During my very first visit to Israel, WAY BACK in September, I had an opportunity to spend a couple of nights in the Negev Desert. Now, I need to preface this by saying, I do not care for camping. I do not care for bugs. I do not like to “create my own fun” in the woods or wilderness for extended periods of time. But when the suggestion was made, I thought, “Hey, how often does one really get to stay in the Negev Desert in Israel? That will be a small adventure. Sure, why not?” Seriously, this is God’s humor at work. Had He told me what was going to be coming down the line, I may not have been so quick to answer which is why He only tells me what I need to know when I need to know. In the meantime, He was already at work challenging and changing my heart to prepare me for steps I might not have been otherwise willing to take. But we will get to that part of the story later.
During the drive from the north to the south, the landscape changes dramatically. While the entire country seems to be hilly and mountainous, the northern areas are more green and lush. After making it past the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem line, more dirt showed up and the color faded from greens to browns with only wild scrub brush and acacia trees marking the landscape. As we made our way beyond the city of Be’er Sheva, the desert really began to take form.
In my mind’s eye, I have pictured deserts of the Middle East as I have seen them in National Geographic photos, movies or on TV: piles and piles of wind-blown, khaki colored sand dunes that go on and on for miles. The only thing of interest is the mirage of an oasis out in the distance that one can never reach. People lose their way and wind up dying, never to be found again. Mysteriously, the camel makes it home safely without the rider.
The Negev Desert looks nothing like that picture. I was in awe as we took the curvy road heading deeper and deeper below sea level, into canyons of high rock walls. The strata creating beautiful paint strokes with varying colors of brown, red and even purple sand. The desert went on and on. It was absolutely breathtaking. The Negev Desert currently occupies more than half Israel’s land mass stretching over 4,600 square miles. My perception of “desert” was radically changed that day. Enjoy a video of the beautiful, curvy drive:
When we reached our accommodations at Biblical Tamar Park (I will give more info on this place in another blog entry), we were welcomed by some friendly folks from Texas. As it turns out, they operate a company called GMS Management Solutions. They offer a wide variety assistance programs from personal needs like cleaning/organizing of homes and estate sales to business needs like assistance in small business growth and marketing. They also offer DNA testing and genealogy research assistance. But one of the main reasons they were in Israel was to continue building their group escorted tours business.
Israel’s tourism is often connected with the historical and religious sites – come see where Jesus walked on water, follow the Via Dolorosa, visit the Temple Mount, etc. These sites are fabulous and are definitely worth seeing. But do these sites appeal to the younger American generation? Are they enough of a draw to bring young adults to Israel? Is there anything else that can be offered to raise interest? GMS Management Solutions can answer the last question with a resounding, “YES!” Or like the infomercials say, “But wait! There’s more!”
Israel is FULL of action and adventure, especially in the Negev Desert. Camel rides are just the tip of the iceberg. All different levels of hiking are available from flat, easy walks to vertical, mountain climbs. Take a visit to Ramon Crater to repel down the cliff. Dune buggy type 4×4 vehicles are waiting to take you tearing through the desert, leaving a trail of sand and dust in your wake. Canoe or kayak the ice blue colored Jordan River. The southern city of Eilat lies right along the gorgeous, deep blue Red Sea, inviting you to swim, snorkel, scuba dive or if those are not enough, you can always swim with the dolphins. Jump out of a plane for sky diving in Israel. The Negev Desert even has wine and beer tours to try out. This country offers so much from the historical to the active outdoors. And I also need to note GMS Management Solutions has really incredible Israeli tour guides. They are top quality, experienced, adventurous, English-speaking guides who will take excellent care of you. They strive to give you the level of quality you’re looking for from hotels to food to attractions.
With my experience in working the tour industry, I was offered the opportunity to come back to Israel and spend time with GMS Management Solutions to learn about what they do and where they are headed. I was intrigued but did not immediately accept the offer. I had a couple of pending options already in motion. I told them I would pray about it and see what happens but I was committed to the other options first.
As God would have it, the doors closed on the other two options allowing me to return to Israel following my time in Armenia. Remember the blog about my experience getting through airport security during my first visit? Go back and read it if you do not remember or you did not get the chance, it was quite the ordeal. As the time to return was drawing near, I found myself with anxiety over going through airport security again. My sister said to me, “Maybe this is not an issue. You fully believed the fog would lift so we could take the tram ride to Tatev Monastery. You fully believed the clouds would part so we could see Mount Ararat. Both things happened. Why don’t you just believe and declare that God will get you through security into Israel again?” She was right and I knew it in that moment. So, I declared it in God’s name. Since this path was of Him, then this security thing would NOT be an issue either. And you know what? Miraculously, it was not. I walked right through with only a question of, “You were just here, why are you returning?” When I told of my situation, the officer smiled and said, “Welcome back.” Miracle.
My new Texas friends picked me up and we made our way back to the Negev Desert. I mentioned in the first paragraph how God was working on my heart to challenge and change it, preparing me for something I would not have chosen on my own. Well, I have been staying in the desert for nearly two months now. I am not going to lie; it has not been easy. It is not what I would choose on my own and yet, here I am. I believe the Lord put a veil over my eyes to protect me from seeing the camel spiders and scorpions others have reported. I believe He provided a friend who was entertaining so I did not have to constantly figure out how to “create my own fun.” Even as He was softening my heart to take this challenge, I believe He looked out for my dislikes, insecurities, fears and provided for me.
One of the reasons why GMS Management Solutions is interested in connecting young adults to Israel is to assist those of Jewish heritage in “making Aliyah (ah-lee-YAH).” When Israel became a nation again in 1948, the Jewish people were (and still are) scattered all over the globe. To generalize, “making Aliyah” is the process of applying, petitioning and granting of legal citizenship to Jews who are returning to Israel from exile. One of the requirements in “making Aliyah” is the applicant must have visited Israel at least once prior. According to prophecy, the day will come when Jews will return to Israel for safety. If the current process of “making Aliyah” is relatively the same, then the younger generation can already have this important requirement fulfilled.
This is also why GMS Management Solutions offers DNA testing. Many people of Jewish descent are not aware of their heritage. They may have heard rumors of their family past but do not have proof. We have all heard stories of Jewish parents handing their babies to non-Jewish friends during WWII in order to save them, their ancestry lost. DNA testing is one way to validate and legally document their birthright. What a calling this company has, right? If you are interested in having your DNA tested, contact me. I will hook you up.
My Texas friends headed back to the United States on December 4 to continue operating business stateside for the time being. However, they will be traveling back and forth with groups both young and old, calm and active, historical and adventurous. If you are interested in historical, biblical, adventure or a mixture whether as a private or group tour of Israel, contact me. I will hook you up.
As for me, God is not finished with me on this backpacking trip. As of now, I plan to be in the Negev Desert until after January 1. But more blogs to come on all of that.