By Jason Schifo
Pastor at Community Evangelical Free Church of Mahomet
Have you ever gone to the store in search of a particular thing and run into or across something unexpected along the way that wasn’t on your list? Maybe it’s just me, but that happens all the time. It seems to me that when I am looking for something else, I encounter what I need.
Can you relate?
I share this as an example because so often the trips I help lead to Israel are just like those shopping trips. We are touring Biblical sites, following a well-crafted plan, and “bam” we encounter the unexpected. And that is not only my perspective but the perspective of almost everyone I have had the joy of taking over to the Holy Land in the last 8 years.
Here is how it happens: a prospective traveler watches a video, sees pictures, hears stories from previous travelers, or maybe it is a Biblical account that is particularly powerful for them. So they come to a certain site or location with expectations of what they might experience in that place. And then it happens. Not there, but along the way. Where they encounter the “unexpected”. A beautiful, unsettling and profound moment that wasn’t on their list, but was exactly what they needed.
And it may sound crazy, but for many people, they come away from the trip with that as their high point. On trips, we call these unexpected moments, “kesher” moments. What does “kesher” mean? It is a Hebrew word that means something like velcro. It implies something that sticks out but more importantly sticks to you, because it is for you. A “kesher” is important because as Rabbinic thinking says, it was for you, delivered by the divine.
As crazy as it may sound, there are people who have traveled roughly 12,000 miles round trip, spent 11 days exploring sites from before the bronze age and the time of Jesus, who has said that after that “kesher moment” they could have gone home. It wasn’t on their list of things to see and experience, but it was exactly what they needed. And it is watching these “kesher moments” unfold in the lives of others that is one of the things that continues to draw me back to Israel each year.
But why Israel? Of all the places in the world, why there?
As a Christian, this is the land and people whom God chose to make Himself known to. It is the land where He chose to enter into the world incarnate as Jesus Christ, and walk amongst us; to die on a cross for our sins, and rise victoriously on the third day. It is the place where even still today we can look into an empty tomb and see that, yes, He has risen indeed, just as He said He would. The land of Israel is where you can walk out and walk through your faith because it happened there. The stones truly do testify to the stories.
And while the land holds great significance in my faith. I want to acknowledge that as a Christian, my belief that God is so much bigger than any plot of land that He chose to place His feet. Yet, even though He is indeed everywhere, without fail I have watched many people encounter Him there. As my friend Moshe Kempenski, a Rabbi in the Old City of Jerusalem loves to say, “Maybe your Father in heaven brought you here to spend time with you because you struggle to spend time with Him where you are.” Maybe it all boils down to needing to be removed from all that distractions so that we can focus on seeing, hearing and listening.
So over the next number of articles, I want to take you along on a trip through the land of Israel. My hope is that “along the way” you will learn something you didn’t previously know. That you might be reminded of something you forgot, and that maybe you will be moved to begin planning your own pilgrimage to Israel. At the very least I hope you will be encouraged, and want to do that three ways:
First, through the stories found within the Bible that are no longer just stories once you are in the Land. Suddenly, there is grit, dirt and stones to these stories. They happened, and no matter how spectacular they may seem to us, we have substantive proof they happened as the Bible said they did.
Second, I want to share a taste of the archaeology and history that at times may surprise you. There isn’t a place in Israel that isn’t hiding the history of the Middle East just below the surface. Often times it happens this way, someone decides to build a gas station or mall, something is found, and building plans are put on hold by the Antiquities Authority. Some of the earliest civilizations resided in Israel, and as layers of dirt and rubble are removed history is uncovered and at times even being rewritten.
Third, I want to connect you to the stories of the people that I traveled with and met along the way as I lead trips there. One of the great blessings has been the diversity of people and their stories that we encounter in the land.
Since my first trip in 2011, more and more it is the people that I travel with and meet along the way, the adventures we have together that draws me back again and again.
I believe that every big story has a thousand stories written within it, and those are the stories of the people who get up each day, work, raise families, retire, celebrate birthdays, attend weddings, mourn losses and have a desire to live life just like you and I do. What I often find is that their stories sound a lot like our stories, if we listen long enough to look past our differences.
Also, because of its Biblical significance, Israel is at any given time a literal meeting place for “every tribe, nation and tongue”, from all over the world. In 8 years we have met, talked with and worshipped with people from every corner of the world. One of the reasons Israel is at times a place of great tension is because it is also a place where many different and diverse stories bump up against on another.
When God says in Revelation 7:9, that there will come a day where “behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands”, and I believe this will happen, because on every trip I get a foretaste of it.
So why take you on this journey?
I don’t believe that God has brought me to Israel over and over again, just for the work of leading trips “over there”. I believe there is always a greater and deeper purpose to everything that we are called to do, and I am convicted that it takes “over there” to us here.
For me, my time in Israel has been such a blessing.
There is a Rabbinical thought that says the difference between a blessing and a curse is what you do with what you have been given. One who keeps a blessing for himself and hoards it away eventually takes that blessing and subverts it into a curse. But the one who takes a blessing and shares it multiplies that blessing and is in effect continually blessed through the blessing others.
So, I hope that over the next number of weeks we spend on this tour of Israel together that you might learn something you didn’t previously know. That you might be reminded of something that you had forgotten or maybe, just maybe… you might come across something unexpected, a “kesher moment” and that will make every one of these articles worth the time spent both in my writing and sharing and in your reading.
As we say at the conclusion of every adventure in the land:
Till next time…In Israel!