Nourished in Israel
May 6, 2019 | 9 min read | Gwynne Gardner
I never thought I would have the chance to go back to Israel. Three years ago all of the Josiah Venture singles were invited to go to Israel to study the life and teaching of Jesus. We mainly focused on New Testament stories and had the chance to walk through Nazareth and Capernaum, visit a garden tomb (created to replicate what a tomb back in Jesus’ day would have looked like), and we sat in the garden of Gethsemane—the very place where Jesus prayed for the will of the Father to be done.
You can imagine my surprise when I heard there were plans in the works for a second singles trip to the Holy lands this time we would hear teaching and visit sights from the Old Testament. I have always loved reading Old Testament stories and couldn’t wait for them to come alive right in front of me. And to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Were we going to sleep in tents, ride camels, and visit obscure places mentioned in the Bible? Well, yes, actually!
The very first night we stayed in a Bedouin camp, where they greeted us with coffee; served us hummus, chicken, and pita bread for dinner; and we slept in a tent with sleeping bags. It was a bit cold, but for sure memorable! Then, after breakfast the next morning, we rode camels through the desert. This experience has been on my bucket list for some time now! I felt like an Arabian princess! Later, we visited a biblical botanical reserve and ate mustard plants as we walked. Then, we traveled to Lachish—you know that one city mentioned in Joshua 10:31-32 because it was destroyed during the conquest and later rebuilt by Rehoboam (2. Chr. 11:5-12)? After this trip, I feel like I am more equipped for a riveting game of Bible Trivia! What is the name the valley where David killed Goliath? Ooo, oo, I know! It’s Elah! You know how I know? I saw it!
The theme of the whole trip was: “Nourish: Drawing on your Old Testament Roots.” We toured the Promised Land assuming that God still speaks through the Old Testament. Dave Patty (Josiah Venture’s President) used Old Testament stories to teach on leadership, while Tyler Patty (Dave’s son) taught on various Old Testament genres. As we sat at Gideon’s spring, Dave used the story of Gideon, in Judges 7, to teach on leadership when the odds are against you. A battle was coming and things weren’t looking that great. The internal odds that Gideon experienced were doubt and insecurity. He also had external odds like being outnumbered by the enemy and then the Lord decreased his own army. God did all this to teach Gideon some valuable lessons. God asks us to listen to him, and he often asks us to attempt things that are beyond our ability or what we see as possible. But, when we are on the Lord’s agenda, we cannot fail!
One of my favorite talks that Tyler did was on how to read old testament prophets. He highlighted the prophet Amos. Not the prophet you thought I was going to say, was it? I must confess, Amos is not one of my go-to prophet books. Amos was a shepherd from the Southern kingdom who had a message for the Northern kingdom. I thought about how most of us on the trip are serving in a country that is not our own, or a town we are not from, and how God sent us there with a message—his message. Amos was called to “stand in the gap.” God was upset with the people, Amos interceded for the them, and the Lord relented. The people weren’t recognizing their need for God’s heart of justice and mercy. Then, a bunch of crazy stuff happened. There were locusts, visions of coming destruction, a lot of imagery, and pictures were given to the prophet. God used prophets like Amos to call people back to his heart and to stir people to respond.
One of the coolest things we were able to see was a life-size version of the Tabernacle. It was all there; the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altar, the blue, purple, and scarlet colors of the linen, and the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. Exodus 25-40 tells how God maped out his plan for his people so that he could dwell among them. As I walked through this structure I was struck with how detailed, intricate, and exact it was and how all of this reflects God’s character. God cares about the details. He made a way for his presence to come down to earth, and hundreds of years later, he sent his one and only son to earth so that there would be a way for us to have the presence of God dwell in our hearts. Incredible! We don’t have to build structures any more or sacrifice animals to atone for our sin. Jesus was the final sacrifice. Knowing that all of this happened in the Old Testament makes everything that occurs in the New Testament all the more powerful. God sure knows how to tell a good story.
One of the things that I believe will cause ripple effects long after this trip, is the dynamic community that we all experienced. Right when we got on the bus, Mel Ellenwood (Josiah Venture’s Executive Vice President) got on the microphone and told us that he would love it if every time we got on the bus (and we were on and off the bus a lot!), we would sit next to someone different. We all took this instruction to heart. It was a bus version of musical chairs, and it was a joy to deepen existing relationships while cultivating new ones. There were 44 of us total, so I didn’t get to sit next to everyone, but because of this bus mingling and shuffling, more people were connecting that maybe wouldn’t have if not given the opportunity. I have been on the field serving in Slovenia for 7 years now and shared experiences like these make a huge difference and play a big part in longevity and personal health. These moments will go a long way as we will all continue to work, live, and serve in our own context.
People save up their whole lives to go on a trip like this! I can’t believe I have been twice. What a gift from the Father! It is a blessing to be a part of an organization that cares for us in this way and makes an experience like this so affordable. On the last night of the trip, we all gathered in a meeting room in our hotel and sang worship songs. Dave talked about how there is something special about being in the Holy Land and that there are thin walls between the physical and spiritual. He gave us some time to pray and write down what we felt the Lord was telling us. The Father reminded me to stay rooted in his truth and that he is where true nourishment comes from. Just like the Israelites wandering in the desert, my heart tends to wander, so it is vital that I stay rooted in him.
There are so many more stories I could tell from this trip and could talk in length about the teaching and all of the places we visited; but overall, I felt this trip was a gift from God and one I will think back to often. I will recall how we went floating in the dead sea at night and walked the busy streets of Jerusalem trying to take in all the sights and smells. I will remember all of the hummus and falafels we ate, how I loved being with all of my friends, and how we took way too many photos. Wait, is there such a thing as too many photos? I think not. Most of all, I will remember that God had a good story planned from the very beginning of the world and made a way for his presence to be near us.
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