I shouldn’t be surprised at being asked this question, but somehow I find myself reacting with surprise.
I mean, it’s a question we all ask when a friend returns from vacation. “So how was it?” — expecting a reply like “the weather was great!” or “the food was awful” or “it was very restful” or “it was the thrill of a lifetime!”
But somehow when talking about Israel, “how was it?” feels so… beside the point. I have no answer.
“How has your life changed?” is a question that might bear more fruit. Here are some answers:
I have never seen anything as beautiful as the sunrise over the Mediterranean.
Except for maybe Galilee. The place is so beautiful I don’t know how Jesus could bear to leave it.
I will never again look at a Palestinian and assume they’re Muslim.
I will never again look at a Muslim and assume they’re Arab.
I will never again look at the Hebrew language and see something utterly foreign.
I will never again look at the Zionist movement among American Christians as being even remotely in touch with reality.
I will never again sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem” without seeing in my mind’s eye a concrete wall topped with electrified barbed wire: the dividing line between Palestine and Israel.
I understand now, at least a little, why Jesus wept over Jerusalem.
I understand now what it means to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and I do with all my heart.
When I look at Jerusalem, the first thought that springs to mind is “a city set on a hill cannot be hidden”.
The second is “guide me, O Thou great Jehovah, pilgrim through this barren land”.
The third is to wonder what motivated anyone to build a city in such an inhospitable and inaccessible place…? (it is beautiful anyway)
I will never again read a Scripture passage without being able to picture the location in my mind.
I have seen that it’s possible to have so much religious symbolism in one place that it actually becomes overwhelming (case in point below). Which I think is perhaps the point. God IS overwhelming, and the best we can ever do is stand in utter awe of Him.
From the mass suicides at Masada to the confrontation with the priests of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan near Mt. Gilboa… human history is steeped in tragedy and pain and disobedience to God. How far humanity has missed the mark — and our desperate need for a saviour — and the way Jesus’ sacrifice forgave every wrong and met every need perfectly — was brought home for me with fresh clarity, here in Gethsemane.
These are just a few of the things I’ve come home with. I’m sure there will be more as I reflect on the trip. In the meantime I thank God for the opportunity to make the trip, for Iyad and John who taught us so well, for our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in the faith, for safe travel, for the church family we became as we traveled, and for the Spirit who guided us and spoke to our hearts each day.