Wow!! I always thought our summers on the island, running seven and a half weeks of discipleship training for dozens of college students as well as 6.5 weeks of family camps, flew by . . . but these past 7 weeks redefine “flying.” I am in utter disbelief that we are at the halfway mark of August . . . and still on the road and in the air, by God’s grace, going strong. What an unbelievable journey we’ve been on!
As I last wrote, we were leaving for the Holy Land. I don’t know if anything could’ve prepared us for the two weeks we spent between the West Bank and Jordan, but everyday was full-to-the-brim with new experiences, new insights, new encounters with God. Our team of 16 was multi-generational (our sweetest spot), ranging from a 23-year-old Chilean soccer player (Sergio) to John and Joette, 77 and 79 respectively, who have made multiple trips with this FCA team to the Holy Land. Each person brought different gifts, personalities, temperaments, and passions and it was a joy to serve with them. Led by Mike White (FCA regional direction in West Virginia), Bobby Neal, and Dennis Dye (all of whom have been leading this trip for at least 10 years), we were in very good human hands as their knowledge of the area and their passion for the people runs deep. It’s funny to look back at this first photo, which was taken on our first full day together when we didn’t know each other, to the the last photo we were all together for, and realize that in 14 days, our hearts were bonded together in a familial way. Our connections are deep with this incredible group of people.
Because I posted to Facebook daily during the trip (from July 1 through July 15), I’ll summarily describe it here, but you can scroll back on my Facebook timeline if you want a more in-depth description.
Our first week was spent in the West Bank, where we held sports camps in two different locations. Our team divided to conquer, and Paul, Lisa, and I were on the team that served the community at the Catholic Action Center. This five day basketball camp is designed to teach the fundamentals of basketball, develop relationships with the kids, and share the gospel—both formally and informally. Our attendees increased from 40 on the first day to 106 on the second day to 131 on the final day. Each day we held two 1 hour and 45 minute sessions: the first for 5-11 year olds, and the second for 12-18 year olds. We taught the basics of basketball until the last 10 minutes of the session, when we gathered around for a gospel lesson.
It was a blast! Such a different experience than we’ve ever had in some aspects, but in other ways, it was in line with what we’ve done our whole lives. Just a camp of a different ilk. Each day our relationships grew with the “kids” and we found that though we couldn’t understand one another’s mother tongue, it’s true that 93% of communication is non-verbal. Many smiles, gestures, and connections happened without a word spoken.
Perhaps even greater than the impact on the kids is the impact on the locals who once were attenders of the camp and now serve as translators and extra helpers. We connected deeply with a number of them and feel many gospel seeds were planted through our genuinely-connected hearts.
Throughout the week, we spent part of most days seeing some of the sacred sights in and around the West Bank. In Hebron, we saw the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Jerusalem we toured the tunnels of the temple, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Olives, the Wailing Wall, the Garden Tomb where it was believed Jesus was buried, Caiaphas’s home, the Tower of David, etc. Especially meaningful was Pastor John serving communion to our group at the Garden Tomb, followed by us spontaneously singing “When Peace Like a River…It is well with my soul.” We had just learned the day before that Horatio Alger had penned that song very close to where we were touring. Very moving.
Each place we visited made scripture come alive for us in new ways and we had two consistent emotions/reactions to these experiences: awe at how “real” it made well known Biblical accounts seem, and horror at how little we knew about the history and the dynamics of the Middle East. It has motivated us to continue the learning inspired by this trip.
A true highlight for us was teaching a marriage seminar at Immanuel Evangelical Church of Bethlehem. Yes!! We were very honored to be invited to spend several hours teaching on marriage to a delightful gathering of 28 who were eager and open to learn more about God’s design for marriage. Most of them are first generation Christians and coming to Christ has cost them greatly in terms of family relationships, etc. Pastor Nihad and Pastor Elias are providing great leadership for this congregation, which is thriving. It was such a privilege to share our hearts with theirs and at their invitation, we are planning a return trip hopefully in the spring.
Lisa, who was making her third trip with this FCA team, had the unusual experience of teaching a three-night course for physical therapists, athletic trainers, and coaches at Bethlehem University on injury prevention and treatment. Dr. Summers, department head there at BU, was so pleased with Lisa’s teaching and as much as offered her a job on the spot. :) It was a great experience for her . . . and for us, as we were able to observe all three of her classes. She’s a really good professor, we unbiasedly say.
We left the West Bank on Saturday, July 8, and hiked in En Gedi (all the way to David’s cave), went to Qumran to see where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and stopped at the Jordan River so I could be baptized. Having only been baptized as an infant (according to the religious tradition of the church I was raised in), I have considered adult baptism for years and this seemed the right time and place. I was “dunked” by Pastor John (the Baptist) Rhinehart (the 77-year-old on our trip) and Paul (not the apostle). It was very meaningful in many ways and I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.
On to Jericho we drove, touring the ruins of the walls that fell, and after quickly checking in to a hotel for the night, a number of us walked part of the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, imagining the story of the Good Samaritan happening along that very road, as well as other well-known Bible stories. It was an amazing experience.
We entered Jordan the next day and thus began our 6-day tour of this amazing country. First stop: the Dead Sea, Jordan side. We were indulged a luxurious night in a fabulous hotel right on the Dead Sea and for about 20 hours, we enjoyed pools, the Dead Sea (complete with “mudding” twice), and incredible food. It was very restorative, quite honestly, and we all deeply appreciated it. After touring Mt Nebo, we drove down to Petra, Wadi-Rum and the petroglyphs, where we marveled at the natural geography as well as the masterful carving in the red rock of a civilization gone by. My mouth was agape much of this part of the trip as I took in things I had never seen before.
Back to Amman for several days of ministry, which contained the most memorable times of the trip. We were privileged to run an all-day sports camp for 160 Iraqi refugee children at the well-equipped Orthodox Recreation Center (the use of which was generously underwritten by some dear folks who have a heart for these displaced children). We all loved every minute of it. Every minute. The children were so precious, so appreciative, and so excited to be there. “The kingdom of God is of such as these…”
A second day we provided a sports clinic at the same place, but this time for the kids who attend summer day camp there. It was also a lovely day, but it didn’t hold a candle to the day before.
Besides the Iraqi refugee camp, the highlight for Paul and me was teaching TWO nights on marriage and family: one night for the congregation of the AlRaja Church and one for the Family Ministry team (headed by Bassam and Pascal, an amazingly committed couple who have been driving this vision since 1997!). We were so touched by the devotion of the Family Ministry team of 35 who are working in Jordan as well as numerous other Middle East countries to build Biblical values into families and marriages. Their challenge is great and the obstacles are many, but they are unflagging in their commitment to keep tilling the soil. We were so energized by their vision and energy that it was easy to say “YES” to their invitation to return, hopefully in the spring.
All too quickly our days in Jordan were over, and after spending a full and inspiring day in Capernaum and on the Sea of Galilee, we returned to Tel Aviv for our return to the states.
It was an unforgettable, unbelievable, life-changing two weeks for us and we’re still processing what it means for us in the years ahead. What we know now is that in the midst of our own personal heartache of not being at Campus by the Sea in 2017, God met us in deeply personal ways on this trip. Though our sorrow is real, it is nothing compared to His sorrow, then and now. Getting small insights into the ongoing hatred that marks the line of Abraham and of Ismael reinforced our belief that politics and policies cannot fix what divides these people (or any people) and that Jesus offers the only hope for peace.
Exactly a month ago we returned from the Holy Land. It’s amazing how passages from scripture I’ve read all my life now seem very alive in new ways as they trigger visual images of the places we’ve just been. I’ve always believed that the best education is gained through travel, and this trip certainly reinforces that.
Though there are many unknowns about the future for us personally and for all of us collectively, we confidently sing, “It is well, it is well, with my soul."