This post may surprise you. As I write my reflections on my unforgettable summer, I am surprised myself at what has happened over the past three months of my life. After graduating from Indiana Wesleyan, I had a few more classes I had scheduled to finish while in Israel. After May, a month of preaching and leading musical worship in Michigan, my classmates and I began a journey from Chicago to Amman, Jordan. For the month of June, we would be exploring the Holy Land and learning about everything from the context of the Bible to the current issues at hand in Israel today.
The reason I wanted to go to Israel was a popular one: to see the Bible come alive in my life. Many people I’ve talked to have said that is why they want to go or why they have traveled to Israel themselves. When the opportunity to travel was presented to me two years ago, I was practically packing my bags for this trip. Ironically, I didn’t pack for the actual trip until the night before… Nothing could have prepared me for the summer I have just experienced and I want to share what God has shown me with you as I’ve been challenged by this passage in Matthew 25:
14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more…”
I truly feel like I have been made rich with experiences this summer. The blessing of being able to travel across the world and around the country this summer is a gift from God, and I want to give back to Him what He has given me by sharing His goodness with you. If I didn’t try to multiply the ‘talents’ God has given me, I feel as if I’d waste what was entrusted to me. So, here we go. I will try my best to paint a picture of three of my favorite moments in the Holy Land.
The first moment I realized I was in the Holy Land was when our group stood on Mount Nebo, where Moses stood to look at the Promised Land. From Dan to Gilead, we could see the vast plains, the Dead Sea, the opportunities for vegetation, and surrounding mountains. It was breathtaking to see how big the Promised Land was. It was only 21 miles away from where Moses stood on the Mount, yet he could not enter into this promise. In Deuteronomy 32:51, we read that Moses could not enter into this land with the Israelites because,
“51…you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel.”
I cannot imagine standing at this spot and seeing the promise that this land held for the future, knowing I would never step foot into it. It was only 21 miles away! That day was so moving to me because it reminded me of the call to be faithful in every moment, for the future will reap the benefits of our faithfulness. This was the prayer I wrote down that day: “God, I never want to miss out on your promises.”
What you see above is the Sea of Galilee. We did boat across this Sea, which is more like a lake in size, and read passages of Scripture about Jesus’ ministry here. He walked on this water, He took a nap in a boat that ventured through this sea’s violent storms, fished, and did miracles along many of its shores. When our group arrived to our resort on the southern shore of the Sea, we raced out to the water after scarfing down our dinner. We were like little kids on vacation, wanting to play in the water and do nothing else. The excitement was impossible to contain as we all laughed and shouted and smiled when we ran into the water. I took this picture to try to capture the moment. The sky looked like a warm blanket. The water was warm, but not too warm to be unbearable. I felt content just standing and looking at it. As the sun set, I looked around at where we were, eyeing the shores all around the Sea. We were at the Sea of Galilee! It was surreal.
One of my favorite moments of my trip was the encounter I had at the Sea of Galilee with a stranger from Europe. We started having a conversation on the dock where some friends and I sat. The conversation wandered from our travels to school to politics to America and more. While I was talking to this lady, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to talk about Jesus. I couldn’t ignore it and couldn’t forget it. During this 45 minute encounter, I mentioned Jesus and how I’m studying ministry, but didn’t feel that was what God was asking me to do in full. I kept thinking of a quote from a wise evangelist I know. He once said, “Some people have never been asked if they want to follow Jesus.” But fear crept in and I didn’t ask her. I prayed with her and she walked back to shore.
I looked out to the Sea of Galilee and instantly thought of the moment when Peter called out to Jesus while He was, just casually, walking on water. Peter wanted to go too. When he did, he doubted, taking his eyes of Jesus. Peter sank. As I stared at the sea where this actually happened, I knew that if I didn’t ask this stranger this question, I’d be like Peter who dared to step out of the boat, but sank because of doubt of what God could do while out on the water. I prayed that if this lady was still on the shore, I would go and talk to her again. She was there.
We talked for another hour and I learned so much from her! She was a knowledgable business woman who had so much experience around the world. After all we had talked about, I eventually asked her if she’d ever been asked if she wanted to follow Jesus. She’d never been asked before. When I heard her say that, I oddly felt peace, knowing that I had been a vessel for God to plant a seed and my feeling like I had to go back and talk to her was for a purpose. I didn’t pray with her to follow Jesus right then and there, but I felt called to challenge her and to pray for her beyond our meeting. She told me the next day her group would go to the Jordan River and two of the people in her group would be baptized. When I heard that I knew God had asked me to ask her this question before a day she could possibly make a decision to follow Jesus and be baptized. I continue to pray for this stranger and am so amazed at this encounter I had with the Sea of Galilee as the backdrop.
The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem was the one location where I could not help but weep when I saw it. This tomb is where many believe Jesus was buried for only three days. With a crack on the side from some unknown earthquake, there is evidence for this being the spot but no one really knows for sure. That did not matter to me as I stepped inside and outside of this tomb. As I stood on the inside and look down to where Jesus’ body could’ve been, I wanted to just sit there and reflect. Then a thought occurred to me: “Jesus didn’t stay here long! I shouldn’t either.”
When I stepped out into the light, I was overcome with gratefulness that this tomb was empty and Jesus now lives. I sat on a bench in front of this opening in the wall and watched the rest of my group step in and out of the tomb. Each one, I know, follows Jesus and has been made new when they became believers. When I saw them walk out of the tomb, it was the most beautiful picture of the Gospel I have ever seen. Because Jesus walked out of the grave, SO CAN WE!
These three moments were my favorite memories from this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I learned so much about the land in which Jesus walked and the land where Biblical stories take place. It is so crazy for me to think that I saw many of these places that the Bible mentions! When I read God’s Word, I now have a different understanding of the topography, the landscape, the cultural norms and the people. I truly feel rich in experience.
But the Bible, surprisingly, did not come alive to me while I was in Israel. Yes, I see it in a new light and understanding, but it was when I came home that God truly revealed the power of this holy text.
In the month of July, I had the privilege of traveling with an Indiana Wesleyan University summer ministry team. For three weeks I worked with amazing middle school and high school students in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Ontario, Canada. Serving in different roles, I learned A LOT, but my favorite role was being a counselor in Canada.
There were six middle school and high school girls in my cabin; three pairs of sisters! It was such an interesting mix of girls. It took a few days for the group to mix together and be comfortable/friends with everyone. This group showed me how interesting family and friend dynamics can be in this kind of situation. They also showed me the harsh reality of Generation Z. These girls did not know the classic, simple Bible stories that I had grown up hearing everyday of my childhood. I faced this reality one afternoon during free time at camp.
Four of the girls in my cabin, my co-counselor, and I sat in the lounge of the camp and tried to find a board or card game to play. The only game with all its pieces was a Bible Trivia game! I asked the girls to quiz me and my co-counselor because we have both studied the Bible in college. The girls looked overwhelmed, saying they wouldn’t know any of the answers to the questions. I blew off their fears and wanted to try and play this game. As we quizzed each other, I was shocked to discover how little these girls knew about Bible stories. They asked who Moses was, who Noah was, what the Garden of Eden was, and about Jesus’ miracles that they had only vaguely heard about.
You would think my heart would sink as they asked me these questions, but my heart quickly was lifted up when I realized the opportunity I had to share many truths of God’s Word with these girls for the first time! After traveling to the Holy Land where I saw where Moses looked out at the Promised Land and the places Jesus did miracles, I got to share with these girls what happened in these accounts and what it looked like when I was there. They were wide-eyed and curious to know more. One of the high school girls had a twinkle in her eye that I will never forget. She asked the most questions during that hour we all sat there.
A few days later into the week, three of the girls in my cabin went forward to the altar during a call to the students to be spiritually disciplined when they went home. I approached them afterwards and asked why they went forward and were crying out to God. They all told me that every year, they’d go to camp but leave and never live out their transformation at home. My co-counselor and I prayed over each girl individually, praying for boldness and the power of the Holy Spirit to be evident in them when they would go home. As we finished our prayers, the girls went back to our cabin for an hour of free time. For some reason, I was the last person from our cabin to make it to the room. When I opened the door to our cabin, I saw God’s Word come alive.
All six of the girls sat in each of their beds with their Bibles opened to Genesis 1. They all smiled at me as I walked inside.
I asked them, “What are you guys doing?“
They answered, “We want to start at the beginning!”
For the next hour, our cabin read Genesis 1-3 aloud, asking questions and seeking to understand the text together. Many of you may think that Genesis would be a bad place for these girls to start tackling the Bible, but I was so glad they chose to start here. These girls didn’t really understand what sin was and why there was a separation between God and humans. I got to explain what sin is and why Jesus came to die on a cross because of darkness in the world. They continued to ask questions in amazement. In that entire hour, I never read a single verse aloud. The girls in my cabin desired so much to read the words aloud that they kept volunteering to read the next passage. One of our high school girls read chapters 2 and 3 because she didn’t want to stop reading it.
The Holy Spirit’s presence was so real to me in those moments as I sat in a hot, stuffy cabin in the woods, hearing these young girls passionately read God’s Word to each other. It was such a privilege to sit back and just listen as they read because it gave me time to think, “This is God’s Word coming alive right in front of my eyes!”
I had just traveled to Israel, the Holy Land! That was where I expected to be most moved by Scripture. That was where I thought I’d be forever changed by the power of God’s Word because I was looking right at the scenery! But to my surprise, it was coming back to North America, inside a cabin in the middle of Canada with six middle school and high school students, where I saw God’s Word breathe life into dry bones. The transformation these girls wanted to see started with knowing God better through His Word, and it has continued as they are back home now.
We don’t have to go to Israel to see God’s Word come alive in our lives. I would tell anyone and everyone to go to Israel because I feel so much more rich in my understanding of God’s Word, but I wouldn’t say that reading Scripture over there is any more special than reading it at home. Everyday that I sit down to read my Bible, I feel closer and closer to my Creator. I feel His presence with me in Michigan, in Indiana when I’m at school! His Spirit is with us wherever we go and the Gospel is being spread to the ends of the earth. You and I see His Word come alive everyday when we choose to sit down and read it, choosing to then live it out.
Like I said before, I share this because I feel immensely rich in experience. God deserves the glory for what He has so generously given me. I’m praying that these experiences I’ve shared with you not only encourage you, but inspire you to keep your nose in the best book I’ve ever encountered. We need God’s Word everyday. It breathes life into dry bones not because of the book itself, but its Author.
Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.