I was in the middle of the long hot walk in Israel down Hebron Rd. on my way to SuperDeal to stuff my backpack with groceries when it happened — an unexpected street corner conversation that changed my life.
I don’t remember how it started, but I remember the words, that still rattle my heart 12 years later, like it was yesterday. In mid conversation, my Israeli friend pointed into the busy street and said, “Do you know why Israelis have a reputation of being hardheaded, arrogant, rude and aggressive? Because they have had to fight for everything they’ve ever gotten. If you want to bless Israel you come here and love people. A stranger’s love is something many Israelis don’t know what to do with. Then when life gets hard, they will know who to turn to.” My friend continued, “Some Christian groups come here to sing, dance, pray and proclaim things while eating big buffets and enjoying air conditioned buses and think they have ‘blessed Israel.’ Some even set up their ministry headquarters in Jerusalem to make their newsletters sound impressive, but don’t really get involved here. If you want to truly bless Israel — come here, live here, build friendships, and love on people. They will remember you.” I determined that day, while finding my favorite local olives at SuperDeal, that I wanted to live that way.
Occasionally I meet the average “holy land tour” attendees, or those that one day hope to go to Israel. Many get starry eyed when they learn of my frequent travel to Israel. “That must be glorious! You travel to Heaven on a regular basis!” Or simply “Wow, you’re really lucky!” These are just a few comments I have heard. The fact is that what most see on a “holy land tour” is exactly what that tour company wants you to see — the iconic biblical locations and very comfortable accommodations mixed in with warm and fuzzy spiritual experiences, while overlooking the real life that happens in the country. Israel is a difficult place to live.
The truth is that one in five Israelis are living below the poverty line. I’ve been told that many believers in the Messianic community are struggling to make ends meet. For Arab believers, these numbers are off the charts. Now, I am not throwing the big tours under the bus (pun intended), as they do change people’s lives and provide great packages that keep people coming back for more. This was how my first experience went 17 years ago, and that brought me to how I visit today. However, to think we are blessing Israel by praying from plush hotels and shopping at tourist traps, is like pretending we’re working hard while really playing solitaire in our office. It’s like being there, but not really being there. Just by being present and loving those around you — you can make a difference.
A local friend in Jerusalem has some of the best advice for first time visitors. “Don’t just come here to touch the ancient stones that Jesus touched, but reach out and touch the “living stones” that the Lord is using today.” I couldn’t agree more. In a time of fear and conflict in Israel, take the risk to love Jews and Arabs and care and get involved, whether you go to Israel or not. Perhaps you might even be known by your love. But that is the point, isn’t it?
“Don’t just come here to touch the ancient stones that Jesus touched, but reach out and touch the “living stones” that the Lord is using today.”