Where It All Began… Expeditions In The Holy Land

It is hard to believe that the Gospel transcends cultures. And it is even harder to believe that we actually don’t believe it. Most people find their way into a bubble and struggle to ever make it out. This bubble is what some might call a “comfort zone”. We see it all the time and shake our heads, all the while making ourselves comfortable in our own bubble. But what happens when you break free from that comfort zone? It is usually there that we experience the incredible. There we find compelling truth. For me, leaving my comfort zone meant seeing that the Gospel transcends culture. Though simple in nature, and easy to believe conceptually—seeing it for yourself and experiencing it is a heart piercing and life changing encounter. This is what I found out for myself in the summer of 2015 when I took a trip with Young Life Expeditions with a group from James Madison University to Israel and Palestine.

It was a trip with two agendas: tour the place where Jesus walked—where his ministry took place, and run a Young Life camp in Palestine. The theme of the trip was yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We learned about the events of yesterday (the rich history of the Middle East), the people and culture of today in a different part of the world, and what we can do to change tomorrow for ourselves and others because of all we learned. And that is what we did. We learned the history of sights such as Mount Carmel, Megiddo, Jacob’s Well, Jericho, Bet’shean where we learned about that city’s struggle with the temporary things of this world, the Jordan river where many were baptized, Jericho, and the Mount of temptation. One of my favorite places was visiting a tomb where some believe Jesus might have been buried. Whether or not that was the actual tomb, it was compelling to see it empty! Easter feels even more real now as I have seen the places where the events actually took place.

But the learning did not end there. We also went to a small city called Zababdeh. Everyone spent the day and night with a host family. Many found this to be one of their favorite parts of the trip—learning the culture of followers of Jesus, sharing in meals and fellowship, and connecting with them in a way many never would have imagined!

Something I’ll never forget from our trip was when someone said, “It seems like our cell reception is better here. We can hear way more from God.” And it was true, but we also know that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So the difference is left to us. He hadn’t changed, but we had. We were so strongly connected with Jesus and growing in our understanding of the Bible as we walked in the places where it took place.

The second half of the trip included running a Young Life camp. We all had no idea what the Lord had in store before that trip. How could anything top all that we learned touring the Middle East? But for me, this was the most life-giving part of the trip. Before the trip we imagined how much would be different for a camp in the Middle East, but the reality was so much was the same. There were leaders who poured out love to earn the right with teenagers who came to camp and experienced the best week of their life. That week they heard the gospel and many responded. We watched lives change from death to life because of Jesus.

IMG_3058-1
A shot of the team from JMU and all the campers after field games at the camp

The Gospel transcends cultures. The Gospel changes lives. That week it changed mine all over again. Often we put ourselves in bubbles, and we can put Jesus in one as well. But the Gospel is so much bigger than that and when we let ourselves and our ideas out of that comfort zone we transform.

Written by: Landon Dermott