Wow where to start? So much has happened since my last post! Since returning from Jordan, we have been kept very busy with both school work and great sights (hence the lack of a post last week). We have walked through Hezekiah’s tunnel (an amazing feat of engineering from 700 BC that took water from the Gihon Spring source and carried it under the city), we visited Israel’s Holocaust museum and memorial sights, we had an Arabic culture night (and heard from a family that has performed the Call to Prayer at the Al Aqsa Mosque near the Dome of the Rock for 500 years), we had an authentic Seder dinner hosted for us, and, in one of my favorite field trips so far, we visited a “Bible Preserve” at Neot Kdumim, where the agricultural and living practices of the Biblical Era have been authentically reproduced. On top of all of that, we had midterms two weeks ago, which required a lot of studying time of course, and we have finals coming up next week. So, needless to say, things have been busy.
But I don’t want this post to simply be a list of the places we’ve visited. As great as a travel journal can be, I want to try and express some of the feelings I’ve had and knowledge I’ve gained from living in the Holy Land.
One of the most obvious things I’ve gained since being here is context with which to understand scriptural history and the stories that I’ve read in the Bible since I was a kid. So many of the ideas or stories that seemed strange or bizarre to me when I was younger now make perfect sense as I have come to understand the cultures and peoples who lived those stories.
Another extremely important part of my time here in Jerusalem has been my unparalleled opportunity to understand the current political and cultural tensions which exist in this part of the world. Prior to coming on this trip, I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. I (naively) thought, “Why can’t they just sort out their problems like adults?” But now as I have been taking classes about both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, both taught by local members of their respective communities, I have understood the complexities of the problems much more. The downside to this is that now I’m jus as confused as everyone else about how I think the conflict could be resolved. I’ll leave that to minds greater than mine.
Perhaps my most treasured experience from my time here is the strengthening of my relationship with God. I’ve always believed in God, but I was shaky in regards to who He is and what his role is in my life. But now, after studying the scriptures in the land where they took place and being surrounded by so many other students invested in doing the same, I’ve been able to achieve a greater level of spiritual clarity than I’ve ever had. Those who know me well (or who follow my blog closely) know that I spent 2 years in West Africa as a missionary, and may be surprised that an experience of less than 2 months could compare, but it has! I grew more as a person during my 2 year mission, but all my time was devoted to helping others find God, and I think I just skated by in regards to my relationship with Him. Now being here, all my attention is about knowing him better for myself. Not that I didn’t know Him before, but I guess the best way to say it is that I have much more trust in God than ever before. I’ve seen his goodness repeated over and over in the scriptures, and know he will be good to me. Just this last week I had an unforgettable experience of carrying a baby lamb and shepherding it, and I couldn’t help but think of Christ’s relationship with me.
One of our professors here pointed out a commonly repeated theme of the Old Testament: prophets often would refer to God as, “The God who brought your fathers out of Egypt” or “The God who spoke to Moses” or “The God who _______”. He challenged us to reflect on that statement, and try to fill in the blank for our own lives. What has God done for me? What can I look to as evidence of His love and care for me personally? At first it was hard, because I was thinking in terms of huge miracles of biblical proportions. But as I thought about it more and more, I was able to identify dozens of statements to fill in that blank, and I’m sure if I continued thinking about it, there would be countless more. God is real. He is there for each of us in our lives. The world, and our life in this world, isn’t perfect, but it wasn’t meant to be. But God’s love is perfect, and if we trust Him and do not fear, then we can find perfect joy in an imperfect world.