It's been over a week now since I've been back in the States. Since being back, I've been trying to figure out the best way to sum up my experience in Israel. I'll start with a few favorite memories, and then I'll try to add some concluding thoughts.
Key wow moments:
The first was when we first made it to Jerusalem and we were driving up Mt. Scopus to get a view of the city. As the city was coming into view, it hit me how crazy it was that I was there.The second wow moment came when we made it to the southern wall of the Temple Mount and saw the Southern Steps. We had heard a lot about where Jesus might have done this or that, but these steps where the first time we encountered a spot where we can be fairly confident that Jesus walked, since these steps would have been the entrance and exit to the Temple Mount.The third wow moment came while being in and around the Sea of Galilee (or Lake of Gennesaret). We stayed on the lake, swam in it, took a boat out on it and had a worship service, and visited many of the towns in the area. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus' ministry in this area, so it was cool to experience it.
One of the coolest moments (though definitely not literally):
Swimming in the Dead Sea. Although it was 112 degrees and the water was super warm and salty, it was a lot of fun trying to do anything but float in it.
Favorite person on the trip: My roommate for the two weeks, Cody Charland. Always good for a laugh, pleasant conversation, or a travel companion while walking around Jerusalem one night because we were lost (mostly my fault).
I went over to Israel after hearing from different people that Israel had changed their life, which contributed to me having a certain expectation about how the trip might impact me. And though I was somewhat skeptical of needing to have this kind of experience, I found myself feeling disappointed when I wasn't emotionally connecting with certain sites and places. I should be affected more than this, right? Well, not necessarily.
One of our professors on the trip, the esteemed New Testament scholar Marianne Meye Thompson, helped me make sense of some of what I was feeling. At the midpoint of the trip, on a Sunday morning, she gave a sermonette while we were on a boat on the Sea of Galilee. She talked about meeting God and following Jesus in ordinary places. Although there are some fascinating things to see in Israel, all in all it's a pretty ordinary place. We don't have to go to Israel to experience Him. He's here with us now, where we are, no matter how ordinary our lives may seem.
Another big thing I will take away from this trip has to do with seeing the land and the historical sites. I don't think I'll ever read the Bible the same. I have already seen how certain stories now seem to come alive in a different way, just by being able to recall what these places were like. It's also fascinating to see how much of what we saw is connected to historical records outside the Bible. There are some really interesting things that are constantly being discovered archeologically that bring harmony to historical records and biblical texts.
The last thing I'll mention has to do with Israel and Palestine. I think I came away with a clearer understanding of some of the issues going on over there, but also now know how much more complex the situation really is. Also, we really only heard from people who were pro-Israel. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I do know that there is another perspective that I wish could have been discussed more. The problem over there is so complicated that I couldn't offer a educated opinion on what I think is best. I think I do support Israel and the desire that the Jewish people there have for a country to call theirs, though I don't think that argument should be made based on biblical promises.
I believe the greatest need for that area that goes beyond political borders is peace. Some might argue that that will only come when the correct boundaries are set in place or others may say that peace is just an impossible dream. I can't really say how it might come, but I do hope and pray for peace.
For other pictures and video, I recommend this slideshow I put together below. You can also check out my Picasa album, which includes my favorite pictures with info explaining what different places and things are.
Israel trip from David Wilhite on Vimeo.