They Say You Always Leave a Piece of Your Heart in Israel…

We have officially been home from Israel for almost three days now. This is a bitter-sweet thing to say. While we all love reuniting with our family, friends, and pets, adjusting to being back home is quite the process. Somehow, the jet lag seems to hit you much harder on the way home than on the way into the trip. Let’s just say that waking up at wee-hours of the day gives you plenty of time to think – something that we all need after such an intense trip to the Holy Land. Most summer vacations end as soon as your family pulls into the driveway and begins to unpack all of the lovely souvenirs you purchased. This is definitely not the case with our Israel trip. On our trip we were heavily immersed in teachings of the Bible. Our hearts and minds were opened to new things that caused revelations in our lives. Everyone has his or her own personal take away from the trip. The processing that is required for each of us is something that could take not only days, but possibly months or years. We ask that you continue to pray for us as we begin this process. Coming home can not only be rough physically, but also mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. It’s tough to go from feeling so very close to God in the middle of the desert to waking up early in the morning and having to process things on your own. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

We also ask that you keep our fellow believers living in Israel in your prayers. On our trip we met a number of people who are being affected by the Israel-Palestine conflict, including Abdullah and his family and the shopkeeper, Claire. From now on when we hear news of the conflict on TV, our minds will immediately go to them. Their stories touched our hearts, and we hope that through us, they may have affected yours in some small way as well. The biggest way that we can help these people is through prayer. It may seem like such a small deed, but God truly does amazing work through our faithful prayers. Pray for their safety, pray for their families, and pray that everyday they wake up with the will to continue this difficult fight to bring Glory to the Lord.

It is still difficult to believe that the fourteen of us just spent twelve days in the Holy Land eating strange foods, exploring caves, climbing mountains, floating in the Dead Sea, and engrossing ourselves in the Bible – what a once in a lifetime experience. Thank you to all of our prayer partners who thought of us throughout our journey. Also, thank you to all of our faithful blog followers πŸ™‚ One of the best parts about going on such an amazing trip is being able to share our experience with the people who mean the most to us. As we said before, this isn’t a trip that just ends the moment you get home. The things we have brought back with us in our hearts and minds are things that we all plan to share with our friends, families, schools, and churches. You can’t help but tell people about such an amazing experience. Just as the disciples were commanded to spread the good news after Jesus’ death and resurrection and receiving the Holy Spirit at the entrance to the temple, we are meant to share our experience with the world.

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Therefore, Go…

You don’t often go on trips that challenge you in absolutely every aspect of life – mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally etc. Today was our final day in the Holy Land, and throughout the past two weeks, each member of our group has been challenged in all of the ways just mentioned. When people hear you are going to Israel, they tend to think about the conflict in the Middle East, but we all now realize that there is so much more to this Land.

Today we wrapped up our study here by following in the steps of Jesus to the cross and to the resurrection. This experience turned out to be quite emotional. Like many things we did here, it’s something that is difficult to put into words and something that we’ll continue to process after we leave. We began the day at the Garden Tomb, one of the possible sites of the crucifixion and resurrection. Here we were reminded that the location of Christ’s death is not ultimately what matters, but rather it’s what He did and our response that matters.

We then went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the other place where the crucifixion/resurrection may have happened. This church was nothing like what most of us expected or pictured. Because of this unexpectedness, it stirred up a lot of emotions within us. In some ways, it felt like the church was just another tourist location complete with gift shop. Little of what was originally there remains, so unlike other places where the Bible came alive, this was a different kind of experience. Being there makes you wonder if this is what Jesus would have wanted this place to be. Does he want people who just come to kiss the holy sites or people who want to live for him?

We ended our day and our trip at the southern stairs to the Temple. This was the likely location for the events of Pentecost, where the work of the early church really began. It seemed fitting to end our trip where the news about Jesus began to spread out to the world. Sometimes the church feels really big or separated, but being in this place and sharing the experience with our little community that developed on the trip made us feel like we are a part of the body of Christ. This trip has been life changing for every single one of us, and just as the disciples did following Pentecost, it is our job to bring the gospel out with us. We spent some time reflecting on our trip and what we wanted to bring home with us. We didn’t just come here to take pictures, buy souvenirs, or see pretty landscape… We came to become living stones who passionately want to live for Jesus.

Favorites:

Kara – our end of the day reflection on what the trip has taught all of us
Isabel – our final trip reflection just outside the wall – lots of laughing and crying but an amazing experience
Derek – final reflection when Sam, Abed, and DJ Blame Blame talked
Sam – the final reflections of what the trip meant to all of us…I cried
Stephen – final reflections about the trip when Abed, Blamer, and Sam talked…I just lost it. Love these people so much
Kristin – the Garden Tomb and shopping. And final reflections of course
Kayla – the final talk we had together as a group. So gonna miss everyone
Kelsea – hearing Abed’s story and how Jesus’ teaching affected him

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People

Hello friends and family! Isabel writing once again πŸ™‚ As we only have one full day left in Israel, I’m sure you are all getting anxious to have us home. Although the trip is slowly coming to an end, we are all enjoying each and every moment that we have left here in the Holy Land. God is continuously opening our hearts and minds to new things in this amazing place. The one thing that struck me in particular today was people. The word makes it sound so simple, but people are pretty much the most complex thing on God’s earth. This is something that He is really open my eyes to as I discover new types of people in His land.

The first time the idea of people hit me was when we met up with the Blamer family’s Palestinian friends. They are Palestinian Christians living in Bethlehem. We first met the head of the family, Abdullah, and later, his wife and children. Abdullah helps run a center, called Al Basma (the smile), for mentally disabled adults so that they can develop life skills, independence, and most importantly, a sense of hope. The work that Abdullah is doing in this place is one of the most inspiring stories ever. He has absolutely no obligation to these people, but the love and compassion he has for them makes him committed to his job. Later in the day, after visiting this center, we went to the home of Abdullah and his family. Here we were treated with a great amount of hospitality. The family is also very committed to the conflict that exists between Israel and the Palestinians. As Palestinians in the West Bank, they are majorly affected by the issues that take place in the country. Besides the fact that they are viewed as terrorists by outsiders, they are also kept in the West Bank by the separation wall and prevented from traveling to Jerusalem. Many times while we were at their home, they asked us to be praying for them as well as the country. As many know, Israel is in rough shape right now and they are in great need of peace. This isn’t necessarily something you fully understand until you meet people that it actually affects on a daily basis. I’d say that this conflict now holds a special place in all of our group members’ hearts because we have gained friends that are affected by it.

Later in the day our group encountered an intriguing and AMAZING situation. Our last stop for the day was the separation wall that lies between the West Bank and the rest of Israel. As we walked down the street that used to be the main road from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, the owner of a tiny shop pulled us in and asked us if we wanted to hear her story. This woman’s story appeared on 60 Minutes a couple months ago. Now before I go any farther I want everyone to understand the location of this shop. It used to be located on one of the busiest streets in Israel. Now it is literally surrounded on three sides by the separation wall. This is something that is so difficult to put into words, but basically just imagine placing your own house between concrete walls that are about 26 feet high. There isn’t anybody on the planet that desires to live like this. This horrible situation has been completely forced upon them. This is something that most people only get a chance to see or hear about on the news, but our group actually got to hear firsthand from a women who lives about ten feet away from the wall. What a God moment!!! The lady that we talked to explained that she has lived under these harsh conditions for about eight years. The best part of her story is that she is completely depending on God for survival. She went through a period of time where her life was threatened frequently, but she still trusted God with everything. Instead of running away from the situation, she faces it head on the best she can. She shares her story with anyone who will listen and spreads the glory of God by doing so. Hence the reason that we had the opportunity to be inspired by her story πŸ™‚

The final encounter that I had with people in Israel was so simple, yet so precious. After a long day of exploring Bethlehem, we came back to our hotel. Dinner was delayed a bit, so I got the chance to spend time with a young Israeli girl. Our conversation first began when she asked if I knew of the band “One Direction.” It’s pretty hilarious how two people from completely different backgrounds can connect over such a silly thing. After this I spent about fifteen minutes talking to her and her mom about simple yet interesting topics like traveling, school, music, and animals. Later in the night, we began talking again, and the little girl ended up doing the Cupid Shuffle with our group in the hotel lobby. This situation sounds so ridiculous, but this is when the idea of people really began to hit me…

I absolutely love that God is always bringing people into our lives in the most unexpected ways. A few months ago I never would have guessed that I would meet a Palestinian Christian family living in Bethlehem, a Palestinian Christian women trapped behind a large wall, and a young Israeli girl just curious about American life all in one day. Meeting people sounds like such a casual and frequent event, but these meetings meant sooo much to me. These people became a part of my story and I became a part of theirs as well. There is so much conflict that exists in this large world today, specifically Israel, and I think we sometimes forget to think about the people behind these stories. This really reminded me of the idea of the Body of Christ. When it comes down to it, the Body of Christ is about PEOPLE. People praying for one another, talking with one another, connecting with one another, listening to one another, sharing with one another etc etc…I could go on for pages. Although the big issues that take place on this earth are important, first and foremost, as the Body of Christ we are called to take care of one another. We can’t get lost in the craziness and forget about the people. People – families, women, young girls – are important and we HAVE TO be there for them.

Favorite moments of the day…
Kelsea – eating plums at Abdullah’s house and meeting Claire and hearing her story and being able to record it
Stephen – going to Al Basma and meeting Abdullah was amazing! I want to grow up and be just like him, the experience unleashed a new passion for the outcasts that I didn’t quite know I had.
Isabel – listening to Abdullah talk about his life and chatting with the Israeli girl at the hotel
Dave – lunch meal and Claire at the wall
Phyl – Claire and listening to Abdullah
Judy – talking with Abdullah and with Claire
Marv – pie and ice cream with Abdullah and by the wall with Claire
Kayla – holding a baby lamb…it was so precious
Derek – visiting the smile center
Kara – visiting Abdullah and his family and going to the wall
Sam – getting to meet Abdullah and the Al Basma Center
Nael – lunch and Abdullah’s

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Jerusalem

Today we had our first day in Jerusalem. We spent much of the day following in the steps of Jesus as he entered into the city on Palm Sunday and moved toward the cross. We also spent time understanding the city at the time of David and of Jesus’ day. It’s still hard to believe we are in Jerusalem!

We started the day and our time in Jerusalem by visiting a model of the city during Jesus’ time. This helped us understand the parts of the city that we would explore later in the day. We also were able to view the Dead Sea Scrolls. We had visited Qumran earlier in the trip, where the scrolls were found. It’s amazing to see such early copies of our Bible.

Our next stop was the Mount of Olives. This was the first moment that we had a full view of Jerusalem with the Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock, and Gethsemane before us! It doesn’t matter how many times people like Mr. Blamer see this view, it’s still awe inspiring. From this view, we could see the entire last week of Jesus’ life.

We then went down the Mount of Olives as Jesus did during his Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday. We stopped at a small church about halfway down to hear the story of Palm Sunday. Here we considered the two times Jesus cried on the mount. Once was when he saw Mary and Martha mourning for Lazarus; the other was when the people missed his purpose and instead welcomed him as a conquering king. Here we were challenged to consider the reason Jesus might weep for us. Are we people who he cries along side of because of his compassion for us or is he crying because we missed his purpose?

At the bottom of the Mount of Olives, is Gethsemane. It was fascinating to be in the area where Jesus spent his final hours before he was betrayed and handed over to the authorities. Although this was powerful, as followers of the living God, we were reminded that our God is bigger than any one location or building built over a holy site. It was difficult to imagine Jesus there, completely abandoned by everyone who had been following him. What amazing love that he had to continue his walk to the cross with no one at his side. We will continue to the cross with him on Thursday.

Before and after a delicious falafel lunch, we visited the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. There we had the opportunity to pray at the wall at the place where God’s Temple was. For 3000 years, people have come to this location to pray to God. While we believe we can pray to God anywhere, it was special to pray in a place where so many other people have come to worship throughout history.

After going up on the Temple Mount and walking past the Dome of the Rock, we went to the Church of St. Anne’s. Our group shared a special moment together at the church by singing worship songs. Singing has been a great way to bring our group together as a community, a small part of the body of Christ. The acoustics in the church were amazing and made us sound like a choir of angels.

We finished our day by going down to David’s City and exploring Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This was a fascinating way to understand more about ancient Jerusalem. It was an awesome experience…we’ll share some pictures because it’s just too difficult to describe. πŸ™‚

Favorite moments from the day:

Kelsea – seeing the beautiful mosaics in the Church of all Nations
Isabel – singing in the Church of St. Anne’s, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, and ring shopping πŸ™‚
Kayla – seeing the Dome of the Rock. It had such awesome detail and color
Kristin – Hezekiah’s Tunnel and singing in the Church of St. Anne’s
Kara – seeing the Dome of the Rock and going through Hezekiah’s Tunnel…and singing, of course πŸ™‚
Sam – smuggling Bibles onto the Temple Mount
Stephen – smuggling Bible into the Temple Mount was intense. Hezekiah’s Tunnel was so fun though!!!

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From Galilee to Jerusalem

Hello everyone from Jerusalem! We just arrived at our hotel after leaving Galilee this morning. We began the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee to wrap up our time there. It was cool to be out on a boat on the same sea where Jesus and the disciples were. We even got to see a fishing demonstration, although the nets came up empty, even when tossed on the other side. We also had time to consider when Jesus walked on water and the faith Peter was required to have to walk on water himself.

We then made a couple brief stops, first at the church where Jesus fed the five thousand and then at a cliff overlooking Nazareth. From the overlook, we could see the locations for Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites. We then read the story of the angel announcing Jesus’ birth to Mary and talked about Luke 4 when the people of Nazareth wanted to push Jesus off the cliff.

After Nazareth, we went to the city of Megiddo at the base of Mt. Carmel. Here we discussed the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. His experience in this location included hiking up the mountain in the morning, challenging the priests of Baal, building an altar, slaughtering a bull, praying, going down the mountain, executing 850 priests, going back up the mountain, praying for rain, going back down the mountain, and running 18 miles. What an eventful day! From this one story, we learn a lot about the life of Elijah. If he was known for one single characteristic, it would be his passion for God. He was willing to give absolutely everything in his life over to be a faithful follower of God. This is shown through his commitment to perform Godly actions in the Mt. Carmel incident. Hearing this story right below Mt. Carmel really inspired our group to have just as much passion for God as Elijah did. His passion obviously helped spread the kingdom of God, and this is something that each and every one of us is able to do as well. This will be especially important for the high schoolers who have another year of school coming up in about two months. If we really want to spread Jesus throughout our school, we are going to have to have the passion to do so.

We finished our day on the Mediterranean coast at Caesarea. What another amazing contrast to the deserts and mountains we’ve been in! At Caesarea, we met Herod again. Here he built a city to bring all trade into Israel. It included a manmade harbor, theater, stadium, palaces with swimming pools, and a temple to Caesar. While we all loved being on the coast and enjoyed the Mediterranean, it was interesting to once again see all that Herod did to glorify himself. As we picked up chunks of marble on the beach, we were reminded that everything he did is just a bunch of ruins now.

Favorite moments today:

Kristin – Caesarea, witnessing four weddings, our driver buying us watermelon, and dancing on the Sea of Galilee
Samuel – walking into the Mediterranean Sea with Kara and Stephen
Kara – going out into the Mediterranean Sea and boating on the Sea of Galilee
Kayla – dancing with Abed, Kristin, Kara, Sam, Derek, and Isabel on the boat in the Sea of Galilee
Kelsea – finding tons of marble and crabs on the beach of Caesarea
Derek – walking on water on the Sea of Galilee
Isabel – singing random songs at random times throughout the day and visiting Caesarea
Stephen – walking on the Mediterranean Sea with Kara and Sam was one of the coolest experiences of my I’ve ever had!

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Becoming Talmid (Disciples)

Our group had another amazing day in Israel. Isabel here again πŸ™‚ We started the day off with a visit to Korazin. This is one of three cities that makes up the Jewish religious triangle. Here we spent time in a typical synagogue, which would have included a public mikveh, chief seats, a bema, and a Moses seat. The synagogue wasn’t just a building that people met in on the Sabbath; it was a place of community, learning, worshipping, and education. There was typically only one synagogue in a city so people worshipped with the same people they lived with everyday. Every time the people met for worship, one person was assigned to present the derashah of the day. This included the reading of scripture, a personal reflection, and also time to ask questions. This was an amazing time for the people of the city to get to know each other and dig deeper into one another’s lives. On our trip we are trying to immerse ourselves in the Biblical world as much as possible; therefore, we reenacted a synagogue service. One of our own group members, Kara Lurvey, practiced the derashah. She shared with us her favorite verse (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18), and then also gave a testimony about what the verse meant to her. Overall, this experience challenged every one of us to be more open with each other. As a Christian community, we are meant to share our lives with one another. The only way we are able to be there for other believers is if we hear from each other. To be a Christian community, we need to make time and effort to hear what God is doing in each other’s lives.

Next, we traveled to Tel Dan. This is the northern most point in both ancient Israel and modern Israel. Here, the story of Jeroboam took place. He is the man who split the nation of Israel, and became King of the northern kingdom. His motivations for moving the people were very selfish. He wanted to change the focus of worship from Jerusalem to Dan, so that the people would follow him. As a result, he ended up leading all of Israel into sin. This reminds us of the community aspect of Christianity. We are called to keep one another accountable and prevent each other from falling into sin.

Our third location was Caesarea Philippi. This is pretty much the definition of a pagan city. It was dedicated to the god, Pan, who was half man and half goat. In this city, they celebrated fertility by having sex in a pagan temple. Surprisingly, Jesus brought the 12 disciples here. This may sound crazy, but of course, he had a purpose in doing so. He brought the disciples here to show them that Jesus even reigns over the worst of places. There isn’t anything bad enough that could ever overcome his power and glory. He truly reigns over everything.

We then made a brief stop at Gamla. This was the birthplace of the Zealot movement in Jesus’ day. The Zealots believed that the kingdom of Jesus should be spread through violence. When they were attacked by the Romans, they chose to kill themselves rather than to surrender. Five miles away Jesus was preaching a different message – “Love your neighbor…love your enemies…pray for those who persecute you…”

Lastly, we stopped at the Jordan River for an amazing experience. This whole trip, Mr. Blamer has emphasized the idea of following Christ with all of our hearts, souls, and minds, being disciples of Christ, and giving every part of our lives over to God. This is something that has been on all of our minds throughout the trip, so some of our group members chose to act on this. Mr. Blamer gave us the opportunity to re-commit ourselves to the Lord. Those who chose to participate stepped into the water one by one, answered a series of questions, and then “cleaned” their hands, feet, hearts, and whole bodies with the cleansing water. This is an experience that all of us can take back to Michigan with us. Because we all participated in it together, we can hold each other accountable all the time. This is an amazing picture of the body of Christ.

Favorites:

Sam: recommitting myself to the living God, in the Jordan
Kayla: recommitting my life to God in the Jordan River
Kristin: recommitting my life in the Jordan River
Kara: recommitting my life to God and sharing part of my testimony in the synagogue
Isabel: recommitting my whole life to God in the Jordan River
Derek: “what they said”
Stephen: listening to Kara share her testimony at the synagogue today and my ear lobe massage from Blamer…weird
Marv and Judy: Dan
Phyllis: synagogue
Dave: stayed at the hotel for his own En Gedi of rest (we are thankful he is feeling better)
Kelsea: recommitting myself to God in the Jordan River and listening to Kara’s testimony
Karen: seeing teenagers recommit their lives at the Jordan
Tblame: “what she said”

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