Insights from Israel

I cannot believe that I finally got to visit the Holy Land! Last month, I attended Israel with my school, The King’s College, as part of the Passages Program. I am grateful to both of these organizations for giving me the opportunity to take this incredible journey. After enduring a 10-hour flight (the jet lag was brutal), I found myself standing in the country where the Bible’s greatest stories took place. Ever since I became a Christian (at the age of nine), I wanted to visit Israel.

I always dreamed of getting to walk where Jesus walked and to see the Bible in action. I must say that I enjoyed my trip! It allowed me to grow closer to God and gain a greater appreciation for His Word. While I want to share every aspect of my trip with you all (believe me, I can write a book about my experience), I’ve decided to give you my top ten moments from my trip to Israel.

10) The Dead Sea

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Visiting the Dead Sea was a very cool experience. The Dead Sea is located on the eastern border of Jordan. It is known as the saltiest body of water in the world. This lake is so salty that you can float in it with little-to-no effort (seriously, there’s no way that you can drown). When you come out of the water, your skin feels oily and moisturized. It was very relaxing. I had a great time floating around with my friends.

9) Tagbha

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Tagbha was one of the places where I had an emotional moment. It is the place where Jesus met with his disciples after the resurrection (John 21).

As I sat on the shore, I marveled at the significance of community within the passage. In verse 12, Jesus invites the disciples to have breakfast with him on the beach. I found it interesting that instead of asserting his authority as the resurrected king, Jesus ate with his friends. This shows that God’s heart longs for communion with his children. I’ve always struggled to reconcile God’s loving nature with his role as a righteous judge. During my reflection, God showed me that he wants to have an intimate relationship with me. I didn’t have to work for his approval. I just needed to trust in his goodness as a Heavenly Father.

 I was also moved by the compassion that Jesus had on Peter. Verses 15-18 highlight Peter’s redemption and the power of God’s mercy. I love how Jesus didn’t condemn Peter for denying him three times. Instead, Jesus restores Peter’s title as the leader of the disciples. Jesus also called Peter to “feed his sheep.” This served as an expression of Peter’s love and devotion to Christ. In meditating on this passage, I thought about the importance of community in Christianity. I pondered about how I can better engage with my church, family, friends, and neighbors back home. God also challenged me to stop isolating myself from others out of fear of judgment and rejection.

8) Caesarea Philippi

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Jordan Spring in Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi is a pivotal location for the history of Christianity. This is the place where Jesus declared that he would build the foundation of his church. In Matthew 16:13-20, it states that Jesus asked his disciples about the people’s perception of him. Peter correctly identifies Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus responds by saying, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 17-18). These verses took on a new meaning for me once I understood the history of Caesarea Philippi. 

Our tour guide explained the context behind the paganism that went on in the region. He claimed that the people worshipped the Greek god Pan. The tour guide also mentioned that the people sacrificed women and infants by throwing them into the caves as an offering to the gods. After learning about the vile rituals that happened in that region, it made Jesus’s declaration more powerful. It amazed me to think that the revelation of Christ’s authority and the church’s establishment happened in a place of sin and sorrow. 

7) Mt. Precipice

I enjoyed the magnificent view from Mt. Precipice. This is the place where the Nazareth villagers threatened to throw Jesus off the cliff’s edge (Luke 4:14-30). This is the first place where I bawled like a baby. One of our professors gave a riveting lecture about coping with rejection. After the lecture, I reflected on the moments where I was hurt by the people that I trusted the most. I admired Jesus’s faithfulness to his Father’s will. I’m sure that he forgave his family, friends, and neighbors after they rejected him. As I overlooked the view, I thanked the Lord for his gift of grace and eternal forgiveness. I also thanked him for giving me the freedom to forgive those who hurt me.

6) Sea of Galilee

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I was very excited when I got to visit the Sea of Galilee. I knew that many miraculous things happened there (such as Jesus walking on water) and I was awestruck by the view along the water. One of our professors gave a lecture about fear while we were in a boat on the sea. He spoke about Mark 4:35-41, where Jesus calmed the storm in front of his disciples. While I was in the boat, I thought about how terrified the disciples were during the storm. The professor prompted us to think about the things that we are afraid of and how that could hinder our walk with God. As I reflected on my deepest fears, I prayed and asked God to strengthen my faith and to restore my trust in him.

To be honest, my faith in God was tested due to family issues. I was constantly worried about my healing journey, my future career, and my dream of marriage. I was comforted during my reflection time because the Lord reminded me of Mark 6:50 which says, “because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Even when I doubted God and gave in to fear, he reminded me that I have nothing to be afraid of because he is always by my side.

5) Western Wall

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Visiting the Western Wall was such an exciting event for me. The Western Wall is one of the holiest places in Israel. It is a place where Israelis and Palestinians alike, come to worship and offer prayers to God. I always used to see people laying hands on the wall on television and I imagined what it would be like to lay my hands on that wall. I can say that I truly felt the power of the Holy Spirit in that place. As I stuck my prayer in the crease of the wall, my heart was filled with hope that God would answer the prayers of everyone who approached the wall. I also got to witness a Shabbat celebration there. It was awesome to see the vibrant dances and hear the cheerful chants of the Jews as they welcomed the Sabbath.

4) Bethlehem

I loved Bethlehem. I was especially interested in the wall that divided Bethlehem from Jerusalem (since Bethlehem is mostly inhabited by Palestinians). There were a lot of creative and controversial messages plastered along the wall (many of them were created by Palestinians in protest to the Israeli government’s border policies). Here are a few of the images that I found both inspiring and thought-provoking.

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Muhammad Ali: symbolism of never giving up the fight for peace

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Parody of the Downtown & Brooklyn subway line in NYC

These are only some of the messages that were created on the wall. In seeing the artistry on this wall, I felt compelled to be a voice for the voiceless. I may not know all of the details surrounding the complicated political matters, but I still felt obligated to be an advocate for the peace of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

3) Gaza Border Wall

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The Path to Peace initiative was created by Tsameret Zamir in order to raise awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The program offers villagers and travelers a chance to add stones to the wall. These stones have thoughts and prayers engraved on them. This mural is seen by both Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israeli-Gaza border wall is 25 miles long, five miles wide, and it was built by the Israeli government in 1994. Both Egypt and Israel placed blockades on Gaza after the rise of the Hamas, which is a Palestinian military organization that opposes Israel’s right to exist as a nation. 

As I visited the Gaza border wall, I admired the mosaic of peace that the villagers and travelers created. The word “Peace” is painted along the wall in three different languages: English, Hebrew, and Arabic. As I viewed the mural, I felt sympathetic to the outcry for peace in the land. I was heartbroken after hearing about the children who were traumatized by the bomb threats and how the civilians only had 15 seconds to find shelter after a missile warning.

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Bomb shelter in Gazan village

Those stories made me think about how blessed I am to be living in America and how much I take my lifestyle for granted. I was so moved by the stories that I asked one of the leaders about how I can get involved. I am hoping to return to Israel in order to help more Gazan children find better treatment from doctors or psychiatrists. I also want to find out more about the legal systems in Israel and how I can be a part of various child advocacy programs.

2) Via Dolorosa

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Via Dolorosa refers to “the way of pain.” This is the path that Christ took as he carried the cross (John 19:16-18). There are fourteen stations (as created by the Catholic tradition) along the path. Each station commemorates various events that happened as Jesus made his way to the execution. I was overwhelmed to think of how difficult it must’ve been for Jesus to carry the beam on his back.

After all of the whipping, mocking, beating, and scorn that Jesus endured, he still had enough strength to carry out his mission. I was in awe at the love that my Savior has for me. He truly came to “proclaim good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61: 1-3).

1) Garden of Gethsemane

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The Garden of Gethsemane was my most favorite place in Israel. It was the place where I experienced spiritual vulnerability.

As I visited the garden with my group, our professor gave a lecture on the humanity of Jesus during his final moments on earth. He claimed that Jesus was experiencing “Lupe,” which was a form of deep emotional pain, according to biblical scholars. I always admired Jesus’s willingness to be honest with his Heavenly Father about his brokenness. In Matthew 26: 36-56, the author shows Jesus’s vulnerability. Even when Jesus pleaded for God to take the bitter cup away from him, he was still able to say, “thy will be done” (v. 42). As I thought about that night in Gethsemane where Jesus was about to face scrutiny from both God and man, I couldn’t help but weep.

I poured my heart out in my prayer journal:

Dear Father God, 

I am in the Garden of Gethsemane and I can hardly contain myself. Jesus felt such great sorrow in this place because he knew that your wrath would come upon him. Just to think that Jesus submitted himself and cried out to you in his brokenness, it just makes me see weakness in a different light. I used to think that I had to be joyful, strong, and grateful in your presence. I used to believe that Jesus died for me to be in a constant state of happiness. Hebrews 4:15-16 takes on a new meaning now. Since Jesus had a moment of great weakness in this very garden, I know that I can have the confidence to approach your throne of grace.

Father God, I am broken. I just can’t seem to trust your goodness as a father figure. Although I have my doubts, you still show mercy to me. Over the past few years, even in my darkest moments, you showed me over and over again that my performance doesn’t win your approval. You want me to be honest and the greatest example of that was Jesus being vulnerable with you before his death on the cross. Please Father, help me to do the same. 

Love Sarah

At that moment, I understood what it meant to be broken before God. I finally recognized the healing power of Jesus and how much he cares about my wounded soul. There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Psalm 34:18 became real to me. It states that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” As I was honest with God about my pain, I felt the magnitude of his presence. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.

Overall, I have to say that I adored my experience in Israel. I hope to travel there again soon. It was truly life-changing! 

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