It’s not easy to describe in words an experience of life, of faith, like this one. I don’t know where to start. What was my path of faith? Why did I come to participate in this adventure?
The very first thing to know is that I never lost my faith in God or in Jesus. Never in my life, have I thought, “God doesn’t exist.” Never. He has always been there somewhere.
I was born into a Catholic family. I was baptized. I always went to mass. I went to catechism. I made first communion, profession of faith, and my confirmation of faith (where you pledge to follow God throughout your life). Today, with hindsight, I wonder if that was really my choice.
When I was a teenager, I was part of a French movement of young believers. It was called Youth Eucharistic Movement. (YEM). In the summer there were camps during the holidays and we went for 15 days to meet God and other young Christians from all over France. We prayed, we made evenings, games, songs; we tried to understand the divine words of the Bible in following a theme, and we prepared and led masses. We organized a show for the end of the stay to thank the people of the villages that welcomed us. It was good. Everyone could express their talents. We were all different, but we were happy to live together. We all had our problems, but we could talk about them. When I think back to that time, a smile appears on my lips. I had an unshakeable faith in God. He was like a friend who held my hand on the path of life. I don’t really know how it all got lost in my life.
In 1997, my mother became ill. Breast cancer, vicious and voracious, which had taken so much energy, but had never altered her faith to God. I had to let go of His hand slowly; I lost confidence in His judgment. I didn’t understand why he was afflicting my mother so much suffering as she showed him dedication every day and followed his commandments. I remember all these times where she went in the middle of the winter to church to spend hours in the cold, her hands in icy water sometimes in e flowers to make pretty bouquets to decorate the church, while she was under chemotherapy. And that made her tired and sometimes sick. And the scars of the operations tugged at her skin sometimes. I didn’t understand why God was silent and didn’t help us. Even worse, he added hardships. The factory where my father worked closed and he was unemployed. Fortunately, he was hard-working and quickly found work contracts, but they were never sustainable. I felt alone, very alone. He was no longer near us. Our fate didn’t interest him anymore. So, I didn’t go to mass anymore and I stopped praying. I stopped talking to him because I never had an answer. I was 15 years old, and instead of going out with my friends after classes, I went home to iron and help at home. I continued my life path. And as time went on, my faith became less and less important. Yet I remember a strong refusal to hide this cross I wore around my neck because the school was a secular place. So, why did I remove it from my neck and not put it back until this March, 2019? Little by little, I cut myself off from this relationship that made me an individual in this world. On my way, I started to support several causes. Some regularly. I support the Children of Asia Association, and I sponsored a group of children for more than a year. I joined the fight against slavery also a few years ago, through End It movement.
The year 2013 was, unconsciously, the beginning of a change and a slow return on my path of faith. It was also coincidentally the worst year of my life.
In February, I started following a young man on Twitter, then Instagram. The person he already was at the time inspired me a lot. And when you know that, thanks to him, I managed to write these lines today, we can understand that everything happens for a reason. Yet, his impact wasn’t the one of today. He didn’t have this passion, this strength, this desire, that those around him know. But he revived something. He too had to live through hardships to become the initiator of this adventure in Israel. His name: Nathaniel Buzolic.
In June, I received a phone call. My mom called me to tell me she was in the hospital because she was “all yellow”. She would never come out. Deep down I knew it was the end. The cancer detected on the lungs a few months earlier, while it seemed to resorb, had migrated to the liver, triggering a jaundice. Then the brain was attacked. And God in all this! “Anyway, he doesn’t listen,” I said to myself then.
One day in July I called my brother. And the words I heard, still seem to me today, totally unreal: “You have to go right back if you want to say goodbye to mom before she leaves.”
On July 26th, I arrived at home, and we went straight to the anti-cancer center. Over there, I was told that my mother had only bursts of consciousness and that she doesn’t realize what is happening to her. I enter into the room and she sees me and asks me what I’m doing there. (Yes, Normandy and the Southern Alps is not next). Of course, doctors advise against telling someone who is unaware that he is dying, he will die. So we improvise the truth. “The boss gave us two to three days because there is no guest at the hotel.” So she says to me: “Well, that’s good.” These will be the last words she will tell me. My grandmother will not have the opportunity to exchange one last time with her daughter. Her heart finally stopped in the night. Three days after burial, something unreal happened. (When I was 12 years old, my parents had to move out and they had a little house with a small garden, and my grandmother wanted to give them some flowers to beautify it a bit. We went to the garden centre to buy rose bushes. I absolutely wanted a white rose bush, I was sure it would be very pretty. They have been planted and over the years have grown and bloomed. All? No. The white rosebush had hardly grown, it gave leaves but never roses. And then it stopped growing. I was sad that this rose that I had chosen didn’t grow. It was time to go and we forgot it.) But that morning, three days after the burial of my mother, my father called me in stupor. A white rose, a single white rose. This tree that had never grown gave birth to a beautiful white rose. She stood straight and high. My father cut it to put it in a vase near my mother’s portrait. And now the rose bush is dead. The rose remained blooming again for 15 days. And she died in her turn. I think there is no coincidence. It was a sign from God to show us that we could believe in the life he promised. And it’s surely the thing that has allowed me to keep my faith somewhere deep in my heart.
A year ago, Nathaniel invited his followers to come with him to Israel for a trek in the footsteps of Christ. The program was interesting, but the price a bit high. Yet after the third visit to the site I registered and I paid the deposit. I don’t really know why, but I registered. I had never dreamed of seeing the holy land, like all Christians. But I had to go. I was really far from imagining that it would be the trip of a lifetime. No one was aware of it yet. My family and the few friends I could trust didn’t know until shortly before leaving.
It was three months ago, and it is still difficult to find the right words. Sometimes it takes just a little time and sometimes, despite the time, the words seem ridiculous in the face of the intensity of the experience.
One thing was certain. I was going to get Jesus. I came to meet him very closely. I didn’t really know what I was going to remove, it wasn’t imaginable at all. I wasn’t stressed to make this trip, but not necessarily excited either. I was rather in what could be called a waiting position. This is actually the state of mind that was mine on the plane. I arrived at 5am on Sunday. Too early for the shuttle. I went to the hotel alone. After taking the train to Tel Aviv, I walked 30 minutes with my bag on my back to the hotel.
That evening everyone met. The trip to Jaffa was an opportunity to see Nathaniel for some and meet him for others. I dreaded a bit being in a group, traveling alone. But this very first night brought me back a few years before. At the time of the EYM, I knew it would be good with this group. I made a meeting that for me was a driving force during this adventure. God drew me to Freddy. Our selfie and smiling man. I think he is the person with whom I exchanged the most during this week; we even both sang during the second day of the trek. Thank you Freddy for becoming a brother. I exchanged so much too with Kat. I love you my sweetie. I thank you to have been so friendly with me. Thank you to have been like my nurse when we talked about my hypothyroidism. Your presence near me has been so beneficial.
During this journey, everything’s coming up. And on the first day of this fabulous week I felt a lot of feelings. On Mount Carmel, in the middle of this group, I felt alone. Aside. As if I was not there. At this place, you can see an absolutely exceptional landscape. My throat was tight. But I held back my tears. I looked around the different directions for a long time. And my thought: “We are here mom. The holy land. In 5 days, you will see Jerusalem with my eyes.”
After Mount Carmel, we went to Nazareth village. One thing is sure. If I could, I would have stayed there. I felt peace there. The peace we all seek. This peace that we feel deeply. Like a breath that erases everything, ends the misery of the world, no fear, no doubts, and no anger. There was only that feeling of well-being. I exchanged with Nathaniel about it, he said to me: “You too, you feel that, it’s good. What do you feel exactly tell me?” I didn’t have the exact word at that moment. Neither in English nor in French. Today, I know. It’s simply “serenity”.
Then there was this first day of the trek. I think we were all impressed by this incredible day. The trek is not a simple walk in the fields. It’s a test on its own. We started the day with a teaching moment and then a prayer on the Mount Precipice. I think that’s when we became a group, a family. Unconsciously we have all united in this unique adventure. We started to really take care of each other. Passing sunscreen or recovering forgotten things; reaching out to help others. It was already very hot that morning. And we started walking late. The sun spared no one. We all suffered, I think. Some had to give up for their physical integrity, for others just walking at a high enough pace was impossible to follow. For my part, Nathaniel came to find the leading group to tell us that there was no problem stopping, that there was no shame, and that it was better to stop than to put oneself in danger. I should have listened to him. I didn’t feel very good at the time. I had barely eaten in the morning. And I couldn’t finish my sandwich. I thank Sam, for giving me two drops of essential oils peppermint. It did me a huge good. I should have turned around with Nathaniel to the car. But I didn’t say anything. I was there to do the trek, God would be at my side at every step and I will stay up. That’s what I decided. When Moshe joined us at that time; I told myself if you feel unwell; there are two men who will not be happy. And there was the worst time of the day for me. Between the two breaks in the shade, was a climb. Walking wasn’t a problem as long as it was flat. On the other hand, the rise following Nathaniel’s intervention was a nightmare. I think I have never felt the weight of the heat in my life as much as at that moment. I even thought I couldn’t do it. At this point, one no longer asks anything from God or anyone, one simply prays for the heart and the brain agrees to contribute the effort to the end. And finally, sometimes, I like my body. I didn’t pray to sit in the shade again. Thanks to Rachel for taking a little care of me and wondering if I’m ok. But yes everything was fine. Still, my head was spinning a bit too much. Fortunately, we still had our picnic. And we had an apple. The sugar contained in it would be good enough. The break was long and pleasant. This allowed us to recover from the effort made since morning in full sun. The two pieces of apple were enough for my body to avoid discomfort. I must add that I am admiring of all those who have walked in front. I am also very impressed by our leader, and our guide, who made double the trip by constantly going back and forth between the front and the back. I already knew Nathaniel, and I know he is the kind of person who cares more about others than about himself. He had a little less of a good time. Headache, stomach ache. He ran under a blazing sun, had not eaten and drank very little. Seriously, it wasn’t reasonable. Moshe had become much more hydrated and he knows the terrain well. I think that’s what marked me the most on this day. The risks taken to help others. When we left I took my apple and ate it slowly most of the rest of the way. And I finished quietly this first exhausting day. I must tell you also Moshe had developed an extra technique to keep the majority of the group working. “It’s over for today. But the bus will get us a little further “will it go for everyone?!! We were almost happy to do it in the end. The end of the day was coming and the sun was falling. When we finally arrived at the camp we had to go and get Martin and Emily who had gone far ahead. Personally, I began by thanking God for giving me the strength not to let go. Then Jesus to have been with me at every step. And when Nathaniel told me “Good Job Amelie!! I thought, “if you knew, my little guy.” In truth, I could say “Thanks.”
This first day has been full of lessons already. Spiritually, humanly, physically. I was happy with everything I had during this day. I was happy to have suffered but to have reached the end. I was happy to have felt the presence of the Lord near us. I was thankful that he blew us every decision that would help us move forward together and individually. Many of us didn’t finish this day and couldn’t walk the next two days. But they were with us in our hearts. Know that you were there and that we carried you through the landscape that led us from Nazareth to Capernaum.
On the second day, Moshe decided to have us walk at 5am. To avoid the heat of the afternoon he had, with Angelina, our other great guide, reorganized the day in an emergency. Getting up early isn’t a problem for me. I was delighted to be able to watch the sunrise while walking. The atmosphere was different. Silence often animated the group during the first minutes of walking. Calm reigned during this walk. A strange feeling that I can’t define followed me all this second day. I wasn’t attentive, nor very interested. Neither by Nathaniel’s teachings that I listened to in one ear, nor by the visit of the army base. I didn’t consider it a chance to enter a military base. I don’t question the choices made by one or the other. The redevelopment of the day was perfect. But I think that my general state of mind of the day has contributed to not enjoying this visit too much. I don’t know. I know I missed important information especially in the morning. For my personal learning. But I don’t regret totally this detachment. It was just like that. Even if concretely, I have no explanation to that. Perhaps I was doubting my presence on this trek. Perhaps my faith wasn’t big enough, strong enough. Maybe it wasn’t for me. It was this morning that we sang with Freddy on the road, “Shine on Us” by William Matthews. A moment of grace and union in the midst of this total disinterest. And then, that feeling left me at night, arriving at the camp. The best evening of this week, the best dinner. A moment of sharing, a moment of laughter. A moment of relaxation with a small stretching session organized by Kristina. And the exchanges by the fire. I would have liked to extend this moment. But I knew that lack of sleep would be a ruthless element to take into account for the next day. The longest day of walking is the most difficult. We were warned. “No failure would be allowed because in the valley because there will be no means of communication. And impossible for the car to follow us during the last part.” In other words, you had to be sure you could do it. It turned out to be the most difficult for me. Not necessarily physically, but spiritually. He proved to be liberating and saving. And the real beginning, a new beginning on the way to God, in the company of Christ.