Janet and I are back from the Middle East. We have finished two and a half weeks of touring through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel along with 41 other area pastors and spouses from the Christian Reformed denomination. The trip was so impactful it is hard to know how to begin to explain it. One thing that impresses me strongly as I reflect on the trip is that it was both like what I expected, and yet, surprising unlike what I had imagined it would be.
I expected the trip to be rigorous, and it was. The organizers had warned us to train hard in preparation. Once in the Middle East our leader repeatedly reminded us: “You are not tourists--you are investments.” We were there at someone else’s expense, and he intended to make sure we experienced everything we possibly could in the short time we had available.
Consequently, we walked—a lot. We walked in the dessert in 45 degree temperatures. We walked up mountains (notably, Mt. Sinai) and through valleys. My Fitbit device informs me that I set new personal records for steps walked in a single day (over 20,000) and for flights of stairs climbed in a single day (300).
Sometimes our leader asked us to walk even when there was no necessity to do so. Once, after a three hour trek to reach the mountaintop where Jesus may have experienced the transfiguration, our weary group was surprised to discover a road coming up the mountain from the other side. It was the road routinely used by tour busses to drop off passengers at the summit! When this discovery was pointed out to our leader, he said with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, who knew?” He then promptly led us down a precipitous descent on yet another face of the mountain.
So, with respect to its physical demands, the trip was what I expected it to be. However there was also a significant way in which this trip was completely unlike anything I had anticipated.
I thought I was going on a study trip, and it certainly was that, but it was so much more. Our leader did not always tell us exactly where we were going on any given day. We had a general idea, of course, but, at any point during a day he might announce “Come, let us go,” and then we would march off toward some unknown destination. He repeatedly asked us just to trust him. Sometimes he put us into unanticipated situations of challenge, and even risk, where we could only get through the experience by working together and relying on one another.
Slowly I came to see the method in his madness. We had not come to the Middle East merely to see sites and learn history. More important to the trip’s planners was that we should learn again what it means to be the people of God. The Old Testament children of Israel followed a pillar of cloud and fire not always knowing where it would lead them. Jesus’s disciples were also asked to follow their Rabbi in faith. In both cases God was teaching his followers to trust Him so that he could forge them into a certain kind of people—a people who obeyed Him and reflected His character.
We received this trip as a gift of sheer grace (extended through the godly vision and generosity of one couple, Ted and Joanna DeVries of the DeVries foundation). In that way too, the trip mimicked the Christian life. The invitation to follow God is also a gift of sheer grace.
Janet and I believe we have been given a trust, and we want to use this trip to benefit the whole church. We are trusting God to show us how to do that.
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