Monday, July 29, 2013

Jerusalem, if I forget you… (Part 1)

The crown of Jerusalem, the Temple Mount

Psalm 137:5 
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill!

By God’s grace I have had the opportunity to visit a lot of places in the world that I know most people don’t get the chance. I have been around the US quite a bit, I have been to the east & west coast of Canada. I have lived in England. I was born in Augsburg, Germany. I went on a mission trip when I was nineteen years old to Mexico City. I have seen the city of light in Paris. I have seen the “Paris of Eastern Europe” as some in Prague call it. I am even writing this right now in the “eternal city” of Rome. We still have some more trips planned before we head back to the States in August. This is all by God’s grace.

On our way to Masada

But by far nothing will compare to our trip to Israel. Words can’t even begin to describe how amazing this trip was. Nonetheless, I will try my best to convey why we both loved it so much and it will most likely be the trip of a lifetime. For starters, the price was so cheap! I asked a friend of mine who visited Israel on a tour and he told me it came out to about $5,000 a person. If you have been to Israel from Miami you know how expensive the trip is. Because we are crazy enough to stay with people we don’t know for free and are willing to do all the research on our own and fly from London instead of Miami, the trip came out to about $1,500 for the both of us! That’s about $700 a person for seven days and seven nights with renting a car for some of it. That includes our plane tickets to our food to any attractions we paid for. This was the first thing that made this trip great. 

The second thing that made this trip fantastic was the local people we met. Because we didn’t stay in a hostel or a hotel we got to stay with Israeli citizens and talk with them at night about how life is in Israel. The first couple we stayed with was Yael & Yehuda. They are agnostic Jews who celebrate the Sabbath weekly. I asked them why they do it if they aren’t sure if God even exists and they said “tradition”. They do it because it connects them with their past. Since this is the case and they cannot cook on the Sabbath, they make Cholet on Friday afternoon before sundown and leave it in the brew in the pot so they can eat a good meal on Sabbath without technically doing any work since they aren’t cooking anything. Cholet is a traditional Jewish stew with meat, potatoes, beans, and barley. The second person we stayed with was Maria. She was a vegetarian and said we could bring anything into her house except meat. I got the feeling she would have been fine if we would have brought drugs into the house just as long as we didn’t sneak any chicken sandwiches in. The last girl we stayed with was Livnat. She was a very nice girl who lived on a Kibbutz (basically a socialist commune that grows produce) that literally let us stay at her place while she wasn’t even there! It was a house that was a few minutes away from the Sea of Galilee.

The third thing that made the trip so amazing was the number of experiences we had. I want to share a few of them...

On the first night we slept on couches in an area very close to the Palestinian border so we were woken up at 4:15AM in the morning by a loud megaphone with music in the background that lasted about twenty minutes. It was a man talking in Arabic and the blowing of a horn over and over. This was the first Muslim call to prayer. As we quickly fell back asleep rather annoyed about five minutes later, we were then woken up again at 4:45AM by another call for Muslim prayer. It turns out this is a different group of Muslims who have a different set of prayers that is not connected to the first group. Actually, they are like Rivals (think UM vs. FSU, okay I’m kidding but you know what I mean). We were truly getting the “native” experience.   

The next day we decided to visit Bethlehem since we were about ten miles away from it. Since we were moving to a new place to stay, we had our entire luggage with us. We walked to the bus stop and it took about thirty minutes to arrive. As we were waiting this rather large Palestinian guy next to me with a blue shirt on started to talk to me. That’s one thing I loved about the Middle East, how people are really open to talking to you. It’s not like England where you walk by people and they avoid making the slightest eye contact. Sometimes for fun I like to just stare at them as I walk by to see if I at least get a bothered look from them. Its to no avail, they just walk by staring at the ground as if looking into my eyes will turn them into stone. Anyways, back to my story. So this guy (his name is Johny) that I was talking to ends up asking us if we want to catch a ride with him to the Church of the Nativity (where Jesus was born). Rather joyfully I tell him we would love too! But then Lauren points something out to me that kind of puts me on the edge; his pinky nails are really grown out. Since we are from Miami we automatically think Scarface (and no not the one from the Lion King).

When we finally arrived at the checkpoint he met up with this older man who he said was his father and another younger man who he said was his brother. As we started to go through the checkpoint into Bethlehem he turned around and told us that once we get into Bethlehem to act like we don’t know him and to just follow him to his car about half a mile from the checkpoint. This was starting to get suspicious. So we went through the checkpoint and all the sudden we were slammed by about a dozen of taxi drivers asking us where we were going. We told them we didn’t need a taxi and they kept following us and asking us where we were going. We were walking about a few feet behind the three men and then one of the taxi drivers started asking us over and over, “Are you with them?” We just ignored him but he kept following us for a good while and we started to feel really unsafe. Finally he gave up and we kept following the men to their car.

When we got to their car they told us the reason the taxi driver kept asking us if we were with them is because they got in a fight one time because he took a visitor to their house and “took away” business from them. Satisfied with the answer, we get in the car with our luggage in the trunk and pile into the car hoping that these men would take us to the church. Lauren and I were freaking out on the inside wondering if these guys were drug dealers or whatever. But by God’s grace even though we acted very foolishly (one family member rightly put it by saying my pre-frontal cortex wasn’t fully developed), they turned out to be good men and took pride in their hometown and showed us around Bethlehem before they dropped us off at the Church of the Nativity.

Johny and I in Bethlehem
My (Anthony) personal favorite experience happened at the Western Wall. The Western Wall is all that is left from the Roman destruction of the great Second Temple by the Emperor Titus in 70AD. Ever since the Lord miraculously brought the Jews back into the land of Palestine in 1948 and subsequently pushed back the Jordan Army in the Six Day War in 1967, they have had access to the Western Wall since Jerusalem is Israeli-occupied territory. Devout Jews still go to the Western Wall to pray to YHWH to one day rebuild the temple. People from all over the world write out prayers and stick them in the Western Wall hoping the Lord will hear them. In God’s sovereignty, since we didn’t know this would happen, we were in Israel on their 65th official anniversary as a nation. If you believe in the prophecy of Ezekiel 37 about Israel returning to the promise land as a nation again then you understand how significant this is for us as Christians.

The scene was beautiful. It was a Monday night and there were thousands of Jews all around the Western Wall singing and celebrating their independence. Little Jewish boys and little Jewish girls were dressed up, the weather was absolutely beautiful, and the energy was magnificent. Since they separate the men from the women I went up alone and Lauren went on her own. I put on a yamaka out of respect and approached the Western Wall. It was glowing in the night. I went up to the Wall and started praying and crying and rejoicing because I was surrounded by Jews who were living in Jerusalem and started to think of the 144,000 future Jews in Revelation 7 that would one day believe in the Messiah that they had rejected for so long but so badly need. I was experiencing history that night and the testimony of God’s Word and all I could do was thank God for His faithfulness.    

Western Wall on Israel's 65th Anniversary

One of the moving things that really impacted me was when we visited Yed Vashem. This is the Holocaust Memorial. The motif that was run through the whole of the exhibit is the truth that Israel will always need its own land in case another Hitler shows up. What I mean is if there was another widespread persecution of the Jewish people in the future they need to have a land that they can run too. They can’t even depend upon America who is one of Israel’s strongest allies because unless it’s in our self-interest we will not be helping them. In fact, America even turned away refugee ships with little Israeli boys and girls during WW2 so we could maintain neutral. I love America but this is one of the biggest sins of our nation that we cannot wipe away. I cried during the exhibit when I read one of the letters of a father to his children about how they felt betrayed by the country they loved so much and even sacrificed for as the father fought for Germany in WWI. It was their home. They loved the people and the culture and were proud to be German. But Berlin didn’t weep for them. 

The Old City

There is so much more I could write about but you wouldn’t keep reading. Oh how I wish I could tell you about how powerful the evidence is for the resurrection as we got to see where tradition holds that Jesus’ grave was. Or how we walked down the Valley of Gehenna and there was a shepherd sitting at the gate to make sure his sheep and goats wouldn’t stray and how he even offered me some Arabic coffee. Or how I got to talk about the prophesies of Yeshua as the Messiah to the Jewish girl Livnat from the Psalms of David and how she started to examine the Scriptures to see if what they said in the Old Testament were about Jesus. Or how we got to wake up right next to the Sea of Galilee while a storm was taking place and thought about how 2,000 years ago Jesus calmed a storm on that same sea causing Peter to cry out that he is a sinful man in the presence of the Holy One of Israel.

Walking out of the tomb that Jesus walked out of 2,000 years ago

But I leave you with this my friends, if you can only take one more vacation in your whole life then go see Israel. Don’t delay, life is short and one day Jesus is going to come back and stand on the Mount of Olives to set up His Kingdom. You could wait until then but oh how great it is to stand where Jesus was and where Jesus is coming back to. That great beautiful city that our God loves, Jerusalem in that great nation that was the least of all people but God chose for His own glory. Oh people, go before our lights extinguish.


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