Open Arms of Hospitality

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Me and Adam

We grew up in the same town. We went to the same elementary, middle and high school. We did not run in the same crowds or have the same circle of friends. Thinking back, our paths really only crossed through the time commitment abyss of high school marching band and concert band. We graduated one year apart. The last time we remember being in the same place at the same time was when we were nineteen years old at a mutual friend’s wedding. And then we fell out of touch.

 

Nearly half-way through my backpacking journey, I happen to receive a Facebook friend request from Adam. I thought, “Oh how nice! It has been so long, I wonder how Adam is doing and what he is up to.” I had no idea Adam would become such a valuable person in this journey and now in my life.

Adam began to consistently follow me through my blog and Facebook. He liked nearly every photo and commented on most posts. He was always enthusiastic and encouraging no matter what the topic or destination. Eventually we chatted via private messenger, connecting as adults through our passion for travel.

When I decided to visit Phoenix, I sent Adam a message to let him know I was going to be in town and to see if he was available for coffee or dinner to catch up in person. Not only did he agree, he said, “We want you to come stay with us. We have plenty of space. If it is for one day or five days, you are welcome here!” Oh, if Adam and Paul only knew what was coming…

At the point when Adam offered, I did not have my arrangements figured out yet. I was still working on all of those fine details that comes with schedule coordination. The main reason I decided to visit Phoenix was for the number of family and friends who reside in the area. I also have a couple of friends who recently moved to Phoenix in the past year or so. I was excited to have the time and opportunity to visit with many relationships in addition to seeing the sights of Arizona.

Let’s be honest, texting and messaging conversations about adventures are one thing but what is it like to stay with an acquaintance friend that I have not seen in fifteen years? How many nights are considered appropriate? What if our lifestyles do not compliment each other? What if it is awkward or difficult? What if I am a burden instead of a blessing? What are their expectations from me? All of these questions swirled around in my brain following Adam’s hospitality offer. I had no answers for any of them.

As my schedule appeared to start smoothing out, Adam and I arranged for me to stay with him and Paul for a few days closer to the end of my time in Arizona. Adam was already getting started in planning some sights and adventures to take me on. We ended our conversation with Adam saying, “If anything changes and you need a place to stay, our door is open!” Thanks Adam, but I think I have it all sorted out…and shortly thereafter, MY plans started to unravel.

The day before I left for Phoenix, my first night’s accommodation fell through. Not knowing what else to do, I called Adam. “I know this is really short notice but could I stay with you tomorrow night? My plan fell through. It will only be for this first night.” Without hesitating, Adam said, “Absolutely! We are excited for you to come!” And so I did.

Adam and Paul welcomed me in with wide open arms. After hugs, introductions and dinner, we sat outside on the back patio. The weather was perfectly comfortable for shorts and a tank top. No mosquitos or gnats to bite us and no humidity to give that Wisconsin cold sweat at night. It was a beautiful night for chatter, laughter and a lovely glass of wine.

At one point, Paul decided it was late enough and time for bed. He said his “good nights” and retreated inside the house. Adam and I stayed outside talking and talking, never an awkward silence. Finally, one of us looked at the clock to notice it was four o’clock in the morning! Adam and I had stayed up all night talking like old friends.

 

My intention was to head out the next day. But little by little, my accommodation plan continued to unravel. A great number of details I thought I had worked out, fell apart. And every time a plan fell, Adam said, “Good thing you are staying here with us. We love having you. You can stay here for as long as you want to.”

What is it about a person that causes them to generously open their door to a “seemingly” stranger and treat them like a treasured guest? After the first couple of days, they gave me a spare key to their home and said, “It is your home while you are here. Come and go as you want until you leave Arizona. Eat what you want. Lounge around as you want. We have no expectations but for you to enjoy staying with us.”

IMG_20170618_135950_706Adam had a few days off of work. Instead of staying home to relax, he and I took a road trip, heading south toward the old mining town of Bisbee.  Along the way, we stopped at the beautiful Spanish Catholic Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Standing as the oldest European structure in all of Arizona, Mission San Xavier del Bac’s current building was completed in 1797 when Spain owned the land that is now called Arizona (the United States acquired the land in 1853 in the Gadsden Purchase). This building has seen its fair share of history changes over the years with Native American raids, Mexico acquiring the land when they were granted independence, United States acquiring the land from Mexico to Arizona breaking away from New Mexico to becoming a state of its own. All the while, this structure has continued to operate as a place of outreach and providing for the spiritual needs of its parishioners.  I highly recommend stopping by for an hour to gaze at the Spanish Colonial exterior and to soak in the gorgeous artwork inside the church.
Curious to learn more? Follow the link to learn more information.
http://www.sanxaviermission.org/Index.html

 

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We continued heading south to Tombstone, Arizona. Back in the 1880’s, Tombstone was a silver mining boomtown crawling with miners, cowboys, bandits and all sorts of wild west shenanigans. Although the discovery of silver is what originally put the town on the map, it has gone down in history for the gunfight near the O.K. Corral involving Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp and some renegade cowboys. For  Hollywood’s recall of the story, watch the 1993 movie, Tombstone, starring Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer. Then I urge you to read some historical compilations for more accurate details surrounding the event.

As with many mining towns, once the town was purged of its natural resources, it nearly dried up into a ghost town. However, the historic district of Tombstone has been preserved as an example of a great American western frontier town. Visitors can walk the dirt streets along the wooden sidewalks or take a horse drawn wagon ride around the town. A number of the original buildings have been preserved and maintained as museums or operating businesses to give visitors a feel of historic Tombstone. Adam and I took in a reenactment of the famous gunfight which was comical and encouraged audience participation while providing historical details of the event.

 

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Not knowing exactly what we were in for, Adam booked our one overnight at Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch. You guys, if you want a ranch experience, this is the place to go! The property mimics a street from historic Tombstone and is located just a few minutes outside of the town itself. The accommodations are hidden behind the false front doors of the jail, courthouse or trading post giving each room a personality all its own. They are beautifully decorated with elegant décor of the time period. The property offers a wide range of “ranch experiences”  from horse riding to archery to various western card games. While we did not have time to take part in these activities, Adam and I had a great time looking at all the buildings, taking photos on the property, shooting some very poor games of pool in the saloon and simply enjoying the experience. The next morning, we savored a Cowboy breakfast at the chuck wagon which wound up being a fantastic spread of warm food made over an open campfire. This is one place I am excited to venture back to for a longer say. If this peaks your interest, take a look at the Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch’s website: http://www.tombstonemonumentranch.com/

 

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When we reached our goal destination of Bisbee, Arizona, we were delighted to find far more than we anticipated.

Similar to Tombstone, the town of Bisbee struck gold, silver, lead and copper in the 1880’s which brought a flood of people to the area looking for work. In fact, the city became home to over 20,000 people which made it one of the largest and most culturally diverse cities between San Francisco and St. Louis at the time. Over nearly a century, Bisbee experienced a fluctuating population correlating with the ups and downs of the mining industry. As the mining era came to a close during the 1970’s, mining families left the town in search of stable work and free-spirited artists began to move in. Thanks to the hilly terrain, preserved homes and rustic feel, Bisbee has starred in a number of motions pictures. Most interestingly, it also has been used in films to depict early years in San Francisco. Today, the town has taken great care to preserve and restore the downtown buildings in order to maintain the historical integrity of the mining town while filling them with the newer wave of artistry and boutique style shops. Adam and I were delighted that the we took the time to visit Bisbee. Our only regret was not having close toed shoes along to be able to take the tour of Copper Queen Mine.

 

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In my previous post, I talked about what I learned from my friend Becky, who was spontaneous to say, “How long will you be there? I am coming.” And she did.

On the flip side, I also learned a new depth in the heart of generosity from Adam and Paul who opened up their home. They did not think about how they could be put out. They did not get upset as my plans kept falling through. They gave me a spare key and said, “Come. Stay. You are always welcome here.” Hospitality at its finest.

You see, that is the kind of friend I want to be. I want to be the one who says, “How long are you there? I am coming.” I also want to be the friend who says, “Come and stay with me. My door is always open to you.”

My time with Adam and Paul was blessed. They had no idea my plans would be changing so drastically when they offered for me to stay at their house. But God knew. He knew the right people for me in the right moment. I feel blessed to have had the unexpected opportunity to spend with them. In two and a half weeks, we went from seemingly strangers to acquaintances to friends to the feeling of family.

Interested in travel blogs? Adam and Paul also travel around the globe. They claim to “live boring at home so they can take grand adventures!”  Adam includes his beautiful photography with the blog. Visit the website for the photos, stay for the story at http://www.asldestinations.com.

Look for opportunity to bless someone, even if it does not seem “ideal”. Who do you appreciate more, the one who blesses out of their abundance or the one who blesses out of all that they have? In any given opportunity, we get to be either of those people! Sometimes we have abundance and sometimes we have just enough but when we have generous hearts, blessings will return to us because we gave anyway.

 

“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.”  I Peter 4:7-9

 

 

 

Crossroads of Decision

I learned that trekking with little planning takes more effort for me than following a pre-set path for a couple of reasons. First, the constant details. I am more of what I would call, a big picture person. Fine details become an overwhelming annoyance. When the details do not work out in the way I hope, my emotion can turn to frustration. Second, I was living in the past, present and future, all at the same time…And it was a struggle. I was processing the big picture of the most recent leg of the journey, trying to enjoy engaging in the present experiences and attempting to plan the details of my future steps. It was a difficult balance.

Much of my time in Africa was spent in the continuous thought of “Where or what comes next?” With the limited Wi-Fi, I researched locations, looked up a variety of destinations and browsed more tour options. Before leaving on the camping toMadagascar Mapur to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls, I had decided to try to make it to Madagascar. I am intrigued by Madagascar – the Baobab trees look like something from a Dr. Seuss book, the variety of exotic animals only found there and the vast fusion of immigrants in the twentieth century has led to a uniquely diverse culture all their own.

As I researched, I could not find consistent information regarding safety of solo travel. I could not find consistent information regarding road condition quality. I could not find consistent information regarding cost and security of hostels versus hotels. Eventually, I decided to look into joining a tour group. I found a great tour that looked like everything I wanted and it appeared to be in my price range. I sent a request for additional information and final cost breakdown. After several weeks of back and forth emailing with the tour representative, the price came back nearly double what had been advertised due to hidden costs. I was now at the crossroads of decision.

Side Note: If you plan to travel with a tour group, make sure you understand what is included in the quoted price. Some companies try to get away with advertising an activity but do not include the admission fee in their pricing. Basically, they offer the transportation to the activity but if you want to go inside, now you have to pay out of your pocket. Solo travelers will almost always pay a higher price because they are not sharing the cost of a room. This is not, I repeat NOT a punishment to the solo traveler, it is simply the savings for splitting the room cost. Most advertised prices you see with tour companies are based on two people sharing a room. Make sure you ask A LOT of questions before making your decision.

The day after finding out about the doubled cost, I was crabby. My camping tour was going on a game drive that day and I was in no mood for it. I wound up sleeping the majority of the time to curb my inner turmoil. I did not want anyone in my group to take the brunt of my frustration as I battled through making this decision. I certainly had the time to visit Madagascar. I had the money but the amount they were asking would have taken a large chunk out of my savings. Plus, additional spending always occurs on tours for food, snacks, drinks, extra excursions and so on. And I still had to pay for flights to get to the starting point. Madagascar has been on my “bucket list” for a number of years, this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had to ask myself a series of questions. Is visiting Madagascar worth going into debt if I had to? If I do not go to Madagascar, where will I go? What is the responsible risk in this situation?

I decided I did not want to wind up in debt at the end of this entire journey. I decided I had worked too hard to save money ahead of time. I did not want to have to work just as hard to catch up after returning home, especially when I did not know how long it would be until I started receiving a paycheck again. I felt like I had exhausted Africa for now and to start an entirely new adventure was going to be costly. In emotional agony, I decided to return to the United States with money to float for a little bit if need be so I did not have to financially start over from scratch.

Side note: It is my personal opinion that travel and adventure is worth every penny spent. However, travel is a luxury. It is a reward for hard work. It is completely worth saving money in advance to enjoy the fullness of a vacation. It is never worth going into debt for. In a society of “I want it now, I’ll pay for it later,” it is not worth the weight of the aftermath. We all have places we can cut back in our spending in order to save ahead. The trip is far more enjoyable you are not trying to pay if off five years later. 

 When I was looking at returning to the United States, I browsed around some options of things to visit before going home. I decided I wanted warm weather and a sandy beach for a week. I figured the beach would be a great place to recuperate from jet lag, emotional lag and mental lag before being overwhelmed by friends and family. After investigating a few different locations, I settled on Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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Deerfield Beach near Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 

I want to give a huge shout out to my parents. Since I was limited on internet access, they willingly helped me find a hotel just north of Fort Lauderdale. Plus, my dad gave me his built up hotel points to get a much reduced rate AND they offered to pay half of the remaining amount which allowed me to enjoy an affordable accommodation only a block from the Deerfield Beach. Thank you Dad and Mom for your generosity to me in Florida and several other areas of my journey.

If you plan to take an extended trip away from the United States, I recommend building in some intentional time to re-enter the country. Enough studies have been done on “reverse culture shock” that I do not feel the need to go into it. I am not an expert but it is real. I think we all experience it differently depending on how much time away, where we visited (Think Ireland vs Somalia) and our own unique personalities.

For me, the grocery store was overwhelming. Do not get me wrong, I am not a fan of grocery shopping anyway but our grocery stores have SO MANY options. Not only do we have many options for flavors but we have to choose from multiple brands as well. Now, I do not drink Kool-Aid but during my first visit to the grocery store in Florida, I stood in the Kool-Aid aisle simply staring at the rows upon rows of little colored packets. No other country I have visited has as many options as we do in the United States.

Aside from the grocery store experience, Deerfield Beach was a great place to get re-acquainted to the United States. Since South Africa is seven hours ahead of the East Coast, I found myself getting tired somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon due to jet lag. By being intentional about setting aside this time in Florida for getting over such things, I did not have to push through those tired stages. I could simply take a nap. Within three or four days, I was adapted to the new time schedule.

 

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Me and Becky during our one full day together on the beach.

When my dear friend from home found out I was in Florida, she texted to ask how long I would be there. When I told her I only had about five days left, she said, “Okay, I am going to look into tickets. I will send you my flight schedule when it is finalized.” And she did. Becky flew down to spend a day and a half with me. We had a great time touring the museum and swimming at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, laying on the beach, eating seafood, people watching, talking and laughing.

 

I learned a lot from Becky in this experience. Contrary to how it may look, I struggle to be spontaneous. I like planned spontaneity. I like time set aside to be spontaneous. My mind has a difficult time transitioning away from what is already “planned,” especially when it comes to time and/or money. Here is what I learned from Becky: Never miss a great opportunity to be responsibly spontaneous. She and I have been close friends for a number of years. She did not debate whether it would be worth meeting up with me. She did not care that the time spent would be short. She did not choose to save her few hundred dollars for some other day. She simply said, “How long will you be there? I am coming.” That is the kind of friend I want to be. I want to be someone who is willing to spontaneously drop everything and say, “I am coming.” Thank you Becky. I love and value your friendship more than you know.

My time in Florida was short. I did not galavant around looking for crazy adventure. I used the opportunity to adjust to the time zones and American culture. And of course to have long awaited chips and salsa.

 

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First night back in the United States required chips and salsa.

 

We are not home yet. More adventure to come.

When the Dawn Comes…

img_20170109_143415_003Dawn and I met as wee lassies through a Christian kids program called “Awana.” The program strives to provide children from “every background and cultural setting a place to belong, build confidence and grow in faith.” It is a youth group, of sorts, for children of all ages, toddler to high school. It was a place for kids from all over the community to come together, make new friends, learn about Scripture, play games and eat snacks. Truth be told, I can pretty much guarantee you-I was there for the games and snacks. While Dawn and I were acquaintance friends back then, it was not until our adulthood that we became good, close friends.

Over the past five years or so, I have been blessed with the opportunity to really get to know this lady. We have laughed together, we have cried together, we have been angry together, we have worshipped together, we have challenged each other and we have watched each other chase the heart of God like our lives depend on it. Because we believe our lives DO depend on it.

Dawn longs for Heaven to come to earth. She longs for God’s Kingdom to be present and active. She has a strong memory in general, but she especially does when it comes to the Bible. She has the incredible ability to make correlation between current circumstances and Biblical example.

Dawn and I share a crazy heart for adventure. She is always up for visiting a new destination, trying a new food or exploring a new hidden gem. Her excitement for adventure motivates me to push beyond my own adventurous boundaries to try new things I might normally shy away from.

She has been a huge cheerleader for me as I have been on this journey. She understands my calling and continuously reminds me that I am not called to mainstream travel. I am called to venture off the beaten path to discover less frequented areas of beauty. In moments when I struggle with who I am on this trek, Dawn is there to refresh my memory and encourage me to keep pressing forward. What a blessed friendship.

As soon as Dawn knew my trek was going to actually happen, she immediately began saving money to be able to meet up with me somewhere. We did not know exactly when or where or how, but the unknown did not stop her from preparing. With less than a month’s notice, she decided to come visit me in Israel in December, just before Christmas. In so many ways, this became a huge miracle and blessing for the both of us. She can share with you how work schedule and personal obligations appeared to be stacked against her and yet, the door opened. She can fill you in on how this life long dream of standing on the same ground as her Savior came to pass. It was not something we planned ahead of time but at just the right time, God’s time. His hand was all over it down to landing a hotel in Israel for three nights for a whopping $25 (If you did not know, Israel is a REALLY expensive country. This cost was a ridiculous blessing for both of us!).

I could write about all the places we visited around Israel, but instead, we took a lot of videos. The main goal was to walk some of the steps of Jesus with a few other sites. Feel free to browse your way through the videos. They are mostly in order of when we visited them.

 

 

 

 

Meet Dave and Ross

 

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(L-R) Dave Cole and Ross Nichols

DAVE: A friend suggested I might be interested in this Bible study on Saturdays.  Weeks went by, I didn’t respond. I really wasn’t that interested. But this friend wouldn’t stop calling me saying, ‘Dave I really think you’d be interested in doing this. And I was like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ One particular Saturday, she called me at like, six o’clock in the morning and said ‘Dave, I really think you ought to go to this.’ Finally, I said, ‘Okay, fine.’ Grabbed my wife and went. We walked up the stairs of this synagogue-looking building and I thought, “Oh boy, we’re really getting into it here… let’s go find out.” When we walked in there was this man standing up at the podium having a Bible study but there wasn’t nobody else in there. We walked up and introduced. I just felt led to say to him, “Look I’m not interested in two things. I’m not interested in converting to Judaism. And every church I have ever attended has blown up [split].” And he replied, “That’s okay, you don’t need to convert. And there’s only two of us here, me and you, and I’ve got the door key.” In my mind, that said, “If we split, I’m the one that has to leave. He doesn’t, He’s got the key!”  And here we are eleven years later.

ROSS: I got the keys to the synagogue in St Francisville, LA in December of 2005. I started going in the building and doing a Bible study. I didn’t want to advertise or put flyers out. I felt like whatever happens, happens; It’s not going to be me orchestrating it. From my side of the story, I would go in this abandon synagogue that no one was using… I mean wow, what are the chances of this small town having a synagogue that is not being used, I am interested in the Hebrew Bible and studying the Hebrew language. It was built in 1901 by the Jewish residents of this town. There are no longer any Jews left in the town. So I would go in there, study and pray. My prayer was that God would send people. The first people he sent was Dave and Sherry.

It’s always been our plan to be aligned with Heavens plan. We don’t try to force people to believe certain things. If someone comes in saying, “I believe this,” then someone else comes in saying, “I believe that,” Dave and I usually respond with, “What would you like in your coffee?” We are not interested arguing about which view is “right”. Our job is to just sit with other people who are interested in reading Scripture and simply search for answers to questions.

DAVE: We, Ross and I, have had to learn how to get along with ourselves and just have dialogue. We ask the hard questions and then try to listen. We’ve been created with two ears and one mouth for a reason. We learned how to incorporate that method with the group that started to come as well. We learned how to discuss controversial stuff without getting red faced and saying, “By God, this is the way it is!”

ROSS: It’s not all about agreeing; I don’t think we should be in agreement all of the time. We try to create an atmosphere of dialogue where I can have very firmly held convictions that I believe are fundamental to my faith but while I’m at the table, I am going to respect your position. It allows for authentic inquiry and allows for you to say “You know, I’ve never heard it talked like that. Maybe you’re right but here’s the way I understand it.” It doesn’t mean we agree on everything but what we have come to find out is that by doing it that way, we’ve mutually advanced our understanding. We want people to question and challenge things so together we can look into Scripture and find out what the Bible says.

 

Through the blessing of technology, the Bible study now reaches a world-wide community who come together for teaching, reading and dialogue. You are invited to join Ross and Dave in their weekly study, you can find them “live” online every Saturday at 10:30am CST.

For more information on how to join the live video forum, please visit: www.unitedisrael.org. Go to the top menu and click on “Teachings”. Then, in the drop down menu, click on “Weekly Shabbat Services Location and Online.”

 

 

 

 

Meet Kermit & Jean Hainley

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“I come from a military family. I liked the military. I planned on staying in the Air Force but just before signing the re-enlistment papers, God told me that was not what He had for me. So, I went to college, earned a degree in Sociology and while we lived in California, I worked in a Juvenile Detention Facility with hardcore delinquents.

I came home one day after attending court case where a young kid, only fourteen years old, was sent to prison for stabbing a woman forty-seven times as a result of a silly argument and said to Jean, ‘That’s it. Either I am going to become a plumber’s helper or I need to do something more proactive for these young kids.’ I had enough. There had to be more we could do. We started praying, making plans and was directed by the Lord to return to Michigan.

The first year in Michigan was difficult. I was a “stay-at-home dad” before it was common while Jean worked to financially support our family. During this time of waiting, I led a Bible study for youth and pastored a church. We became foster parents and opened our doors to a few more children. But God had a bigger dream.”

Leap ahead a couple of years – God established the now named Eagle Village Inc; a private, non-profit, organization assisting in foster care, adoption, family rebuilding, counseling, leadership & life skills training and much more.

For Kermit and Jean, it all began with the heartache toward one fourteen-year-old in California and a promise from God. Now Eagle Village has six houses dedicated to proactively equipping children and families to properly handle life’s challenges. They can tell you how they endured & overcame many hurdles during their trek, how God placed the right people in their lives at the right time and endless stories of miracles throughout the journey. But in the end, they will ultimately tell you how humbled and blessed they have been to be used in this adventure by God to impact the lives of others.

If you are interested in more information about Eagle Village Inc, please click on this link: www.eaglevillage.org

Also, Kermit writes a fascinating blog on Scripture and Biblical prophecy. Check it out at www.grampsmorningthoughts.blogspot.com

Introducing The Boettcher Clan.

 

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Boettcher Clan in the windy Negev Desert – Shane, Becky, Abel (7), Owen (5), Havah (20 months). Missing from photo – McGrady (12).

“Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” Isaiah 8:18 (NIV)

It was only a little over a year ago the Lord spoke to Shane and Becky about coming to Israel. While they both have a heart for the nations, Israel had not been one of the top places on their radar. But when change and opportunity comes knocking, we have two options. We can either ignore the knock or open the door. Shane and Becky decided to open the door and investigate this new direction.

They began to research Israel. They began to research organizations, ministries and groups working in and with Israel. They began to ask questions and in doing so, they began to make connections. As they made connections, plans began to form. In September 2015, Shane and Becky stepped out of their comfort zone and traveled to Israel with three of their children to live and learn for a few months as the tourist visa would allow.

If you are waiting for me to launch into stories of the figurative road paved with gold and of signs, wonders, miracles and the supernatural phenomenons that took place from the moment they stepped foot onto the Promised Land, you are going to be disappointed. I will get to those things later. The primary thing both Shane and Becky mentioned about their first time in Israel is that it was extremely difficult.

They were not used to being side by side all of the time. They were not used to being without their oldest son, McGrady, for this long of a period of time. They were not used to businesses, stores and gas stations closing down at dusk every Friday night for 24 hours because of Shabbat (you may know it as the Sabbath). They were not used to the extreme chaos of driving in Israel with the nonstop honking and aggressive maneuvering that occurs in the city streets. They were not used to the metric system which affects many areas of life from gas price budgeting to furniture measurements to recipe modifications. They did not yet know what their purpose in Israel was, just that they were called to go. Becky battled with overwhelming fear and anxiety to the point of struggling to be without Shane. Shane struggled with not having a gym to work out in the morning, which is how he feels at his best for the day, as well as trying to help Becky manage her anxiety. Not only did they need to figure out how to adjust, but they had to figure out how to help three young children adjust as well. It was a painful battle.

Even as the overwhelming battle threatened to take them out, the Lord remained faithful. Becky can easily recall the Spirit-filled moment her anxiety-fueled fear finally broke. Shane connected with a baseball division in Northern Israel and joined the Jerusalem Lions as a pitcher/shortstop. The kids began to get into a routine and adjust to the new world around them. In the midst of the chaos, miracles were happening.

One important observation I noticed in Shane and Becky – they are both incredible networkers. No matter where they are – the grocery store, a church service, a playground, the beach, one of Shane’s baseball games – they are constantly networking and chatting with people, with strangers. Through these connections, they have discovered one of the main purposes for their time in Israel is to share the love of the Father.

Last year, a man asked why they liked Israel and why they wanted to be there. He stated the world hates Israel, is against Israel and that Israel is in trouble. (How hopeless is this man’s point of view? Sadly, he has good reason to think this way even if it is not entirely true.) Becky told him that she and Shane love Israel, they love the people of Israel and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is for Israel. He looked at her strangely and replied, “Maybe in the Bible, but not now.”

Shane and Becky’s hearts are to bring Truth, Life, Hope and Love from God the Father to Israel. They know this will need to primarily come through action, not words. They have purposefully chosen to live among the Israeli people. They have purposefully chosen to develop friendships with Jews and Arabs even though there is not much peace between the two cultures. They have purposefully chosen to uphold traditional Jewish days like Shabbat (Sabbath) and holidays like Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) to learn, understand and engage with the people. They believe God’s Word for themselves and for Israel when it says, “I will not  leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18 (NIV).

What about those miracles mentioned earlier? The power of networking combined with passion has led to miracles and more miracles. For example, take Shane’s love of baseball. Since playing with the Jerusalem Lions, Shane has noticed the potential of developing a baseball league in the North and South of Israel. Shane never leaves home without at least one baseball, glove and bat just in case they wind up at a park and meet kids or adults who are interested in learning. He is always aware and prepared to connect through baseball. Through seemingly “random” events in Israel, Shane has met several Jewish professional and minor MLB players/coaches who are interested in his vision. Some have asked what needs Shane and Becky have or what they can do to help. This past year through an “Israel connection”, Shane was invited to a private instructional pitching session in the US with New York Yankees Pitching Coordinator…which only deepens the relationship for the long-term. The day after I arrived in Israel, he spontaneously went to a business conference. There, he happened to meet an American Jewish man who owns a number of Chick-Fil-A stores in the US and is interested in the possibility of bringing the chain to Israel. As it turns out, the gentleman was a minor league pitcher as well and is open to being a part of the vision. When Shane combined his passion with networking, miracles are happening.

Becky is still in the learning process of what her specific niche is. However, we do know some puzzle pieces. Becky has a gift of learning language. She already speaks  English, Spanish and Portuguese but is catching on quickly to Hebrew. She practices her Hebrew words wherever she goes. She looks up YouTube children’s videos on the Hebrew alphabet, numbers, holiday songs, traditional songs, etc in order to further her skills and teach her children. She has started taking a Hebrew language class to learn reading and writing as well. When she came to Israel, she was not sure how her Spanish and Portuguese skills would be of use, but then she learned of the Sephardic Jews. (I’m sorry, the who and the what Jews?!?)

A little history/prophecy lesson I learned on this visit: Obadiah 1:19-21 is a prophesy regarding the return of Jews who are scattered throughout the earth. “The Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negev.”  The Sepharad are those of Jewish decent who had been exiled or displaced to areas of Spain and Portugal, eventually scattered throughout the world. During the time period of the crusades many converted (some by choice, some by force) to Catholicism, thus forgetting their Jewish heritage or practicing in secret. Now, if we are heading into end times as predicted, this is one part of Biblical prophecy that has not been completely fulfilled yet. However, reports are emerging of the “awakening” of Hispanic Jews. Keep your eyes and ears open people, prophecy may be getting fulfilled right in front of you. Israel and the returning Jews will need people who can speak and translate between English, Spanish, Portuguese & Hebrew…know of anyone who could possibly help out? I do. (Add this to the fact that Hispanics are currently the largest growing ethnicity in professional baseball and Shane’s dream for baseball leagues in Israel is a pretty fascinating scenario!)

Becky also feels a call to love and encourage other mothers. While she does not have a specific picture of what that means, she takes opportunities to hug, pray and network with moms. God has placed some special women in her path for friendship and connection so far. We assume the amount and depth of friendships will only continue to grow with time and intentionality.

I know that God will use each of their children in their unique personalities to do mighty things, even now at their young ages. Abel (7) loves to be around people and be in the middle of the action. He always has something to say. With maturity and direction, his words and actions will be used for glory. Owen (5) is a quiet observer with a tender heart. He notices emotions and feels deeply. As he grows, he will generously love, comfort and empathize with the hurting. Havah (20 months) is an easy-going baby. Even at her young age, she is able to take her roughhousing older brothers in stride. She does not get worked up easily. This ability to persevere will come in handy as she grows to be strong and independent. While I do not know McGrady (12), Shane has shared about his love for prayer and worship. As he continues to refine his prayer life, may it lead to a deeper relationship with the Lord that others will notice and inquire about.

Shane and Becky do not know how long they will be in Israel but they do know they were called and answered with “yes.” Please pray for them as they continue to pursue the Lord’s heart for Israel. If you are interested in knowing more about them and their call to Israel, feel free to contact me. I will be happy to put you in touch.

If would like to read more about the Sephardic Jews, this website has been really helpful for my understanding: http://www.hope-of-israel.org/sephardim.html or you can easily google it.

 

What Do You Travel For?

“We each travel for different reasons. I travel for the food, Brett travels for the beer and Chern travels for the photography. We all like to eat, drink beer and take photos but each of us is passionate about a different focus. So we go out for a good, local meal and I do most of the cooking at the hostels. Brett picks out different beers for us to try and Chern looks to capture the perfect, creative photo. We take time to enjoy each other’s interests. It’s a great combination!”

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(L-R) : Don, Chern & Brett From Melbourne, Australia

New friends who cross your path along the way.

 

 

Big Dream to Big Reality

Meet Lisa. img_20160829_094007989_hdr-2

Right away, she would probably tell you this is not the best photo of her. She would tell you how sweaty she is and how she needs a shower. She would comment on her hair and how it does not meet her standards. She would fill you in on her adventure of sleeping at the Minneapolis Airport one full day prior to her flight departing instead of reserving a hotel room to have more spending money on her trip. She would follow-up with a comment about how surreal this moment feels and she could not believe she was actually in Italy. She would describe how she traveled for nearly three days just to take this picture with me.

Lisa and I became friends four to five years ago during a group Bible study at church. Lisa has a memory of a conversation we shared during that time…one of those memories where you know what the other person was wearing, exactly where you both were standing, what items you were holding in your hand…when we talked about dreaming BIG; dreaming beyond what seems reasonable or possible. If you did not already notice, this is one of my most FAVORITE topics in life.

After the study (for the life of us, we cannot remember the focus of the study) was completed, I was looking for a new study to join. As I scrolled through the list of small group Bible study options, none of the topics grabbed my attention but one leader’s name did…Lisa. The topic was not one I was deeply interested in but I knew I liked Lisa and thought it could be a good way to get to know her better, meet new people and be accountable in the Word. From that point on, we became close friends.

Lisa grew up in a small town. I remember when she moved to Eau Claire, WI (~60,000 population), she was not sure how she was going to handle or enjoy “city life”. She loved it. Then, she began to dream even bigger – Phoenix, AZ. As she kept dreaming about the impossible, she found herself making plans. As she dreamed and made plans, she started to make sacrifices like working multiple jobs to get finances secured and save for her future dream. She did not live extravagantly. She did not drive a fancy car. She did not have the latest technology or gadgets. And yet, she never went without.

During her time of sacrifice and saving, I was traveling with the tour company I worked for. I often posted landscape photos of where I was with captions of dreaming big or encouraging others to step out into something new, beyond their comfort zone. I recall one time Lisa said to me, “Tara, God told me that I am going to see the world. And that you are going to show it to me. I am so glad you post photos as often as you do because I feel like I get to go with you!”

As I started dreaming about the current journey I am on, I remembered Lisa’s words and called her. “Maybe this journey is bigger than just me. Remember how God told you I was going to show you the world? What if it is not just through pictures? What if it gets to be real life?” And the dream grew again. We daydreamed. We brainstormed. We planned. We chatted about the “what if’s”. It was not until Lisa clicked on “CHECKOUT” for a plane ticket to/from Rome that it set in as a surreal reality.

On July 1, 2016, Lisa’s dream to move to Phoenix came to pass. On August 29, 2016, Lisa’s dream to visit Italy came to pass. One small town girl who was nervous to move to the “big city” dared to dream beyond what she thought was possible. In just a couple of years with courage and consistency of sacrifice, she found herself moving beyond the “big city” to the metropolis of Phoenix and on to see the world. What a beautiful picture of dreaming bigger in motion. You cannot out dream God; He has bigger dreams for you than you can conjure. Why not dream as big as your mind can stretch so He can expand it even further?

I have been more than blessed in our friendship. God provided a friend who was willing to dream not just with or for me, but alongside me. Our paths happened to run parallel which allowed us to share some of the same struggles, excitement, worries and logistics (like having a joint thrift sale).  We had similar time frames; Lisa moved on July 1 while I left on July 11. And here we are – sweaty, tired, messy with smiles as we know another big dream is coming to pass. We get to see a piece of the world, TOGETHER.

Way back in 2015 when I asked Lisa about joining me for a period of time, I asked her where she has always dreamed about going. I told her to not think about it, just answer. I would meet up with her anywhere. One word came, “Italy.” And so began the process of reading and researching. She decided she wanted to see the southern parts of Italy including Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi Coast, Island of Capri and Sicily. These areas are filled with tourism but not necessarily the first places of interest when Americans think of Italy. On a side note: Lisa had never traveled outside of the United States with the exception of all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. This was an entirely new experience. This was a risk outside of her comfort zone. She would tell you how lies and tormenting thoughts tried to infiltrate her mind with fear of the unknown, fear of finances, fear of safety and comments like “who do you think you are to make a journey like this?” But Lisa did not let them cloud her path. She pressed forward, she took risk and jumped in with both feet.

Each location is different than the other. Each place has its own atmosphere and style. We found good food, wonderful coffee and a variety of people – both tourists and locals. Please enjoy the photos of mine and Lisa’s time together in Southern Italy.

 

Meet the Korkis Family

I am very honored to introduce the Belfast living, feline friendly, fun-loving, good cooking, movie watching and excellent hospitality minded couple, Milad and Holly Korkis.

 

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Milad and Holly Korkis – Cats are more fun than rose gardens until they continually poop in your personal garden. 

Milad and Holly opened up their home, their time and ultimately their lives to me during my visit to Belfast. We all agreed this encounter was a divine blessing which we credit to He who calls us His favorite. We had a small discussion over who really was His favorite – I think we all won that argument.

But Tara, how did you wind up staying with these fine folks? Excellent question.

Several months before I left on this journey, a dear friend of mine said, “You know, you may want to check with YWAM (world-wide missionary organization) bases as you travel. Many bases are open to having people stay with them for a low cost.” So that is exactly what I did. I emailed the base in Belfast to see if they would take visitors. Milad and Holly offered up the spare room in their personal home for me to take up residence for a week.

Holly hails from the great state of Pennsylvania in the United States. Do not get too excited Eagles or Steelers fans, Holly professed her allegiance to God’s team – the Packers. About five years ago after completing YWAM’s DTS (Discipleship Training School) in Atlanta, Georgia,  Holly came to work with a base in Rostrevor – a small seaside, resort town in Northern Ireland. Holly led quite a number of Rostrevor DTS groups and mission outreach teams. Interestingly, she mentioned a couple of favorite locations she has traveled on outreach more than once is the Middle Eastern countries of Israel and Palestine. Perhaps God was already preparing her heart . . .

After completing college, Milad followed in his older brother’s footsteps by becoming involved with YWAM. Approximately three years ago, he arrived in Northern Ireland from his homeland in Syria for a DTS at the Rostrevor base. Milad has great stories of incredible experiences like not being able to travel with his DTS outreach team to Israel and Palestine due to Syrian citizenship so instead worked in Belfast with a network of monks. He also made friends with a small group of elderly nuns who continually looked for ways to bless him…including gifting him money to help buy a beautiful engagement ring for Holly. When the expiration was creeping up on his visa, Milad applied for asylum in Northern Ireland as it was no longer safe for him to go back home as a Christian Syrian. He was granted refugee status and along with Holly is working toward gaining UK citizenship.

With “The Troubles” that have gone on between Northern and Southern Ireland, one of the focuses of the Rostrevor YWAM base is to actively help in conflict restoration. Every year the base takes an immense prayer walk which stretches over 200 miles along the border praying for restoration and reconciliation between the two countries. How beautiful is that?

Also, Northern Ireland has opened themselves to Syrian refugees relocating through UN programs. I had the opportunity with Milad and Holly to visit such a family for lunch. I was honored to be in the home of a Christian family who six to eight months ago left nearly everything they owned behind, boarded a plane without knowing or getting a choice of where they were being sent (for safety, they were told once the plane was in the air) to start a new life in a place where they do not speak the language or know the culture. The parents and three adult men are learning English but it is slow going as classes have ceased for summer break. They treat Milad as family and he assists them with MANY questions from asking to know what certain medicines are to where to go for various needs. AND Nadia’s food is fantastic. She and her husband, Isaac, will make sure your pants (or “trousers” as called in the UK) no longer button when you leave their home.

Considering current circumstances in Syria, Syrian refugees becoming scattered throughout the world including Northern Ireland and the ongoing training in restoration & resolution Rostrevor has armed Milad and Holly with, I have NO DOUBT that this couple is placed here for “such a time as this”. Currently, they are working on getting to know Belfast and meet local people. They are getting involved in the community and looking for ways to volunteer with a variety of organizations and groups.

But on a personal note, these two took incredible care of me. They had been thinking about going away to a festival but last-minute decided to stay home during IMG_20160725_223411439.jpgthe time I sent the email to YWAM Belfast. It was a miracle they were home in the first place. They are both incredible cooks. One night, we were sitting around chatting and Malid says, “I’m in the mood for french fries, anyone else want some?” Holly and I both agreed and within 15 minutes or so, Milad made delicious fresh french fries FROM SCRATCH. I’m talking real potatoes peeled and everything. Delicious! Holly is also a fantastic cook and continued to make sure I was comfortable. She even had a little welcome basket for me upon arrival. This was a bit of a down time for them so a couple of the days they took me around the city to see new, beautiful sights I had not seen yet. This former tour director always appreciates the extra touch of sightseeing and information provided along the way!

My life is blessed to have had the opportunity to meet these two dynamic world changers and now my dear friends. Please keep them in your prayers for guidance and wisdom as they continue to learn how to love on Belfast. If you are interested in more information on how you can help the Korkis Family, let me know. I am happy to put you in touch with them.

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(L-R) Milad, Holly and Tara at the eclectic pub, Filthy McNasty’s