Oh my goodness, there are no words…and there are too many words. What a beautiful, glorious, spiritual, amazing place! I know a blog should be short & concise, but I am completely at a loss as to how to accomplish that when we’re on the subject of my first trip to the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…and JESUS! So, I guess the best way to go about this is to just focus on some highlights…and do it with visual aids, of course (aka photographs). Because, after all, everything is better with visual aids.
First of all: the food! Oh…mmm…the FOOD! The spices, and the freshness, and the colors! I just LOVE ethnic cuisines and spices, and food in Israel is stuffed full of wonderfully delicious spices. And the funny thing is, our budget was so tight & prices in Israel are so expensive that we didn’t even eat in any real Israeli restaurants. Most of the time it was “street food”. But the street food in Israel is so yummy…who needs stuffy restaurants? Featured in the above photo is one of my faaaavorites – falafel. It’s deep fried chickpeas stuffed inside a perfectly soft pita, along with hummus and salad and veggies and all sorts of delicious things. Oh, falafel…how I miss you.
This is Old Jaffa. Old Jaffa is incredible! It’s situated in Tel Aviv, which is this huge, modern, metropolitan city…and then you travel just a few bus stops and you’re back in ancient Israel. The top photograph is Simon the tanner’s house. THE Simon the tanner, on whose roof Peter hung out and where God gave Peter the vision with all the animals on the sheet, and told Peter that the Gospel isn’t just for the Jews, but should be taken to the Gentiles as well. That’s THE house! And the bottom photo is the Old Jaffa port. THE Old Jaffa port through which the materials passed for both the 1st AND 2nd Temples. Aaaand, THE Old Jaffa port from which Jonah ran away from God!
Ah, Jerusalem. After Tel Aviv we spent a week and a half in Jerusalem. Beautiful Jerusalem. I was overcome in that city. I could physically feel in my chest some of the weight of Jesus’ love for that city and for the children of Abraham who harden their hearts to His love and redemption for them. Every day, when we would go out in the city and I would stand on the hills, looking out over Jerusalem, I could so clearly sense the Lord as He says: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings…” – Matthew 23:37. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. It is His heart…let it be ours!
Jerusalem was, by far, my favorite city in Israel…and the most difficult. I have NEVER experienced a spiritual atmosphere THAT electrically-charged! The gate in the above photo is just one example. This is the Damascus Gate. The community within the Damascus Gate is mostly Arab, but there were lots of Jews walking in and out of it as well, on their way to the Western Wall for prayers (with plenty of IDF soldiers stationed around to keep the peace!). One evening, we went through this gate to find a place to eat dinner. The MOMENT we stepped through the Damascus Gate, I started feeling WEIRD! My throat constricted, my chest felt tight like there was a huge weight on top of it, and I kept thinking that at any moment I was going to vomit. We found a little place to eat, and when we’d finished, we walked back out through the gate. And the MOMENT we crossed the threshold, I felt fine. All of those weird symptoms I’d been feeling were just immediately gone! And there were numerous places around Jerusalem like that – places with really heavy atmospheres. There is definitely a spiritual battle going on for the hearts of that holy city, and the spiritual atmosphere is almost tangible. PRAY for the peace of Jerusalem…physical AND spiritual!
Speaking of the Western Wall…ta da! I can’t believe I was really there and got to pray at that historic wall (that’s me in the yellow jeans in the photo on the right). And yes, I just couldn’t go there without partaking in the time-honored tradition of writing my prayers on scraps of paper and stuffing them into the crevices of the wall.
Of course, no one knows the exact location of the Garden Tomb. But, this particular Garden Tomb location seems pretty probable that it could be the original location…since it’s in a garden…that’s right next to a hill…a hill that has a pretty evident “skull” in the side of it, formed from random crevices. Whether it was here or somewhere else, though, the truth still remains…Jesus is not here!…or there!…or anywhere! He is risen!
By their actions, even Muslims admit that the Jewish Messiah is real…and that He is coming! This is the gate known as the Golden Gate. The gate through which it is prophesied the Messiah (Jesus) will enter Jerusalem when He comes. The land the Golden Gate sits on is Arab-owned. And they are apparently so freaked out by the Jewish Messiah prophesies, that 1)they bricked up the entire Gate, and 2)they put an Arab cemetery right in front of the gate. Why? Because according to Jewish religious laws, a person that walks in a cemetery becomes unclean, and so therefore the Messiah could never walk through a cemetery. Right? Um, no. Since they acknowledge with their actions that the Messiah is real, don’t they think that it will take more than some bricks and graves to stop Him?
One day in Israel, we rented a car and drove to En Gedi – the beautiful oasis area full of mountains and hills and caves and waterfalls where David wrote many of his inspired/inspiring psalms. It’s also where David was hiding from Saul in one such cave, when Saul entered said cave to…uh…”relieve himself”, and David had a chance to kill his enemy but instead demonstrated mercy and a reverence for the Lord.
The Dead Sea. So fun. Such a weeeiiirrrd sensation. So amazed that I was really there! Fun side note: it’s prophesied in the Bible that one day the waters of the Dead Sea will be healed and it will be full of life. Seems impossible, right? I mean, that water is sooooo salty. While I was swimming (aka floating) in it, one teeny tiny drop of water splashed in my eye and the ensuing pain from the salt was so intense, I thought surely I was going to be blind in that eye! But, not too long after we returned home from Israel, we saw a news report about the Dead Sea…how scientists have discovered fresh water springs on the sea floor that are pouring fresh water into the sea…and around those springs they have discovered LIFE (microorganisms)! The waters are healing…just like God said they would!
This is Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This tunnel is not just named in Hezekiah’s honor; he actually commissioned the building of this tunnel!…in the 8th century…BC!!!!! Isn’t that hard to even fathom? And, contrary to this photograph, it’s actually pitch black in that tunnel (the photo is only lit up because of the flash). It’s a very creepy, faith-challenging adventure to walk through the entire 1,749 ft. of the tunnel…in the dark…through water. In the above photo you can see how deep the water was in some parts by the water line on my pants!
Ok, are you ready for a cool story? Because there is a very cool story that goes along with this photograph of this beautiful flower. It all started when I moved back to Lviv over a year ago. There’s a very large hardware/building store in Lviv, called Epicenter. When I moved back last year and went to Epicenter for the first time, I saw a huge photo of a flower hanging from the ceiling in the home & garden center. It was one of the most beautiful flowers I’d ever seen – almost too beautiful and perfect to be real. I asked the workers what kind of flower it was, and nobody knew. (I guess they don’t actually sell that flower, they just like the photo so they hang it in their store.) Anyway, I’ve enjoyed looking at the photo for over a year, but was frustrated that I could never find out what kind of flower it was. Fast forward to Israel. After Jerusalem, we hopped on a bus and headed to Haifa where we had reservations to stay at a Christian hostel called Bethel (for those who don’t know, my parents’ ministry home is also called Bethel!). We arrived in Haifa, found the hostel, and as we walked up to the gate, what do you think I saw? – A huge tree FULL of these beautiful, perfect little white & yellow flowers! I found out that they’re called Plumeria, and when I looked up their meaning, I discovered that one of its meanings is ‘creation’. Then, fast forward to a few days later in Haifa, our family was meeting with the wonderful rabbi of a Messianic congregation, and he informed me that ‘bria’ is actually a word in the Hebrew language that means ‘creation’! How incredible is that?
Yes, that says what you think it says. Megido. This is the valley where the last world war is going to happen. The whole earth is going to come to war against Israel in THIS valley…which isn’t that hard to imagine, seeing how so many nations are turning against her. I just can’t even fathom the awfulness of what’s going to happen here, though. The Bible says the blood from that war is going to fill that entire valley and be so deep that it will come up to the chest of a horse! My mind can’t even wrap around that.
But I am so glad to know that it won’t end there! I’m so glad to personally know the one, true God who, no matter how people reject Him & hate Him, still loves the world and still offers the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, as the payment for the sins of every single man, woman, and child who will accept His gift with nothing more than love & gratitude and a willingness to follow Him. No matter how or when this old earth ends, there will be a day when we will be with Him, face-t0-face forever, with no more evil and no more pain! But in the meantime, He has given us the life that we have for a reason. We don’t have to wait for His Kingdom…He wants us to bring His Kingdom down to Earth…and He’s planted in every single one of us gifts with which we can bring His Kingdom into the chaos of our world.
For me, that gift is music. Over the years, I’ve neglected that gift & reduced it to the category of nothing more than a hobby. While in Israel, though, God was able to get my attention, and forced me to look all the way back into my childhood and admit that music was the very first gift that I recognized and received from Him in my life. It was also the very first dream I had – when I was a little girl, music was the only thing that I wanted to do when I “grew up”. But then I did “grow up”. I became too “mature” for music. In my mind, it was a silly, childish dream, and not a worthy or legitimate calling or ministry. So, I decided that music would only be a side project – something that I only invested time or money in whenever I had those resources left over from my “grown up projects”. But God helped me see that I had become just like the servant in the story of the investments (Matthew 25:14-30) – I was the servant who buried his gift, instead of investing in it as much as he could. Thank God for His undeserved mercy! I’m so thankful that He exposed my heart to me…and that the Holy Spirit gave me the faith I needed to dig up that gift. I have once again, just like when I was a little girl, received the gift of music that God put in me when He first created me – and I have received it with joy and gratitude, and have dedicated myself now to investing my full heart, mind, and strength into it so that God can use it for the purposes that He intended for it from the very start!
And not only did God rebirth this gift in me, but once I was obedient to embrace it, He sent confirmation after confirmation so that I would have no hesitations about embracing it fully. While we were in Haifa, staying at the Bethel hostel, there was a piano in the common room. I haven’t had access to a piano since moving back to Ukraine, so when I saw that piano and was told that I could play it anytime, it was like the heavens opened and the angels sang! Within a day of being there and worshiping the Lord from that piano, I had already written a new song:
Also staying at the hostel at that time, was a young South African missionary. He has a very difficult and draining ministry in South Africa, and had come to Israel for a time of rest. One evening, he and my folks were sitting on the porch off of the common room talking, while I was playing and singing. He wasn’t feeling well that evening, and excused himself from the conversation to go to bed. My mom told me later that she offered to tell me to stop playing, but he asked her not to. He said my music was so beautiful and peaceful, it made him feel better to listen to it! I don’t think there could be a higher compliment.
There were also numerous times when the young men who volunteer at Bethel would ask if they could come sit and listen while I played, because they enjoyed my music so much!
Then, during our meeting with the rabbi in Haifa (the one who told me about my name in Hebrew), he prayed for me & my sisters, and during his prayer for me he started praying for my music and creativity, and that I would step into where God’s leading me with no hesitation! (I had not told him about what the Lord had been putting on my heart!)
God also reminded me of a prophecy that was spoken over me way back in 1999 – that He was going to use my music in Ukraine, to bless the Ukrainian people and spread His glory through this country.
And right after we got back from Israel, I received an email from a friend in Nashville with whom I’d started recording some of my songs before I left. After a long hiatus, he said that he was finally able to start work on my songs again, and that hopefully we could have them finished in the near future and be able to release them as an EP (a mini album).
So, like I said before, it’s as if God hasn’t just revived the gift and dream He’s given me, but then He’s been putting exclamation points all over it!
You may be wondering, though – “ok, that’s all great, but what about slavery? Where does that leave your calling to fight against injustice?”. Well, that was my first question, too, and so I asked God that very thing. And here’s what I felt like He spoke to my heart: The gift of music that He’s placed in me, and the renewed calling to give that gift everything I’ve got, does not negate the passion He’s put in my heart against injustice – namely, slavery. They are not mutually exclusive of each other. Instead, he’s put them both in me, intending for them to go hand-in-hand. The music He’s given me is not for me. It’s not for the purposes that the world uses music for – for fame and fortune. It’s something that He gave me to be used for HIM…for His Kingdom. To share His love and the good news of His Son, Jesus, and to bring His Kingdom to Earth – a Kingdom which includes justice and freedom for every person. So, I don’t know exactly what this is going to look like, but what I’m feeling is that, through music, God is going to give me a much larger platform & a much more effective voice to speak out against slavery than I would have if I tried to work outside of my gifts and do it in my own strength.
I am giving my all to the music God has given me – to recording and sharing my own songs, and also giving my all to the ministry of worship that He’s given me in my church. And while I’m doing that, I’ll also be aware and obedient to any and every opportunity He gives me to speak out His heart against slavery and oppression.
So there you have it. The impressions & stories & lessons from my first trip to Israel, in a nutshell. A very large nutshell.
Thank you so much to each one of you who supports us financially and with your prayers & encouragement. YOU make it possible for us to follow God and be obedient in whatever He tells us to do. Seriously, we couldn’t do this without you! You enable us to minister and follow our callings. And I pray that someone else is doing the same for you. And I pray that I and my sisters are doing the same in someone else’s life. Because really, that’s what God’s family is all about!
As always, may God bless you a hundred times for the blessings you give out! We love you & bless you in the name of our amazing Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Him…and FOR Him…