In today's busy world, we tend to spend an awful lot of time indoors. Often, we are staring at the screens of our computers, televisions, and phones. Our attention is so absorbed we barely notice what's happening around us, much less what's happening outside. In the hectic pace of our lives, we don't take enough time to slow down and connect to the beauty of nature, and because of that, we're missing out on some pretty amazing things.
Last month in our “60 Years of Heart” blog we talked about how God grew the small seed of an idea into the tree of ministry known as Heartland Center and Camps. Since then, the Lord has planted thousands of seeds at the ACA (American Camping Association) accredited camp and retreat center.
This month we’re sharing the seed stories of two of our newest summer staff members. In the summer of 2017, God called Jana Life and Jenna Lillian to serve at Heartland Camps.
Ohio native Jana Life was torn between getting an internship that would help prepare her for a job after college and working at a new camp. When Jana came across the Marketing Internship Program she felt she had found the best of both worlds. After Michael Megraw the program director got back to her right away, Jana thought to herself “I guess I’m going to Missouri!”
I'm currently sitting in the Adventure House back at camp, reflecting some about the experience in Israel. While I was excited to go, I was a little nervous about what the trip would be like, for the simple fact that this would be my second time visiting the Land of the Bible. I was nervous because while the trip (in details) was pretty similar to my last one, the purpose and group were completely different. I had the opportunity to study-abroad in Israel last time I went, and the group I was with then was (mostly, with the few exceptions of some older professors) around my age. This time, we had a group that varied greatly in age, and had groups from a few different states (and even a couple from Canada), join together to make the group we traveled with. I was nervous, just because I didn't know what to expect from the group we were joining up with.
Overall though, I greatly enjoyed this trip. It was cool connecting with new people and journeying through the Holy Land with them. A question I expected to be asked upon arriving back (and I've already gotten it once) is one I don't have much of an answer to, because honestly I'm still processing, but I can provide an answer that satisfies the intent of the question, what differences were there between this trip and your last one? Here's my answer: The perspective of the tour guide is the biggest difference.
“Please wear appropriate clothing and stay on marked paths.” The signs read. “Keep your voice at a low level. This is a Holy place.”
Wednesday night we entered Jerusalem and we have spent the last two days in Bethlehem and Jerusalem visiting holy places. Some sites, like the temple mount and western wall required extra security to pass. These are locations that are holy to Christians, Jews, and Muslims around the world and people flock to visit. Other sites, like the southern steps of the temple, the hills of Bethlehem and the Pools of Siloam and Bethesda, may be the very places where stories we’ve heard and read all our lives actually took place. And then there were the churches of the Via Dolorosa that have less historical significance but are beautiful and holy places of worship that represent events from Jesus’ last day.
Walking in these places and hearing gallons of history has been anything but easy. In fact as I sit here I realize I don’t really have all that much to say. To be honest, I’ve struggled immensely with what we have done here and I’m still wrestling and reconciling with that, so I will leave you with a few details of what we learned at some of these places.
Temple Mount is where both temples once stood. The large gold dome of the rock shelters the place where the holy of holies once sat. Also on the temple mount is the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. Temple Mount is currently under Muslim control and as they keep that site holy for themselves, it sometimes feels repressive to the other visitors. On temple mount we stood at the corner of what would be the pinnacle of the temple where the devil told Jesus to throw himself down. Our guide said this was the first time he was allowed to walk on this part of Temple Mount. I pray that these three groups of people can continue to get along and work together to preserve these places that are holy to all of them.
The Western Wall of the temple is a holy site for Jewish, Muslim, and Christian people to pray. People pray at this wall because it was the closest to the holy of holies which was at the back of the temple when the temple was still standing. It is believed that the spirit of God still dwells in the wall. Our guide shared with us that this is such an important place for Jews to come and pray because they believe that the temple was destroyed because of their sin so they are begging for forgiveness and believe that if they pray enough and in the right way God will give them another temple.
The Southern Steps of the temple would have been the main entrance. A winding staircase surrounded by mikvahs (ritual bathing areas) leads up to the grand staircase and three arches. Here we told the story of Pentecost and entertained the idea of the fire appearing above their heads and the Holy Spirit entering the people as they were ascending the stairs to the temple.
On the shepherds hills of Bethlehem we saw the caves where shepherds lived. We told the Christmas story and learned more about how shepherds cared for their sheep and why they were such important players in that story.
At both the Pool of Siloam and the Pool of Bethesda we read about the miracles that Jesus performed and took in the size of those pools.
One day left here in Jerusalem.
There are times working at a summer camp where it seems like everything is happening at once. That a million things need my attention. So you focus on what is right in front of you an go and go and go until it is 11:30 and you have run out of Cheez-Its (which is the fuel that leadership staff runs on). It is at then end of days like that when Michael or Emma would ask me how I am doing and the only response is; “I have seen some things”.
Before I share with you some of the recent adventures we got to experience in Israel, I think it is necessary for me to give a bit of background context that helps set up where the perspective of this experience I'm about to share with you comes from. Like many experiences, I entered this trip with one main expectation: In some way, God would speak.
After a late arrival to our hotel Thursday night, we woke up bright and early on Friday with four sites on our agenda. We started in a garden where we saw replicas of both olive presses and wine presses. Although not historical pieces, seeing and understanding these replicas makes it easier to identify and understand when we see the remains of presses at other sites. We then visited Beth Shemesh where the ark of God passed through on its way back to the Israelites after the Philistines had stolen it. From there we visited the site of the battle of David and Goliath and got to hear an excellent dramatic retelling of the story. And finally we stopped in Maresha which had a fascinating tunnel system beneath the village. From there we headed south towards the desert and spent the night by the dead sea.
Today we hiked the trail to Masada and learned about the fortress of Harod the great. We traveled farther into the desert to a tourist site to learn more about the nomadic Bedioun people. Here we rode camels and heard a Bedioun legend. We also visited the city of Arad and continued to learn more about the people who once lived in this place. After returning to the hotel we got to swim, or rather float, in the dead sea.
What captured me most today was not the excavation of a giant fortress, though I am fascinated that due to the very dry climate and lack of bacteria and fungi, the excavators found food still in storage in some of the rooms. And while a very fun and unique experience, it wasn’t floating in the dead sea that captured my attention either. It was after we got off the camels and sat around in a tent to hear Bedouin legend that I found myself captivated by what was being said—coming to better understand pieces of the culture.
One element of culture that I always enjoy exploring is food. Food is heavily impacted by both culture and region so changes so much from one place to the next and drastically influences the way of life of the people. For example, Jewish people follow a kosher diet so in Israel it is rare to find pork at a restaurant or meat and cheese served in the same meal. Also, in Israel there are many olive trees and fig trees so at every meal there are fresh figs and a variety of olives. I don’t think hotel buffets are the best way to experience authentic Israeli cuisine, but there is a nod towards it and the hotel does obey Kosher rules and serve food that is fresh and from the area. This pattern, of course, continues across most every country and culture.
Food came up today in the Bedioun legend we heard. First in the simple explanation of Bedioun hospitality. If someone appears at the door, they will receive hospitality of food and a place to stay for a minimum of three days, no questions asked. And second when a dying father gives advice to his son: do not trust anyone who will not share their food with you. Immediately my mind started jumping to lessons I have learned and experiences I have had in other cultures surrounding food. The confidence in the Native American culture that no one will go hungry because the neighbors will always care for them and make sure they eat. The community style of eating in India where everyone takes from the same bowl and shares together. My friend in China who bought a snack and proceeded to share with everyone so ended up with only one piece himself. We tried to give some back and he replied, “No! Food is for sharing!” Or in Cambodia where the most common way of asking how are you is by asking have you eaten and inviting them to share a meal together.
I was once again in awe today of the ways that people care for one another, particularly when it comes to food. Inviting someone into your home and providing them not only food but also shelter for a minimum of three days, no questions asked? I’m hardly willing to share the extra snack I bought or my leftovers from a meal. And the father’s advice: do not trust someone who will not share their food with you. It got me thinking, what sort of person is it that shares their food? It’s a little boy who trusts Jesus and gives his five loaves and two fish. It’s the men walking on the road who invite a stranger to a meal. It’s a Samaritan man who sees an injured Jew and provides him both food and shelter until he is well. As a Christian I am called to share my food. To show hospitality to everyone around me and to trust that when I do, God will provide enough for me too. The nomadic Bedioun people are Muslim. And the Indians Hindu, the Chinese follow Confucian teaching, and the Cambodians Buddhism, but its from them I continue to learn more and more how to be a Christian and live out the lifestyle I am called to. I am so thankful for this opportunity to learn about another culture and share moments and ideas that are sacred to them!
The very first leg of Heartland's travels to Israel. We have arrived safely and though we are definetly tired, we can't wait to see how God will move on this trip!
"Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their need for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment. Most schools don't satisfy all these needs."
It was 60 years ago that a seed of an idea grew into an American Camping Association accredited camp and retreat center. It began with a dream that turned into a reality thanks to the foresight, vision and dedication of the members of the Kansas City Presbytery, now Heartland Presbytery. A plot of 180 acres near Parkville, Missouri was purchased in 1956 for $26,250. A basement house, a pump house, a garage and a pig shed came with the property. By 1958, a camp opened on the little plot of woodland.
The seed had been planted, and soon it began to grow.
This past summer at Heartland we learned about who we are as God’s children through our theme of
S'mores (n): a classic staple of camps everywhere, uniting kids and adults alike with their sticky, chocolatey, melted deliciousness!
This is a finals week devotional for all you crazy college kids out there. Finals is a time of chaos, of busyness, of huge deadlines, and lots of stress. In all of that it can be hard to stop. Hard to stop worrying, stop studying, and let’s be honest stop procrastinating. It is easy to get so caught up in our lives and our stress that we forget the most important things. We forget God.
Growing up I never owned a pet. I was always told Mom didn’t like cats and Dad didn’t like dogs so there were going to be no pets in our house. The reason we couldn’t have a rabbit or fish or hermit crab was never fully explained to me, but the point is, I didn’t grow up with a furry (or scaly) companion
Our staff welcomed the Friendship campers to camp Tuesday morning and instantly they had 38 new friends, who even before they knew their name had told them they loved them. Unconditional love is what our staff learn about this week, they live it out with their campers showing them everyday, every hour , every minute what it really means to love someone.
The campers have for sure honed their wilderness cooking skills this week. Sunday’s dinner was a great learning experience and since then things have only gotten better! We are now able to cook stir-fry, biscuits, scrambled eggs, and pork chops – all over a camp fire!
Just over the past few days I have seen growth in these children. Let’s face it, it has been hot and sticky and it’s not always easy to get along when you’re tired. But here is what I have seen: the kids have worked together to make meals on a campfire and clean up. They have been encouraging each other at the archery range.
Our group has bonded really quickly and it's so much fun to see how our campers take care of each other and include each other. This week, we have been learning about how God created each one of us for a purpose, and how much God loves each one of us.
They not only ride their horses, they groom them, tack them and learn about their care. They form bonds with these great big animals that are so very gentle. My favorite part of at the end of this week is seeing how they have learned from their horses.
Best of all, we've had the chance to take this time away from the hustle of our everyday lives and spend time learning about who God says that we are. We've read through scriptures and had a chance to talk through each theme, asking our questions and learning from one another