With Eyes Open Wide
Evan Kephart is a senior Biblical Ministry Studies major and is studying abroad in Israel this semester.
“People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” – Dagobert D. Runes
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson
The two quotes above described my first full day here is Israel with great precision. Today we began by having devotions and meetings about emergency procedures in the event that something might happen. While it was sobering, realizing that this can be a dangerous place, it was also freeing knowing that this place isn't in fact as randomly dangerous as Detroit or Chicago. There are much fewer random acts of violence against persons and everything is political. Otherwise, these people have learned to co-exist in ways that we Americans have lots to learn about. For those of you who might be wondering, I feel completely safe. My greatest worry is that I will do something dumb and get myself hurt. But our staff has taken very good care of us so far and I trust them to keep us well throughout the semester.
Today was quite an adventure. After our meetings we took a bus tour around the city. It is incredible how large the city is and how close it is to neighboring communities. For instance, where we are staying is about fifteen minutes drive from the old city of Jerusalem and from the Institute we are only minutes walk away from Bethlehem. I can stand on the roof of our study center and see the Church of the Nativity. Our tour took us through both Palestinian and Israeli communities and settlements. To see and hear about the area, the conflict, and the politics of the region was very overwhelming. There was so much information to take in as well as so many sites to marvel at. We stopped for lunch and I had my first, real, falafel. It was quite delicious, although the lack of meat and the abundance of veggies here is something I'll have to get used to. No more midnight McDonald's runs. After lunch we entered the Old City of Jerusalem through the Damascus gate. The Old City at one point was the entire city of Jerusalem and contains many of the historical locations. I cannot explain to you the feeling I had in the old city. We stopped at the Austrian Hospice inside the city and climbed to the roof to look our over the city. From there I could see the Dome of the Rock, the Area where the Western Wall is, and the church of the Holy Sepulchre. To be in that place and see those sites was beyond my wildest imagination. These places that I've heard so much about, right in from of my eyes. The craziest part was that we didn't stop to marvel, to learn everything we could or soak in every bit of culture. Not because our group is shallow or against that, but because these things would become part of our normal lives. As we explored our leaders talked to us about what would be within our boundaries, and what was outside our boundaries. In the months to come, I will not only be seeing these places, but the Old City will become one of my main shopping sites. I can come down on my free time with friends and explore to my hearts content! I will be in essence free to explore much of the city of Jerusalem! Its a crazy thought to think that in a month or so I will be familiar with the city of Jerusalem to the point where I know where to go to get goods and I have no problem with the winding streets or the soldiers with guns or the fact that I can't read half the signs because they are in Arabic.
That is why I chose the second quote, because for Israelis, none of this is new. All the conflict, all the holy sites, all the soldiers with huge guns, that's not abnormal for them. That's just life. They do it every day and may not think twice about how special it is. Already in my first day or two here I've thought about home and the things I might be missing. Don't get me wrong, I'm very excited to be here and to experience all that God has to teach me. But I'm beginning to realize how special my home is and the people are who live there. We may not have a Dome of the Rock, or Church of the Nativity, but I know we have great skylines, awesome food, and the people there are just as special as the people here. Remember that the next time you get bored.
As special as you all are, and despite how much I love you, I ain't coming back yet, Israel is wonderful. Hopefully I'll be able to post picture in the near future. Thank you again for your prayers. To use my beginner Arabic, it's time for me to Yala (Go).
Peace, my friends.
Evan Kephart is a senior Biblical Ministry Studies Major and is studying abroad in Israel this semester.