by Claudia Gustafson

Surely if you’re a parent, you’ve had those times when God nudged you through your children?

I remember Noah coming home from preschool asking why they didn’t talk about God at school. I was flabbergasted. After finding a somewhat reasonable way to explain this to my 4-year-old, I asked him if he wanted to talk about God at school.

His answer was “yes!” and so the Lord confirmed that Noah needed to be in a Christian school. Thankfully we were able to work that out.

Because Noah was in a Christian school through 7th grade, he studied the Bible daily. He would come home from school full of awe and excitement about the Israel videos they would see in class. Of course, his excitement moved this mom’s heart, and I thanked the Lord and his teacher that God was working in this way.

Through years of studying Precepts Bible Studies at St. Luke, my own heart for Israel and the Jewish people was molded and shaped. But when Pastor Dan planned a trip to Israel, I couldn’t even wrap myself around the idea of making that happen. Me! The girl who had traveled all over the world before I married and had a child!

Israel was too far away, too expensive, too complicated, and definitely too dangerous. I didn’t even bring it up to my family and pretty much forgot about it. However, shortly before the deadline that I was sure had come and gone, Noah heard about the upcoming trip. We visited one of Pastor Dan’s Bible studies centered around the places they intended to visit.

Israel was too far away, too expensive, too complicated, and definitely too dangerous.

During that Bible study, it became very clear through our son that the Lord was once again using him to move us out of our comfort zone and into this adventure. God worked out the details, and the next February our little family boarded an airplane on a pilgrimage! It was absolutely awesome not only to do this as a family, but to share the Israel experience with our St Luke family. We loved Israel!

I asked people to pray for our “pilgrimage,” not really knowing what that meant. So before we had even been on Israeli soil for 24 hours, the Lord began speaking to me. On our first day, at the Mediterranean looking out over those waters, some dark memories came up for me, places and memories that completely took me by surprise.

The Lord started once again speaking healing into those places, right there on the sands of the Mediterranean Sea. I looked down and right in front of me lay a perfectly heart-shaped stone that had a hole through the middle of it! I looked at my husband and son and saw how blessed I was to be there with them, and I looked to the east over the land we were embarking on together.

I looked down and right in front of me lay a perfectly heart-shaped stone that had a hole through the middle of it!

The Lord gently reminded me of His amazing grace, love, and forgiveness that covers my life. He is the one who leads me to new adventures and fills the holes in my heart to overflowing. Though taking this trip as a family is not practical for everyone, it was important for us and something we will always treasure having done together.

Would I go to Israel again? YES! You don’t have to go to Israel to experience God, but you WILL experience God going to Israel!

Standing in the sands of Herod’s gaming arena in the great port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean where Christians were thrown beneath the charioteers feels as if their blood cries out from the ground. Through their sacrifice and testimony in this place, the message of Jesus flooded across the Roman Empire.

In the actual desert where the Israelites wandered, suddenly you “get it,” the reason they kept turning back. This barren land and what they endured centuries ago, what they still endure today, is now so much more personal and relevant to my own faith journey.

I better understand why the Israelites were so angry with Moses and God in the desert and why they so easily lost faith. And I “got it” that I’m not so different from them.

Reflecting beside the pile of stones that had been an altar to Baal where children were sacrificed, I felt knotted up inside and nauseous. Or standing with my son in front of the “Gates of Hell” in Caesarea Philippi where so much pagan sacrifice took place, I understand why Jesus revealed himself to Peter here and proclaimed “the Gates of Hell shall not prevail!” even in the midst of smoke from the sacrifices.

Taking a cable car up the mountain to Masada, I saw walls built by Herod to create a luxurious vacation spot in the desert, and then heard the story of the Jewish families who fled through this desert to hide here until the Roman army built the siege ramp that still stands. Here the people committed mass suicide so as not to be taken captive.

I appreciated so much more who Jesus was and is after visiting the living Nazareth village. Not only did I see a reproduction of the place where he played as a boy growing up–what he saw every day, where he taught, and where he healed—I also was moved by a Messianic Jew who told his story of faith that led him away from his Jewish community and into the arms of his Savior.

I appreciated so much more who Jesus was and is after visiting the living Nazareth village.

Forever etched in my memory is the view from the Garden of Gethsemane looking across the Kidron valley at the walls surrounding Jerusalem and the bricked-up Golden Gate called Beautiful. This is the gate Jesus passed through on his last visit to Jerusalem, the gate he most likely looked at as he prayed, sweating blood, reconciling with what He was about to experience. God has brought this image to mind many times since.

To walk the narrow, cobblestone streets of Jerusalem, God’s city, and then to hear the Islamic call to worship! Oh, how this must grieve our Lord. And to look over the Valley of Armageddon where so many battles have been fought, and see the site of the final battle, knowing from scripture what’s coming in the end.

Safety, you ask? There really was no fear in Israel. I never doubted my safety once we were in the Ben Gurion airport. The Jewish people know what security means because it is a matter of preservation for them. They have the best airport security in the world and I believe it’s probably safer to be in Israel than anywhere in the U.S.

But ultimately, the peace that my life is in the hands of the Almighty trumped every fear that could have tried to enter my thoughts. I felt we were surrounded by His almighty protection and traveling mercies every moment.

God moved in me in very personal ways on this trip. That heart-shaped stone traveled with me through Israel and home. It’s a reminder of how the Lord wants to fill those hollow places in our hearts with Himself, but also a reminder for me to pray for the people of Israel, for hearts still waiting for a Messiah who’s already come.

God moved in me in very personal ways on this trip.

Although this only skims the surface, you can tell that we loved Israel. I love the way God draws me to things, I hate the way I often fight those things. If the Lord has put this trip on your heart and you want to just talk it out, I’m available at 734.635.1005. May God be in your wrestling.

If you’ve ever considered taking a trip to the Holy Land, you’re invited to an informational meeting at the Flynn home on Sunday, November 23, at 4 p.m. Contact Pastor Dan for more information.