Sunday, August 30, 2009

Empty tombs

Here's the continuation from my post on the trip that we took to Jerusalem last weekend.

Jerusalem is an interesting place, filled with so much important history for 3 major religions. Friday evening, just after Shabbat had started and while the lights atop the mosques glowed green calling the Muslims to prayer, my heart began to break for the all of these people earnestly seeking God, without seeing the fullfillment of God's promises to mankind in the person of Jesus. One group of Orthodox Jewish men had walked up to a passageway on top of the markets but still slightly below my building where they stood in a circle singing and praying. You could hear the longing in their voices, for God to accomplish what He had promised, this desperation that I don't think that many of us understand, at least I know I don't. All I could think of was "why me?" why, out of everyone in the earth, was I chosen by God. Why was I sought out when I hadn't really cared or wanted God, while here these people are crying out. I think for the first time in my life I realized what Paul meant when he said that he wished himself accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of his brothers, the Jews (Romans 9:3-5). I personally don't understand why God doesn't radically reveal Himself to them, or why He doesn't soften their hearts so that they can see His grace and lovingkindness that is in Jesus Christ. But then, it isn' t really my job to understand His ways, and so I will continue to dig in in prayer, trusting that my good Abba Adonai will accomplish His plan, in His way and His timing.

Another thing that broke my heart took place on Sunday as our class as a whole was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Now, most of you know that I'm not really a fan of fancy things and that extravagance and religiosity surrounding extravagance are actually pretty big turnoffs for me. Well, sadly I have to say that that more or less summed up my experience at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. All I could think of was "What would Jesus say about this if He were here? How would He feel about this place?" I might be totally off base here, but I'm just being honest about what I feel. How much of that place reflected His life on earth and the principles that He taught? I understand the desire to worship God with our material possessions and to give Him the absolute best, but I have a hard time seeing the person of Jesus walking through a shrine-like church where people kiss the stone that some say He was laid on and then fight among demoninations over who gets to control which parts of the church. A wall was actually constructed in order to separate the different demoniation's sections of the church, and actual fighting has ensued over cleaning certain areas of it. No wonder we aren't often recognized as His disciples any more. If we can't show love in what we claim to be one of the most holy places, where Jesus' humility and self-sacrifice was shown in the greatest measure, and the power of God was displayed unlike ever before, where can we show it? With all of the inward focus, what has happened with practical living incarnationally among the masses, eating at their tables, befriending the traitor, defending the prostitute, ministering to the masses of ordinary people?

The day before, when the rest of our class was still in Beer Sheva, a small group of us had gone and visited the Garden Tomb, a place where some claim might have been the actual place of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. There were a number of reasons that each place can possibly be discounted as the legitimate place for the events talked about in the Bible, but I'm not going to go into that right now. The Garden Tomb is outside of the current Old City gates, in the Muslim area of the city, and crammed right up next to a bustling bus station (even though once you're inside you would never guess it aside from one area overlooking the station). Compared to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it's a lot more "realistic" to what the actual place would have been like 2000 years ago. The site they claim is Golgotha is right up against the bus station along a road heading to Damascus. The actual Golgotha would have most likely been along a major road where anyone traveling in that direction could have seen those being crucified, thus dissuading them from disobeying the Roman law. A short way away from the bus station, the remains of a tomb, most likely belonging to a rich man, had been found. This tomb, unlike the other one, had nothing elaborate to it, just a simple room holed out in a rock wall. The only things added to the tomb itself were a simple metal gate blocking off the what could have been the stone where Jesus was laid, and a sign on the inside of the tomb near the door saying "He is not here, He has risen" (a message that I didn't see at all in the church). The rest of the area was just a garden, kept up by a few workers in dirty jeans, t-shirts, and warm smiles. Nothing fancy, nothing really to do with ritual or tradition...simply a place to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus and the fact that the tomb is empty.

I think that our guide put it the best. He told us that he didn't know whether or not the place that he was showing us was where the resurrection actually took place 2000 years ago, but he did know that personal resurrections occured there daily, and that was the work that Jesus came for. I guess that different people experience that in different ways, and I believe that some people truly do have a "God experience" in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I know that if nothing else, it opened up a lot of converstations about religion and faith between the Christians and the Jews in my class that otherwise probably never would have taken place. It was hard to answer their questions of "What does this place mean to you as a Christian?" when I don't really know what the place itself means to me. Overall, I ended up saying, it means that we have a long way to go as Christians when it comes to love and really living among the people, but most of all, regardless of what site you go to, it means that the tomb is empty, and that is where our hope rests. The tomb is empty, He is not there, He has risen. Amen.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First day of "real" medical school

Well, our "transition" courses officially ended on Friday with a test in emergency medicine, and "real" medical school started up on Sunday. Thing is, our first day of classes was spent touring Jerusalem instead of in the classroom! Yeah, what an amazing start to an intense year.

A few of us went up early, right after the test on Friday and stayed at the citadel youth hostel on the roof again--once again amazing! There was a little kid (I think that he was 8) staying there this time who I ended up playing with quite a bit, especially the first afternoon. This kid was crazy smart! Seriously, I felt like I was learning from him. Of course, by the end of the afternoon we had both morphed into superheroes; he had the power to touch someone and take all of their strength/kill them, but also to bring them back to life, and I had the power of tickling, which was both my defense and weapon. I lost all other identity for that kid for the rest of the weekend.

Saturday was spent mainly lounging around. We spent quite a bit of the morning at the hostel, eating the fresh mangos, bread, and cucumbers that we had bought at the shook (outdoor market) the day before. We eventually left and wandered around the Christian quarter looking for a cheap lunch, which we eventually found after quite a bit of walking (at least we know the area much better now). Then we walked outside of the Old City walls, laid down under the some trees in the shade, where Keiko and I feel asleep for a good 1.5-2 hours. I must have gone into hibernate mode or something with my heartrate slowing WAY down, because I woke up a couple of times absolutely freezing. It was a nice but very unexpected feeling after being in the stinking hot desert for so long.

Finally Paul, James and David (who had shown up some point during my nap) woke us up and we headed off to check out the Garden Tomb, one of the suggested, but highly disputed sites for Jesus' crucifixion and burial. There was so much to it that I'll talk about it in another post so that this one doesn't get too horribly long. Right before we left we met a really nice elderly couple who had been to Israel at least 13 times and who had had a son who had been a doctor before he had died from Hepatitis. He had received his medical education in South America and had worked in primarily rural settings in America. It was amazing to listen to their stories, advice, and excitement about what we're doing. After being here for about a month, it's easy to forget that this program is unique and that being in Israel isn't really commonplace for medical school. It was nice to be reminded of the blessing that we have been given with this opportunity, despite all of the problems that we have been having with scheduling and communication issues between faculty, administration, and students.

After leaving the Garden Tomb we practically ran through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City (which by the way was bustling like no other) in order to get back to meet up with a few other people in our group and head off to a worship service at Jill's church. For those of you who don't know, Jill is a friend of mine from back in Santa Barbara at Reailty Carp who is working at an international school as a 1st grade teacher in Jerusalem. The service was quite a bit different from their normal service because they were recording a worship CD, so instead of hearing a sermon, we sang in Hebrew the whole time. My favorite part was watching the truly joyous worship of some of the older people at the church. I've never seen people worship with such freedom and truly evident joy due to the goodness and mercy of God. I don't know how to describe was really beautiful. Out of everything for the weekend, I wish that you all could have seen that.

After church and catching up a little bit with Jill, we wandered around outside of the old city again, --you guessed it--looking for food. Finally we found a place that was open and wasn't too expensive (and thankfully wasn't falafel), ate and headed back to the hostel. A few more of our friends met us up there after driving up to the city earlier that night, we all went to bed, and got up early the next morning to meet up with the rest of our class for a tour of Jerusalem.

The tour was pretty interesting and informative. We hit most of the tourist sites, starting off overlooking the city from Mount Scopus, traveling back down to the Old City where we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Kotel (Western Wall), and back out of the Old City and right up next to the wall separating the West Bank and Israeli territory, ending at a bus stop that had been transformed into a memorial for a number of people who had been killed there in a suicide bombing a few years ago. It was a great time of bonding with my class, and it was awesome how many deeper philosophical and religious conversations came up out of a genuine desire to understand eachother as a result of these visits.

So, yeah, our first day of class was a field trip...looks like I'm at the right school!! I'll write about more of it later, with some more of the "deeper" things that it brought up for me. But for now I need to study a little more histology, microbiology, and immunology before bed. Love you and miss you all!

God bless!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


So we haven't even officially started "medical school" yet--we're still in the orientation phase technically, but today we got to try out starting IVs on each other! Now I've given shots and stuff before and knew how to start an IV, but it had been about 6 years since I learned all of that stuff, so I was a little nervous. But, luckily, I got the IV in on the first try without any problems whatsoever. The girl who did mine also got it in perfectly, and in a vein that isn't usually used by people taking my blood. It was nice to "pass" that test--even though it was solely for practice and exposure and not at all evaluated by anyone with any authority. One thing that I found to be really comical though was that one of the people who had the most trouble was one of the people most sure of themselves in our class. So, yeah, that's all that I have for tonight. Have a great one everyone!

Friday, August 14, 2009


I greeted the sunrise bleary-eyed and groggy at 5 am this morning. Now for those of you who know me well, you know that I am not a morning person, and convincing me to get up before dawn is not an easy thing to do. So I'm sure you're wondering what got me up this morning. Simple, the promise of seeing a large body of water in the middle of the desert (the Dead Sea) and hiking around the hills of En Gedi. We loaded up the bus around 6:45 (only 30 minutes later than we had planned) and drove about 1 and a half hours to the border of Israel and Jordan. I was awake for about 10 minutes of the trip (probably not even that long) before I curled up in the fetal position on the seat and feel asleep.

En Gedi is a beautiful place, in a desert kind of way. At first glace, you would never believe that there could be running water along the trail we started hiking up, but after about .5 miles or so little bits of standing water started popping up in the river bed we were following and folliage started to poke it's way through the tan rocks. About half way up the trail, the creek was acually big enough to splash around in and just enjoy cool water. It took a little convincing to get those of us who stopped there to climb out to continue on the trail, but with the promise of a waterfall at the end, we continued on our way. When we did reach the end, we were met with a small but beautiful waterfall and a decent sized pool of water to relax in with most of the people in our class.

After hiking back down, we loaded back on the bus and drove to the Dead Sea (once again, I slept for the entire drive). Now I didn't do too much at the Dead Sea other than relax under some shade and nap a little trying to cool off. I woke up just in time to hop in the water, float around for a few minutes, climb back out, rinse off, and get back on the bus to head back to Be'er Sheva. Floating in the Dead Sea was a weird feeling. Because of the salt content (something like 33% while the Mediterranean Sea is only 3%) you just float. Even guys made of pretty much solid muscle who usually sink like a rock in water could stay up without any effort whatsoever.

Here's a few pictures from the trip

At the start of the hike none of us actually believed that there could be enough water ahead of us to create a waterfall, a few pools, and a stream that was actually a decent size.

So the first signs of water weren't the most promising...

This is what the majority of the trail looked like.

Parts of the trail even looked like SaddleRock in Santa Barbara. The little taste of home was nice.

The waterfall at the end of the hike.

The waterfall and the pool below. The water was actually cold enough to give us goosebumps--something I had nearly forgotten existed.

Keiko and I floating in the Dead Sea

Thursday, August 13, 2009


A view of our hostel in the Old City. It was called the Citadel.

Some of the markets along the streets in the Old City. You can find just about anything from food, to clothes, to little figurines, to incense, to fine jewelry. You name it, they have it. You just have to be willing to barter for a while and you can talk the price down by at least 50-75%.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is one of the possible locations for Jesus' tomb.

Walking along the Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus supposedly took to Golgotha. We were led by some priests, and stopped at each of the Stations of the Cross along the way.

A view of the City of David looking through on of the holes in the wall of the Old City.

Keiko along the wall of the Old City. It was a bit toasty.

The Western Wall (also called the Kotel). I had to wait stinking forever for the wind to pick up so that you could see the flag, but it finally did. The area of the wall is divided for men and women, so I have no idea what it's like on the men's side, but to see the earnestness of the women praying was heart-wrenching.

Keiko, David, and Paul at the Dome of the Rock. The Western Wall is in front of the dome.

Paul and James leading the way through one part of the Jewish sector Friday morning.

The rooftop in the morning. A little crowded, but overall an amazing experience. I never want to sleep in an actual room in the Old City now.

The view at night from our beds on the roof of a hostel in the Old City. This is the Dome of the Rock.

That's right! Coffee Bean in Israel! This is in Jerusalem, but they also have one in Tel Aviv. Who knew?!

This is the Negev Brigade. I was not expecting there to be such a big monument of modern art in Be'er Sheva, but this is defintely that. Everything has some sort of symbolic purpose. I don't remember most of them now, but it was really cool to listen to all of them at the time. This is my place to get away from everything else late at night. The dome on the left is awesome! The echo in there is amazing and when you get a bunch of people singing it is one of the most beautiful things in the world

This is one of the most common sights in Be'er Sheva. Cats are everywhere! Apparently they used to have a really bad rat/mouse problem, and in order to deal with that they just introduced cats and let them overrun the city. Their favorite hang out is in the dumpsters.

The Beach at Hurtzlea (the town North of Tel Aviv). Body surfing was amazing and the beach was COVERED in shells. I mean piles of shells that were so big that you couldn't even see the sand underneath them. I highly recommend going there if you're ever in the area :)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tracks, roads, and cobblestones


Hello everyone! Sorry for the lack of posting. It seems like there's not enough time in the day to do simple things like grocery shopping or finding a bike to make getting around town easier let alone get on the internet for any extended period of time. Things have gotten a lot better since my last post...well, situations haven't really changed too much, but I am a lot more at peace about being here.

Be'er Sheva is an...intersting (?) city. I think that the best way to describe it would be the Bakersfield of Israel. It's huge, but there's really not that much to it. To remedy that, most of the students in my program have been getting out of town as much as possible on the weekends. Two weekends ago, most of us ended up jumping on the last train out of Be'er Sheva and headed up to Tel Aviv. One of the girls in my class has a family vacation home in a town a little north of the main city, which made for the perfect place to escape to. I actually can't think of that many highlights from the weekend, other than spending a lot of time on the beach, sleeping a ton, and just relaxing in general. Don't get me wrong, Tel Aviv is a crazy city, full of stuff to do at all hours of the day and night, but most of them not really my "scene" or idea of fun.

One interesting thing from the weekend though was my first experience in a kosher house. I had never realized all of the rules that go into keeping a place kosher. For those of you who don't know that much about it (which was me as of a week ago), one of the main things about keeping a place kosher is keeping dairy and meat products completely separated. That means you can't use the same utensil for meat and dairy EVER. There were specific forks, knives, cutting boards, seives, etc that were only to be used for one or the other. If something designated "dairy" was accidently used for something meat, then it would have to be thrown away (certain things could be cleaned according to a certain ritual, but we didn't really go into that). There were even separate sinks and dish washers for meat and dairy utensils!! I don't think that I had ever realized just how strict the law of the Old Testament as practiced by the Jews could be. I have a new understanding of just how "radical" the freedom of Christ is, and how amazing it is that the Lord desires a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17) above sacrifice or tradition. Eating a real Shabbot dinner though, was a beautiful thing, and a great time of building community. There were 7 of us from all different backgrounds, but the ease and humor of our conversations made it seem as if we had all known each other for most of our lives. After Shabbot had ended Saturday, we loaded into Lara's car (it was her family's house and they had left a car there for her to use while in school) and headed back down to Be'er Sheva (only getting lost a couple of time along the way).

The next week was spent in Hebrew and Emergency medicine classes. A typical day includes Hebrew from 8:30-12 (with a break around 10), followed by lunch until 1:15. Most of the time, I either bring my lunch from home or stop by one of the cafes on the Ben Gurion University (BGU) campus across the street. Earlier this week I actually found another cafe that I love! It's a little place that has sandwiches, frozen yogurt, soups, and a pretty extensive salad bar. The best part is that a large salad is the perfect size for 2 meals and only 18 shekels (4 shekels = 1 dollar US), which means that I only need to get food every other day and then leave the leftovers in the fridge for the next day.

Last Thursday, a part of our fellowship loaded up our backpacks, grabbed our sleeping bags, and jumped on the bus to Jerusalem for a weekend of rest, relaxation, and exploration. The bus was packed, leaving us with only standing room for most of the trip, which was totally fine with me because, frankly, bus surfing is so much more fun than riding responsibly. Now, a word about the buses in Israel: many soldiers ride the buses home for the weekend, and all of the soldiers ALWAYS carry their guns. So, here we are on this bus with no less than 40 armed people, riding for about 1 and a half hours across the Israeli countryside. (Just a note for those of you who aer a little concerned about that--no one keeps the clip in their gun while they're off duty, so there's not really a chance of accidental gunshots.)

Once we arrived in Jerusalem, we wandered around some of the main touristy areas, looking for a Korean restaurant that Paul had heard about and that we had looked up online before leaving Be'er Sheva. When we finally found it, we thought it was closed (which later proved to be wrong because it's actually upstairs from another restaurant that had shut down), so we ended up walking around for another few hours looking for other places to eat. While wandering, we came across a group of Mormon students from America who were finishing up their studies in Israel, a more orthodox Jewish rap group dancing in the streets and on top of their van, an elderly man playing classical violin, and a group from YWAM singing praises to the Lord on the streets. Finding members of the body of Christ in a foreign land is such a blessing. To be able to just sit down with fellow believers that I've never met before and just worship the living and true God before we're even introduced is one of my favorite experiences here thus far. I have to say, that was probably the turning point for my emotions in being here. The Lord gave me a peace that I feel like I had been missig is so great to meet with the Lord in such and intimate and powerful way. The grace and love of God is amazing! That He would choose to meet with me, with any of us, is so far above what we deserve, but He does it anyway. Hmmm. It's beautiful.

Late that night, we ended up stopping by a falafel and schwarma stand, and got some food before heading off to our hostel in the Old City. Ended up one of the guys got food poisoning (we think) from the schwarma and had to go home the next morning, but the falafel that I had was great!

Our hostel was absolutely amazing. We slept up on the roof, where we could see the entire city. The weather was perfect at night, and the other people up there were quiet and respectful when anyone was trying to sleep. The only downfall that I saw was that every morning at 5 or so, the Muslim call to prayer echoes through the city, and without walls to block out the noise, most people wake up. Thanks you mom and dad for raising me in the back of the jewerly store with the doorbell going off all the time, because I only woke up for about 10 seconds the first morning, and then fell soundly back asleep for another couple of hours.

On Friday, we spent most of the day wandering the Old City, going through the shooks (markets) in the different quarters of the city, talking with a Jewish man who is working to build bridges and open up discussions between Jews and people of other faiths, walking along the Via Dolorosa (the path that Jesus supposedly took to the Cross), visiting the Western Wall, and climbing along the City Wall. We had a ton of fun bartering for some clothes, leather sandals, incense, and food, and realized that it is not difficult at all to talk down the price by at least 75%.

One thing that stood out to me was talking to the Jewish man about his views of Christianity. Sadly, so many of his points were true. One thing that he pointed out was that Jesus told us that we can know the tree by its fruit, and frankly, the Church has produced some pretty bad fruit in Jewish history. He also pointed out that although Christians preach unconditional love, they are horrible at even coming close to showing that to people outside of the Christian faith. Yes, we say we love, and we even do love to some degree, but to many people it seems that loving fully is conditional, and that condition is conversion. I know that we are not capable of giving unconditional love on our own, but with Christ all things are possible, and that anyone who has faith in Him can doing what Jesus did, and even greater things because He has gone to the Father (John 14:12). So what's our excuse? I'm preaching to myself here, but Christians, why don't we love? Why don't we seek the Lord and search for a greater understanding of His love so that we can better share that with others? Why do we give into our fleshly emotions so quickly instead of letting the Holy Spirit dwell in us? Lord, help your children.

Saturday was spent mostly relaxing. We went to a church in the morning that Paul had found about from someone else, then had lunch at a Moroccan place with a family from the church. They actually had heard of Westmont and knew people who had gone there, which was a very exciting thing for me! Then we found a coffee shop that was open even though it was Shabbat and spent most of the rest of the day practicing Hebrew and working on homework.We waited for Shabbat to end so that the buses would start running again, hopped on one, and headed back to Be'er Sheva, making it home just before midnight. Great weekend, and one that I hope to repeat many times while here.

So now here we are, back in classes, looking for apartments, exploring the town, figuring out more public transportation, and getting to know eachother as a class.

Things that could use prayer:

-Housing: we still don't have a place. One of the girls that I am living with right now, Keiko, and I are going to be housing together, but we don't know if we will be with a couple others because finding apartments or houses with 4 bedrooms is a little difficult. Please pray that we take the apartment or house that the Lord has set aside for us and not just one that looks like a great deal. I really want to be invested in the community around me, and I know that Keiko does as well, so finding that community that the Lord has for us is essential.

-Classes: Hebrew is HARD! I feel like I've learned a lot, but not nearly enough to communicate effectively with people. It is also hard finding time to study and motivation when there's so many other things that need to be done. Please pray that I would be diligent in my Hebrew studies and that the Lord would give me favor in learning the language, pronunciation, etc. I would love to work with a native Hebrew speaker in learning it, so if that is what the Lord would have me do, please pray that I am directed to the right person for that. I am also taking an emergency medicine class that is a lot of fun and a lot of review from 1st aid/CPR. Please pray that I still put a lot of effort into the class even though it isn't as challenging and that I would really remember what I learn instead of just knowing it for the exam and then pushing it somewhere to the absolute back of my mind.

-Relationships: Please pray that the Lord continues to guide me in forming relationships here, that I would love the people in my program unconditionally, and that personality differences that are very evident in some of my classmates wouldn't cause unbearable drama. I know that a few of the people here are having a really hard time adjusting, with one in particular having a lot of trouble knowing why in the world the Lord has put her here. Pray that the Lord encourages her and shows others of us how to best minister to her and gives us words of hope and encouragement for her.

-Rest: Surprise surprise, I'm already sleep deprived. Please pray that the Lord gives me the strength to make it through the days that seem to drag on indefinitely and wisdom for when to work, when to play, and when to just rest.

Most importantly, please pray that I, and the other believers here, become more sensitive to the Holy Spirit at all times and in all things. It's so easy to get distracted here with so many other things, while He should be at the forefront of our thoughts and actions. O that we would know Him more!

Well, that's all for now. Ani ohevet col atem (I love you all!) Shalom, vey l'vroot! (Peace and blessings to you)


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Above the city

There's this place called the Negev Brigade about 2 miles away from the house I'm in right now that overlooks the entire city. For those in Santa Barbara, it's kinda like the Arches only Be'er Sheva style (i.e. much lower and far less elaborate). It's a great place to go to get away from the hustle and bustle of being in the city. Bodies of water are usually my "sanctuary" but I've ended up in a desert without an oasis nearby, which has made "getting away" really difficult. Thus far, the monument has been the closest thing to that place of relaxation for me.

Above the city, everything seems so small. Apartment buildings that tower above the shops and houses look like little lego blocks with lights to warn helicopters of their location and roads that usually seem to wind in endless mazes become separate and trackable pathways from one area of town to the others. Even though most of the buildings are still nameless masses in my mind, when I'm up there I'm no longer lost in the midst of them.

The question that I think I get the most is "How do you like Be'er Sheva?" or at least something along those lines. Honestly, I'm not sure. It's frustrating in a way; I feel like I'm in this little bubble of separation from the world around me that I've never experienced before. I want to know what's going on around me, but even more, I want to be able to build relationships with the people around me. I mean, the people in my class are great. There are definitely people from a variety of backgrounds with just about every personality type that you can imagine, and they're all interesting and complex people united by this drive for international medicine. But still, I feel a strong urge to get to know people outside of my program, especially the marginalized or minority populations here. I don't really know how to describe it. My heart aches for something; I just can't quite put my finger on it.

It's hard for me to not really know "why" I'm here in Be'er Sheva. I guess it's one way to stop me from "doing" things for the Lord and instead just dwell in His presence and care. The Lord is so good. He knows every my every thought and feeling, even thoes that I can't put my finger on. He knows my present frustration. Today during a break I ended up outside on a lawn at the hospital praying for His direction and it was so sweet to hear Him say "each of these people was made in My image. Look for Me in them, where I am moving and working in their life and how I've equipped them to show you something about who I am. Love them, and in doing so, love Me." But what does "love" look like from my position in relation to those around me?

Above the city, it's much easier to love this place and its people. I can understand it and escape from the suffocating foreignness. And even though I would love to just set up a shack and live up there, I always end up walking back home because ultimately my purpose isn't necessarily to escape that foreignness. It's to embrace it, bridge it, love in the midst of it. I'm only having to bridge differences of language and culture. Praise the Lord that Jesus left his place of ultimate understanding and peacefulness in order to dwell in a world of sin that was utterly foreign to the perfection of heaven.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Week One (plus a couple of days)

Sorry for the slightly late update. I'm still getting adjusted to being here, taking classes, and getting to know my classmates, which has made it a little hard to steal away by myself to reflect on this whole experience.

I don't really know where to start...One of the biggest blessings here has been how the Lord orchestrated my living situation for this first month or so. It turns out that my 2 housemates are both believers, and we ended up living in the "Christian" house, where 4 Christian girls live during the year and which serves as the meeting place for fellowship, praise and worship, and Bible studies. I can't describe the comfort I felt walking into a room with Bible verses scattered around and clearly belonged to a girl who desires the nations to know the Lord.

I'm also living in a very unique neighborhood. There are quite a few college students, Ethiopian families, Bedouin families, Israeli Jews with different levels of observance, and a few other American students--some from my program and others participating in other programs at Ben-Gurion University. It's amazing to be surrounded by such diversity, but at the same time very frustrating because I don't feel as if I am able to communicate with most of the people I come into contact with on a daily basis. Surprisingly, I would say that 80% of the people outside of my program that I run into throughout the day speak very little to no English. It is definitely a lesson in humility. The first few days here I didn't know how to get anywhere, buy anything, pronounce street names or ask for help. It didn't help that I lost my phone and thus had no way to get ahold of anyone. But, after getting lost a couple of times and learning a little bit of Hebrew, I'm doing a lot better and can at least amuse people with my attempts at communicating.

The first Friday here (a little over a week ago), I was able to go and have Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner with a family on the other side of Be'er Sheva. The father was a doctor at Soroka Hospital (where our campus is located and our main base here in Be'er Sheva) and had also taught immunology in previous years. His wife was also there, along with his 3 children and father-in-law. They were not observant Jews, which made for a different Shabbat experience than many of the other students had, but it was still very enjoyable. The food was absolutely amazing...a little bit of everything I love. There was cauliflower, mushroom pie, salmon, chicken breast, and an amazing potato pasta. Definitely made up for the airplane food. After dinner we all just hung out, watching TV, with David (another student) and me guessing what product the commercials were trying to sell and the two younger children practicing their English and quizzing us in math and Israeli history.

One of the things that stood out the most to me was the intimacy between Jewish fathers and their children. To hear these kids calling out "Abba!" with absolute certainty that their little voices would catch his attention and that he would respond with irrevocable love was beautiful. It was one of those relevatory moments...that's just a hazy picture of the relationship that God is offering us...that we can call Him "Abba," we can be His little children with full confidence in His love, His presence, His goodness.

Well, it's getting really late here and I have class in just a little over 6 hours, so I will have to finish updating you all on my first week here at another time (hopefully tomorrow). I guess here's a few quick notes/prayer points:

1) I've been majorly blessed to have been able to build some really solid relationships with other believers in my program. Please pray that those relationships would continue to grow and that we would truly exhibit the body of Christ in all that we say and do, and that we would treat each other in such a way that the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. I can see how a few personalities could clash without too much provocation, so please pray for grace in relationships as well.

2) Living situation: So far, I'm set for the next 3-4 weeks living in the house I'm subletting from some upperclassmen. I am also looking at moving into another house (MUCH closer to school) with 3 other people. The price is good, the neighborhood is essentially the same as the one that I'm in now, just about a 20 minutes' walk close to school, and it will be completely refurbished by the time we move in. It also has a large yard (by Israeli standards) and an outdoor storage shed. There's been a little confusion about exactly who all is in our group for housing, which has caused one of the girls a lot of stress. We still need guidance on housing, if this is the right decision, and then in the negotiation of the contract if it is the right house.

3) Why I'm here: I know that the Lord told me to come here, but He didn't give much direction as to exactly why here and why now. Right now I'm in that period of waiting on Him for that direction. Please pray that the Lord gives me vision of my purpose here, in His timing of course, and that in the mean time I would be patient and attentive to His voice.

4) Relationships: I have been able to get to know a few of the Jewish students in my program really well in a very short period of time, with discussions about God, Judiasm, Chrisitainity, and general life issues all coming up much more frequently than I expected. Please pray that I would speak what the Lord would have me to say and not in my own wisdom. Also, please pray that I would be able to continue to cultivate those relationships even as classes start to pick up a little bit (as of this week we started our 10 hour days in class...ugh)

5) Language: Learning Hebrew is, to put it simply, difficult. I feel like 1st grader when it comes to reading ability, and probably a 1 year old with vocabulary. We're in a pretty accelerated language learning program, with 4 hours of Hebrew a day, 5 days a week. My brain feels like it's going to explode most of the time. Please pray that I would be diligent in my Hebrew studies even when I feel like just being done with it for the day and that I would do so with a joyful heart, as well as for general favor in learning the language.

Well, I really should get going now. I love you all and miss you!

Shalom im ahava! (Goodbye with love!)