As most of you know, I had the opportunity to spend my winter break in Israel with the organization Passages and what an unbelievable experience it was. I knew going in that it was going to be a once in a lifetime experience, which it was, but for different reasons than I originally was expecting.
Passages’ aim is to teach the students they take both about the religious significance of Israel, but also the political situation there. I was excited to learn more about the conflict but never thought that I would take as much out of it as I did. Guys, I knew absolutely nothing going in. I thought I did, but I really had no idea the magnitude of what has happened there, and what is continuing to occur.
The day that I will never forget was when we visited towns near the border of Gaza…
From my journal:
“Today was pretty hard to swallow. We knew we were going to the border of Gaza, but I really didn’t know the extent as to what Gaza actually is. We rolled up to the small town, which was gated, but when I say gated I mean like I felt like I was entering a prison with barbed wire and everything. It was gloomy and windy. We went into the towns equivalent to a community room and the door kept flying open because of the wind. Our speaker Suzie first told us about the shelters to our right in case we needed them. Suzie explained the community and how it is a tight-knit group of families and then started to talk about their experience as a town about a football field away from Gaza. Gaza is a small strip of land on the Mediterranian Sea with a population of 1.8 million and is run by the terrorist organization HAMAS. They send over mortars (which are bombs of scrap metal and nails). The town has 10-15 seconds to get to shelter and their kid’s bedrooms are shelters, just painted like a normal bedroom. Their bus stops are bomb shelters. We asked Suzie why they still live there, especially during protective edge when they were almost always being attacked with mortars. She said they do not live in fear and that this is their home. Today I am feeling really blessed – I am so lucky to have grown up where I did.”
In the next town we visited, Sderot, we learned about their experiences while standing in the town’s playground…
“Our next stop today was a town slightly farther away from Gaza, but not by much because they still only have 30 seconds to get to shelter. What was extremely impactful was visiting the playground that had a caterpillar structure. My first reaction was that I thought that it would be a super fun thing for the kids to play in but I soon learned that it was a bomb shelter for the mortars. Shai played us a song while we were standing there called “red alert” or alarm. The song was created by a teacher to help her students in two ways; by making them feel in control of the situation and also it has lyrics that prompt movement in it so that she could tell if they were injured. Numerous kids that were experiencing the peak of protective edge are traumatized and have PTSD, this song which makes it feel as though they are more in control can help this a little. The story that hit me the most was a brother and sister the same age as me and Jack. The sister threw herself on him to save his life. They also showcase the number of mortars that were sent over and it is unthinkable.”
While we were learning about the divisive political situation, we were also visiting biblical sites. In some ways, I was expecting to “feel different” walking on the land my savior walked, but I just didn’t. After the first couple sites, I started to realize that flying 10 hours in no way would make me any “closer” to Jesus, even if it was Israel. Although I knew this going in, being in the land of the Bible and realizing I’m just as close to Him there as I am at home was so awesome.
As I was reflecting on that, we had the chance to go to the Western Wall. It was so inspiring to see people praying, weeping, and spending time with God because for them, they believe this is the closest they will ever be to Him. This made me feel realize how awesome it is that I get to be able to be that close, every day, wherever I go. Thank you, Jesus, for the blessing of prayer and relationship with You.
Another incredible experience was being baptized in the Jordan River (it was not warm) and declaring my faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior publicly! Here is the video (sorry it is a tad bit blurry):
Some other highlights and memories from the trip:
- A cruise on the Sea of Galilee listening to worship music.
- The view from Masada Fortress.
- Floating in the Dead Sea (it stings, people!) but is still one of my favorite memories. We were there in the evening so we could see the sunset over the Judean desert.
- Getting the best and fluffiest french toast I have ever had and then attempting to take public transportation home from the restaurant in Jerusalem. With a few mishaps, we made it. I don’t think I laughed harder on the trip.
- Our Shabbat dinner! We got paired with an Israeli family and they brought us in and fed us. For those who don’t know – Shabbat is from Friday to Saturday and is where they aren’t allowed to use energy which includes phones, turning off and on lights, or driving. It was so cool to see their traditions and talk to them about their experiences. The dad graduated from the University of Minnesota which was so fun and we got to hear about his experience growing up in America and then moving to Israel.
- Visiting the Temple Mount and standing on the same stones that Jesus did when he made his pilgrimage to the temple and overturned the moneychanger’s table.
This post, the pictures I took, and even when I talk about it in person, none of it does the country justice. I feel so lucky that Jesus blessed me with the opportunity to get a glimpse into His time here on earth, and also learn about Israel and its people first hand.
“Welcome home” is what our tour guide told us when we first landed and wow did this prove to be so true throughout the next ten days. I found a home in Israel and I can’t wait to go back.