This is my account of my trip to Israel. Standard type is my attempt to just report what happened. Print like this, italic, is my personal reflections. Enjoy.
Sunday 7 June The pre-trip preparation meetings started tonight and concluded Thursday night. I arrived at the office of Life In Messiah about 2pm – plenty early. There were no official greeters so I just kind of nosed around until I found a bunk bed that I would use the next five nights. I thought that would give us all some time to know each other before we really got to know each other.
After the team of eight gathered, I realized that of the five males, I was the ancient one by ten to thirty years. I wondered how we would gel. The three ladies were closer to me in age, but there was that Mars-Venus thing to contend with. But at least I didn’t read any red flags on anyone.
After a great meal, we did a team evaluation/building event and then called it a night. I was tired.
Monday 8 June After an “on your own” breakfast, we gathered for our daily “focus meeting”. This meeting time was to be implemented every day we were together over the next month. It consisted mainly of the trip leader sharing how some selection of the Bible impressed him. However, once the trip began, we used a booklet prepared for teams doing exactly what we were doing – traveling to a foreign country as ambassadors of Jesus. It gave some guided reading and discussion questions. I really liked the discussions – to a point. But more on that later.
The rest of the day consisted of experts explaining how to share our beliefs, speak Hebrew, and apply portions of scripture in light of our trip. At the end of the day I was tired and stiff. I had a fairly good run Sunday, and I had sit about all of Monday. My body wanted some movement.
Tuesday 9 June Today went much the same as Monday. However, we took a field trip to Chicago where we visited a Jewish bookstore and a school for boys created by a specific Jewish sect. Both were pretty interesting. Later I worked on how I could communicate my beliefs to a Jewish person in an understandable and inoffensive way.
Wednesday 10 June During our morning language lessons, we learned that “Doo Doo”, pronounced like what a dog does by the curb, was a common nickname for “David”. That seemed to please everyone more than me. There was a lot of “Doo Doo” thrown around for the next few weeks. Our afternoon field trip took us to a Hillel house. It’s kind of like an oasis for Jewish college students. We were warmly welcomed, and the man in charge was candid with his believes and feelings.
We then walked on the University of Chicago campus. Each of us was to engage a person in conversation and look for an opportunity to appropriately share about our faith in Jesus. I met Mitch. He was really cordial, and, as conversation continued, became more open about his faith and frustrations with how he lived out his faith. We parted on a mutually appreciative note.
Thursday 11 June Today ended our lectures. I cannot express how antsy, sleepy, and overwhelmed I became during hour-after-hour of lecture. It was all good material. I was just not a good listener. Also, I have not shared how wonderfully we ate. The food was good and there was a lot of it! In any case, we depart tomorrow and the team seemed good: Lin, Cathy (logistics leader), Juanita, Todd, James, Israel (our leader), and me – Doo Doo.
Friday 12 and Saturday 13 June (the separation seems a little blurry) We flew to NY, and the plane ride from there to Israel was about ten hours long. I get real restless on long flights so I like get up frequently to stretch. An aisle seat works best for me. Six of the eight team members had aisle seats. Doo Doo was in the center of the plane. James, nicknamed King James, sat beside me. He was eager to share his faith in a style he called “the way of the master”. Its foundational act was to convince the person listening that they were horrible, sinful people who needed God. He had a basic talk with several tracts and optional analogies to aid him. I watched him talk to most of the people seated around him. None of them seemed too interested in professing their wickedness before arriving in Israel. I admired his zeal yet couldn’t help but wonder what this method did to people’s stereotype of Christians.
We arrived to a nearly vacant airport. It was Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath; few, if any, Jews were traveling today. We breezed through customs where they willing avoided stamping my passport due to my potential travel in Muslim countries. Security was sparse and relaxed compared to what I was expecting. Maybe I just didn’t see it. We quickly obtained our rental van and headed to the Messianic Jewish church service in Bersheeva.
Keep in mind that I had been awake nearly twenty-nine hours. I saw no way I was going to stay awake. But I became quite alert when I learned that this congregation had been stormed by over one-hundred Orthodox Jews just a few weeks ago. The Jews had volleyed curses and spit on the members and thrown the pastor in the baptistery. Other Jewish Believers across Israel offered concern and support. The act was reported to the police, but there is little hope anything will be done. It was a wonderful service, and I especially enjoyed meeting the people after the church service.
The streets of the town reminded me of a B&W western. The wind blew dust through the deserted streets and made ghostly noises as it passed through the tree branches. Everyone was indoors; it was Shabbat. However, when dusk fell, about 9:30pm, the streets, stores, and restaurants were bustling. We enjoyed a great meal, and I fell asleep just after 11pm on a mat thrown on the floor of the Bersheeva church building.
Sunday 14 June I slept until 10am – oh blessed rest. The morning started with a team member being upset and wanting to go home. I didn’t envy the trip leader as attempts were made to iron things out, which they were. We went grocery shopping because we planned to stay at this location for a few days. We offered Bibles in various languages to people in a public park as well as on the street. I was amazed how eagerly they accepted, even asked, for Bibles. I later discovered that many were displaced Christians from countries in Africa. That night we ate in a diner that had been bombed by terrorists – twice. I crashed onto my pad on the floor at 12:30am.
Monday 15 June I slept until 7:30am, but by 8:30am I had diarrhea. I stayed behind, close to the toilet. I typed, cleared my e-mail, sent e-mails back home, napped, read, studied some scripture relevant to where I was, and did a little stretching and exercise. I also purged my body of all offending material. I felt much better.
Tuesday 16 June We traveled quite a bit today. We visited Masada, where the Jewish zealots committed suicide rather than be captured. We traveled a bit further and tried the buoyancy of the Dead Sea (incredible). However, the combination of the high concentration of salts in the water and my over-used orifice (remember yesterday’s problem?) caused some very uncomfortable burning that distracted from the pleasure of the experience. Oh, did I mention that it was 104oF? Nearby we stopped at the area where David hid in caves as Saul was chasing him. There were three pools of cool water, each fed by a waterfall. A young Israeli woman, with a gun, was there to keep a protective eye on the children playing there. She had served her mandatory years in the military and was now working for a private security firm. I went to sleep tonight, my birthday, late and tired.
Wednesday 17 June We left early, packed for a three-day visit to Eilat, the most southern town in Israel, on the Red Sea. We passed by some remarkable natural wonders. We also stopped by the barbed wire at the Egyptian border. The Egyptian guard yelled “How are you?” from his tower. I replied in kind. It reminded me that there are good people on both sides of manmade divisions. We also stopped at David Ben Gurion’s home on a Negev-desert kibbutz. We arrived at our home, a youth hostel, before dark.
Thursday 18 June We were on the beach by 9am to hand out literature about a Christian meeting that Friday night. (They have the Friday night meeting as an introduction to the Saturday morning worship service.) We spent the remainder of the day working on some leased property that will be used by the Messianic congregation of Eilat. Late in the day we went to the Red Sea for some snorkeling in the wonderfully clear, cool, fish-filled water. It was so refreshing.
Friday 19 June We were working on the property by 9am. The leader was so pleased with our progress that he paid for our lunch at a steak house! It started with a vodka starter, went through an appetizer, meat, sides, and finished with dessert. I was stuffed and happy. We went back to work and stopped at 7pm, in time for the service at 7:30pm. There were about one-hundred people there, and the service was translated into five languages. Sudan refugees were there, and Chinese believers, who work on cruise ships, commonly attend. After the service there is a lot of interaction along with free food for everyone. I really enjoyed my time there.
Saturday 20 June We were on the road by 6:30am because we were to be in Tel Aviv by 10:30am for that congregation’s worship. We just made it. Members in attendance were mainly Russian Christians and Jewish believers. Service ended by 1:30, and we went out to eat with the pastor (ice cream after!), and then drove to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea near the Gaza Strip. It was after midnight by the time we drove back to Bersheeva, ate, and started some laundry.
Sunday 21 June After finishing laundry, repacking for a five-day adventure, eating breakfast, and attending to some personal hygiene duties that were overdue, we were on the road for the Galilee area. On the way, we stopped at Caesarea, the summer retreat of Herod, where Paul gave his defense to King Agrippa, Bernice, and Herod. It was an impressive place – not so much for what it is but because of what it was.
We then went to Karmiel where we will serve that congregation for two days. Karmiel is a planned city surrounded by Arab towns. It has abundant parks, beautifully unique buildings, and financial assistance to Jewish settlers. The believers there are planting a new congregation in this town, and I again experienced the stealth practices of being a Jewish believer. Revealing one’s belief in Jesus as Messiah can cause hardship on the person, family, and the entire congregation. The ladies on our team stayed overnight with members of the congregation while the men slept on the floor in the church building. (The guys had AC!)
Monday 22 June The church building is a remodeled car service station, and it looks beautiful. I sense that Karmiel is a wealthier city. Expectations of food, dress, and buildings can exceed middleclass Americans. We continued remodeling work by drywall repair, window work, painting, and cleaning. That evening we were taken to an overlook area of the city and watched the sunset over the Mediterranean. On the way home I learned about the differences between Calvinism and Armenian. I took some ten question test, and I am decidedly one of the two, but I don’t remember which one.
Tuesday 23 June We finished our construction work about 2:30pm and then had a meal together with the people of the congregation. What a wonderful thing to have “family” all over the world. We went to an operational kibbutz, enjoyed the swimming pool, and learned a lot about how a kibbutz works. The concept of common ownership is quite literal. Dirty laundry is dropped off and clean laundry is picked up at a central location. You do not always get the same clothes back that you take in, just the same size. Purchases are voted on. If you want a new toaster, then you take it to the group for a vote on whether you get it. Children did not sleep in their parents’ home; they stayed in group homes assigned by age. Meals were in a common dining room. The arrangement allows everyone to know each other quite well. We had a picnic lunch where I was able to talk to Rebecca, a daughter of the youth pastor. The family moved there from Brazil, a country she described as unsafe, and all of them learned Hebrew after they moved. She said not knowing Hebrew made school pretty difficult – academically and socially.
Wednesday 24 June We left at 7am and traveled to Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. We settled into a rent-by-the-day apartment with one bathroom. I slept on a couch in the living room – not the spot for solitude, peace, and rest. Quickly we took off to see some of the famous spots in this area: 1) the likely location of the Sermon on the Mount, 2) Capernaum – Simon Peter’s home town and its Synagogue where Jesus surely worshiped, and 3) various overlooks around the Sea of Galilee including one by the Syrian border. (landmine signs and all) Back at the apartment, we took some time to rest, read, and talk. The talk turned to whether babies and mentally handicapped people can go to heaven. A couple of the young men were firm that those groups were hell-bound. Grace wasn’t their strength. It was interesting how some people get all excited about arguing over things that are not our decision. Tonight we walked and prayed through the neighborhood where we will be distributing literature.
Thursday 25 June This morning we again walked the neighborhood where we will distribute literature in order to count mailboxes thus allowing us to know the number of handouts to prepare. After lunch we distributed material and talked to people who were interested in conversation. I fell asleep when I got back- slept until 7pm. We went to the city center where we put literature on cars, magnets on posts, and tried conversations with people. I talked with a Jewish believer from Canada who was looking for a congregation. He commented, “The Orthodox don’t much like me being Christian.” I got back to my living room sofa about midnight.
Friday 26 June We were up at 3:45am. Yep. We drove to Hyppos, in the Golan Heights, that had been a town of Decapolis. Situated on top of a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, it was destroyed by an earthquake and never rebuilt. It is currently having an “open excavation” which allows the public access to the site during the process. As the sun rose, we sat on the foundation of the original temple praying and singing. Then we strolled the ruins, experiencing the mosaic tile, cisterns, a marble alter, columns standing and fallen, a stone chair, and more. We had a picnic breakfast then headed back – for a nap! I awoke for lunch, then wrote in my journal, read, and gave a guy a haircut. After another awesome meal, we went out for dessert and got back about 1am.
Saturday 27 June We joined the congregation in Tiberius. I met Mrs. Leedy, who had hosted the congregation in her home when it first started. I met Ron & Edi who, each evening before they go to sleep, recall the people they met that day and pray for them. This is also the congregation where the pastor called Obama a wolf in sheep’s clothing. After lunch, we went to a busy intersection and handed out literature. I had a wonderful encounter with an Arab man, but it’s too long to recount.
Sunday 28 June After door-to-door distribution in a kibbutz, we spent some time on a beach of the Sea of Galilee. Of all the beaches, the one on the Mediterranean was the best, but the Red Sea by far had the best water – cool and clear. After we went back to the apartment, we began a discussion on what a disciple of Jesus looks like. Interesting. Then we did another walk through the neighborhood where we distributed literature praying for fruit from the effort.
Monday 29 June The topic for today’s focus meeting was “complaining”. It really hit me how wrong it is to complain because I don’t have anything to complain about! We had a chance to talk to a man working as a missionary in Israel. He shared his vision, his love for serving God, the lack of congregational support, and his sense of being alone. It broke my heart. It was a long ride back to Bersheeva, and it gave me time to think about his situation. I believe thousands of missionaries all over the world feel the same. We created mounds of dirty clothes and went to sleep.
Tuesday 30 June We walked into town today. It was good to just relax and see what it’s like around town. We also stopped at the place that some consider being the spot of Abraham’s well. Then we went to the beach to hand out literature. I decided to try to have conversations rather than just hand out stuff. It didn’t go that well, I don’t think. They were much more secular than I thought. God just isn’t of interest to them.
Wednesday 1 July This morning was pretty relaxed. We packed for our trip to Jerusalem, organized group items, and sent some e-mails. After a light lunch, I went into town again. This time I had some guys yell “Goy!” – a term that identifies me as a white person. I just ignored them because nothing good was going to come from walking over to them. That evening we drove to Tel Aviv for a Bible study. On the way we stopped at a BBQ like I’ve never seen before – we didn’t use plates, we ate on the table covering! I loved it. The Bible study was mostly Russian-speakers who were trying to escape drug addiction and prostitution. Pretty impressive.
Thursday 2 July We arrived at our lodging about 2pm. It is a hostel just inside the Jappa gate on the west side of Jerusalem near Herod’s palace. We visited the Israel museum, the Holocaust museum, viewed Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, and walked a Jewish cemetery. The Holocaust museum was the single most-moving event on my trip. I was entranced by videos showing the treatment of the Jewish people by Christians through various time periods. I was shocked and embarrassed and ashamed. When I asked a museum guide how she was impacted by working there. “It bothered me at first,” she said, “but unfortunately it doesn’t bother me at all now.” Then I walked into the room of names. Volume after volume of papers listing the victims of the Holocaust lined the walls. It was overwhelming.
Friday 3 July We walked the streets of the town seeing the excavated, ancient streets, Solomon’s wall, the Western (Wailing) wall, the Garden of Damascus, and the Muslim quarter. We ate a 4pm lunch at a Lebanese restaurant then wandered in the Jewish quarter. We went back to the hostel. Some people went to sleep, but I decided to go see the Western Wall at night. Awesome. We ate dinner about 9:30pm then went to bed.
Saturday 4 July By 9am we were dressed, packed, had breakfast and headed for the airport. It was unbelievable trying to get out of Israel. We answered questions and went through an interview with the director of security before we could go to our gate. It was good to get home. As soon as I could I went to a pizza place. It was great!