Israel: the land of our faith and a nation of resilience.
An Unforgettable Experience
The Passages trip to Israel is an experience that I will never forget and hope to make again someday. I returned home with a love and passion for the land of my faith that I had never experienced before. Not only was visiting the biblical sites breathtaking, but seeing modern day Israel firsthand was incredibly amazing and eye-opening; this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I am grateful to have been a part of.
So what exactly happened on this trip? Well, in June, Regent University sent a bus load of students to Israel with an organization called Passages. Passages is “sponsored by the Philos Project and the Museum of the Bible Foundation, [it] offers Christian college students with leadership potential a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land.” The trip is 12 days long (including two travel days), mainly consisting of visiting ancient biblical sites and seeing modern Israel – experiencing its culture – in addition to talks from speakers of various backgrounds. This unique trip provides a balanced experience that allows one to step back into the past and see the Bible come to life while also explaining the history of the modern State of Israel and its current political conflict.
We had the opportunity to visit the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; get baptized in the Jordan River; overlook Syria from the Golan Heights while hearing gunfire in the distance from the civil war; tour Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum) and the Supreme Court of Israel; eat Shabbat dinner with a Jewish family; hear from a Palestinian on Israeli-Palestinian relations; and listen to a modern orthodox Jew about Jewish-Christian relations. These are just a few opportunities that we had the chance to encounter on our trip.
In all honesty, this article only covers the tip of the iceberg; we did, saw, and learned so much in that week-and-a-half that I would have to write a book about the whole experience in order to give a more accurate description of the trip, and even then I could not do it justice. The best way to learn about and experience Israel is to go there yourself – which I cannot recommend highly enough. But here is my attempt to relay a snippet of the experience to you, particularly what it meant to me, and what I learned about God and Israel through it.
It is impossible to visit the Holy Land and not return home changed; I was told this even before embarking on this pilgrimage, and it could not be truer. God will meet you in the land of His people in a way that can never be experienced anywhere else. Whether He meets you in the Garden of Gethsemane, by the Sea of Galilee, at the Western Wall, or in Yad Vashem, He will make Himself known. Worshiping by the Sea of Galilee was definitely one of the most powerful nights on the trip: it was a clear, beautiful night as a bunch of us Regent students got together on the beach and sang, prayed, and preached whatever God put on people’s hearts for about an hour or two.
As I looked over the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water, we all started singing “Oceans” by Hillsong. During the song, I realized that God was telling me it was my turn to get out of the boat and walk on water towards Jesus. Even though I have been a Christian for most of my life, He was saying that it was time for me to completely trust Him, give Him everything, and to stop trying to make things work on my own because eventually standing on our own strength becomes tiring, so we must kneel. While it has been 2,000 years since Jesus performed miracles in Israel, God continues to do the miraculous in our lives today, but we have to be willing to let Him.
The State of Israel
The God of the miraculous performed no small miracle when He paved the way for Israel to become a nation again in 1948. Since then, Israel has rapidly developed, making it a powerful ally for the United States in the Middle East. But even more impressive than Israel’s growth are its people.
What amazed me the most about the State of Israel is the people’s willingness to go the extra mile and help others in need, even if those people are their enemies. For example, there is a field hospital in Israel next to the border they share with Syria; the Israel Defense Forces run the hospital, and they take care of anyone who walks in – no questions asked. If someone cannot be adequately cared for at the field facility, they helicopter them to a hospital farther inland, then take them back to the border after they have been healed.
This outpouring of love for those who have been hostile towards Israel is what Israelis are all about. A country about the size of New Jersey with the population of New York City, that is surrounded by its enemies, chooses to shine its light in the middle of darkness. This small country gives back more than it’s given and asks for nothing in return. The Jewish nation is an amazing example of how we, as Christians, are called to treat others; therefore, we should stand with them, as they are God’s people and our comrades.
Israel is also incredible with how it is able to adapt to any situation. Because the environment around Israel is always changing – whether a neighboring country becomes hostile or they have to deal with unrest within their country – they have to be adaptable. This is essential to their survival because of the unstable political and military conflict surrounding Israel; for instance, every building in Israel has a bomb shelter, and Israelis who live a mile from Gaza only have 15 seconds to take cover when Hamas launches rockets at them.
Lessons in Resilience
On our last day in Israel, one of the speakers we had spoke on Israel’s ability to adapt and improvise: the speaker’s name was Dr. Ben Reis, and he was born in Israel but went to America for schooling. He is under the age of 30, on the faculty at Harvard Medical School, and is the Director of the Predictive Medicine Group. His talk focused on Israeli startup companies, and he explained that improvisation – which is essential to Israeli culture – is critical for startups because, while it’s not organized, it makes people good at organizing.
Dr. Reis cited an example of this incredible ability to improvise in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Unlike other air forces, where pilots have the same plane and copilot every time, Israel’s air force doesn’t because they didn’t in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Since Israeli troops did not have the luxury of having the same plane and copilot during the war, they train that way so they will be prepared in case that ever happens again.
Another story about the IDF that Dr. Reis told us had to do with a training exercise between Israel’s air force and the United States’ air force. During the exercise, the Israeli commander outmaneuvered the American commander, eventually resulting in the Israeli air force’s win against America. After the exercise, the American commander said to the Israeli commander that, at West Point, the students learn about war strategies and tactics going all the way back to the ancient Greeks and Romans so they know how to fight. The American commander then asked the Israeli commander what war he studied to learn the maneuver he had pulled. The Israeli commander replied that he didn’t learn the maneuver from studying, but rather came up with it on the spot. Dr. Reis later mentioned that when it comes to improvising, unlike Americans who are afraid of failure, Israelis accept it as normal and view success as amazing because they learn from failing. Instead of being afraid to take risks and never learning anything, they’d rather take a chance at being successful.
This contributes to the resilience of Jews – not only in the sense of them keeping their identity and returning to their homeland of Israel after being without it for nearly 2,000 years, but also with bringing back the Hebrew language itself, which is the only language that has been brought back to life after being dead for so long. God is still with His chosen nation of Israel, as He promised He would be; therefore, we should stand with them and be willing to support the only other country in the world that was founded on Judeo-Christian values and continues to be a light to an ever-darkening world.
Natalia Mittelstadt is a contributor to The Daily Runner.