At Home in the Holy Land

by Susannah Baker

Psalm 122; A Song of Ascents

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, that is built
As a city that is compact together;
To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord
An ordinance for Israel—
To give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there thrones were set for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.  

Coming home from Israel has been like taking the time to slowly unscrew the bottles of water I gathered from the Word of God while I was there and slowly sip and drink, continuing to take it all in, while allowing it to refresh my spirit.  For those of you who journeyed along with our family while we were there, thank you.  And for those of you who missed our journey, you can still follow along and read about the places we visited here in order to whet your own appetite to go too.

Israel is truly a special and unique place for obvious reasons – three major world religions consider the ground of an area roughly the size of the state of New Jersey as holy ground.  Every step one takes is fraught with meaning and mystery.

But it is also special for reasons not as obvious.  For a place that is so different in every sense of the word – different languages, different cultures, different coffee (black as night Arabic coffee flavored with cardamom, a spice I just could not seem to get used to), different wars waged over different battle grounds – it is also a place that feels like home.

I have thought a lot about this feeling of being at home in Israel.  I remember my first visit to Nazareth almost six years ago.  I was sitting in a cafe in a nondescript coffee shop, waiting for our group to get back on the bus, and all of a sudden, I was overcome with an emotion I couldn’t explain.  I had to use a napkin to wipe away sudden tears streaming down my face.  Nazareth isn’t a beautiful place, and there is certainly nothing extraordinary about it.  It is simply a small, nondescript town nestled in the hills near Galilee.  Its ground is rocky and the grass is short and scrubby.  So my tears were not about anything beautiful in the scenery.

My emotion came from the fact that I was sitting in a place where the person I loved most in the world had walked.  It wasn’t that I had ever doubted if His existence was real; it was just that I had never seen the land where Jesus was from.  And as much as the stories about His life were not myth to me, as I sat in that cafe in Nazareth, Jesus’ life stepped out of the realm of myth and mystery and became real.

It felt as if my father had died before I ever had memory of him, and all I had grown up with were scrapbooked stories and pictures of his life.  And suddenly, for the first time, I was able to visit his homeland and see what he saw, step where he stepped, and touch what he touched.

And that’s why I felt at home.  I was home.  I was home because I was in the place where my Jesus lived life.

And that is why so many cultures from all over the face of the earth flock to Israel.  That is why standing on the Mount of Olives or sitting on the quiet benches in the garden of the Garden Tomb, you hear accents and see faces around you from Malaysia, China, Germany, America, the Middle East, and Africa.  Every culture feels at home in the place where One Man died for all cultures, to set us all free.  And that is the beauty of Israel.

One of my favorite moments on this trip was on the elevator in Nazareth (there must be something special about Nazareth).  I stepped onto the elevator at the same time as a man with dark skin and dark brown eyes.  We began to talk small elevator talk, and I learned he was from Nigeria, there in Israel to do training for Bible translation work for his people.  His eyes glowed with kindness and his presence emanated joy.  There was immediate connection between the two of us because we both felt like we were…home.  Part of the very same family.

I have been asked several times if I thought the ages of my girls were good ages to take children to the Holy Land.  Yes and no.  Yes, in that they were such good travelers.  They acted as though jet lag was a myth and were such troopers about long bus rides, listening to our tour guide, and eating hummus for every meal.  I know they absorbed as much information and as many sights and sounds as their little hearts and minds were capable of absorbing.  Selfishly, it was pure joy for Jason and I to have them there with us.

But as much as I loved having them there, I think one loves Israel as much as one loves the God who dwelled there.  And the older one grows, the more history one has with the God one worships, the more steps one has taken with the One who stepped on the very streets beneath one’s feet, the more one loves Israel.

I don’t have any regrets about taking my girls, but I pray they are able to go back one day when they have walked more steps with Jesus.  Because that is when going to Israel will feel like going…home.

I want to leave you with a link to a video teaching by our Israeli tour guide, Hanna Ben Haim.  Hanna was amazing.  She was as fiesty and as spirited a tour guide as I have ever seen, but when she spoke, I listened.  I have never met anyone who knows the Word of God more than Hanna or who is bolder about speaking the truth.  If I ever go back to Israel, I hope to back with Hanna.  So I wanted to give you a small taste of one of the many teachings we heard her share with us.

We heard Hanna speak about olive trees and the meaning of the shoots that grow off of olive trees while standing in the Garden of Gethsemane, but here she gives it in a grove of olive trees somewhere near the coast in Israel.  Be blessed as you listen and learn about where the word “Christian” comes from and how it is linked to the olive tree.

Click here to see her website and watch her five minute teaching.

And my prayer for you is that you get to go to Israel too.  It will change your perspective of the One you love the most, and it will be, I promise, a small taste of what it feels like to go…home.

One last thing: would you please pray for us this week?  Next Monday, February 20th, packers show up at our house at 8am to pack and move us to temporary housing for the next 8-12 months while we remodel our house.  While I am looking forward to the end results, the realities of packing and moving everything to either temporary housing or storage for six people in the midst of homeschooling three children is a bit daunting to say the least.  Thankfully, we are surrounded by amazing family and community who offers to help in ways I didn’t even know I would need, and I know that God will go before us and make provision for our every need.  BUT prayers for peace, a smooth moving experience, trust for every detail, and a calm heart in the midst of many moving details would be much appreciated.

Thank you for the privilege you each give me of processing life alongside of you.  

Gratefully,

Susannah