“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will act.” – Psalm 37: 4-5
It’s been a little over two months since I returned from Israel and I’m still trying to find the right words when it comes to writing about my experience and the powerful testimony that goes along with it. It’s difficult to put down the words that encompass the ten days that changed my entire life in the most amazing way, but I’m going to try because I feel that it needs to be heard.
I’ll start by saying that the Holy Land has always been number one on my bucket list of places to see in my lifetime. I have always hoped and prayed for it, but usually timing and financial situations were always a big hurdle. That all changed last summer when I saw Nathaniel Buzolic’s Instagram post where he invited people to join him on the Jesus Trek through the Holy Land. I instantly felt a pull in my heart to get information about it. Once I received that, I felt the next tug to take the chance and register with my deposit. I put it all in God’s hands and I knew that if this was my time, He would work it out. If not, then I’d patiently wait for my time to come. Well, God wasn’t pulling any punches. He smashed every hurdle that fell into my path when it came to this trip of a lifetime and I found myself saying, “Okay, God. I feel and hear you. Let’s do this.”
Needless to say, I had high expectations and was so excited to broaden my knowledge about the bible and walk in the footsteps of Jesus. These expectations kind of messed with my head the first couple days of the trip. Don’t get me wrong, I was instantly in awe of everything this journey was giving me. I was surrounded by about 37 strangers from all corners of the world and some of them I quickly formed bonds with, specifically my roommate for the week. I know without a doubt that God made sure that Cagney Wilson was my roommate because she ended up playing such a pivotal role in my personal journey during the Jesus Trek, along with many others that were part of this group. It was Cagney that I confided in Monday night as we stood outside overlooking the amazing view we had in Nazareth. I told her that I felt like I was missing something. That maybe I had certain expectations for this trip that weren’t falling into place and it made me feel conflicted even though I knew I still had the rest of the week. Cagney was nothing but supportive and encouraging. She reminded me that while expectations are very easy to fall into, they’re pretty much null and void because God is ultimately in control and whatever happens is what God put in place to happen. I just needed to open my mind and heart to God to listen. He is there and waiting to speak to me, but I have to let Him in. She told me not to worry about anything other than focusing on Him. Many tears were shed as we shared a personal prayer together asking God to reveal Himself to me through the week, letting Him know that my heart is open and I’m listening.
The next morning, the group started Day 2 on the top of Mount Precipice (Luke 4:16-30). With an incredible panoramic view of the Jezreel Valley below, this is where Nathaniel spoke of the moments in Luke 4 when Nazareth rejected Jesus and how in the end, He showed that no matter the circumstances, even when being exiled by his hometown, Jesus was and is always “in control”. Hearing this message really hit home for me because the night before, I was having a conversation with Cagney about that very thing. God is in control. It brought a smile to my face because I realized that God is definitely listening. He heard my prayer the night before and here He is instantly showing me that He’s got this. So as I took a few moments for personal reflection on Mount Precipice, I spoke silently to God letting Him know that He’s got my attention. Whatever His will for me in the next five days, let it be done.
The first day of hiking didn’t go as planned. Even though we started mid-morning, the sun was relentless as it loomed over us with little to no shade on the side of the mountain and a temperature bordering 100 degrees. This didn’t help any of the participants who were already struggling with health issues. As we neared about five miles worth of hiking, there were already two women of the group that had to be transported back to the bus, unable to continue the day’s hike due to health flare up or injury. At this point, I was struggling too. Having dealt with chronic Atopic Dermatitis since I was eighteen months old, my skin is very sensitive to the sun. I’ve had sun poisoning before and also 3rd degree burns just from being out in the sun for too long and without any form of shade. I knew this going into the hike which is why I kept a sunscreen spray in my backpack. I lathered it all over any exposed places of my skin repeatedly throughout the hike, but almost five miles in, my face felt like it was on fire. Apparently it looked like it too because every time we’d stop for a break, those near me would make concerned comments about how red my face was. I just shrugged it off and reassured them I was fine and keeping tabs on it. Moshe, our lead tour guide, wasn’t as convinced though and showed deep concern about my sunburn. Despite my adamant declaration of “I’m fine”, he and Nate made an executive decision and was determined to convince me to go back to the hotel with the others. I struggled with this decision because I had worked so hard with my training for the hikes in the months leading up to this trip. I really wanted to make it to the end, but hearing the genuine concern in Nate’s voice and listening to his reasons for advising me to rest, I gave in to what I felt God wanted me to do. He knows my body and my health more than anyone else and I didn’t want to push myself over a selfish desire to feel accomplishment. So, I left with the others that were sent back to the hotel and got the rest I needed. By evening time, my face was already looking better and so was my arm. This was actually a rare victory because usually when I get sunburn, especially on my face, it looks horrible for a while.
The unexpected events of the first hiking day led to the group being split. The ones that could no longer go on the hikes were sent with Angelina, our other tour guide, to visit biblical sites that weren’t on the original itinerary. The rest of us continued our hiking days, but due to the unusual heat wave making its way through Israel that week, we had to begin each day before sunrise to hopefully ‘beat the heat’. On the second day, we started the hike around 5:00AM. The hike itself went much more smoothly. It was nice to actually be able to enjoy the views and take in everything around us without having to feel like we’re literally melting from the heat. This was the first day I was able to interact with more people in the group. Since we were able to go at our own pace during the hiking, it led to us falling in line next to someone we haven’t had the chance to have a conversation with yet. So, not only did the hikes give us unforgettable views and lessons, but they were also the catalyst in forming the strong bonds that we would end up carrying with us long after this trip. It was such an inspiring and moving experience to witness because I have never been part of a group that showed so much encouragement and support for each other. I truly believe that is what helped us make it to the end each day. We never gave up on each other. Just as God never gives up on us.
We made it through the second day with flying colors and ended up enjoying some time at a beautiful local swimming area. We were also given a unique opportunity to visit the Israel Army base. It was an eventful day, but I found myself not feeling very well during most of it. I had a headache through majority of the day and I also felt a bit nauseous. I’m sure I was somewhat dehydrated even though I was trying to stay on top of my water intake. My group ended up staying at the camp site that night and despite my illness, I had a great time getting to know everyone better. We shared a freshly cooked meal together and then some of the group parted ways and enjoyed some time around the fire pit or started getting ready for bed. I lingered at the table with Cagney and Samantha Garvin, who noticed how quiet I had been through dinner. I told them about how I had felt all day and that I was also nervous about Day 3 of the hiking we would be doing the following morning. We had been told by Moshe and Nate that Day 3 would be the hardest day. We would be descending into Nahal Arbel Valley and once we reach the valley, all cell phone service would be lost and the 4×4 could not follow us to assist if we needed a lift. We would also be crossing many creeks with unstable rocks. Needless to say, I was very hesitant, especially after experiencing the brutal first day of hiking and not making it through. I also confided in Cagney and Sam about how I still hadn’t had a moment of clarity, something I had been seeking since the trek began. It’s the same thing Cagney and I had prayed for that Monday night. Though I had exchanged casual conversation with Nathaniel in the previous days, I had yet to open up to him about my personal testimony only because the opportunity hadn’t presented itself. I had heard Nathaniel speak with such passion for Jesus and the bible during his teachings on the Jesus Trek and it was because of his genuine heart that I felt compelled to speak with him and see what God given advice he could give. I had watched others have personal conversations with him about their own struggles and in some ways, I could’ve probably initiated the conversation I desired on my own, but I knew that wouldn’t be on God’s timing. I didn’t want to make things happen. I wanted to let them happen. I wanted to give everything over to God and allow Him to guide this journey in His way because once again, God is always in control. After opening up to Cagney and Sam about this, they surrounded me and said a prayer over me in which I got extremely emotional over. I felt so immensely blessed in that moment because I knew God was really working on me and He was using those around me as vessels to do so. When the prayer was finished, Sam said, “I don’t usually do this, but I really feel like your breakthrough moment is going to be in the Garden of Gethsemane.” I didn’t put much stock into those words only because I didn’t want to give myself expectations again like I had at the beginning of the trip. So I just nodded and wiped away my tears. Sam then encouraged me to sit there and fully immerse myself into a moment with God as I listen to a worship song. She told me to seek His guidance on whether or not I should participate in the hike the next day because I still had the option to go with the other group who weren’t hiking instead. Sam scrolled through her playlist on her phone and chose the song “Fresh Outpouring” by Kim Walker-Smith. She turned the volume all the way up and left it on the table while her and Cagney stepped away. With my head bowed and eyes closed, I lost myself in the moment. I focused solely on Jesus and asked for His guidance. In the midst of tears and as the song hit its peak with the lyrics ‘There is fire stirring in our bones, a shout is rising, rising up inside’, I was suddenly consumed with flashes of a vision and that vision consisted of a large body of water with big rocks making a path across it. I was standing on one of these rocks, hesitant to move, but then Jesus appeared in front of me and extended His hand. ‘Soak the earth, come and fill our hearts. Your voice is calling, calling us to life’. I took His hand and He started leading me across. I was instantly filled with a sense of peace and security. I knew in the moment I took Jesus’s hand, He would never fail me. This was God’s way of saying it was going to be okay and that I should trust in Him in the days to come. I went to bed that night feeling excited for Day 3 and the revelations to come.
To be continued…