We recently returned from a robust trip to Israel. While our itinerary was jam packed, certainly every site we saw is a well tracked path. So, I will not post pics of Masada, Jerusalem, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea or even the Armenian Quarter (ok, maybe one)…
Yousef*, our Arab Christian tour guide, expounded a depth of spiritual and historical knowledge as a native with 20 years experience leading Americans through Israel and Palestine. He introduced himself as a “true believer in Jesus Christ” and often taught scriptural truths as related to various historical sites. It was obvious that he had a love for all the people we encountered – Jews, Muslims, Bedouins, and Druze – rich or poor.
It is not only what Yousef shared of Israel that still stirs my heart but what he revealed about us.
Yousef challenged the group at every Christian/religious site, “Can anyone describe what happened here?” “How was this place significant to Jesus Christ?” “Who was Herod the Great?…” Either most of the group was shy or had little Biblical foundation. While traveling at great cost and distance to see religious sites, most of the group was either unwilling or unable to converse in Biblical truths.
Yousef shared his experience during the tumultuous ‘Second Intifada’, 2000-2005, a time of violent uprising between Palestinians and Israelis. He left Israel during that time, traveling to USA to possibly relocate to relative’s homes. Job opportunities were sparse for him but what he recalls to us is this: “I visited their church and was sure they would be focused with concern and prayer for the crisis in Israel. When I came to the meeting however, they were all talking about which pizza had the best cheese.” I felt a collective inner shame for the sated Body of Christ, isolated and disinterested in the suffering of distant brethren.
Our tour ended with an exhortation and plea, “When you go home, open your Bibles, read them! Let all that you’ve seen bring the words to life.” Referring back to his time in the United States Yousef opened his heart, “I left the States in 2005 – I missed the dirty, noisy streets of Jerusalem! I love this country and had to return….but now I regret it. There’s an undeniable stirring, an certain unrest and hostility. I tell you for sure, it is not ‘if’ war breaks out here, but ‘when’.”
As elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly Syria, the Christian population is suffering and shrinking. Once 20% in Palestine, now Christians are 1%, fewer than 10,000. Many may be ‘nominal’ Christians but even still my heart was burdened. With the nonstop traffic of tour buses from all over, I wonder how many of these sojourning Christians will seek and receive a burden for these brethren? Multitudes flock to religious icons and shrines, but how many will align with the burden of Christ’s heart for His people?
If we will “open our Bibles and read them” we too will see, it is not ‘if’ but ‘when’. If we take our salvation with certainty, we must take the prophecies of scripture with like conviction in our hearts. A celebrated authority will arise, the charismatic Antichrist. Betrayal, violence, and chaos are destined for Israel. Yes, God Himself with be their victory and triumph, but what is our role as Christ’s Body in the world?
I loved every bit of Israel and my visits to Palestine. I want though, more than any itinerary and tour, to realize what the Holy Spirit is showing me – Lord, align and press in my heart your truths and views of this great land.
Go to Israel while you can. See everything, there’s so much! But let the Holy Spirit be your inner tour guide and open your spiritual eyes with heaven’s view!
(*not his real name)