The sun rises over the Sea of Galilee and leads one to believe that Israel is one of the most peaceful places on earth. It is not!
This "journey of a lifetime" lived up to its name. It was our second trip to the Holy Land, the Promised Land, the State of Israel, having crawled all over that place several years ago. This time we received a totally different kind of education and experience. It was an eye-opener!
March 28, 2014 we made our way to NYC and joined our fellow travelers. It was a mixture of teens, parents, leaders, family and old people! ("Old people" was determined to be anyone over the age of 40) What a fabulous group! We grew to love each one dearly. They are imprinted on our hearts.
The question is asked, "What was your favorite part or spot?" The answer? "There was a new one each day."
The front end of the trip was the usual sightseeing, awe-inspiring visits to the Holiest sites in all the world. By a minor miracle we were able to visit the Dome of the Rock, the high holy place for all Muslims. We visited the Mount of Beatitudes, Caesarea, St. Peters home, Jericho, Bethlehem, Shepherds Field, Herodium, the Dead Sea, the Wailing Wall, the Garden Tomb, the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and MORE!
We took a family picture I will forever cherish. (Honeybuns, me, Andy and Hays) at the Mt. of Olives. Zechariah 14:4
We learned and performed Jewish dances on the deck of a wooden boat floating the Sea of Galilee and shared laughter with our new friends. Some brave souls tried the mud pack at the Dead Sea and others tried to catch huge fish in the Jordan River.
It was perfect and such typical activities on a pilgrimage never get old! EVERYONE should experience these places at least once in their lifetime. Seminary students should be required to visit the places of the Bible BEFORE they think they can teach anyone anything. Scripture understood through the eyes of the Middle Eastern culture changes EVERYTHING!
THEN! Our KIVU leader Andy Braner announced that the rest of the trip was going to be different. An understatement! We would turn our attention from Biblical history, geography and wonder to relationships with the people of modern day Israel. Relationship were to become our priority! We were going to now "WALK the WALK of Jesus."
WOW! That's when the new education for us began.
You see we left the US with long and deeply held ideas about what was going on "over there." We have studied the scriptures in depth for YEARS and have embraced every command, promise and prophecy. We have traced the lineage of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac and know what God said about those boys and His plan for each of them. (Each would be a great nation, one as wild as donkeys!)
We support the nation and people of Israel unequivocally! We love the "chosen people" and look forward to their future. Their Godly mission has been removed until the "times of the Gentiles" and we understand that. We pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the future purpose of God for the land. We support the Biblical map definition and can quote the chapters and verses. (The State of Israel is the size of New Jersey and is the most controversial sliver of dirt on the planet.)
I have also read the Koran, or at least the version printed in English. I understand the tenets behind that very dark and threatening document that most Muslims have never read. It is not a peaceful religion but there ARE many peaceful people, living in an ancient culture we American's will never (or should) embrace.
So what happened?
We visited with people, asked questions and saw things we had no idea existed.
For the first time we purposely visited people that live in the land that are NOT Jewish.
Imagine the culture of the US before the Civil Rights Act of the 60's. There are thousands of innocent people suffering greatly at the hands of politics, local and international. There are people hated, disregarded as human and treated worse than we treat our pets. Their crime? They lived and rightfully owned land and businesses BEFORE 1948.
They have been displaced permanently. Have you ever heard of a PERMANENT refugee camp, one that houses generations of people? These people have never lobbed a bomb, shot a gun or thrown a stone at anyone. They cannot drive on roads that would take them to work in a convenient timely manner, they have to drive hours around. They cannot freely leave their designated prison, their children will never see the Sea. THOUSANDS walk through many security check-points daily, often stopped at the whim of a young passionate guard for hours in the hot sun. Pregnant women are turned away from access to a hospital while their husbands are allowed through. Their homes have been razed or locked, their orchards destroyed. Water is cut-off regularly, electricity too. Gas prices are higher on their side of the wall, food cherished. They are continually systematically harassed. They are given NO permits to build anything on their own land and if they try it is quickly destroyed.
NO ONE wants them!
We visited Jewish settlements as well. We learned that the Biblical map is not as an important an issue for them as it is American Christians. Fear and anger reigns. The mistrust of others is deep, complex and understandable. The Holocaust Museum reminds everyone of the slogan "never again."
The wall separating people is real, concrete, barbed wired and extensive. The wall has no doubt stopped the bus bombings and suicides we used to see frequently in the newspapers. Jewish families come from all over the world and are paid to build homes in areas owned by Palestinians, their lovely homes and lifestyles subsidized by the government. The flag is raised and their neighbors are urged to get out while they can. When gestures of giving up land for peace are realized, the results are not positive and once again "divide and conquer" becomes the norm.
We visited in lovely Palestinian Christians homes, ate at their tables and heard their stories as well. They too must live in the boundaries established. When we asked them for their idea of a solution, the reply was,"Jesus." The very city where the Prince of Peace was born is surrounded by a wall. As one friend stated, "baby Jesus is in prison." And HIS voice of love is drowned out by louder voices of anger and hatred.
Because we all carried the cherished blue American Passport we were able to go everywhere we wished to go, staying away from areas where rockets red glare. But, the places we went the latter part of the week had NO other American tour buses. I came away wondering why there is a deliberate hiding of the reality of the horrible situation. Perhaps supporting tourism is paramount to sharing truth. And tourism is critical in keeping things afloat. The typical American tourist NEVER sees what we saw and if ever informed would NEVER support this type of man's inhumanity to man.
The pendulum has swung, the bullied has become the bully. What do we do with that information?
The Bible tells us and we believe that as times goes by the conditions on this planet will worsen, so we should not be surprised. BUT, it also tells us that the purpose of being God's child is to love HIM above all, and LOVE THY NEIGHBOR as thyself. Wasn't that the message all along? For the Hebrews? For us? Love Him, then show the WORLD who HE is by our behavior.
The citizens of the Holy Land have diluted the command to a LAW. A law they are finding impossible to obey. Have we?
I had a special conversation with a 40 year old Muslim man. (How great is that? ME? Just a simple granny from Oklahoma) He convinced me that he hates no one. He shared with me with tears in his eyes how his life has been torn apart, his house locked up so he cannot live on his own property. He works and pays very high rent for an apartment for his family in a part of Jerusalem approved by the officials. He is NOT free to come and go as he pleases. I asked him what would "fix" this situation. His reply, arms stretching wide and with a moan in his voice, "I want them (the government) to just leave me alone to live my life."
Oh, my. The desire for freedom truly is planted in the heart of every man by GOD.
International Peace Talks continue! I'm not sure the American mind can even begin to conceive the mind of the people involved in this mess. The problem is ethnic, religious, fear, pride, and a terrible history on both sides of the conflict. I certainly don't have simple answers to such deep complex pain.
I supposed what I do have is a renewed determination to LOVE GOD AND LOVE OTHERS. And when appropriate tell them about the Prince of Peace who is the ONLY one that can help that type of love become a real possibility in my own life.
And now that I think about it, that WAS the KIVU purpose all along, wasn't it?