I’m still processing my ten-day adventure to Israel…and if I’m being honest, I think I might have “aha” moments for the rest of my life from this trip. No one can really prepare you for this type of journey. You go in with the notion that you will get to “walk through the Bible” and experience the setting where Jesus’ ministry took place. But you walk away with so many layers of historical, cultural, and religious implications that you have to peel them back one at a time to even begin to appreciate those landmarks.
One thing I’m thankful for as I walk away from this pilgrimage, is the vast amount of knowledge that our leaders brought to the table to help us fully understand all that we experienced. My husband and I went with a group of students, professors, spouses, and friends connected to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. As the bus drove all through the country – from Dan to Beersheva – we listened to our tour guide (she was Jewish), the professors (most of whom had been several times before), and others that were placed in our path specifically to teach us about Israeli history and Jewish heritage. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant every day.
Along the way, I was reminded of the importance of being a lifelong learner. I need to look at all situations as teachable moments, and with eyes wide open to see what God would have for me to learn when I interact in different cultures and with different people. I went on this trip with limited expectations of what I thought I would experience. In reality, I still am trying to put the pieces together from conversations about Israeli heritage, Jewish culture, and the current political situation of Israel and its neighboring countries, not to mention the divisions within the boundaries of Israel itself. Those things were not on my radar as I went to “walk where Jesus walked.” I love how God surprises us with the bigger picture!
I can truly say that I don’t read the Bible the same since I’ve returned. I can visualize the landscape of the valley where David fought Goliath, and see the trek that was made where Joseph and a very pregnant Mary must have traveled to get to Bethlehem. I picture the Sea of Galilee where Jesus preached to the people on the shore and where He calmed the storm. I know what a cistern and a millstone look like now! It’s amazing how the Bible comes to life again when you start looking at it with fresh eyes.
I think this trip has also taught me to walk in other people’s shoes. It was a great learning experience for me, but not because of my background…rather, in spite of it. I was given the opportunity to go back in history and view life from a different perspective. I want this to be applied in the context of equipping students to serve in various cities during the summer. What if we started looking at the mission experience as an opportunity to grow while God stretches us through circumstances that are uncomfortable and challenging at times? What if we put aside our preferences in order to simply be a conduit for God’s grace to flow…not because we are worthy, but because we are willing?
I’ve still got a lot to learn. There’s much more to be processed and applied, but this is what I believe God is teaching me one week after this adventure. I haven’t even mentioned the jeep ride through the Golan Heights, the “Shabbat” elevators, the cable car ride to Masada, or the small groups that met at the Dome of the Rock! For now, its one day at a time in the Word, being reminded to have a teachable spirit and an open heart, and trusting that I will learn all that He has for me, from this trip, in His perfect timing.
Melissa Nicholson is the Mission Projects Specialist at Student Life, making sure that our Mission Trips option is fleshed out for youth ministers. She lives in Birmingham, and attends church at Bay Springs Baptist, where her husband is the youth minister.