Macedonia & Israel Update
I returned on Monday from 8 days spent in Macedonia, followed by 10 days spent in Israel. Needless to say, there was quite an emotional welcome home reception from my family!
For the second year in a row, I had the opportunity to lead a team of students and adults from Trinity Christian School to Macedonia. As part of the Trinity’s “Missions Week,” 10 high school students chose Macedonia from approximately 8 other mission trip opportunities. While our time there was relatively short, we were able to accomplish quite a bit together while serving Sasha & Marija Vuletic and their family’s church-planting & discipleship ministry. We helped lead the Sunday service for a church led by Sasha & Marija in Macedonia’s capital city of Skopje, and were also a central part of a Tuesday evening youth service for another congregation in the city. In both services, two of Trinity’s students publicly shared a testimony and teaching, and the whole group shared their 6-word cardboard testimony, which Marija Vuletic had already translated for us into Macedonian.
Our primary task while there was to serve the ministry of a preschool located inside Sutka, the Roma gypsy community of Macedonia, which happens to be the largest concentrated population of gypsies in the world. We worked alongside two local concrete contractors for the better part of three days to transport over 140 wheelbarrows full of gravel and sand, and then mix and pour endless batches of concrete. This will serve as the high base of a tall fence that will help protect the preschool from continued vandalism. For those students who weren’t hauling and mixing concrete, there was plenty of trash to be gathered and local gypsy kids to love on! Even though we had delays due to rain and supply shortages, we were able to reflect upon the fact that the Lord used those delays to create several hours of uninterrupted play time with some of the gypsy kids who had remembered many of our team members from our time there last year. This proved to be a special time for our team, and left many of them with deep emotional connections to the kids there.
We were hoping to end our time together on our last day by praying over Skopje from high atop the mountain that is host to the Millennium Cross (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Millennium_Cross), however as you can see from the picture below, blizzard-like conditions prevented us from spending much time up there!
A 4:30 am flight escorted us out of Skopje and to Vienna. From there the Trinity team continued toward Lubbock, and I boarded a flight to Tel Aviv, Israel…
I joined up with Randy Boyd, Jack & Friede Taylor, and 8 of Prepare International’s top European leaders for 9 days of journey and discovery throughout Israel with the help of Messianic Jewish tour guides. Unfortunately, there is NO possible way to briefly summarize the experiences that I encountered in the time we had there. I am considering hosting an evening to share stories and pictures to try and convey some of the revelation that I had while there. If you’re interested in attending something like that, please let me know!
What I can do is share a couple of highlight moments. The first came when our group traveled to far northern Israel to the site of Caesarea Philippi, as referenced in Matthew 16:13-20. In those days, Caesarea Philippi was widely known as the epicenter of pagan worship, and included some unimaginable sexual rituals which included the use of goats. Many false gods were worshipped there, and the culture was obviously incredibly vile. Because of the evil nature of that place, Jewish men were forbidden to enter the gates of that city. However, as we discovered while we toured this ancient place, there is a place in the distance that provides a clear view of the gates (caves) of Hades, the king of the underworld, the god of death and the dead. It was in view of that cave upon that rock that Jesus and Peter had a history-altering exchange. We read in John 1:42, the moment the two of them meet for the first time, He said, “You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas, which is translated ‘A stone.’” Jesus already called Peter a stone, and now on the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi, we have the exchange recorded in Matthew 16:18 – “…you are Peter (translated “a fragment of a rock”) and upon this rock, I will build My church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.” Are you seeing the significance? Jesus was referring to Himself as the Rock, while looking at the rock foundation of the pagan worship capital of the world, and reminds Peter of his “smallness,” while also prophesying to him that he would become a central figure in the establishment of His church – His place of worship! Essentially, it was at this site that Jesus both declared war on the enemy AND simultaneously declared victory while also prophetically telling us that He will use seemingly insignificant humans to advance His victory! Wow. Just wow.
Another great experience was when we visited the site widely believed to hold the very tomb in which Jesus was laid. Much of the tomb is still completely intact and has been preserved throughout all of the attack and defeat that the city of Jerusalem has faced. “He is risen” says it all!
Other highlights include the three days we spent in and around the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Jesus made His home in Capernaum, near where He delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and this area served as the base for the majority of the miracles that He performed. I was overwhelmed at the thought that those same waters held boats in which Jesus often traveled, as well as the feet of Jesus when He walked upon them! It was a breath-taking moment as we rode on a boat across the sea, singing praise and worship together!
Our time spent in Tel Megiddo, Jerusalem, the Mt. of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, En Gedi, Masada, the Jordan River, and the Dead Sea hold many great revelations as well, but I cannot even begin to convey them all. I sincerely hope to return to Israel (and take some of you!) to experience more of the history and the living presence of the risen Lord Jesus! This trip definitely falls into the category of a game-changer. Fear and finances aside, I firmly believe that every Christian believer should experience Israel first-hand. It provides such unexpected revelation and context to our faith. The physical battles that are raging around Israel are undoubtedly significant and will continue until that Final Day in which Jesus will return. I strongly want to encourage you to put Israel on your list of must-sees. There is more than meets the eye awaiting you!
I have to admit that I went to Israel, eagerly hoping to have some sort of radical encounter with the presence of the Lord at one of these ancient and holy sites. It sure would make for a great story to tell! While the touring was indeed memorable and life-changing, my “moment” didn’t arrive at one of the sites. That particular moment surprised me during a time of worship at one of the Messianic Jewish congregations that we attended. I simply sat down near the back of the room with a cup of coffee, and suddenly I felt the strong presence of the Holy Spirit coming upon me! For the next 30 or 45 minutes I was overwhelmed at what He was speaking directly to me while the congregation was in worship. I really felt like He was saying to me, “Stop looking so hard for Me in all of these places. You don’t have to search that far because I am with you always. I live inside of you! You always have Me!” That message, while simple, was exactly what I needed. It is easy to forget how near He is to us. Galatians 4 tells us that if we have received Him as Lord, He has already placed the Spirit of His Son inside of us! He has promised that we will find Him if we seek Him with our whole heart, but the beauty of that is revealed in the fact that He is making His home in our hearts! What a gentle, yet powerful reminder. He is so good!
As always, thanks for standing with us and alongside us. We thank God for you!