You haven't been to the Holy Land yet? You don't need to come. But first, the miracle.
In the land of miracles, I ask for a small miracle. I do not do this often, but there are times to cash in your faith chips. This day was one of those times.
It was my fourth day of hiking around the Sea of Galilee, alone now. My son had returned to Europe a few days back. I will hike most of the trail alone. I am beat. It is almost 90 degrees. I am carrying a backpack and a front pack and am soaked with sweat. I have only 3 more miles to go until I can stop for the day. I see a building that might be a restaurant. I am imagining an ice cold diet Coke.
I walk in slowly. It IS a restaurant! (Internal happy dance.) A 60-ish man with black hair is behind the counter.
‘Diet Coke please.”
He looks up at me in surprise and retrieves one from the refrigerator case.
“Where are you from? Are you alone?”
“Yes, I’m traveling alone. I’m from Alaska.”
“Alaska?? I never meet anyone from Alaska. Where are you going?” He asks, puzzled, looking at my backpack.
“I’m walking around the Sea, the Kinneret.”
“Walking?” Then, “Ohhhhh!!” he smiles a big smile. “That is good! That is healthy! That’s the best way to see our country.” He looks me up and down and pronounces, ‘Strong woman!” And then to celebrate my strength, he adds spontaneously, “Here, I make you espresso! The best! Look, I have a new grinder!”
My heart sinks.
He goes behind the counter and pulls out of a new box a white plastic grinder.
“From Paris! New! Today! Look! Come see. “
He waves me behind the counter into the kitchen. I don’t know what to tell him.
By the time the coffee is made we know each other’s names and other details. We go back out to the counter. He brings it out in a beautiful brass pot from Damascus he tells me, and two small espresso cups. Beni offers me the coffee. He doesn't know he is offering me poison. Caffeine makes me so ill it can send me to bed for two days. I have missed flights, classes, deadlines from inattentive barristas who miss the word "decaf." I already risked an entire diet Coke. I usually dump out half. Now Coke and espresso? I can’t afford to lose 2 days. Who will pick up the pieces? I say,
“Thank you so much . . .but caffeine makes me sick.”
“ Accchhhhh, it’s all in here” he says, pointing at his head.
I smile warily and know I have to drink it. He is giving me the best he has. I will not offend him. I would rather be sick.
But I am in the land of miracles. Just one or two miles from here Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. He walked on water, that water, over there. I will ask for a little miracle today. “Lord, please protect me,” I pray from my fervent heart as I tip the cup and sip.
Soon we are talking children and family and Alaska and religion and life … .and a friend comes in, a Jewish man from the U.K. who has made his home there. He is loud and profane, angry at religious people I find out in the first five minutes, but he is interesting and friendly.
“You stay for lunch. I make shakshuka. Leslie, you help.” I follow him ito the kitchen. He is not a man to be refused. Soon we are sitting down to the spicy eggs and tomato dish with plates of olives, cabbage salad, tahini and pita bread.
It is a feast.
I sit eating and talking, waiting for the shaking, the muscle aches, the dizziness . . . .
Yesterday I stayed with a couple on the Golan Heights who are orange farmers. Malachi drives me around in his truck to show me his groves, the five kinds of oranges he grows. We stop to sample every kind. “Eat!” he tells me, picking an orange off a tree, peeling it and giving it to me. Every time we stop, he picks oranges for me, heaping them in my hands. He keeps giving me oranges, more and more. I keep putting them in my backpack until there is no more room, and now they go in my front pack. I have 15 pounds of oranges added to my packs, and I have 10 miles to walk this day in the hot sun. The multiplication of oranges. Before the oranges, I am given fish. I carry fish in my backpack all afternoon until I find someone to give them to . . .
This day I do not get sick from the coffee. Not at all. The first time since, when? When I finally leave the restaurant, the angry man who doesn’t believe in God shakes my hand and says kindly, “It’s nice to meet someone on the right road.”
For the first time ever, I didn’t get jetlag after flying for 2 days and all one night to get to Israel---when I can barely make it through a single night flight. (Did I mention I have serious issues with sleep???) Strangers give me rides just when I need them. I meet an amazing pastor and his wife. I spend the day with an Arab-Christian family and find the woman desperate, struggling with the very issues I have written about. Our hearts are joined.
The prayers of many friends have done this. So it has gone. Each day providential meetings, food provided, kindness given, friendships made, prayers spoken, blessings given. So many miracles and multiplications.
I will be leaving soon. I don’t want to leave behind the land of miracles. I don’t want to stop living this way: beginning every day with anticipation, asking the Lord to direct my feet, keeping my hands and backpack open.
I have decided to take the Holy Land with me. Wherever God is, that’s holy land. You’re standing on it now. And when I return to Kodiak, to snow and winter darkness, that will be Holy Land as well.
This is what I remember and know again after this fourth visit to Israel. You don’t have to walk in the Footsteps of Jesus, or think you have lost something essential to your faith if you don’t make it to Israel. Yes, this is an amazing land, and I have received far more than I can carry or tell you about, but it is God who is Holy, and you can find Him anywhere.
You just have to dare. You just have to risk. Give strangers a lift. Put on walking shoes. Talk to people you don’t know. Listen to them. Feed them. Ask them for help if you need it. Be a wanderer in your own town. Believe in the miracle of provision, of multiplying oranges and fish you somehow can carry. We can do this.
Help others see that this place, this land where you are living
Beautiful, desolate, tropical, Arctic,
City, suburbia, wilderness, ghetto---
This is the Holy Land:
Jesus is there
And miracles are waiting.
(Tell me yours ..... I am listening.)