This trip has been so much different than what I expected. But then, don’t expectations always get us into trouble? I knew it would be a lot of responsibility, time, planning, and work. I expected and looked forward to being awed by the land. I thought there would be a lot of excitement, a time to enjoy peace, bonding with John, and personal reflection time. But instead, I’ve had weaknesses exposed and deficiencies revealed. I’ve learned some easy things, and some hard things. The trip has highlighted the differences in how John and I think. I’ve been convicted.
I’ve had some moments (okay, days) that I’m not proud of: when the busy-ness and intensity of our schedule, and the silly little difficulties of not being able to read/speak/understand anything around me wore me down…when my fears manifested themselves in anger…when I didn’t know what to expect about *tomorrow*… I know I didn’t always react the way I should have. Regarding our differences, John is adventurous, willing to crawl into caves and stand on the edge. I’m not. He loves trying different foods. Me…not so much. He’s good with the spoken word; I’m better with written. He prefers socks and hiking boots. In this heat, I’d croak in socks and hiking boots. He likes the scenic route and I like to JUST.GET.THERE.ALREADY!
I don’t know why I’m surprised by my unmet expectations. The things I previously expected and looked forward to were all about me. Instead, God provided what He knew I needed, and blessed me to see more clearly what He sees: as wonderful as it is, Israel isn’t about land and places and antiquities. It’s about people: past, present and future – His creation, the ones He loves and longs to save.
One of those people is Ahmed. Lindy employs Ahmed, who is a Palestinian, to clean her house occasionally. He doesn’t speak a whole lot of English. He does an excellent job – moving all the furniture to sweep and mop and dust, checking and replacing light bulbs, hanging rugs out to air, etc.. Typically Shulu (our neighbor who is a Rabbi) picks Ahmed up on certain Friday mornings, and Ahmed first cleans their house. Then he comes to Lindy’s and cleans her house and afterwards, she drives him home. So, while we’ve been here, we’ve met and interacted with him and driven him home. It’s a bit complicated, though: since he is Palestinian, he has to have work papers to be able to work inside Israel, and he is only allowed to go through one checkpoint near his home. To take him home, we have to bypass a quicker, more direct way to his home because of his checkpoint limitation, then we actually pass his village in the West Bank, and drive him as close as we can get to his checkpoint, where he passes inspection and walks through, and then catches a bus that doubles back in a roundabout way to his village. It is complicated, and it has truly opened up my eyes to the fact that they have suffered, too, as a result of all of the border and ethnicity issues. He’s the same age as John, in fact – their birthdays are just a few weeks apart – and he’s cleaning homes for $70. Having him clean up after me is humbling, to say the least.
I’ll readily – and somewhat ashamedly – admit that I’m more comfortable in Jewish areas: Jewish neighborhoods, the Jewish quarter, going in and out of the more Jewish areas of the old city, etc. I tend to feel more comfortable as a woman when surrounded by Jews, as opposed to being surrounded by Muslims. I suppose it’s because I tend to think that the Jews’ devotion to God leads them to study the Torah and wear certain clothes and argue semi-amicably with their counterparts, whereas the radical Muslims’ devotion to Allah might lead them to hurt me. Some of that, I know, is a bit of pre-judgment on my part. But obviously, there is violence that is done and supported by Jews, and just as obviously, not all Palestinians or Muslims are terrorists.
During our eight weeks here, God has presented John and me with opportunities not just to see and learn the land, but to get to know and learn from people from all walks: with Shulu and Jacky (and their grown children, Gilead and Adi) and their ties to conservative Judaism…with Ahmed, a Muslim working within Israel’s laws and among Jewish people. And with the beautiful members of the church in Nazareth – who are of Arabic descent, living in a predominantly Muslim city inside a Jewish country – they are a minority within a minority. And then we’ve had numerous conversations with Dov and Moshe, Jews who own a biblical souvenir shop and bookstore in the Jewish quarter, and Mohammed, a Muslim who owns the juice bar deep in the alleys of the old city. Magdalena, our precious young friend from Romania longed to see the land of the Bible, so she spends her days caring for a 91 year old Jewish woman (and on the side helps to support mission efforts in Venezuela!) Then there’s our guide and friend, Tsvika, who is a secular Jew, and does not necessarily observe the Sabbath, but celebrates Passover and other Jewish festivals – and yet arguably knows more facts about Jesus’ life than a lot of my Christian friends. Our travel agent Lindy, who moved to Israel from her native South Africa in 1968, is extremely proud of her Jewish heritage, but hasn’t been to synagogue in thirty years. The brothers at the Palestinian car wash just past the checkpoint between Israel and the West Bank – well, there haven’t been many conversations, but a lot of gesturing and motioning and smiling (and talking louder, just in case that helps with translation 😉 …) who spend their days washing and fixing cars for Muslims as well as for Jews who live in Betar Illit, an orthodox Jewish settlement inside the West Bank (whereas many Muslims/Palestinians object strongly to the presence of Jewish settlements inside the West Bank.)
All of these people and their different situations have opened my eyes. I don’t know any answers to any of the border issues. Would it be overgeneralizing to say that we all overgeneralize these people, these issues? Haven’t we all, to some extent, pre-judged some people or situations, or at least have had some prior opinions without knowledge or experience? It’s true of me (another ugliness exposed), and I suspect it may be true of you, too.
I do know this, though, and am even more fully convicted of this after our time here – the solution to any issue of hate, prejudice, fear, long-held grudges and resentments is found in Jesus. If the life of every single person on this planet was concealed with Christ (if you can’t see me because I’m hidden within Him,) and if He truly sat on the throne of every heart – then the ugliness of earthly pride, anger, malice, hatred, jealousy, and bitterness would be dead and buried. If every single heart on every single side of every single issue was honest, compassionate, kind, humble, meek, patient – and if, like Him, we squashed our pride, considered others to be more important than ourselves…if we were all united in this love and purpose…if we were all dedicated to serving others rather than ourselves – then every single one of these issues would be resolved.
I’m going home with a more concrete knowledge that people who live here, there, anywhere – they are individuals, created by God and loved by Him. They are not simply “the Jews”, or “the Arabs”, or Muslims, or white or black or brown or wealthy or poor or secular or orthodox or conservative or left or right. As I passed women on the street wearing hijabs, I kept thinking – “God knows her heart just as much as He knows mine.” Driving through orthodox communities where men wear tall black hats and long black coats and have long side curls framing their faces – my thoughts were, “God longs to be the center of his life just as much as He does mine.” Even when I was a little uneasy in certain parts of the city, walking through groups and wondering if they were sneering at our “American-ness” – I thought, “Jesus loved and died for them, too.”
While I know the solution is easy, I also know what isn’t easy is communicating that message, and convicting and convincing hearts. But that is what I’m going home with – what am I going to do now with my conviction? How do I even begin to open the door with someone whose background, beliefs, and culture is completely different than mine? How am I going to communicate it – will I communicate it? I pray for the courage, ability, wisdom and opportunity to communicate it.
So: what I’m going home with is different than what I expected. I thought that when we boarded the plane to go home, my heart would simply be overwhelmed by the sites we’d seen, and the information we’d gathered, and by the knowledge that He walked here. And I have been overwhelmed and affected by these things! But I think more importantly, I’ve been humbled by my weaknesses. And what has affected my heart more than anything are the souls with whom we’ve interacted.
When we come here with groups, John repeatedly emphasizes that our purpose in being here is not simply to see the sites, but to focus on the Savior. Our interest is not just seeing where His feet trod, but how He changed the world with His message of love, hope, peace, forgiveness, submission, and devotion. The land has changed. As much as I want it to, Jerusalem doesn’t look like it used to. There is a highway running through the Jezreel Valley. Roots and floods and who knows what else have buckled the old Roman roads and shifted the foundations of what remains. Jet skis buzz around on the Sea of Galilee. But there is nothing different about that ancient message and its dynamic power to transform hearts and lives – God help me to not forget that. God help me to be brave enough to open my mouth and to pick up my pen. God help me to share the peace and salvation that He’s given to me. Tonight, I’m thanking Him for overruling my selfish expectations and instead, giving me what I needed.