It's tough to assign words to describing an Israel experience. This is my attempt.
Walking on the Mount of Beatitudes
First, it's much more than a trip. It's an institute of learning, reflection, challenge, and growth. I've been in my position here long enough to view the Israel excursion as a pivotal point in the HUG semester where one has the opportunity to make long strides in one's own journey of faith and in one's interactions with the Father. No, one doesn't particularly need an Israel experience to grow as a Christian, but the experience can be nothing but beneficial. From my point of view, it's big. It's a turning point in many students' lives and continues to be in my own.
Garden on Gethsemane, Temple Mount
Secondly, our time here is strongly academic. We attend lectures all day on site with a college professor and archeologist who has become our friend for whom we pray. He's meant much to Harding over the years, and we are fortunate to know and admire him. Our brains are full. Childhood Bible stories have come to life because we now have places in which to file the facts in our brains. Our eyes take in the maps, our nose takes in the smells, our ears take in the sounds, our feet walk the path, and we are now able to categorize in our brains the facts of the past about which our parents and teachers have told us. And we're learning about the current politics and modern culture that shapes the thoughts and interactions of the people here - the secular people, the Muslims, the Jewish orthodox, and the Christians. It's complicated like layers of an onion. Much like our own country's citizens, Israelis wear their scars like we wear ours. There's hurt, frustration, joy, pride, and variation in thought and practice. We are definitely in the present as well as the past. Our guide says that the logic of faith is more convincing than secular logic, which is special if you know him and his story. Christians choose to take the faith jump even before coming here, but it's here that I've seen students' minds and hearts explode with something like joyous proof.
Eating St. Peter's Fish, Sea of Galilee
Thirdly, we are having fun. We rub Dead Sea mud on ourselves getting a one hundred dollar spa treatment and then go ease back to float in the thirty-three percent salt water. We take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and visit the surrounding towns in the region. We hike down to underground water cisterns and also up to panoramic views, taking in the varying landscapes of this place - some the green of the Galilee region, some the brown of the desert, some the turquoise of the Sea. We read Jesus' sermon on the Mount in the place where He said the words, feeling that the Bible stopped five minutes ago when our eyes share the experience with our ears and hearts. We wander the confusing streets in the Old City of Jerusalem, shopping for souvenirs. We bravely eat new foods such as falafel and shawarma and appreciate new tastes. Diving into a new culture is fun and exciting, and we love our time here!
"My father's faith is becoming my own," a student told me yesterday. And today another student said to me, "I was expecting God to be bigger here than He was before, but I'm realizing that's He's been with me all along waiting for me to more fully see Him--just like He was and still is for His chosen people. He's always been constant." That's the joyous proof. That's the goal of all parents, teachers, and mentors. That's what HUG is all about. My family and the faculty here with us consider it an honor to be part of this particular chapter in our students' lives.