palestine (west bank & gaza)
Dear Family and Friends,
Greetings in the precious name of Jesus!
May 29 was an historic date–the date of Israel’s first direct election for a prime minister. It was on this date that I had the glorious privilege of beginning the walk in Israel. This was a walk I will never forget! For ten years I have prayed for God’s timing to go to Israel, but when we were in Australia in January, I felt that God wanted me to go to Israel and carry the cross during the last week in May and on into June. At that time, the elections had not even been scheduled, yet this would be the very time of the elections!
After praying, I felt that there was really only one starting point–Bethlehem. God’s message of love began there, and two thousand years later a reminder of His love would once again start from the same place. I felt that I was to walk as closely as possible the path that Jesus actually took. Though many were concerned for my safety, or about my not causing riots with the Jews or Muslims (both had been historically offended by the cross), I received nothing but a wonderful welcome. In fact, during my entire time there, none of these groups did anything hostile or even said anything that was demeaning. Members of the PLO, as well as Jewish people, carried the cross. In fact, a group of Hassidic Jews came directly up to me, and at the last minute gave me a big smile and a “thumbs up!”
In Bethlehem, I was met by a group of Arab Christians and Muslims who welcomed me by giving me a large, wooden Jerusalem Cross. Then I was taken to all the houses where they knew someone was sick so I could pray for them. I’ll never forget praying for little Jimmy, a seven-year-old quadriplegic who couldn’t even speak. Though God has graciously allowed me to see some miracles, this time I didn’t see any change. I thought of life, health, children … and how easy it is to take God’s blessings for granted. My heart broke as I held his little body in my arms.
From Bethlehem, I carried the cross along the old Hebron Road right into Jerusalem, then over the Mount of Olives toward Bethany, and on to Jericho. Beginning in Jericho, I walked through the occupied West Bank, on up to Nazareth and into Galilee, finishing in the Golan Heights near the Lebanese border. Because of the history, every step of the way through this land held special significance for me.
One day, a Jewish man who wasn’t a believer at the time, stopped his car, got out, and ran up to me, saying, “I’ve been trying to find God. The Rabbis have tried all my life to get through to me, and I have tried to understand, but it just hasn’t gotten through. This has gotten through!” He told me he was Yosi (Joseph) and his wife, Miriam (Mary). He said, “I am a Jewish carpenter, and I noticed that your cross needs some repairs.” Can you believe it?! A Jewish carpenter named Joseph, with a wife named Mary, welcoming the cross.
It was so hot and dry in the desert! Out there, I got a new understanding about Psalm 23 where the Good Shepherd “leads me beside still waters and makes me lie down in green pastures.” It really takes a wise Shepherd to lead you through the desert. Since there weren’t any stores and I couldn’t carry much water, God sent the Israeli army to take care of me. They would check on me and bring food and drink every three to four hours. In the villages, I was given so much food that, at times I had over a hundred pounds of food tied to the cross. I would have to walk to the next village and give away the food that had been given to me. I slept with every kind of group there. The cross stayed in the homes of Jewish people, Muslims, even the nomadic Bedouins.
One of the leading newspapers in all of Israel, a Hebrew language paper, came out and interviewed me. Some of the excerpts from our interview: “… I come as a pilgrim of peace … the cross is the greatest symbol of love and peace in our world today … Though many have used the cross for their own purposes, God’s message is one of hope and reconciliation … While I’ve been here, I think I’ve found the solution to the problems so many are facing here … I haven’t received one negative word or gesture, only “welcome,” hospitality, and love … If the love that I’ve received from all sides in the conflict could be shown to one another, there would be no more problems … As so many beautiful people of this special land have welcomed the cross, they have welcomed the answer to the problems that are being faced. It was at the foot of the cross that the best of God met the worst of man … I have sensed no danger … I have simply felt that I am among friends … there must be peace and to have peace, we must go to all sides … I come in peace with the love of God. God loves everyone, no matter who they are, what they’ve done, or what side they’re on.” Can you believe a Jewish newspaper would allow me to say all this?!
Even though Israel has incredible need and great tragedies have happened there, I found a reservoir of love that is indescribable. I also found that everywhere I went, everybody seemed to want peace. All were eager and attentive as I shared that the only way real peace would ever come was through the Prince of Peace, Jesus and His cross. By the grace of God, the cross had gone through another place of critical need!
Once again, we just want to say thanks for loving Jesus so much and for letting us see Him in and through your life. We are amazed and thankful for your friendship! You trust our walk with God and help us with what He has called us to do. Still, you are more concerned about who we are and how we are, than what we do. With family and friends like you, we are so blessed. Thanks! Please pray for us if you think about it this next month. By God’s grace, I will be returning to the Middle East to walk through some of the Muslim countries there. Hope to see you soon!
God Bless You!!