smile!” he pulled my cheeks into a wide grin. Matt was so dumbfounded that he spilled the jug of water he was pouring all over his lap. This was just one of the many highly humorous moments on the trip.
On Friday, we toured much of Jerusalem, viewing vistas of the city from the high places. We sloshed in the dark through Hezekiah’s tunnels – old water pipes cut in 701 BC – and viewed archaeological digs.Meandering through the old Jerusalem markets, we eventually made it to the Wailing Wall, where I inserted a prayer alongside the thousands of others wedged in the age-old, careworn walls. The beautiful day ended with a Shabbat dinner in the home of a kind Jewish family who had prepared place settings for thirty of us!
On the last day, we visited Caesarea, the Roman ruin on the banks of the Mediterranean. The guide had not told us that we would be on the beach, so none of us wore bathing suits. That did not stop me from experience the brilliantly blue and wondrously warm waters of the sea. I went in with every piece of clothing on! My ensuing salty, soggy state was completely worth it. It even cooled me off as we walked through the remains of the theater, palace and hippodrome. While in the latter, our guide lined the boys up on the sand and told us girls to hop on them piggy-back style. We had a race, as any good Roman would, and my ‘horse’ and I won! Sababa. (That’s ‘cool’ in Hebrew).