I was busy today writing my next book project which will deal with the subject of who God uses and how He uses them. I wrote the following about Adam and Eve.
As we learn in the narrative of Genesis Chapter 3, Adam & Eve blew their first job opportunity. They tried to promote themselves into the CEO position with illegal knowledge, got caught and were subsequently fired. They also lost the lush office with a view and all the perks. They received their pink slips and were sent packing without severance or insurance benefits. Their next job prospect was a rough one as they were told;
Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
This was a serious demotion and their jobs suddenly became significantly harder. At this point the predominant goal in their lives became one thing - survival. They were also dealing with the powerful emotion of fear which can be an intense motivator. Despite the great scientific, technological and educational achievements of the modern world, or even our sense of being sophisticated or advanced, underneath it all we are still today people who are driven by the desire to survive while dealing with our fears. In fact I would say it is because of our intense desire to survive that we have made advances in so many sectors.
It was at this point my thoughts drifted off to a conversation which happened last Sunday night at our weekly family dinner about the differences between generations. I have noticed some obvious distinctions between my “Boomer” generation and the “Millennial” or generation Y of my children and wondered why? Why do they (Millennials) seem so passive? Where is their sense of urgency? They seem to be so nonchalant about life to the point where it irritates me! Why is life one big party to them? After all, isn’t life about survival and yet they seem to be so laid back about the whole idea.
I wasn’t looking for right or wrong answers or even better or worse but to simply understand why we approach life so differently. I started thinking about the world I was raised in and who raised me. The perspective of life my parents’ generation grew up with, (“The Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw defined them) was formed by the Great Depression where they lived multiple families to a house and survived on potato soup for days on end. They observed daily soup kitchens, tent cities and despair all around them for a decade. Then as young men they witnessed first-hand the deaths of over 400,000 of their closest friends. When my uncles returned home from WWII with the loss of life so vividly etched into their psyches, they wrestled with the guilt of surviving. The issue of life simply being about survival was the motivation that drove them to work long and hard hours trying to eke out a living and buy a piece of land they could survive on. These values and this perspective were imparted to us as children.
I grew up as a child in a world where the Russians were going to send over nuclear missiles and annihilate everyone in the US. Our neighbors built underground concrete bunkers and stored months’ worth of food rations in them all in an effort to survive. As we started watching television I remember being bombarded with the images of starving children in Biafra, Nigeria. I was horrified. I also remember watching the evening news where every day they tallied up the death count in the war in Vietnam. I saw and felt death all around me and just like my parents, took on the perspective that life was about survival.
When my friends and I started having children of our own, we didn’t want them subjected to the many fears that survival can create. We kept the thought of death far away from them. At all cost and as long as possible, we wanted them to enjoy their innocence as children. We created a society in which tragedy and death was hidden from them. We organized their lives so that everything was safe and structured. We created age level sporting activities so they no longer had to compete against the older kids in the neighborhood. We made life “fair!” In fact we seldom let them out of our sight unless it was safe. My mom on the other hand rarely ever knew where we were!
A few years ago I was watching a segment on the evening US news show 60 Minutes. The topic was the Millennials. The assessment of the “experts” was that this was the most coddled and over protected generation in the history of humanity. They went on to say that with their over organized lives, we had developed a generation which would have a serious deficiency in leadership. They painted a bleak outlook for the future with a generation whose perspective of life was it should all be fun and somebody else will organize it!
I was a bit depressed afterwards and overwhelmed with the sense of guilt that I had been part of raising a generation of marshmallows. In hindsight, I think the saving grace for some of my kids was the military. While it was still organized with clear lines of authority, they learned to shut up and work hard. They learned the value of human life and what it means to survive. I remember how distraught my platoon leader son was after a training exercise where half his men were killed. For him I’m relieved it didn’t happen in real life. I have others friends whose sons weren’t so lucky and carried their dead friends off rooftops in Iraq.
I hate to say this but I suspect many of our children are going to learn the hard lessons of life no matter what and probably much later than we did. In all of our efforts to protect them from certain realities, life has a way of teaching us all its lessons whether we want to learn them or not. Life when reduced down to its most basic elements is still really about survival.
Who’s Influencing Who?Here’s something I’ve been pondering for a while now…as much as I wish the teachings of Jesus were profoundly impacting and transforming secular culture, I fear the truth is it’s in fact the other way around. My perspective has been formed over a lifetime of observing a macro shift in how Christians view their relationship to God and his spiritual Kingdom. I realize this observation is going to make some feel uncomfortable but hear me out.
Having been born in the late 1950’s and observing my parents and grandparents, their identity was heavily formed by how they related to their larger communities of family, friends, city and nation. They saw themselves as an extension of those communities and at all cost those communities were to be preserved. Personal sacrifice for the good of the community was seen as an honorable endeavor. During the two World Wars, when they felt their communities were threatened, they signed up by the millions ready to die for the sake of the greater good. Even at the start of the 1960’s, US President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, uttered these now famous words “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country."Interestingly, this same perspective carried over into the Christian community. Or, maybe the Christian community was heavily influencing the cultural values of the time. Self-sacrifice was a fundamental component of the Christian faith. Romans 12:1 “I therefore urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices that are holy and pleasing to God, for this is the reasonable way for you to worship” was standard protocol. Western missionaries who left the comfort of home to live a sacrificial life and spread the gospel were revered. Those saints mentioned in “Fox’s Book of Martyrs” were set on a heroic pedestal as Tertullian proclaimed in the 2nd century, “the church is built on the blood of the martyrs.” All of this was influenced heavily by Jesus own words “No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
I first became interested in the teachings of Jesus in the mid 1970’s and even at that time when one came into to the Kingdom of God you laid all at the foot of the cross. Soon I began to notice a developing trend in the world around me…the beginning of all things “self.” There was self-actualization, self-awareness, self-definition, self-determination, self-development, self-discovery, self-efficacy, self- empowerment, self-esteem, self-growth, self-help, even a magazine called Self! I have continued to observe as the decades have passed how American culture has become increasingly narcissistic and self-centered. Andy Warhol, said in 1968 "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” YouTube is the new breeding ground for aspiring famous wannabe’s driven by the need to be seen and admired. We no longer see ourselves as an extension of our greater communities, but as self-preserving “ego” pack rats. Our unspoken motto is “it’s all about me!”
This same cultural shift is apparent within the Christian community. In 2009, when my book “Saving Zimbabwe” was being printed, we decided to set foot inside a Christian bookstore for the first time in years. Given the book was about people laying their lives down for the sake of others in Zimbabwe, we were curious as to where the book might fit in the stores. The first thing we came across was a bookrack with the Top 20 Selling Christian Books. As we perused down through all the titles, we suddenly realized that most all were either self-help books or books about how to get something from God. It suddenly hit me how much of a paradigm shift there has been in my lifetime. We are no longer there for God, He is there for us! He exists for our benefit. We have now become the center of the universe and all that is, exists for us! I soon realized there was “no room in the inn.” Our book had no place to lie in the world of the self-centered Christian.I wonder if this is what is at the core of the Christian communities decline into cultural irrelevance. When was the last time we were on the cutting edge of anything? Most everything I’ve observed that is “new and edgy” within the Christian community is a bad rip-off of a secular idea. I don’t mean to come off as the Christian version of a grumpy Andy Rooney (RIP) from “60 Minutes”, but we need to be honest with ourselves and ask “who’s influencing who?” The governments of the world are beset with huge problems. Our God is the creator of this world and the giver of life and yet world leaders aren’t asking for our advice. We supposedly know the inventor personally and have his instruction manual and yet few outside our community care. Why is that? What are we missing? Why do few listen anymore? Have we lost our distinctiveness?
When I was in 3rd grade (a long time ago) I was told by my teachers that by time I was an adult there would be only 1 square yard/meter per person of land to live on. It really frightened me! My little mind was racing imagining a world where we lived so close to our neighbors I could reach over the property line and shake their hand without moving my feet. I wondered with that little space where would I put my toilet? Of course who needs a toilet when there’s no food to eat which was the end game of the fear driven lectures. Overpopulation would lead to the starvation and ultimate elimination of the human race from planet earth.
You can imagine my shock a few years later when our family decided to drive from Milwaukee to Los Angles for a vacation. Not even a few minutes outside of the city (where I had never been) I started seeing dairy farms and lots of land with nothing on it but a few cows. A few more hours and we were traversing the corn fields of Illinois, then Iowa and finally Nebraska. Where were all the people I wondered? I was really confused? In fact driving to California was really boring...no people anywhere! Irritating my little sister was far more interesting.
Over my lifetime, I have heard hundreds of doomsday scenarios, the extinction of the human race and just about everything gives you cancer! The daily news is still today so full of fear. I’m starting to think the news is hazardous to ones health!
There is something I picked up on our recent Israel trip which has inspired me. Despite the fact little Israel is surrounded by nations that want to blow them off the face of the earth, they refuse to succumb to the potential doomsday scenarios and keep on living their lives. They are building at a feverous pace, having babies, raising families and savoring each moment of life they are afforded. The daily global news media reports of the Middle East are primarily negative and about death. The Israeli’s have refused to be held prisoners to fear and choose to focus on life…L’Chaim. I need to do this more. I’m going over now to take my grandkids to the park and celebrate life with them, it’s good for the soul.
for just now getting to blogging about my final days in Israel. After Elizabeth and I returned home to Kansas
City life got a bit crazy. A new wood
floor was to have been installed in our family room while we were gone. When we walked in the house (after 3 grueling
flights home) we discovered the floor hadn’t been finished and there was
sawdust covering everything! They had
told us to leave the kitchen “as is” and would cover the counters and bookcases
while having it all cleaned up before we returned. That didn’t happen and sawdust was on and in
everything! It took us a few days to dig
out and be able to use our kitchen.
big project was finalizing the details to enable us to ship all the medical
supplies and school books we have stored in our Compassionate Justice Intl.
warehouse to Zimbabwe. They have been
sitting there for months now waiting on funding and paperwork from the Zimbabwean
government. The funding had arrived
before we left and the final paperwork arrived while we were in Israel. I’m thrilled to report all is in order and
hopefully enough people will show up this coming Saturday so we can complete
the load in. The container is scheduled
to leave the warehouse on the 20th.
Now as far as
my last few days in Israel…the second last day was spent in Kaysaria (Caesarea)
at the Albaad plant where they manufacture Fem-care products. I was given a complete tour of the facilities
and concluded 1) I’m glad I’m not a women.
I have a whole new appreciation for what they go through every
month! 2) I could never work in a
manufacturing plant on a production machine.
It’s really boring! One of the
management team then took us to lunch afterward. Sam is a non-religious Jew who has lived all
over the world. I found talking to him
stimulating as he’s well read, well informed and see’s life pragmatically. I always appreciate frank and honest
discussion no matter the perspective. At
times I find conversations with religious people difficult as they tend to
”parrot” things they’ve heard or are unwilling to see the obvious being prejudiced
by a narrow paradigm established by their church. Talking to Sam was refreshing and
informative. The one thing he said that
has stuck in my mind actually happened as we were walking back to the car. We were discussing the issue of land
ownership which is at the root of so many conflicts around the world. He turned to me and said so straightforwardly
“people around the world hate us…if
nothing else we have this little bit of dirt here by the sea where we can
defend ourselves from all being killed. “
The last day
I stayed in Tel Aviv while Elizabeth finished up things at work at the Wet
Wipes plant. I discovered the Eretz
Israel Museum was just a few kilometers from our hotel. I decided to set out on a hike and spent the
next few hours learning more about the history of the region via archaeology,
Judica, Ethnography and various cultural exhibits. It was quite interesting. Now my wife hates museums so it was good she
wasn’t with me! I walked away at the end
of the day with a whole new appreciation for the diverse cultural history of
Judaism and the Jewish people. Jews are
scattered across the earth and have existed as a sub culture in most every
society for thousands of years. They are
a resilient and adaptable people.
A few closing
- I was
particularly struck by the fact that for 1,300 years Arabs and Jews have lived
side by side in that region with very little conflict. It’s only since the west got involved in the
later part of the 20th century that all the conflict erupted. I wonder if we in America and the UK have
become arrogant in our assumptions of what’s best for the rest of the world.
- I have also
become keenly aware the US media is oversimplifying the true complexity of the
situation there. Outside of the return
of the Messiah, I don’t have any confidence world leaders have the answers to
peace in the Middle East. It’s like a
giant ball of string that’s been knotted up.
It will take more than a few lifetimes to untangle this mess. The Middle East needs a mulligan!
- I’m torn…In
Israel I have many Jewish friends both religious and not. After years of bombings, murder and mayhem
they built a huge wall to protect themselves.
The problem is that because of the actions of a few, my Palestinian
friends and my brothers are imprisoned behind that wall. They want peace and friendship with the
Jewish community and yet are attacked by those that fear peace on both sides.
- Access to water
resources not oil is the real purple elephant in the room. 30% of all of Israel’s water comes from the
occupied Palestinian territories.
people get a bit turned off by the aggressiveness of Jewish people. When one considers they live their lives
under the constant threat of annihilation one tends to extend them a bit more
- Israel doesn’t need any more religious people! I understand what Jesus felt when he went to Jerusalem…its stifling. What it really needs is tangible expressions of people loving their enemies and laying down their lives for one another. We need to shut up and “Just Do IT”
We woke to the sounds of the city of Jerusalem this morning. While lying in bed, we reflected on the fact we had slept on land where Abraham, David and Jesus had walked. Empires and armies for millennia have gone to war over these rocky hills. We were at the vortex of three major religions all vying for supremacy. These mammoth religious Teutonic plates rub against each other every moment of every day making little progress in dislodging the other. The history here is rich with traditions that go back thousands of years which form entrenched paradigms that make peace an almost impossible dream. At the moment there is an uneasy calm in the air. One senses though the wrong insult or provocation would send the whole place up into an escalating chaos and conflict. Passions, especially anger run deep here and acts of violence are never far out of reach. One has to walk very carefully through this religious and political minefield. I have more questions than answers and find it frustrating to have friends on both sides of the equation. It’s a bit like when friends divorce and try to force you to pick sides. I don’t want to!
After a breakfast of humus, dried fruit and juice we headed out early for Mt. Moriah. The Temple Mount (Har haBáyith) is only open for a few hours in the morning and afternoon and you are not allowed inside The Dome of the Rock. This was a big change from when I was last here in 1986. Then we were actually allowed inside the dome. I even took photos! Religious politics play a huge role in the change of policy. Nonetheless, the outside views on and around the dome are stunning. We arrived at just after 9 AM and there was already a fairly long line. As we made our way closer to security, one of the guards asked us if we were a part of a tour. When we responded “no” he pulled us out of line and escorted us straight to the front of the line…nice! After all of our bags were cleared, we walked up an ascending wood walkway right past the Western (Wailing) Wall. The view down was quite interesting as we observed a Bar Mitzvah and religious men arguing while others were intently praying.
As you enter the mount area, the Al-Aqsa Mosque is on the right and up the stone steps to the left, through arches, is the stunning view of the golden Dome of the Rock one of the more iconic images of Jerusalem. I was captivated by the ancient columns, beautiful archways and of course the spectacular blue and gold color of the dome building. As we walked around even the outlying buildings are amazing and the views east toward the Mt of Olives spectacular! At 11AM they started chasing us off the mount as Muslim prayers were about to begin. From there we headed to the various markets where I had an “Abraham in Egypt/ Gen. 12” experience! Apparently my beautiful wife was “fair in the eyes” of the males here in Jerusalem. She was getting proposals at every turn. I started to think if this continues I may have to claim she is my sister as Abraham did with Sarah. Of course she wasn’t appreciating the attention and kept asking me to stay close. I started singing the lyrics to a Paul Simon song “will you be my bodyguard.” As we meandered through the streets her Indian pedigree kicked in and she started to bargain with the vendors. If you come here, remember to take 50% of the first price offered. From there you start to bargain and volume purchases do help bring the individual costs down. For whatever reason, today was a particularly low day and vendors were aggressive in wanting to do business. We covered the Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters and our weary bodies had just about had enough and were ready to head back to Tel Aviv. This was until we came across the Tower of David!
My passion for history and love of archeology kicked in and I dragged my road weary wife into the place. She hates museums but actually enjoyed this one as it covered the whole history of this area. When reading the Bible and its description of King David and his conquering of the Jebusites, you tend to get a more glorious idea than reality as to what this town/city looked like then. When you see the models in the museum you realize more it was David’s son Solomon who really built this hilltop into the glorious city and temple area we imagine. At night the place is lit up with colored lights and makes for a stunning visual effect. After our feet said “no more” we walked up to the train station and made the trek back to Tel Aviv and waiting clean sheets. We were asleep in seconds but our hearts were full from a day of amazing sites, good food and bargains.
After breakfast we decided to walk off the calories we’ve been piling up while here eating all this great food. While all the stores were closed for Shabbat, café’s and convenience stores remained open. As we meandered down one of the main shopping streets I started laughing after we had traveled a good ½ mile. Worldwide, women have the same fetish…shoes! It seemed every 4th store was a shoe store and they were all women’s shoes. Thank goodness they were all closed or we would have not strolled very far and I would have been bored out of my mind.
As we continued our walk I was struck by the amount of Jewish fathers out alone with their children. Often Dad was on a bike with one child riding in front of him and the other on the back. As hard working as men are here and the long hours they put in, it was heartwarming to see Dad’s spending quality time with the children. After heading south for a few miles we turned west and headed for the sea. Once we got there it looked like the whole of Tel Aviv was out enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. The seaside was a bustle of activity from young to very old. The water was a bit cool so no one was swimming just sunning themselves on the fine sand. I did see two crazy Africans out past the “No Swimming” sign bathing. I think it was one of those “Lost in Translation” moments.
As we headed back north towards the hotel from afar we thought we saw people line dancing. As we got closer we realized that it was Jewish Folk dancing and it was happening outdoors right by the beach. We stood there for quite awhile mesmerized by the music and jealous we didn’t know the dance steps so we could jump in. Elizabeth commented that the music and dancing seemed to come from a place deep in their souls. I enjoyed seeing the joy on people’s faces as they were totally into it! The whole experience reminded me of the celebration scene in Otto Preminger’s movie “Exodus.” We then decided to try an Israeli McDonalds for the experience. This of course put back on all the calories we had just walked off. They had dinner meal choices of “The Big New York” or “The Big Texas” and trust me they were big! I couldn’t believe the size of the burger. One thing we did learn…must ask for cheese.
We arrived back at our hotel around 4PM and had not heard a peep from anyone at Elizabeth’s company. I was bemoaning the fact we are leaving in a few days and my heart was pulling me back to Jerusalem. OK, it was my camera calling. When we were here last week it was with Elizabeth’s clients on a tour and the guide kept moving us along. It was getting irritating as he needed to make sure we saw all the sites and I wanted to take pictures of the people and the culture. Elizabeth disappeared downstairs for awhile and came back asking “how would you like to go to Jerusalem?” I love my wife!!! We threw on fresh clothes, packed a small bag and headed out the door for Bus #4 next to the hotel. After a Sharuot ride to Jerusalem, a train ride to the Damascus Gate and a walk to the Hashimi Hotel here we are. In fact as I write this Elizabeth is asleep next to me. I best sign off and get some shuteye as we have adventures in Jerusalem awaiting us in the morning.
After lunch we strolled along the Yankon River out to the Mediterranean Sea and then south along the seashore on a boardwalk. It was a lovely time as we walked arm in arm past the stores and restaurants filled with Israelis also out enjoying the 65 degree weather in the middle of winter. We then came to an outside “kitchen market” filled with fresh produce straight off the farm; meat, fish, wines, cheeses etc. People were busy purchasing food for Shabbat. Had we a refrigerator in our room, we saw many things we would have loved to purchase. As we eventually made it back to the hotel Elizabeth took a nap and I headed to the hotel lobby where the wireless signal is much better. I’m trying to stay on top of writing, emails and Facebook and took advantage of the down time.
Soon hundreds of Jewish people dressed up for synagogue descended on the hotel. They soon they were singing, clapping and reading from the Torah. While I didn’t understand a word of it I enjoyed the whole experience. After they finished, they filed past me up the stairs to the hotel dining room for a Shabbat meal. Elizabeth met me in the lobby and we headed back to the coast for dinner. These Jewish people know how to eat! The variety is amazing. Our table was soon filled with so many little dishes of various relishes, egg plant, tomatoes, fried cauliflower, fish and all this before our main dish arrived. It was a long walk back to the hotel as we were stuffed!
Elizabeth and the company taxi arrived around 1 PM to pick me up and take us south towards Ashdod where the Masu’ot Yitzhak community is located. Albaad, a wet wipes manufacturer, is located on the Moshav/Kibbutz. A Mashov is slightly different from a Kibbutz in that it keeps the family unit together and allows for more individuality. In the old kibbutz model, the children lived separate from their parents and the community owned everything. The Masu’ot Yitzhak community has evolved into its own expression incorporating elements of each model. I was excited about the opportunity not only to see behind the scenes of this Jewish community, but meet with Amnon Brodie, the Chairman of Albaad. Amnon’s family was part of the original group who founded the communities back in 1945 first located in the Judean mountains. The original families came from Germany, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. They divided themselves into 5 different kibbutz’s and during the 1948 war, one of the kibbutz’s (Kfar Etzion) was totally overrun and destroyed. Everyone living on it was killed! It was a story I knew all too well.
Once we arrived, we were greeted by various Albaad employees excited to see Elizabeth who hadn’t been there in over a year. Amnon, Boaz (CEO) and others all welcomed us with big smiles. Amnon had arranged a tour of the community and our guide was a middle aged gentleman named David who was born in London and of course spoke excellent English. It was an amazing time of interaction as he drove us around and showed us the various aspects of the community. Besides a wet wipes business, they have a dairy farm; cattle feed plant, chicken hatchery and various other enterprises. I have just completed reading “Start Up Nation” about the entrepreneurial spirit of the Jewish people. There right in front of me I could see it all in action.
As we drove through the various homes and living quarters, we came to a tall sculpture incorporating the base of an old railcar. Surrounding it was white stone panels with names in Hebrew etched into them. David explained this was a memorial to all the relatives of family members of the community who had been lost during the Holocaust. As you might imagine it was sobering. Soon we were at a second memorial and this one dedicated all the members of the community lost during their service in the IDF, the Israeli military. As we stood and contemplated, I noticed a mother walking along the road with three young children two of which were in a push cart. Their cute little faces were leaning over the side of the cart watching us intently. I was struck by the paradoxes of life and death. Here we were standing at a memorial for people who had died so these little children could have life!
While Elizabeth met with the CEO, David and I took a tour of the plant and I witnessed how a wet wipe is produced from raw ingredients to packaged product. I was intrigued by the whole process. As we walked along we found ourselves into deep conversations on the evolution of the kibbutz model, what the motivation was to live on a kibbutz and how to keep the most productive from feeling like they are “carrying” the lesser productive. David was up to the challenge and gave me great insight for future ideas I have which may work in Zimbabwe.
After the tour was complete, Amnon took us to his house to meet his wife Esther. She is a lovely woman, quiet with understanding eyes. She also works for Albaad in the lab. She had prepared some pre dinner snacks and over a cup of coffee we got acquainted. The Brodie’s have 5 children (3 boys, 2 girls) and 8 grandchildren. They are a blessed family. Once we finished our coffee they took us to the next town over for dinner. While I dined on salmon, we had a marvelous time of sharing stories and learning more about each other’s lives. They were deeply moved by the story of The Community of Reconciliation and fascinated to know they there was a Zimbabwean tribe descended from Jewish priests! As the evening wound down, I found my heart filled with a sense of gratitude for the kindness they showed us inviting us into their busy lives and sharing their culture with us.
Today was one of the more memorable days of my life! In fact I need to remember that I’m writing a blog and not a book or this could get rather lengthy. Elizabeth and I had breakfast together and while she headed north for meetings in Caesarea, I headed east for a meeting in Bethlehem with Sami Awad. The town where Jesus was born is now located in Palestinian territory which lies behind a great wall which the Israeli’s built reportedly to protect themselves.
I headed out on my journey from the hotel in a pouring rainstorm! Fortunately the hotel was handing out free umbrellas though they were the cheap Chinese versions which easily turn inside out in the slightest breeze. I made my way to Bus #16 heading to the Central Tel Aviv bus station. I asked the driver to tell me when we were there as I had no idea what it looked like. After about 20 minutes I heard an American voice call out “sir we are here!” I was surprised to look up and see an older American gentleman talking to me. As we departed the bus he asked me where I was headed and I said Bethlehem via Jerusalem. He then asked how I was planning on getting there. I told him I was going to catch a “sherut” which is an Israeli taxi van. He had planned on taking the bus but decided to join me on the ride. We walked around the station and inquired until we found a sherut bound for Jerusalem. On the ride we swapped stories and I learned he was from Boston and lived in Israel 6 months out of the year while his wife taught at one of the universities here.
Once we got to Jerusalem he needed to catch another taxi to get to his destination and told me to jump in as he was going right past the Damascus gate where I needed to jump on Bus #21 to Bethlehem. After a 5 minute ride we arrived and I tried to cover part of the fare but he refused to take my money saying it was the least he could do for a stranger. Kindness is a wonderful attribute and he certainly set the tone for the rest on my day. I located bus #21 and board it. I soon found myself surrounded by Muslim women with their heads covered staring at me wondering what I was doing on “their” bus. As the bus made its way to Bethlehem I was texting with Eilda who works at the Holy Land Trust and who has been my main point of contact to arrange this meeting. I was fascinated listening to the ring tones on the Muslim women’s phones as we drove along in the driving rain. Soon we were at the border and the bus stopped while Israeli soldiers boarded the bus. Guns hanging down in front of them, they checked our passports and documents. After about 5 minutes they escorted 4 teenage boys off the bus and sent them back to Israel for some reason.
Another 20 minutes later we were at the Bab Zqaq stop and I exited while looking around for Eilda’s car. She was parked across the street in front of a roasted chicken restaurant. After greeting each other we made our way over to the office of the Holy Land Trust, the organization Sami started on 1998. Sami was there to greet me with a big smile on his face and we had a few laughs about the fact that while he had lived in Kansas City and still had family there, I had to come halfway around the world to meet him! He then told me he wanted to make good use of our time and had asked some of his staff to join us while I shared my story. For the next two hours we went on a deeply moving journey as we laughed and cried together sharing our painful and yet God directed experiences. They then treated me to a Palestinian lunch and Sami and I headed out afterward for a tour of the city.
It was sad really. I felt like I was in the movie “Escape from New York” were they walled off Manhattan and turned it into a giant penal colony. As we drove along the tall grey concrete wall that separated the two lands my heart was saddened by the fact these precious brothers and sisters were imprisoned here. Sami can’t even go to Jerusalem and he’s a US citizen! We had a very candid conversation as we drove along. What impressed me about Sami was not only his use of non-violence to make his point, but his object critique of the situation seeing the weakness, corruptness and arrogance on the part of both Palestinians and Israeli’s. He, like I do, believes the teachings of Jesus hold the key to peace and reconciliation in the region. As we drove around we also stopped by the Bethlehem Bible College which was founded by his father Dr. Bishara Awad in 1979. His uncle Alex, who is Dean of Students, greeted us and soon the four of us were sharing a cup of coffee. I was deeply impressed by the stature and yet humility of these great men of God. They are committed to raising up a generation of godly Palestinians committed to peace and the principles of the Kingdom of God. I can see why some in the Messianic community are scared of them as the more people are made aware, the more the stereotype of all Palestinians being terrorists is broken.
I was sad to leave but needed to get back to the other side and get to Caesarea where I could reconnect with Elizabeth. I jumped back on Bus #21 and headed back over the border, going through the same drill at the checkpoint and was dropped off at the Damascus gate. As I walked around to the Jaffa gate the damp cold penetrated my bones and I stepped up my pace to keep warm. Once I got to where I was going I couldn’t find a single sharut and revved up plan B. I took a taxi to the train station and headed to Caesarea via Tel Aviv. For whatever reason I didn’t see a single person on the train all the way to Tel Aviv. As I sat there in the silence I was overcome with emotion at all that had just transpired. My heart was knit with these men. I understood not only their plight but their journey. They even invited me back in March for their “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference to share my story with other Evangelical leaders from around the world! “Oh God what are you up to, you have knit my heart with those who are often seen as on the “wrong” side of the equation.” As the train meandered along, I found myself lost in thought for hours. I finally arrived at the Caesarea train station to be met by the relieved eyes of the love of my life. She gave me a big hug kiss and headed back to the hotel to catch up with each other’s lives. I felt as though I had lived a whole life one in one day!
In the military when the battle doesn’t go according to plan they have a phrase “it’s a fluid situation on the ground.” Today was one of those days. I had originally hoped to head south on the train from Tel Aviv and visit a friend in the Negev (desert). When Elizabeth checked her itinerary this morning she realized her company had booked us in another Dan hotel further north in Caesarea for the next few days. She also discovered they had not booked a room for tonight for one of her clients from the US. Chaos ensued!
When she contacted the front desk to see if she could get two rooms for at least one more night in Tel Aviv, they told her no, the hotel had a big convention coming in and there were no more rooms available. She then turned to me like only a wife can do with that “please help me” look in her eyes which of course I’m powerless against! It was decided that I would pack up the bags and head to the hotel lobby until further instructions. For the next two hours I sat there waiting…waiting…waiting! I did start working on how I was going to get to Bethlehem tomorrow but had no internet access so had a long conversation with the Concierge about how to navigate the journey.
Finally word came through that we had a room! Guess what…it was the same room I had just checked out of!!! I lugged all four bags back up to the 10th floor and unpacked everything again. I then decided to catch up on correspondence etc. and was going to take a walk up to Joppa when Elizabeth asked me to hang at the hotel as I had the bag tags for her client. I waited…waited…waited for him to arrive at the hotel only to get a text from him that he was back and had retrieved his bags without needing the tags!
time I was stir crazy and ready to get out of the room. I packed my backpack, headed for the coast
and trekked up to Joppa. This was the city where Jonah departed from at the
start of his amazing adventure which included a whale ride, albeit inside the whale! It was a refreshing walk as the temperature
was in the 50’s and with the wind in my face from the ocean I soon found myself
exhilarated. The city (as with most
here) is a wonderful combination of ancient and modern. I soon found myself walking in one of the
older sections of the city taking pictures of old doors. Yes, I love old doors! After the sun had descended I made my way
back to the hotel and ended up having dinner with Elizabeth’s client and
sharing our life stories. The day didn't start off like I had expected but it finished with a rich conversation.