Israel day 7 – final day & the Syrian border

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I’m sitting on a runway here in Tel Aviv, Israel and its about 11pm local time.  We just wrapped up our final day here in Israel, and what a day it was!

We began the day on the Sea of Galilee in the coastal town of Tiberius. I woke up around 5:15am and got some early pictures of the sunrise (below). The first half of our day was spent touring the sites where Jesus ministered, the second part of our day was consumed with geopolitical briefings, specifically the Syrian threat, and the Golan Heights. We wrapped up our day in Herzliya, just outside of Tel Aviv at a restaurant and final dinner as a group before heading to the airport.

This morning began at a museum which housed a 2,000 year old Galilee fishing boat which the locals affectionately refer to as ‘The Jesus Boat.’  You can learn more about their amazing find here.  Next we drove to the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus delivered the sermon on the mount, and likely other sermons.  The Catholic church has stuck a small church on the hill (I know you’re shocked), but the area where He likely would have spoken – on the side of the hill – forms a natural amphitheater and it is untouched for the most part.  The Catholic church has done a amazing job of constructing a beautiful garden around the hill.  The whole area is really beautiful and it was nice to hear from Pastor Mark Smith (Cadiz, Ohio) discuss the beatitudes and the importance of reflecting outwardly the changed heart Christ makes within.

Next we traveled just a few miles around the Sea to a spot on the shore where Jesus is thought to have restored Peter in John 21.  We heard from Ashland University Chaplain Joe Maggelet about how God “kicks us in the butt” sometimes because He loves us.  After a great message, we splashed our faces in the water where He walked, and cast a few stones into the Sea.  The mood was reflective but upbeat as we walked off the shore.  It was at that point where some of us were led into a small chapel on the way up the hill, just off the shore. Inside was a woman praying – it was a very small chapel with a domed ceiling – and it was obvious she was upset.  I came to find out later that Pastor Smith had just comforted her in prayer before a few more of us stepped inside. As more of our group filed in, our tour guide Uri began to sing ‘How Great Thou Art’.  Soon we all joined in.  The acoustics in that chapel were such that the harmony resonated the sounds of what could have been mistaken for a choir of 120 members! I don’t know what happened in that moment, but it gave us all goosebumps. Perhaps the Lord sent us there to simply exalt His name, but I have a feeling that our spontaneously song ministered deeply to that lady who neither spoke english, nor knew any of those who were singing.  It was a special experience.

Upon departure from the shore, we headed to Capernaum where we saw the foundation stones of Peter’s home, and the foundation stones of the synagogue where he likely spent time listening and teaching the Word.

Once we had wrapped up our time around Galilee, we headed up north into the Golan. Uri told us that the Golan Heights are regarded as Israel’s wild west. There is wine country, there are sports, camping, hiking, and so on.  This is where Israelis go to relax and have fun. However, its also the part of the country which directly borders Syria.  Syria is currently  engaged in a bloody civil war, with militant Islamic groups (perhaps including ISIS) pouring into the country in order to leave their mark and increase their following.

Our destination was a kibbutz on the northern border.  When we arrived, our gang jumped in three land rovers and began to climb through the anti-tank trenches and between mine fields which the Israelis had laid down since their victory in the 6-Day and the Yom Kippur Wars (ironically the vast majority of remaining land mines from that time are Syrian, not Israeli, there are thought to be around 1million of them). On a ridge which looks down onto the Golan, and into Syria, we heard for ourselves the gunfire between Syrian rebels and the Syrian government. On my left I saw the Syrian flag, and the right an Israeli flag.  It was all so close, and so tangible that I’ll never forget that view and the reality of how dangerously close to the border this northern situation is.

After that we ate an amazing lunch at the kibbutz and headed for south toward Haifa and Tel Aviv, crossing the River Jordan on our way. As we ate dinner together in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya, we were all asked to give the top “aha moment” for each of us this week.  Many of us had so many that it was difficult to nail down just one.  I spoke about how the trip impacted me in three ways: spiritually, emotionally, and from a knowledge/learning perspective.  My biggest “aha” moment was easy to pin point – it was hearing the lady from southern Israel whose kibbutz was under constant fire.  Her resolve was heroic, and no one could have left that meeting unchanged.  It deeply touched me and I’ll never forget it.

One of the really unexpected blessings of this trip was the amazing camaraderie that our group shared with one another. In fact, Uri, our tour guide, and group leaders from AIEF/AIPAC said they’d never seen or been a part of such a special group.  It was a very deep and meaningful bond between all the travelers. The joking, the laughing, the love was unusual for such a trip, and our guides were unusually touched and emotional as we prepared to disembark.  When something like this happens, 8 special days, it’s hard to explain, but everyone felt it and the discussion turned to how this could have happened.  Some think that perhaps it was because we came in the midst of war – when Israel is being slandered in the international community and media, 12 Americans came and toured the country, lending support to generals, businessmen, IDF soldiers, wounded veterans, patriotic journalists with consciences, and ordinary people whose lives have been devastated by the thugs from Hamas.

One staffer, Becky, who helped arrange our trip put it well, “in order to really know a people and their land, you really have to come meet those people and walk their land.”  That’s certainly true, and it was an extra comfort to know God was walking with us.

I’m thankful for the opportunity, and especially thankful for the scores of people who prayed for me during my absence.  That meant more than you can know, and its the single most important factor that I attribute to such a safe and successful trip.

“Until next year in Jerusalem”  …. Soli Deo Gloria!

PJW

 

Israel day 6

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It’s about 5am local time here at the Sea of Galilee and I’m pretty much wide awake. The sun isn’t quite out, but there’s no way I’m going to miss a sunrise in this place!

Day 6 involved a lot of travel and a lot of history and geography.  As you might recall, we arrived into the northern part of the country the night before and stayed in Tel Aviv – right on the beach, I might add.  Sunday morning, day 6, we got up and did several things in Tel Aviv that were interesting.

First we went to see the Israeli Independence Hall, which sits in a former museum, and former home of the first Mayor of the city – ironically the first Mayor’s name was “Meir”, so he was effectively “Mayor Meir”…and to make things worse, he could usually be seen writing a female horse…a mere!  To cap it off (yes there’s more) the name of the horse?  You guessed it! Mere!  Mayor Meir meandered Tel Aviv mounted on Mere the mere.

Tel Aviv is really unlike Jerusalem or any of the other cities in Israel.  It was founded by 60 families who left the ancient city of Jaffa, which is just outside Tel Aviv, and bought the land (then a plot of sand dunes) from the Ottoman Turks for 600,000 gold pieces (I have no idea how much that is in today’s dollar) around 1909ish.  Their goal was part of a vision of a man named Weis whose inspiration was Theodore Hertzel (the founder of the Zionist Movement), which specifically was to plant a city that was a Jewish New York.  They wanted wide streets, modern amenities, and a thriving economic hub.  Today, that is exactly what Tel Aviv is.

One of the things you learn at Independence Hall in Tel Aviv is how the Jewish Nation State came together in 1948. I won’t be able to do it justice, but the basics are this…  The leader of the people at the time was a man named Ben Gurion (who their airport is named for), and the timing of the formation of the state came upon the heals of the holocaust, and the ending of WWII.  There was a thirst by the Jewish people to come back to their homeland, and there was an international recognition at the U.N. that the Jewish people should have a place in Palestine to call home.

The British previously held the land and were now withdrawing. So the U.N. took a vote on giving Jews a partitioned part of the land of Palestine (that is the Roman word used for the land of Israel).  The members of the U.S. voted to do this, with most everyone voting either in abstentia or in favor of the plan – only the collective Arab states voted against the resolution. There is more nuance to this, but that is the gist.

Ben Gurion and leaders of the Jews declared their independence literally as Britain was pulling out of the region – the timing was well executed. Unfortunately, the next day they were attacked by all 5 of the surrounding Arab states….the next day!  So as they sat in Independence Hall they knew that the hour was grave, and that the future was uncertain. Yet there was hope, and courage to do what they needed to do, and for the first time the Jewish people declared their independence.

One of the things that will strike you, perhaps, when you look at my pictures of Tel Aviv (which is loosely translated “old-new” to signify Theodore Hertzel’s and Weis’ dream of creating something new from what was their thousands of years before, and what had always been their dream) is the fact that it is not simply a city of sand dunes.  It’s one of the most modern cities in the region, and a thriving metropolis.  Microsoft, Google, and many others have R&D sites here.  The Intel chips in your computer, flash drive technology, smartphone chips, surface to air missile defense, and so many other technologies we live with each day were pioneered (and in some cases manufactured) in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv itself is densely populated. It’s so dense that there aren’t even 400,000 people in the immediate city’s borders.  Real estate is at a premium, and because there’s no place to go but up, many tall buildings and cranes dominate the skyline.  The greater metro area is sprawling with suburban communities that promise the good life to technology experts and business entrepreneurs, with several million people calling this metro area home.

Before we left Tel Aviv we visited a trauma center that deals with all the aftermath of the constant rocket fire into the country. Here in Israel, and in the region as a whole, you essentially have an entire generation of people under the age of 25 who have never known a time without the need to run to a shelter due to rockets. This creates a massive chunk of the population (they were saying 10% or so) that suffers from a form of PTSD.  However, as our AIEF guide Becky rightly noted, its not really “post” trauma, its “ongoing” trauma.  The lift that has to be done here is enormous, and it isn’t simply inside Israeli borders. One of the things the folks we listened to continually brought up was the people of Gaza, and what they must be suffering without the ability to get treatment for trauma.  All told, its taking a massive toll on the people here in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.  The entire region has a generation of men and women who are scarred from growing up in this way.

Next we went further north out of the city to visit an Israeli Youth Village. The Youth Village concept/movement is an Israeli success story, and was really a heart warming and interesting place to visit.  You can read more about that concept online, but the gist of it is to take in children who are refugees from all around the region and grow them up in an “institution that has been de-institutionalized.”  What that means is that they try and imitate the family atmosphere and a normative life as much as they can without making kids feel like they are just being processed through a boarding school until they reach 18.  It’s “a deal/promise for life”, they stressed. And its this trust and this promise that actually leads to great independence and success. There are numerous success stories here in Israel who’ve graduated from this community (so to speak) – including three commanding colonels in the IDF in Gaza during this past war.

In a war-torn area the need for innovation and investment in future generations was the hallmark of the Village concept as well as the trauma center we visited earlier in the day.

From there we headed to the northern border with Lebanon.  The drive was very beautiful as we snaked our way through the mountainous region of Galilee.  Village after village in these mountains lay amongst vegetation similar to the Biblical time period.  There was wild hyssop and fig trees growing alongside the road, and the trees weren’t re-planted evergreens (as in the southern part of the country).  The region is  simply beautiful. After some time spent on the border discussing the very real, and quite astounding threat of Hezbollah, we continued our trip north to Tiberius where we ended the night. I won’t get into our briefing here, but needless to say, it gives you goosebumps to look down one hill onto several villages that you know for a fact are housing thousands of rockets all aimed in your general direction!

Our next stop, as I mentioned, was to be Tiberius which is on the Sea of Galilee.  As we headed down into the valley from the mountains the views were simply amazing.  The first time I took in the view of the Sea of Galilee from the bus it was as if my breath was taken from me, and an emotion quickly arose that choked me up. The combination of the spectacular view and the knowledge that the Lord Jesus’ ministry was all around me finally settled upon my mind in one instant.

Coming down from the mountains around the Sea of Galilee into Tiberius felt like coming home to a beautiful vision.  Hard to explain what that means. As awe inspiring as the views were, there was also a sense of calm and familiarity or comfort, perhaps, with what I was taking in.  It relaxed me to see it with my own eyes and realize how beautiful it is here, and how very peaceful it would have been to daily gaze around you and call this home.

This has been a bit of a long post, and today – in the coming hours of day 7 – we’ll be spending the first half the day looking at some key sites where Jesus ministered.  I’m really excited about this, and can’t wait to tell/show you how it went.

Until then, enjoy some pictures from today’s adventure!

Soli Deo Gloria

PJW

Israel day 5: the Dead Sea and Masada

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First of all, let me say from the outset that today was a much more relaxed day from a policy perspective than we’d had in the past 4 days. We started day five by leaving Jerusalem and heading easy toward the Dead Sea. Before we spent time at the Dead Sea, we went to Masada, the great fortress mansion of Herod dating back over 2,000 years.

The fortress was amazing. What’s most amazing is how they were able to keep water in the fortress in the middle of the desert. Herod had baths, lavish storehouses of food for his soldiers, and huge palace-like living quarters for his commanders (probably the only way he’d be able to get someone to enjoy living in the sweltering desert!).

From Masada we went to the Dead Sea, which I learned the Jews here call “The Salt Sea.”  I opted to try and “float” in the Sea, which is possible because of its 36% mineral content.  Trying to just sit down on the bottom of a shallow part of the Dead Sea is nigh impossible.  You try and just get pushed over by the buoyancy of the water.  It’s really strange.  But it was a good experience, and really need to visit the lowest place on Earth.

When you reach down and scrape the bottom of the sea you bring up sand-like crystals of what you soon realize are large chunks of salt.  Another interesting thing about the Dead Sea is that because its the lowest place on earth, the UV rays from the Sun have a much harder time reaching down that far, and therefore it is much harder to get a sun burn…go figure!

After the dead sea we headed back toward Jerusalem only to sling shot up toward Tel Aviv, where it was our plan to get dinner with a former member of the Israeli National Security Committee/Cabinet.

When we arrived in Tel Aviv (it took us around 2.5 hours from the Dead Sea), we immediately realized that this city was much different than Jerusalem. I think that from the pictures below you’ll immediately realize what I mean.  Tel Aviv is like the NYC of Israel.  But in truth, a more accurate description would be to picture the upper west side of Manhattan, add non-violent gang-related graffiti, and an amazing beach and you have Tel Aviv.

Our dinner tonight (it’s 1am here right now), was really interesting.  The expert we spoke with gave us the low down on the Iranian nuclear issue, and I learned a lot about the structure of Iran’s government and their geopolitical goals as a nation and religious goals as a people, among many other things.  The discussion was really good – the food was probably on par with the discussion!

I’ve mentioned this before, but I really came away from this dinner believing that there really is no diplomatic hope for permanent peace in our time in the Middle East.  The agenda of Iran – the Shiite agenda, if you will – is not going to ever stop. Eventually there has to be war for them to achieve their goals (establishment of world wide caliphate).  But perhaps that it is a discussion (a much longer one) for another day.

Right now I’m going to hit the hay, and leave you with some pics from the Dead Sea, Masada, and Tel Aviv.

Israel day 4: the Shabbat

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It’s close to 12:30am here in Jerusalem and we’ve just wrapped up a traditional Friday night Shabbat meal with some great people here in David’s City.  The meal included several stages of food, blessings, readings from the Torah, songs, prayers, and kind play by play explanations from our hosts (BTW: all pics from the day are at the bottom).

The meal was a hybrid of food that our hosts, the Rivka’s, had prepared personally or had catered in for the evening.  Three of their ten children were with us last night, two of which were still in the Army and had been in Gaza recently completing the military campaign against the Hamas Terrorists.

If you’ve never had a traditional Shabbat Meal the easiest way to sum up the thought is in the word Remembrance.  I would spend more time on this here, but there are too many other thoughts and events to relate right now.  This meal was not the Passover meal, but rather a Friday night sabbath meal which the Jews celebrate every week. It’s a time to stop, and relax, to be still and “know that I Am God” so to speak. For an older post on the parallels between the Passover and Christ our Sacrificial Lamb, click here. 

Before I go much further in describing the day, I just have to note that one of the things that continues to leave its mark on me is how our hosts or speakers are continually saying “thank you for coming to Israel, thank you for being here.”

Despite the violence, the rockets, the mortars we’ve come here, and its meant a great deal to these folks on the ground – people from all walks of life.  Not a one has missed the opportunity to pull us aside and with profuse words coming from the heart say “thank you.”  What does one say to that?  They know we speak with people who vote for Iron Dome funding that saves their lives, and the lives of their children.  It’s a small thing for us to be over here compared to what they are going through.

One former IDF officer looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you for coming at this time, its very brave and it makes us feel stronger.”

You don’t just walk away from these encounters unchanged.  I was moved to tears more than once during the day.

This evening was more of the same. The hospitality and the love has been simply amazing.

Before dinner we went to the Western Wall (the Wailing Wall) again, and this time the atmosphere was very different than it was earlier in the week. Tonight it was a highly energized crowd – with many people there! The songs, the prayers, the smiles and the dancing all indicated a people who were in the midst of a celebration.

The time of prayer at the wall was, again, just wonderful. How do I describe something like this? It is like a deep breath, or a long cool drink in the midst of an intense sports contest.  It is refreshing and renewing – it refocused me once again on why I’m here and who my God is and what He has done.

Now I realize I’m I’m starting at the end and moving backwards…so bear with me. Earlier in the day we met with two groups and then a lady who is part of a Kibbutz in the south of Israel.  It is the south that is getting shelled today by the terrorists from Hamas.

The first organization was called ‘Shalva’ which means “peace of mind” in Hebrew and finds its origin in Ps. 123:7 were the word “prosperity” can be translated “peace or mind” or “tranquility.” UPDATE: Our tour guide wrote an article in the Jerusalem Times about our visit – HERE.

Shalva was simply an amazing experience.  It is a huge Israeli success story about a man and his wife whose first child was normal and healthy until he was vaccinated for Diphtheria and just got a bad strain of medicine which resulted in blindness and deafness.  This is the man who gave us the tour yesterday. His energy was infectious; his passion for Israel and for children brimmed over from every word used to describe their mission here. The story is that instead of just coping, the parents (founders of Shalva) took him to New York and found treatment at the Lighthouse.

We were able to meet this an amazing young man – probably 38 or so now if I had to guess. His is passionate about politics and world affairs.  He’s met President Bush, and can’t stand Obama, although he is thankful as all Israelis are, that the U.S. has stood by Israel in this most recent conflict.  He also asks a ton of questions via a sign language method where he places his hands in another’s and impresses Hebrew alphabet shapes into the other person’s hands in order to convey his thoughts. It’s very cool. The entire center is in itself a blog post. Needless to say, I was very moved by their heart for those who are needy.  They said “we’re just fulfilling the biblical mandate to care for those who are feeble.”  I include it here so you can see the fullness of the scope of this trip – we were meeting with parts of this society that were conveying the diverse culture of innovation here.

In conclusion on Shalva…They did such an amazing thing that the government has come to them and asked them to do it nationally.  They’re now building a $50million facility on 7 acres in the middle of the city of Jerusalem.  7 acres is a gigantic amount of land considering what they have and how much of a fight it is over every single pebble over here.  Pictures from our time there are below.

Next we met with former IDF soldiers who are working to help assimilate wounded soldiers back into society and a normal life.  It’s one wounded soldier helping out another.  To listen to their backgrounds really paints a picture of what the mentality is over here, ad how these men view their work and their country.  To hear the heroic tales of their bravery on the front lines, but then also in supporting and lighting a fire under these other wounded soldiers to press on, was just amazing.

One of the things that is key for these IDF Soldiers that stood out to me was how they take teams of wounded soldiers and go to the hospitals right away after a soldier is hit.  They come alongside their parents (with their own parents coming with them!) and help them get the best doctors, describe the rehab process, and give them hope for the future.  All the while promising not to leave until their process is done…that will be years considering the effects of PTSD on these guys and gals.

After meeting with the former IDF guys, we had what was probably the most intense and raw meeting of the day with a lady whose Kibbutz we had been scheduled to visit that morning.  We were unable to travel to the south where her village is because of the rocket fire that started up and actually wounded two people near the entrance to the village. So she came to us – leaving her 15 year old son to watch the house.  She was nervous and very tightly wound to say the least.

During her talk he goal seemed to just tell us about what life was like on the southern border with Gaza.  She did this by simply telling us her last 29 days during operation Protective Edge, and the fact that for their Kibbutz this reality had been haunting them since March when random rocket fire and mortars had been landing in their area.

One of the great things about Israel’s Iron Dome technology is that it has an over 90% success rate – its just an incredible system.  However, because it costs well over $60,000 per missile (vs. the $500 rockets Hamas is launching most of the time) to take down these rockets coming from Gaza, the IDF doesn’t take down every single one – they take missiles down that aren’t heading for population areas and are landing in “open fields.”  The truth is though – for those living in the south especially  – that the open fields are their gardens and back yards sometimes.  The stress these people are under was written all over this lady’s face.

As she began to describe her day to day life and some of the personal affects the last few months have taken, the toll was evident.  The meeting ground to a halt at one point from the raw emotion of what was being conveyed, and we all stopped and prayed over her.  Not a dry eye in the place.

Yet, she continued on.  She pulled up her Facebook account to show the village, her friends, her life and we saw first hand mortars in gardens and backyards, and began to realize the fears now of underground tunnels popping up in the middle of their homes or schools.  How do you ward off this fear?  She said she represses it as best as possible, but it is very hard.

The obvious question when you read things like this without being here is: why stay?  The answer was given to me by our tour guide (a former IDF soldier himself who was actually in mid-town Manhattan during 911) “you don’t leave because this is our home.  If she were to leave, and go north, and then shelling started there, what then? Does she pack up her home, leave again? When does it end???  No.  This is our home, we don’t leave, we solve the problem as best we can and we live our lives as best we can (paraphrase).”

This is the resilience of the Israeli people, and that was my experience from yesterday.

 

Israel Day 3: It is the Heart that Matters

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It’s 6am here in Jerusalem.  I’m taking stock of what I’ve seen, heard, and the conversations I’ve had on this trip thus far and I am struck to the point of tears this morning at one simple reality: It is the heart that matters above all else in the affairs of man.

Yesterday we met with Jerusalem Post journalist Herb Keinon who offered an insiders view of Prime Minister Netanyahu from his years covering Israeli politics, and traveling oversees and around the country with him.  Then we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum here in Jerusalem.

The Yad Vashem experience was led by a tour guide who asked a lot of questions in order to convey her ideas and the thrust of the museum – perhaps it was just her style, but it was a good way to open up the lid a little and get people thinking about the deeper issues surrounding not only the Holocaust, but hatred and killing in general. The questions that summed it all up were: How could human beings do this to other human beings? What is it that happened inside their minds and hearts? What is the genesis of this grotesque defect? What can be done to stop it in the future?

Hold that thought…

After Yad Vashem, we had lunch with Brig. General for the IDF Reserves Nitzan Nuriel.  The lunch was nothing short of fantastic.  Nuriel is an amazingly candid and heroic man.  His vision of survival, optimism, and hope for future Israeli generations was clearly what surfaced during our time together.  He exuded strength, good naturedness, and resolve.  In short, this was one of the greatest leaders I have ever met in person.

During our conversation with the General, we asked many questions.  The dialogue was great – as it has been all week here in Israel.  And Nuriel seemed to echo what Keinon had said earlier in the morning, namely that long term peace and long term solutions to living in peace are elusive, and frankly probably not the way to focus all one’s efforts.  Living life to the fullest and best in-between conflicts is what counts, said Nuriel. What do we do with that time?  In the context of why he has hope for the future, Keinon put it this way, “Israel is remarkably good at finding solutions to short term problems.”

When you approach the problems these men are describing about Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon, Iran, Syria, the border with Jordan, and on and on, you come to quickly realize there is no easy solution. They are dealing with people who are not playing by the same rules.  A member of Hamas has one goal in mind: exterminate the Jews. If they die trying, so much the better – they aren’t afraid to die, because of all they’ve learned about their supposed rewards in the afterlife.  YET, many palestinians who live in Gaza or the West Bank simply aren’t as militant.  They want a life of their own, and they are people with rights as well.  Israelis, more than anyone I know, understand the fundamental gritty truth that Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs etc. are human beings with families, lives, and souls.

The rock and the hard place are coming into focus, are they not? How do you live next to people and sit across the negotiating table with people who want to kill you because you’re a Jew.  They are completely unreasonable – they are terrorists.  Yet, there are millions and millions of men, women, and children whose lives are at stake and if you come from a Jewish background, there’s no way you’re going to wantonly kill innocents in any battle – even to defend your own people.  This is a nation of people defined by the holocaust, and that means it has been indelibly marked on them the fact that all people are human beings – just as they are.  That is one of the impressions, by the way, that one learns from Yad Vashem.

Making it all Make Sense

In the evening we had the privilege of meeting with three start-up businessmen and women who were success stories here in Israel.  It was a great dinner at a fun Moroccan restaurant in the Center City portion of Jerusalem.  As fun as it was to meet them, I was even more moved by a meeting that occurred just prior with a Palestinian Christian Pastor. I won’t tell you his name because he’s suffered enough persecution and I’d like to protect his privacy.

This young pastor was about my age – mid 30’s – and is on the front lines of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Palestinians – Muslims.  He has been beaten, had his church bombed, had his friends harassed and on and on.  But he still continues to preach.  What does he emphasize?  Loving your enemy. Why? Because this is what Jesus taught, yes, but how is he able to do it?  Because His heart has been changed radically by God. 

And…his ministry is flourishing. People are coming to Christ.  Interestingly enough, it is this idea of “love” and an understanding of mutual humanity that bridges gaps on an interpersonal basis even among secular Jews and Palestinians.  The entrepreneurs we listened to last night confirmed that as well.  But the difference between common decency and the radical nature of Jesus’ love is that one promotes harmony until the other party wrongs us, while the other – the love of Jesus – helps us love people while they wrong us.

Why did men mass murder other men and women?  Why do members of Hamas blindly hate and target Jews – sacrificing their own citizens in order to do this?  These questions are deep, but not as deep as the answers to how these problems are solved.  If we acknowledge the depth of our sin and fallenness as humans, that is the starting point.  That is the obvious answer to Yad Vashem.  But what is the answer to the second question?  How is this nature overcome?  How is hatred and ignorance overcome?  By the love of Jesus Christ.  

This is a supernatural love, an alien love, a love not found naturally in the corrupt hearts of man. It is also a gracious love, a love which God has shed abroad in the hearts of men and women who share a faith in Christ.  For those who are Christians, we need to understand that the ultimate answers to the difficult questions of our time both here and at home, begin not at the military, political, or diplomatic level, but in the hearts of mankind.

Pictures from Day 3 below:

Israel day 2

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We started the day today hearing from professor Reuven Hazan from Hebrew University. Mr. Hazan gave us an overview of the political/government system here in Israel. It was extremely insightful and very enjoyable. Israel is a Parliamentary democracy and, unlike the U.S., elects it’s governing body nationally and not by districts – in fact, the names of candidates aren’t on the ballot, only the party names. Vote for a party and you get the whole ball of wax – every candidate that the party chooses to install.

After each election the parties are allowed to send to parliament a certain number of candidates based on the percentage of what their party received from voters nationally.

After this morning session we toured the old city which included many of the holy sites you’ve likely heard of before.  These included the temple mount, the wailing wall (western wall), the church of the holy sepulcher and the room Jesus was believed to have eaten his last supper in.

For me, walking up the temple mount, knowing that Jesus had walked on those stones, and taught in that place, and that Peter had likely delivered his sermon in Acts 2 from that spot, was indescribable.  The best way to describe it would probably be to coming home.  A tremendous peace and amazement that lay unsettled in my gut – until the prayer at the western (wailing) wall whereupon I felt like for the first time in my trip I had met God in this place.  Mostly I attribute this to taking in all that I had seen, and then getting to come in prayer to the Lord.  When one pastor asked what I had prayed about, I told him that my entire mindset was dominated by thoughts of “come back quickly, Lord.”  I say that because there is an overwhelming sense – for me at least there was – that this is where it all took place.  And you want it to happen again.  You want Him to come again and to consummate His kingdom.

All the graves alongside the road leading up to the old city with the Mt. of Olives on the left etc. are there because they want a “front row seat” as our tour guide put it, to the coming of the Messiah —- now jokingly he said that the Jews first question will be “this your first time to Jerusalem?”  LOL!   For me, that resonated on a deeper level.  You see this wide swath of grave stones/head stones there laid out at the base of the Kidron as it wraps around toward the valley of Gehena and you realize they’re like seats in a movie theatre waiting for the great act of world history to sweep across the planes of that desert region and call them up to either judgment or to life everlasting.  Regardless, this is going to be the “place to be” so they say.

All of this sense, this feeling, comes to a nexus at the wall – at the time of prayer.  And needless to say it is very special.

We had several meetings after this.  One with a humanitarian activist from the Palestinian perspective, another with the leader of the Labor party opposition in the Knesset, and lastly we had dinner with an amazing journalist who is an Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, Israeli.  Crazy combination!  But that Palestinian perspective has been interesting.  Even the Palestinians we spoke with are against the Hamas, they think of Hamas as a terrorist group, and think of Barak Obama and John Kerry as closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood – at at the very best, empowering the Muslim Brotherhood!

Despite this sentiment toward Obama and Kerry, the Israelis and Palestinians we have met have been very very hospitable toward Americans and have nothing but good things to say about our country in general.  In fact, there hasn’t been an elected official, professor, journalist or expert of any kind that has not gone out of their way to thank us for coming at this time to show solidarity with Israel.  I can’t begin to describe how amazing it is to receive that kind of message from these men and women who have their lives in danger from terrorists every day.

Now, some of you have asked about my safety, and many are praying for me – thank you!  I want you all to know I’m safe, and couldn’t be enjoying this time more if I tried.  We’ve talked openly with people on the street, and because there has been a ceasefire for over 24 hours now (observed), we’re in good shape.  No rocket sirens thus far.

I’m pasting some pictures below of what I saw today.  This is only a sample, of course, but hopefully you’ll get a sense for what we saw and did today.  It was an amazing day.  The Israelis, I am learning, are a very courageous people.  Their political system is diverse, they have a unique outlook on life, they are surrounded by enemies, and they’re a beacon of freedom and morality in this part of the world.  It makes all the sense in the world, therefore, to stand by them in their efforts to not only exist as a nationstate (something Hamas’ charter puts them diametrically opposed to), but to thrive and to lead this part of the world out of the darkness of terror and radical Islam.

Several more amazing days in front of me.  If I went into everything I learned in each session and at every stop, these blogs would be way too long!  But needless to say, this trip is so well rounded that one cannot come away without a very thorough understanding of the geopolitical, religious, historical, moral, and military significance of this place.

Until tomorrow…Soli Deo Gloria!

The Last Super
The Last Super
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives
Dome of the Rock, Temple Mount, Mount of Olives
The Temple Mount
The Temple Mount
Church of the Holy Sepulcher
Church of the Holy Sepulcher

 

Israel day 1

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This is day one of my AIEF (American Israeli Education Foundation) trip. I’m typing this from the plane (no internet yet on this Boeing 777 – only four craft in their 777 fleet have wifi…seriously) and we haven’t yet landed. It’s 9:45am eastern and we didn’t take off right away as scheduled due to a problem with the plane not wanting to accept fuel – obviously that wasn’t very obliging of their aircraft…So we switched planes. The result was a relaxing 2+ hour delay in Newark’s very nice airport. Now that we are on the way and somewhat rested, the anticipation for the day is beginning to build.

Most of this first day will be spent traveling and getting settled in. So not much to report. But the group of folks in traveling with (13 of us I believe) is a great and diverse group of men and (1) women. Mostly people from the Midwest who grew up with cold winters, fall football, and Christian faith backgrounds.

The several pastors who came with us include Tim Throckmorton, a fellow Ohioan, who has been my seating companion on each leg of our trip this far. Tim is from the Circleville area and pastors a church of about 500 folks.

There are also several politicos along for the adventure. My good friend Gregg Keller is on the trip. Gregg is a Missouri boy, and got his big break in politics working for former U.S. Senator Jim Talent.

I’m hoping to be able to share some of the journey here as we go. All my posts will come after events or the day following, for security reasons. Some will simply be pictures and others a mix (so long as the app I’m using doesn’t flake out on me!).

UPDATE: 30 min until Tel Aviv (from the journal, transposed)

The sense from all the men I’ve talked to on our trip is that this is a once in a lifetime/bucket list type of trip. A real privilege.

Of course the accommodations and hospitality are all first class, so in a superficial sense that is what is meant. But in a deeper sense, everyone knows that soon they will be walking on ground walked on by their Savior. And what that may feel like is yet unknown.

All Christians long for the Day He returns, and we feel and sense this desire from within us from God’s Spirit. So I wonder if there is some of this sense coming alive in our small party. As if setting foot in Jerusalem and Galilee were going to bring His Day and His presence nearer. The sense perhaps can be likened to that great joy one feels when a friend is born again. A touch of eternity is nearby…

Humans are designed for more than the temporal. We are beings created for an eternal God. When one comes alive from the dead it is a reminder of the eternal, the weightiness of these realities is more tangible to us in those moments.

So also, perhaps, we glimpse what the Spirit is reminding us of as we contemplate Israel, and that is namely this: we are here for a purpose, on a mission, grounded in what happens on that Hill outside the city.

And though seeing it will be wonderful, the reality is that the it is the Spirit that is the guarantee, and setting foot in Israel doesn’t change that. All a Christian need do is open the Pages and read.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…and we have seen His glory…

Until the next post…
Soli Deo Gloria

PJW

Landing in Tel Aviv
Landing in Tel Aviv