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.
Since it was a study-abroad program that I was a part of last time, the tour guide was the professor at the school I was studying at, who was an American Citizen, who had been living and studying in Jerusalem for a while (I can't remember how long, but over a year, I'm pretty sure). The tour guide on this trip was an Israeli citizen, who was able to provide a more "Israeli perspective" to the places we were visiting and the events that happened there.
When I finished the study-abroad class last time I was there, I was also finishing my Undergrad Education, completing a degree in Youth Ministries. I noted that I couldn't think of a better way to end my program than by studying in the Holy Land. I have a similar feeling about how my trip this time played out as well. The ending just made sense, and before I explain, read this passage from the Bible.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.” - Matthew 28:18-20 (MSG)
We spent our last day as a group together in the city of Jerusalem, visiting the spots where Jesus spent the last moments of his life. Some of the places we visited include the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the place where Jesus and the Disciples ate the Last Supper.
These places are where Jesus spent the last moments of his life, before dying on the cross, for the forgiveness of sins. However, as we know, the story doesn't end there. On the third day, Jesus raises from the grave and ultimately gives the Great Commission, which I quoted (from the Message paraphrase) above.
Our experiences in Israel (for this trip at least, who knows what the future has in store), are over, but that isn't the end of a story either. It's just a new beginning.
Now, as we are returning back to our normal lives, doing the things God has called us to do, my prayer for myself and all the other people I got to experience this Israel Trip with, is that the experiences that were had in Israel create a change in the way we live out our lives, whether that just be in our faith walks with God, or in other ways, but changed nonetheless.
As for me, I'm still processing what that difference is going to look like. The En Gedi experience, which I wrote about previously, will for sure have an impact on whatever this change will look like.
“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.” - Shel Silverstein
Many times in life, endings are very sad. Often times though, they're not truly endings, but new beginnings. While in a way, I was sad for the trip in Israel to be over, I was also ready to be done and have some time to rest. However, I'm not looking at the end of the trip as an ending, because as I've already mentioned, it's going to cause a change, a new beginning, in life.