What do you get when you blend a friend’s invitation, anniversary celebrations, broken bones, a table of enemies and hummus together? A God-story of the impossible made possible.
My wife Tracy has a dear Jewish friend (let’s call her Hannah). They met when they were wee little ones in primary school many moons ago. Hannah returned to Israel after high school and started a life there.
Their bond continues over the years. Hannah is ok with hearing our stories of living a life of adventure with Jesus but just can’t reconcile with the claims of Jesus. Somewhere down the track we start noticing a different spice added to the conversations. She had met a guy who follows Jesus. Fast forward to when she realises that Jesus has been pursuing her for many years and passionately confesses, “I am now a Jew who loves Jesus”. Move ahead in time to an almost secret baptism in the Jordan River (public confessions of Jesus as Messiah by Jews are not always well received by the populous and authorities). Fast forward a little more to plans for Confirmation into the Family of God as well as a Church wedding by year’s end – and we are invited. Thing is, Hannah’s fiancé (let’s call him Salim) is a Palestinian man who loves and follows Jesus.
It’s Spring. The fields are proudly wearing their new fashions. It’s our anniversary weekend. Our son is sent off to camp. We’ve booked a night away and the dogs have a house-sitter. Roll on the celebrations! But alas, Tracy has a nasty fall that Friday morning where both ankles are badly injured. She’s made from “tuff stuff” so we soldier on through the ever-increasing pain and frustration. Monday morning however we are greeted by a right foot that closely resembles an over-inflated surgical glove. X-rays reveal a badly broken ankle requiring surgery to attach a titanium plate to the broken bone with pins and a week’s stay in hospital. Not quite the romantic celebrations we had hoped for. What would this mean for the trip to Israel? Our world had broken at the Fall.
Both Tracy & Hannah are more persuaded than ever that Jesus wants us to go to Israel. Hannah is so convinced that she’s prepared to pay for a return flight for one of us (cue the dance of joy). Some of this excitement however leaches from me as I realise that 3 – 1 = 2. Ticket prices are gaining altitude at an alarming rate as December is high season. This trip was NOT in the budget. Our bank account is severely anorexic. I know that Tracy hears Jesus. I also remember that I am not Jesus’ equal and as such, it’s not advisable for me to stand in His way. But wait, there’s more. Jesus also mentions that He wants to reveal something about his character to Hannah so he does not want her to pay. “Fan-Tastic” I think in a not-so-subtle hint of sarcasm. Hannah would later say that “…one thing is clear. HE will be bringing you over, NOT me”.
We thought it important to include our son in this process of hearing Jesus – knowing that he would probably ask difficult, probing questions. If we are to go on this mission-adventure together, then we would have to hear Jesus together. What an opportunity for a youngling to hear Jesus and not merely know about him. You may ask, as some have, “Why would you take a 12-year old into a land of great tension? That’s not responsible parenting”.
1. Jesus said so and he knows more things than we do.
2. Tension often dissolves in the solution made of families and children.
3. My son’s name means “bearer of light”. What an opportunity for him to grow into the meaning of his name.
At this point we didn’t have what we needed for the trip (funds, tickets, accommodation, lots of time) but what we did have was the assurance of Jesus and the great big family of God praying for us. The challenge was epic but it was clear that what we had was greater than what we didn’t have. After a stressful number of weeks of watching the funds drip into our account, we once again experienced that what Jesus orders, he pays for. There’s a reason why “testimony” ends in “money.”
Then there’s the almost constant pain that Tracy has to endure. It does something to a man when he sees his wife, his Bride, suffering whilst walking the road of obedience. There’s a reason why “testimony” starts with a “test”…
We therefore find ourselves in Jerusalem able to celebrate the light of Christ at Hanukkah. We stand by Hannah’s side as a shield during her public confirmation of Christ. Tracy stands by her side as “god-mother and sponsor” (as she puts it) at their wedding and we all usher in the new wine in Christ at New Year’s Eve.
The most significant experience was sharing the Shalom of Jesus together at Christmas Eve. It dawns on us that this is a holy moment. There we were, our Rainbow Nation family from South Africa (coloured husband, white wife and black son – aka Team Rens) sitting by decorated trestle tables straining under the weight of home-made hummus and every other Middle Eastern dish known to man. Alongside us are Jews who love Jesus and Arabs who love Jesus all celebrating his birthday – together. These people should be enemies…but God. The impossible is made possible and was happening right before us.
There’s a beautiful symphony of Hebrew, English, Arabic and Afrikaans being spoken spiced with the sweet sounds of laughter. We are truly experiencing communion, the literal breaking of bread with our brothers and sisters in Christ. All because of Jesus’ body that had been broken for each one of us. We represent the Family – related by blood.
Before we leave Israel, Salim says to Tracy, “You are not her friend. You are her sister”. Truly the Great Big Family of God.
I wake up when the first day of the decade is still trying to open its eyes with the melody of Isaiah 43: 18-21 strumming in my mind. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”
Our little Rens family came to Israel to support a friend but saw a Remnant being prepared to draw a divided nation to Jesus. And so Jesus, we look forward to being in your Heaven meeting more of the Family. Thank you for your body, broken for us. Thank you for your body, living with us.
There’s always so much more with Jesus,