16 August 2010


I've been approaching writing about Days 3 & 4 with trepidation, and even considered not writing about them at all.  They didn't even happen on the same planet as Days 1 & 2.  I could tell you what we did, but you still wouldn't know what happened.  On the one hand, I want you to know what I experienced because I want it to have at least a reflection of the impact it had on me, but on the other hand I know that my words will fail, which makes me think maybe I just shouldn't try to write about it at all.  I would rather not represent than misrepresent.
By now you're on the edge of your computer chair going, "What happened???"  Don't worry.  Nothing big, scary, or outwardly monumental happened.  I will try to give you a brief sketch.
You know how God likes to spring things on you without telling you about them first?  Apparently e3 partners does too.  We didn't find out until the end of the tour day that part of our team (i.e., the part I was on) would be spending 2 days in the West Bank doing an eyeglass clinic; our small group of 4 would be in a predominately Muslim city notorious for producing suicide bombers, it would be illegal to share our faith, we might not have interpreters, and we were supposed to somehow show the love of Christ to the complete strangers in the clinic, but not to the opposite sex.
The first day the clinic was in a Palestinian cultural center.  I don't know if they have AC anywhere in the West Bank.  We were working with a couple of Christ-followers, but the center and all the patients were Muslim.  I felt so useless.  Looking back, I'm still not sure how God used me in that place.  I don't know if I exuded the love of Christ.  Most of the time I talked with a group of Palestinian girls, my age, only a few of whom spoke any English.  They were beautiful and delightful.  If God worked in their hearts that day, it was not because of anything I did.  It's hard to feel so useless and inadequate.  When we go somewhere to do ministry and we see no results, it seems impossible to believe that God did anything.  I will probably never know what happened to the girls I spent the day with, but can I really not trust God that he can work without me?  Do I really think that there must be instantaneous visible results in order for there to be any results?  Does God work like a bag of popcorn in a microwave?
There is one definite result, though: God broke my heart for Palestinians those two days, and I knew by the end of the first day that I wanted to come back.

We stayed the night in a nearby village, in an apartment the Catholic church had rented for us.  There was no AC, no fans, and cracks in the window sills large enough to let in what felt like a few hundred mosquitoes.  Donkeys and roosters serenaded us at night, and the call to prayer woke us up at 4 AM.  But, the place was beautiful:

All of Palestine was beautiful, even if it was "dirty" by American standards, run down, and battered.

I think that sometimes when God takes us places to do ministry, it's not because he needs us there; rather, he has something to teach us there.  Turns out that maybe mission trips aren't just to change the places we go to, but to change our hearts and grow them to be more Christlike.  God used the West Bank and my feelings of uselessness to teach me that he is made perfect in my weakness, and that I must trust in his plan, even though I can't see it.  Also, he began teaching me the use and power of prayer, which I would love to delve into in another blog post.

13 August 2010

Israel Rewind Part 2

Ohhh, jet lag, I feel your sting.  The first night home I slept like a baby, you deceptive little bugger.  Even though I stayed awake ALL DAY yesterday, until almost midnight, I still woke up at 4:30 AM ready to take on the world.  I thought, hey I prepared for this, I'll just take a tiny little melatonin (not even time-release) and slip right back to sleep.  Uggh.  Now it's almost 11 AM and I'm stumbling around like a drunk monkey.

The reason I made it until nearly midnight yesterday (besides two cups of coffee, weak American coffee, and lots and lots of tea), is that my American brothers and sisters and I met to continue our study of Acts and how to be doers of the word.  Leaving Israel was pretty heartbreaking.  I can't explain how God puts an instant deep love in your heart, but it happened.  Plus, I was afraid that I would come home and return to the disgusting stagnancy I had been living in before the trip.  I was missing all my new brothers and sisters I met in Israel, and from our team, but God gently reminded me that he gave me brothers and sisters here in Birmingham, too.  I'm using the phrase "brothers and sisters" for a couple of reasons.  One, it's Biblical.  Two, there is no more accurate way I know to describe them.  I don't call my sister Eileen "the girl who has my parents, too."  God reminded me last night that my faith family is far and wide, and just because I'm no longer in Israel doesn't mean he's going to stop working in my life and pushing me to greater faith in him (what a RIDICULOUS idea.  I am so idiotic sometimes.  Praise Jesus that his grace covers stupidity, too).

Day 2: Super whirlwind tour

I've had the lucky privilege of traveling a lot.  About a year and a half ago, my sister Eileen and I saw Berlin, Rome, Geneva, and Zurich in about 10 days.  In retrospect, I would have liked to spend more time in each city.  BUT, even then, our tour was not nearly as speedy as the tour of Jerusalem on the second day in Israel. At the end of the day, I could barely even make a list of what we saw (and I'm sure I've left something out):

The Dome of the Rock
The Golden Gate
The Pools of Bethesda
St. Anne's Church
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Via Dolorosa
The Mount of Olives
The Garden of Gethsemane
The Church of All Nations
The Mount of Olives
The Garden Tomb

In some cases, I was overawed by the honor of standing where Christ would have stood.  My savior was here...wait, what?  Many of the sites were sad, though.  For one thing, most of them are not confirmed locations, merely guesses confirmed by tradition.  Also, for almost every site there is a gaudy church.  The most depressing was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most commonly believed site of Jesus' tomb.  Six different denominations of Christianity FIGHT over this church.  They've divided it into six sections, but still the fight is so bitter that Muslims have to lock the church at night and unlock it in the morning.  How bitter?  Priests have been known to get into fistfights over things like extension cords crossing over somebody else's "territory."  The picture here is of where you can go down to see Christ's supposed tomb.  We didn't have time to wait in line, and I was pretty happy about that.  It was such a dark place.

The Mount of Olives was definitely cool, and we had an amazing view of Jerusalem.  But did you know it's also the largest graveyard in the world?  The gold dome you see in the picture is the Dome of the Rock.  We were lucky to get to go there.

Here's the thing: I'm a history major, and I love getting to see where history happened.  But even though we saw all these cool places, they are still just dead stones.  If (I mean WHEN) I go back to Israel, I'm not going to go see them again.  Jesus isn't there.  Far more beautiful than any of these sites were the faces of the people I met and saw Jesus in, and the faces of the people that Jesus desires to bring to himself.

The British tour guide at the Garden Tomb (another possible site of Jesus' death and resurrection, and archaeologically more likely) put it this way:
Whether or not this is the site of Jesus' crucifixion and his burial, there are two things that we can be certain of: One, that Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross and bore all our sins.  Two, that he rose from the dead three days later, defeating death and bringing eternal life to those who believe in him.

"But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel.  And as they were frightened, and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.  Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise."
Luke 24:1-7

12 August 2010

Rewind: Israel

I find that keeping a journal is hard to do on trips, because traveling is so overwhelming and tiring.  The worst part is, trips are exactly the kind of thing I want to keep a journal of!  I managed to update my private journal every few days, but blogging was impossible.  Still, I know that the best way to tell about my trip, and a good way for me to process and remember, is writing about it here, for all of you to see.  With my journal, pictures, and memory as a guide, I think I can give you a pretty decent recap of an amazing week.

Day 1: Flight to Tel Aviv and a first glimpse of Jerusalem

Israel is....rocky.  Numbers 13:27 tells us that it is a land flowing with milk and honey.  Either it's changed a lot in the last few thousand years, or the Israelites had been colorblinded by too many years in the desert (having seen the desert...that's totally possible).  The drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (a very crazy taxi ride) was like driving on a different planet; the roads snake in and out of endless hills covered in pale rocks.  Jerusalem is built entirely of white limestone, by requirement to match the ancient buildings.
Our small team of 10 met the big group of 43 at our hotel for dinner.  Afterward, we walked to the Western Wall.  It was smaller and less grand than I had imagined.  It was below the Temple Mount, tucked away in a corner - still big, like the side of a huge building - but still just a remnant of the former glory of Solomon's temple (see 1 Kings 6).  

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in the corner of an alleyway - so small, inconspicuous - which overlooked a remainder of the wall Nehemiah rebuilt.  How amazing; I just read Nehemiah recently, about the time I found out I would be going to Israel.  I remember reading about Nehemiah rebuilding the wall in 52 days and thinking "I'm going to be there!"  Standing above that wall, wide and rounded from age, was too surreal.  Physical evidence is absolutely unnecessary to faith, but it's such a privilege to see the historical reality of the Bible right in front of your face.  Nehemiah tells us that the Israelites toiled day and night at the wall, despite the opposition of those surrounding them, weapons in hand, ready for a fight (Nehemiah 4).  It only took them fifty-two days.  What a God Thing.  After they rebuilt the wall, Nehemiah read the Book of the Law all day, and the people stood before him and listened all day and worshiped God.  And we get antsy when the sermon runs past 45 minutes!  

After seeing the wall, most of the group stopped for ice cream.  Some of us were tired and/or lactose intolerant, so one of our team leaders said he'd take us back to the hotel, a group of maybe 6 or 7.  Well, turns out he didn't really know the way back to the hotel...so we wandered around old Jerusalem and made a full circle before actually turning where we were supposed to and got back after everybody else did.  Even though it was late and we were tired, and we mocked Paul endlessly for getting us lost, I really didn't mind.  It was very cool, since the sun had gone down, and I love getting wandering foreign cities at night and also getting lost in foreign cities - probably not very safe habits, but adventurous ones.  I always seem to find the way back, and once you've been lost in a city, you've probably seen parts most tourists would never see.  We were also in the Christian Quarter, which is a pretty safe section of the old city (it's divided into four quarters, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian).  
One last thing: Israel is overrun with mangy street cats.
Pretty cool first day.

"When our enemies heard that it was known to us and that God had frustrated our plan, we all returned to the wall, each to his work.  From that day on, half my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail.  And the leaders stood behind the whole house of Judah, who were building on the wall.  Those who carried burdens were loaded in such a way that each labored on the work with one hand and held his weapon with the other.  And each of the builders had his sword strapped at his side while he built.  The man who sounded the trumpet was beside me.  And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, "The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another.  In the place where you heard the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there.  Our God will fight for us."  So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn until the stars came out."
Nehemiah 4:15-21

02 August 2010

Ok, I'm ready! Except, I'm not...

I'm going to Israel tomorrow (today, by the time I finish this blog post).  I have all the physical things I need, but I feel so unprepared and inadequate.
I would appreciate your prayers.
I'll be back August 12.