New friends in old places

The long-awaited and much-debated Tuesday is almost here. As Israelis go to the polls this week, may I tell you what happened last week?  As politicians promise voters what they might do for the country in the future, please know that some beautiful things are happening in the present.
I just returned to Texas from leading another group of Christian pilgrims as they explored the amazing landscapes and environments that make up the Holy Land. As a pastor, some of my life’s greatest blessings occur when I introduce people to Israel. These Bible-believing Americans have long read God’s Book and truly longed to the see the places where it all happened.
Like many tours, our journeys were filled with stops at Christian sites in the Galilee like the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum. In Jerusalem, we observed the Last Supper in the Garden Tomb and pondered the condemnation of Jesus before Pontus Pilate. We read scripture in the Upper Room and experienced the thrill (and chill) of baptism in the Jordan River. These significant religious places, and dozens more, filled our itinerary and educated our tourists.
Our group of Texans experienced the normal hustle and bustle of Israeli tourism… buses and hotels and restaurants and crowds.  We observed Christians from around the world reading God’s Word and deepening their faith as they saw the places of scripture come to life. Magdala and Banias, Chorazin and Jericho, Bethlehem and Nazareth… these are no longer mysterious locations on the pages of the Bible, they are real places with real people, modern culture mixed in with fascinating histories.
While seeing so many familiar sites, we also made a stop that is not listed on the normal tour company brochure. For about the 10th time, I was about to visit some old Israeli friends and introduce them to some new American friends.
Rabbis Jeremy Gimpel and Ari Abramowitz are living their dream. Unlike many people who pray and hope but never actualize, these American-born Jews are making history come alive in Judea. In the same spots where biblical prophet Amos tended sheep and David, not quite yet the king of Israel, wrote the Psalms, these men and their families have committed their lives to making the old new again.
During this visit, students of Bible prophecy might understandably have been overwhelmed with emotion as they experienced the ancient words of Isaiah coming to life.
Indeed, the Lord will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody.  ISAIAH‬ ‭51:3‬ ‭
I will open rivers on the bare heights and springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, the acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert together with the box tree and the cypress, that they may see and recognize, and consider and gain insight as well, that the hand of the Lord has done this, and the Holy One of Israel has created it.  ‭‭ISAIAH‬ ‭41:18-20‬ ‭
During a three hour conversation, any informed observer of Israeli politics would notice that this visit rolled a smorgasbord of campaign issues and constituencies into one beautiful experience. While probably not noticing, my American Christian friends and my Israeli Jewish friends were touching on some of the most divisive issues in this election, yet no feeling of division existed.
As we sat and ate and talked, overlooking the beauty of the Judean wilderness, political analysts would have noticed Olim and Sabras, Jews and Christians and Arabs, Settlers and Tourists, Past and Present and Future… even Construction over the Green Line. You would be hard pressed to think of many more topics that are supposed to be so controversial as to prevent friendships. Yet, what happened last week at The Arugot Farms and Retreat Center was the opposite of controversial, it was inspiring and educational and safe and fun and unifying.
For religious Jews and religious Christians, few experiences can top singing songs and reading the Bible in the spot where Bible songs were written. That is what happened last week when strangers became friends and American tourists become lovers of Israel.
Israeli voters must decide whom to support as they go to the ballot box on Tuesday. There are numerous important and even competing political agendas that must be considered by politicians and citizens. But, no matter what the election outcome is, my prayer is that the future of Israel looks a lot like the time last week when two rabbis and a pastor (and a bunch of their friends) walked into a farm in Judea.
About the Author
The writer is a pastor and radio host in Texas who frequently leads tours of Christian pilgrims to study the Bible in Israel. Learn more at www.treygraham.com.
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