Although it has taken 70 pages of journaling, 750+ pictures, 80 videos, 17 blog posts, and countless conversations to record the breadth of my experience, a few impromptu sentences, from an unexpected source, ring the loudest in my mind as an encapsulation of the trip. These words were posed by a beautiful, soft-spoken Israeli woman. Mid-desert, late in a restful Shabbat dinner full of peaceful revelry, Ester unassumingly rose and said to our group:
‘I have had to hold back tears during this dinner as I have listened to you speak of your love for Israel. Thank you. Thank you so much for coming. I feel something unique about this group, unlike any that I have hosted before. I think there is something very special about what is happening here. Thank you.’ [paraphrased]
Ester’s words have pinned humility, understanding, and a sense of family into my being with their penetrating sincerity. They speak loudly over the commotion of details from our trip, focusing the cloud of memories into a clarity during the trip, our importance as advocates for Israel, and my “in-grafted” family relationship to the Jewish People.
A tour of Israel is unquestionably awe-inspiring. Aside from the endless Biblical sites, modern Israel is a wonder in its own right. Vineyards, orchards, and crop fields filled the gaps between the developments of Israeli towns, high-tech businesses and military infrastructure as we bussed around the Land. Between the Israeli innovation we witnessed on tours of the Or Movement (developing the desert) and Better Place (bringing electric vehicles to the world on a massive scale) and the sobering realities of the nation’s security nightmares that we saw through 5 separate security briefings by IDF Colonels, I was astounded by Israel’s collective resolve and advancement. Ester and her people are together brilliant and inspiring to be around, so her thankfulness towards us was almost shocking to me. I felt, and still feel, that I am the one who must hold the position of humble appreciation.
Ester’s gratitude also helped me understand our role as advocates. Her people often fee alone, isolated, and precariously on the edge of tragedy. She made it clear that our support resonates deeper than we may understand. Praying for the “peace of Jerusalem” is no longer a fluffy, distant vagueness for me; it is now stamped with faces and relationships. We are standing for the largest causes, yes- Democracy, freedom, God’s promises. But only these first hand experiences in the Holy Land could put such flesh on the bones of my intellectual understanding for what we might do through CUFI.
So now, as I reflect on it all- the site visits, relationships formed within our group, and bonds sealed with new friends like Ester- I try to summarize how my “expectations for discovery” were so “abundantly” met. My head is crammed full of knowledge, I can answer hundreds of factual questions, and I have spoken first hand with many Israelis- Arab, Jewish, and Druze alike. However, its not my head, but instead my heart, which has been most moved.
The words of my dear friend and trip mate, Conner McMakin beautifully relate my experience at Shabbat with Ester and the trip as a whole:
“I learned that Christians and Jews can have full and loving fellowship with each other, even after nearly 2,000 years of persecution of the Jews by the Church. That has to be a God movement, an Almighty intervention. My heart tells me we are supposed to do this. Even if my brain or limited knowledge doesn’t fully understand our sacred connection, my heart understands it.”
My heart understands. My heart is thankful. God is on the move.