On the last full day of filming in Israel, our very last stop was Shiloh, where the tabernacle stood and where the children of Israel would have gathered to celebrate Passover, Pentecost, and the Day of Atonement. But that day, all I could think of was that this is where Hannah prayed, deeply distressed over her longing for a child, and recognizing the similar yearning that my precious son and daughter-in-law are experiencing for a child of their own. With the backdrop of the encompassing low, rolling, rocky hills and a wide-open blue sky above us, the men traversed the area with eagerness and a sense of finality and accomplishment. But I could only wander around, thinking of Hannah’s sadness, and the sadness of my children so dear to me, and praying that the Lord would grant their desire. I read the words of 1 Samuel 1, and the words of Eli gave me some tranquility: “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him.” I thought – do I trust God even when it’s hard, and when it hurts, and when I don’t understand how it will turn out? Do I truly believe that He is able to do far more abundantly than all that I can think or ask? And my answer was – yes, I do.
Standing at the bow of our small boat and looking across to the eastern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, I thought about the apostles’ fear throughout the turbulent windstorm that threatened to capsize them. Jesus was physically in the boat with them. They had already seen His miraculous works – casting out demons, healing the sick, the blind, and the lame – they had even seen Him raise the dead. Yet the fact that they had witnessed these events with their very own eyes did not prevent them from being fearful and losing faith. I stood there, feeling a little bit disdainful of the apostles’ lack of faith. Then – I remembered my own fears and my own deficient faith. Yes – I knew that the Lord was “in the boat” with me – I had seen His mighty works in my life and in lives around me. But there were changes that I knew I needed to make in my life…private consequences I had been afraid to face, but had been plaguing me. Do I truly believe God when He tells me that He is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love? Do I believe that He can remove my transgressions from me, as far as the east is from the west? Do I really have faith that He can work things together for my good – even when they seem hopeless and I feel worthless? And my answer, standing at the bow of that boat, and again when we reached home, was – yes, I do.
Standing with my dear brothers in the cold, damp, crowded stone dungeon cell at Gallicantu and singing “He could have called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set Him free! He could have called ten thousand angels – but He died alone for you and me…” convicted my heart. Thinking of what Jesus endured that night – cruelty, scorn, hatred, betrayal – alone in a place like that, reminded me of His love and what He was willing to endure for me – and all of mankind. Have I responded to that love by proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in His name to all nations? And my answer was – not as well as I should have.
Walking atop the dry, hot, rocky mountain of Masada caused me to reflect on David’s desperate flight from his enemies, and the relief he must have felt while safeguarded in that stronghold. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge…” Do I truly consider God to be my rock and my fortress?
Seeing the surrounding desolate wilderness stretching away from Masada, I wondered what exactly Jesus encountered as He spent those forty days. Tempted by Satan, among wild animals – how did He endure the inevitable hunger and thirst and exhaustion and exposure?
Standing high at the top of Tel Jezreel and viewing the Jezreel and Harod valleys stretched out below, where centuries ago countless Midianites and Amalekites lay “like locusts in abundance” waiting to conquer Gideon’s small army of 300 valiant men, I questioned my own courage and willingness to let God use me in frightening ways.
How many thoughts and questions and considerations ran through my head as we walked over stones and pathways and streets in the land of Israel? How many times was my heart convicted with truth? How many times did I see evidence of the Bible’s accuracy? How could I have gone for so many years without visiting this beautiful land?
John had been to Israel and had studied there, and I witnessed how it changed him, both personally and in the way that he taught. But me? I’m a scaredy-cat and a homebody. I like routine. I’m boring. Money was always an issue. I can’t leave my kids. I WANT to travel and see things, but am I courageous enough to launch out? We had a dream of traveling to Israel together – not just to see and experience it ourselves, but to work on a video project that would bless and benefit others. But that dream seemed to be something that we would address someday in the future.
Then John was about to turn the big 5-0. How did this happen? We just left our twenties, didn’t we? We still had lots of places to go and things to do and people to see, but time was speeding along. Our parents’ health was changing – would this happen to us as well? This life truly is a vapor that is here for a little time and then vanishes. I think John and I both realized that if this was going to happen, we had to do our part to make it happen. We asked for help, we planned, and we prayed – a LOT – that God could use this project to tell His story and strengthen faith and convince both doubters and believers alike. And doors began to open.
Yes, I was still afraid (of the unknown, of being uncomfortable, of different cultures, of being carsick, of needing a bathroom in the middle of the desert, of getting sick, of not being able to keep up with the guys, of WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN.) I still had doubts. I had guilt about leaving our parents behind. I worried about the expense and I worried about the schedule. More than one person made (not-so-rational) comments about “blindfolds in Syria” and “aren’t you afraid?” But in the end, my fears were either unfounded or insignificant.
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
The trip changed my perspective on life – it changed me. It both softened and convicted my heart. It deepened my love for my Heavenly Father and it tremendously strengthened my faith in the truth of scripture. It bolstered my confidence that Jesus was who He said He was. These places are real. Those people we read about in scripture lived, breathed, loved, hurt, had friends and enemies, and had to make the same decisions that you and I make. This trip made the world seem not so large – knowing that every individual, every soul is valuable to God. Walking where He walked was truly a life-changing experience, drawing John and I closer together and setting us even more firmly on the path that leads to life eternal. Melodramatic, maybe – but all true.
We love to share this experience. We’d love for you to come with us someday. For those of you who have similar fears and concerns like I did, I hope you’ll take some of these things into consideration. Please – don’t let your fears get in your way. Don’t let this life slip through your fingers.
How safe is Israel? We are certainly aware of the state department’s travel warnings. Lindy Lazarow, our travel agent who lives near Jerusalem, says that Israel is absolutely safe, and she feels like the travel warning is purely political. Of course, there is always a possibility of something happening, just as it has happened recently in Paris, France and San Bernardino, California – and can happen anywhere. There are areas within Israel where racial and cultural tensions run higher, but we will not be traveling in those areas. I can personally attest to the fact that other than one slightly alarming taxi ride with an angry taxi driver, I have not once been afraid for our safety in Israel. There is a tremendous military presence everywhere you go. Tourism income is vitally important to Israel’s economy, so security is taken very seriously. We sincerely believe that fear should not be a factor in deciding whether or not to visit Israel.
No, you do not have to walk the streets of Jerusalem, or pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, or dip your toe in the Sea of Galilee in order to have a tremendous faith in our Heavenly Father. Thankfully, we can be in His presence, wherever we are. But there are wonderful blessings to be realized in the beautiful land where Jesus once lived. Long ago he told Peter to “launch out into the deep!” Though Peter had questions, he trusted his Lord, and the resultant blessings were countless. Launch out into the deep, and come walk with us where Jesus walked!