I fell in love with Israel during our first trip in 2004. If you've been, you understand. If you haven't, I don't have words to get you there, and I'm sorry about that. The tears came as I glanced across the aisle and out one of those impossibly small windows, and caught a glimpse of land. When the door opened and I drew in my first lungful of Holy Land air, I wondered if I'd been holding my breath my entire life. My soul felt that I'd brought it home, and fought with me every step of the trip, knowing I planned to wrench it away soon.
Maybe that's why the side trip to Jordan felt painful. We would only be gone two days, but I wasn't ready to leave Israel. And Jordan itself seemed a dark place. It's 95% Muslim, and the remaining 5% who are Christians understand that to share their good news would mean losing their life.
Fear is the only thing you're permitted to bring across the border with you. Eventually you're reunited with your passport, luggage, and tour bus--along with a strange (to you) driver and guide. But for a short span, it's just you and your fear walking through customs.
We stopped at a "restroom" just inside the Jordanian border, and I saw the only native woman I would see over the next four hours. She squatted in a corner of the room, watching those of us who had come in to use the "facilities" (barely a hole in the ground ... and no paper) and motioning toward a can on the floor for us to drop our shekels into. Her eyes were sad, and guarded.
As we drove through the border town toward a highway, we passed hundreds of men on the streets. Some sat in chairs in front of shops. Many worked on cars in what seemed an endless offering of auto shops. And interspersed between these mechanics were, oddly, men tossing pitas in the air. In fact, if there was a rhythm to the view outside my bus window, it was, Mechanic, mechanic, mechanic, pita man. Mechanic, mechanic, mechanic, pita man . . .
Our destination was Petra. I'll write about that another time. For now, let me say that it's one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring places you could hope to see. It's filled with color and texture and noise, and a wide cast of characters for whom Petra is their backyard. I suspect those Jordanian bedouins see no romance there--only the foreigners whose pockets conceal shekels and dollars. I loved Petra, perhaps as much for its future possibilities (as refuge for the Jews during the Great Tribulation) as for its current beauty.
But I didn't know any of that as our bus took us farther and farther from Israel. I didn't know anything at all except that I'd left a place where I felt at home and ventured into a place where I felt unwelcome. As the sun set and lights began to appear in the Muslim homes we passed, a dark sky crept over our bus. The moon rose, but it seemed a foreign moon. And though my husband sat next to me, and my friend Denise sat across the aisle, my heart felt disconnected and alone.
Right in the middle of those thoughts, God brought music. The human hands that strummed those guitars belonged to two men from Calvary Chapel Oceanside, but I know who inspired the worship. We sang, and the darkness overhead felt less foreign, less stifling. Outside my window, I saw the beauty of the moon as it bathed those roadside roofs.
Song after song, we worshiped. God walked the aisle of the bus, and we felt His touch. But even in that pocket of adoration, I still found room for a melancholy thought. My heart turned toward home, and all those I loved who were so far away--and feeling further away with every mile. But God again intervened. Look at the time, He suggested. And I did. And then I did the math, and drew in a startled breath.
"Dave!" I whispered. "It's 9:30 back home ... on Sunday morning."
He smiled. And as we continued singing praises to God on a strange road in Jordan, our hearts felt the rise and swell of worship across the world as our church family in Marysville stood together, looked up, and entered into God's presence ... with us.