Tuesday, June 26, 2018

No God Like the God of Israel

I returned from Israel Saturday evening and started a summer class Monday for my teacher certificate.  That's on top of my work with EE, so I'm quite busy!  It’s on reading and writing; and some of the articles I’ve read explains how readers bring a variety of ideas, opinions, and prior knowledge about a topic, including their own cultural background, to their reading material.  I already agreed with this, but my trip to Israel has reinforced this in my own life!

View of the Temple Mount through the stained glass window
at the church right at the Mount of Olives

Several people predicted that visiting the Holy Land would change my life and really make the Bible come alive like never before.  I wasn’t quite sure how to imagine that.  After all, I’ve been privileged to visit many amazing places on the earth; and the Bible is not a boring book to me.  But as soon as I began to walk in the very places I’ve read about in the Bible and experience the environment that my Biblical heroes and heroines lived in, I knew what they meant.  More than that, we were blessed to have an incredibly knowledgeable guide who shared details that brought a whole new perspective to my understanding of the Bible.  

For example, at the time of Jesus, Nazareth had only a handful of families there.  Mangers weren’t made of wood, but of stone.  In Matt 16:18, When Jesus told Peter “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," He was talking about a real place called “the gates of hell” where the Greeks worshiped their fertility god Pan.  The white-washed tombs that Jesus used as an example to the Pharisees were real tombs at the Mt. Of Olives visible from the city of Jerusalem.  Pontius Pilate was not a sensitive man we should feel sorry for, but hated the Jews with a passion.  When the soldiers were mocking Jesus before His crucifixion, they were playing a popular Roman game called Game of the Kings.  Of course, there's more, but how's that for some background information?

Grotto of Pan

Caesarea Philippi where Jesus spoke to Peter in Matthew 16
White-washed tombs at Mount of Olives are in the background and
were easily visible from the temple (further in background) when Jesus spoke
to the Pharisees.

I am reminded once again that not only did God in the form of His Son Jesus come into a context (a place called Israel 2000+ years ago), but He came for a certain people, the Jews.  And what tremendous and sheer grace it is that those who are not Jewish get to be included or as He would call it, be grafted in.  God has been clear in His Word that it was His plan all along to save all mankind from all nations, yet to reveal Himself through His own chosen people, Israel.  What grace was shown us that when they rejected Him, He didn’t reject us (or them)!  He kept to His promise and plan of salvation.  So even though my own personal and cultural background may not relate to 2000-year old relics and ruins; the topography and climate of the Holy Land, nor ancient Roman or Greek society (the more I learned, the more I realized there’s so much more to learn!); our Lord still made a way for His Word to relate to me—and all—through His Spirit that surpasses time and geographical limits.  

I think it’s a good reminder that this side of heaven, we will never know all there is to know about God's Word; and yet the knowledge that our Heavenly Father desires is the personal relationship that the knowledge of His Word can deepen and strengthen, but not replace.  What an amazing God He is!

Hilights from Israel

Well, it would take days and more of a book than a blog post to share about Israel, but it was amazing! To be honest, pictures and stories can’t really do justice to how rich and blessed the trip was; but for the sake of your time and mine, here are my Top 16 Memories listed in the order of when they happened.  My favorite memory was #10.  Otherwise, I can't really weigh or compare.

And this is not even including Caesarea Philippi, Tiberias, Bethlehem, Tel Dan, Capernaum, the Jewish Quarter, the Via Dolorosa, and so much more, which all deserve attention.  Each hour was so special in a "I can't believe I get to be here" kind of a way.

1.  Praying at the Basilica with Laura in Nazareth       
Disclaimer: I'm 95% sure this is the right picture.  😊

    2.  Steve’s teaching/sharing each day          

    Steve sharing at the Coliseum in Caesarea

    3.  Being encouraged and challenged by Father Tim in Magdala

    Father Tim is leaving Israel after many years and changed his flight
    so that he could give his very last tour with our group.  It was beautiful to see
    his heart to make Jesus known at this ancient site.

    Photo by Rob Hare

    He brought Scripture to life through story-telling (reminds me of our Come & See
     method with EE!) and gave us time to meet with Jesus through prayer.

    Photo by Rob Hare

    4. Worshiping on the Sea of Galilee
    Our boat's name was Galilee Worship. :)

    5.  Visiting the site overlooking where Jesus taught His disciples the Beatitudes

    And reading them there!

    6. Dipping my feet in the Jordan River 

    With Laura.  It may look nasty, but oh-so-refreshing in
    such hot temperatures!  A few minutes later, we verbally renewed
    our baptismal vows as a group.

    7.  Getting to float in the Dead Sea

    With 41% salt, no plants or animals can live in the Dead Sea; but
    it's quite easy to float!  Just don't get it in your lungs, or it's off to the hospital!

    Photo by Rob Hare

    8.  Masada

    It's a long way up to the ancient site of Herod's escape palace: 900 meters or almost 3000 feet!
    He clearly wanted to make it extremely difficult for his enemies to come and get him!

    From "inside" the former palace grounds overlooking the Dead Sea

    9.  Getting to meet and listen to our special guest, Yair Netanyahu!

    Before I left, my dad asked me twice to say "hello" to Benjamin Netanyahu.  I
    didn't get to personally, but I passed on the message through his son!

    10.  Praying over the city of Jerusalem with my roommate each night 

    Jerusalem at night

    How we got this VIP room with a balcony is another story!

    11.  Getting to meet up with SAMS director and associate director in Jerusalem!
    So special to see these two there!  Fresh off the plane and their first night there,
    they still met with me on my last night in Israel!

    12. Time to reflect and pray at the Garden of Gethsemane

    Along a path at the Garden of Gethsemane

    Garden as it overlooks the Temple Mount

    13.  Praying at the Wailing (or Western) Wall

    Women on the right, men on the left

    My Prayers.  They never destroy the thousands of slips of paper prayers because they consider them holy.
    Twice a year, they sweep them and bury them at the Mount of Olives!
    14.  Visiting the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

    With leader Wayne and friend Laura outside the Embassy

    Photo by Rob Hare

    15. Visiting the Yad Vashem (World Holocaust Remembrance Center)

    Every diplomat who enters Israel must visit the Yad Vashem.   The Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations
     is outside with trees planted for those who risked all to save Jewish lives.  Here is the tree planted for
    Corrie Ten Boom and her family.

    16. Sharing communion together in a chapel at the Garden Tomb—well, one of the two possible locations.

    Our group waiting to enter the tomb before taking communion together.  Steve reminded us that communion is not something that we do for God, but that God has done for us.  When we remember His work on the Cross, the word remember actually goes deeper than recalling Jesus' action, but through His act of love and sacrifice, He has actually re-membered us to His Body.  This is what we celebrate at communion.

    Photo by Rob Hare

    Bonus: Got to fly through Paris on the way home!

    The Holy Land

    Before going to Switzerland last October, I met with a good friend who shared the exciting news that she and her husband were going to go on the trip to Israel that my pastor would help lead this summer.  I was so excited for them!

    Fast-forward to mid-November from my couch in Switzerland: my sister had visited my home church in Charleston and encouraged me to listen to (my pastor) Steve's sermon online.  When I logged onto the website, I saw the Israel trip featured on the screen and stared dreaming about going.  It was short-lived, though, as there was just no way to pull that off at this time in my life, where I depend on the financial support of others and with a heavy travel schedule already.  After contemplating all the options to reduce the price (could I fly from Europe and meet up?), I realized I needed to let it go.

    A couple of weeks later: It's now my last full day in Switzerland, my friends have me over for a nice meal and give me gifts.  At some point, they say how they are going to Israel in May.  "Oh, my church is going in June!"  They ask if I'm going.  "No."  Why?  "Well, it costs $4,000," and I rattle off 2-3 other reasons why I can't go.  They ask if I would like to go.  "Well, yes, but not this time."  We hug and say our goodbyes, and I go home.

    Five minutes later, there is a knock at the door.  I open to see the wife who tells me that she and her husband have been talking, and if I want to go to Israel that they will pay for me to go!  My mouth drops; and when I can finally speak, I thank her and say I'll pray about it.  I'm not one to make major decisions without reflection and prayer.  Not to mention, I am shocked and not sure how to respond to such an offer.  As I close the door, I remember a fleeting thought I had a couple of weeks before that the only way I could go would be if someone would pay for me (not expecting it to actually happen!).

    The next morning, my friend stops by for one last goodbye.  I decide to make sure that they have understood the cost since they're not native English speakers.  Maybe they'd thought I said "for $1000 instead of $4000"--an easy misunderstanding even for a native speaker.  When she brings the topic up, saying "I want you to think about Israel.  It will change your life," I say "I wanted to ask you...did you understand how expensive it is?  It's $4,000 enunciating the 4 this time.  She replies, "I know, it's really expensive."  Wow, I decide to pray for a week because even though it may seem like a no-brainer, it is important for me to send the okay from the Lord since only He knows what the coming year will bring and where I need to be.

    One week later, the day after Thanksgiving: I inquire with Wayne, the group leader, but the trip is already full.  I ask to be put on a waiting list and continue to ask the Lord if He wants me to go, trusting He'll open the door if He does.

    The day after Christmas: I get a phone call from Wayne that two spaces have opened up, and I am the first one on the waiting list.  Do I want to go? YES!!!

    And that is the amazing story of how I got to go to Israel with my home church!  Just got back a week ago!

    Excited with Laura and Robbie at the airport

    With Laura in old city of Jerusalem

    *Over a week now.  Took a while for me to find time to get pics added!

    Note: And sorry for the strange formatting which I realize is not all nice and neat.  This is after some work to get it to display right!

    Friday, June 1, 2018


    Last stop: Indonesia!

    My evening flight from Bangkok to Jakarta was fine.  I had contacted another SAMS family who graciously offered to pick me up from the airport rather late and house me for the very short night before my morning flight to Malang.  I think it took an hour to get to their home, but I was very thankful for a bed to sleep in after we chatted a bit.  And then a shower and waffles the wife served me early the next morning.  Now that’s hospitality especially when they had Sunday ahead of them!  I had wished I could’ve joined them for their church service that morning, but my schedule didn’t allow.  I would get to see the wife again, though, on my long layover the next week!  

    On the flight, I sat next to an Indonesian couple.  The husband was next to me and shared how he’d applied to go the US a few years back to visit a good friend, but was denied a Visa because they suspected he would stay and work there.  I apologized to him, but he didn’t seem bitter.  They were on their way to visit their son who was in university in Malang.  That was as far as the conversation went because we all slept the duration of the flight.  Almost immediately upon my waking, I was taken aback to see him leaning over with his cell phone pointed at us, exclaiming “Selfie for memories!”  Ha!  Speaking of memories, It brought some back to my first trip to Indonesia where complete strangers would ask for photos with all of the Westerners, but at least these strangers were within our organization.  :)  

    I had arrived early to visit my friends who live on site of the training center where the meetings would be.  It was nice to have a day to adjust, do laundry before the meetings began, and spend the evening catching up with dear friends.  As always, the next week would be an intense time of discussions, information, and decisions.   

    Where we spent most of our time :)

    Just like our recent continental meeting, many times our meal times or right after become meetings
    so that we could take advantage of all being together in one location.
    Since the Day of Prayer and Fasting fell during this time, we dedicated a portion of our day to pray for our nations, which was special.  While we were having our meetings, there were two other trainings going on.  This center stays busy!   Please pray for our team there to be protected and continue to seize the opportunities around them.

    Group photo in our Batik shirts the Indonesian team bought for us!

    Sunday, it was a joy to worship with Indonesian brothers and sisters especially when the atmosphere there is heavily inspired by the predominant religion of the nation.  I actually had incorrectly assumed that it was an M nation because of the minarets everywhere and call to prayer throughout the day and night, not to mention the fact that it has the highest number of M’s in the world.  Come to find out, the nation actually recognizes 6 religions, and it’s illegal to be an atheist!  How interesting!  And while there is reason to be encouraged by what the Lord is doing there, a stark reminder of the darkness there came 3 days after we left when multiple churches suffered casualties.  

    Local Church

    Just this past week, I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes which reminds us that nothing is guaranteed in this life; that there is so much we don’t truly understand; and we will all face death.  What a beautiful God that we serve who Himself is our Good News: that death doesn’t get the final say, but Jesus Christ does.  While we may not have guarantees on this earth, we do have promises for eternity, if we believe in God’s Way.  

    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

    Days Two and Three in Bangkok

    Oh boy...the last month has been busy to say the least!  I'll try to update you on my final days in SE Asia in my next couple of blogs.

    Friday I walked down to a nearby park, which was quite huge!  I regretted leaving behind my umbrella (to use as a parasol) and water bottle because it was so hot!  I was able to cover a good bit of territory in about an hour so that I could get back to some shade and hydration.

    Entrance to the Park

    Not sure if this is about recycling or trash disposal, but he's pumped.
    There were a few of these guys around!

    Friday evening, I had been invited to a dinner party by the Bishop and his wife, which was incredibly kind since I didn't know anyone in Bangkok.  Another couple who'd been invited just happened to live on the street where I was staying and agreed to meet me and share a taxi.  That was the plan anyway.  But finding a taxi on a Friday night isn't so easy; so after a few minutes of walking, we hailed a tuk tuk (a bit different than the Cambodian ones--no moped).  It was fine until it started raining, so we all huddled together and mostly kept dry.  There is so much traffic that it probably would've taken less time to walk....  except for the lack of sidewalks in this very busy section!  Another guest did walk and arrived soaked to the bone!  

    It was a lovely time.  The one wife is Vietnamese and quite accomplished, though extremely humble. Not only does she make dresses for Hollywood stars, but she has started several non-profit organizations in Vietnam that help support those in need.  For example, her one business employees deaf and dumb (except for one employee)!!  It's so encouraging to see how God can and does use those He chooses and respond to His call, wow!

    I also learned that my imagination was not so wild regarding the crazy traffic (I posted from Phnom Penh).  This couple knew a young couple who'd just had a baby, and the husband died from a motorcycle accident.  They said it's a common occurrence.  How sad!  

    My last day, Saturday, I'd wanted to either go to the Market or palace.  My new acquaintances had given me a map and clear directions for how to get to either, but I knew my decision would be made by how many emails I had when I awoke, which were several and a to-do list!  So, I thankfully stayed in my room to work.  I write "thankfully" because it poured, which was quite therapeutic.  I even recorded it, but couldn't get the audio file to upload without uploading my entire playlist. ;)

    Very thankful for the time in Bangkok before I ventured on to Indonesia.

    Local Park