What is it like to travel around the Middle East with a group of 83 people?
Sure, there are those moments when the line for the women’s restroom becomes unnerving or you swear that you are going to use your camera as a weapon the next time someone’s big noggin jumps into your viewfinder just as you press the shutter release. You have to wait while the couple with the Baghdad citizenship takes extra time at the border crossing in to Jordan, and the buffet lines at times make you want to use the dinner plates as Ninja throwing stars for those people that take more than ten seconds to dump some pasta on their plate.
But then there’s the guy who makes you laugh almost every time he talks because of his nasality and ridiculous stories. He’s worn an original Rambo t-shirt 40% of the trip and proclaimed divine healing as he’s been able to walk without his cane. Now if only God would heal the (self-reported) leprosy on his back side.
There’s the woman who told us about her prophetic dreams, and the kind lady who let us borrow her towel at the Dead Sea so that we didn’t have to rent one for $10. Thank God for the friendly military couple who had the same camera that we have, but who also had the wherewithal to bring their battery charger with them on the trip. We met another woman who was one of the creators of The Jesus Film, a film that has been translated into over a thousand languages and has been shown in over two hundred countries so that literally millions of people around the world could learn about the story of Jesus. Over a plate of falafel I learned that a former news reporter currently living in Virginia went to my Alma mater, used to live within twenty minutes of where I live now, and has a close friend who attends my church. I enjoyed the conversation with the gentleman who writes about photography and had some good insight on getting in to the business of stock photography.
I was inspired by the eighty-year-old woman who handled every physical challenge with relative ease and without complaint. More impressively, I could not resist observing the wonderful way she interacted with her spirited mentally retarded daughter.
Speaking of not resisting, I had to be careful not to get caught staring at this man. If I were a doll maker I would design a doll after his face. A big, plush, stuffed Chinese baby boy doll.
A non-spastic Whoopi Goldberg was always handing out compliments. She was so genuine, yet I knew she couldn’t mean what she said. How did I know this? Well, my first clue was when she said that she liked my cooking even though she had never even met me before. She kept me smiling when she saw us in the morning and shouted, “Hey, Pennsylvania!”
We shared dinner twice with a sweet couple. The wife could usually be found asking questions to whomever she was talking to or fervently jotting down notes. At first her husband seemed like he didn’t care or wasn’t tracking with any given conversation, but then, slowly but surely a comment would pour out of his mouth like honey and you knew that he was both following along and enjoying himself. His whole body laughed when he did. I loved that.
The stories go on and on. People are unique and interesting and funny. So much to learn and enjoy from a group.
Lon and our Israeli guides did an amazing job making 83 feel like 10. Shuffling on and off buses, in and out of hotels, and through sites was almost always quick and fluid. People in the group were kind, patient, and usually very considerate. There were few times where we really felt the weight of 83.
On Monday after visiting Lithostrotos, the group entered St. Anne’s Church in Old City Jerusalem. The church was built by the Crusaders to commemorate what had happened just outside the church a thousand years before their time – this was the site of the Bethesda Pools where Jesus healed the crippled man (John 5). We sat in the pews of St. Anne’s and I prepared for Lon to give a little blurb on the historical data, the Biblical story, and the relevance of this story to our lives.
Once he started talking though, I strained to understand him through his profound echo. Having been here many times before, he quickly acknowledged the reverberation and explained that this church was horrible for preaching. It was horrible for preaching, but it was great for singing. With that invitation we all sang praise songs and hymns together. Rambo fan, doll-like, elderly, requiring special needs, serving in the military – a group from all over the country with 83 very different walks of life sat together as one congregation. I know for a fact that not every one in the group was a top-notch vocalist, but you would not believe the unity, perfect pitch, and harmony in our song. At this moment any less than 83 would have been too few. I didn’t want the singing to end. It was a glimpse of the unceasing worshipful song in heaven and I thought – okay, I’m starting to get how this can work for eternity.