The suitcase is sitting partly packed with summer clothes, the immunisations have been administered, the passport is in date, the money has been ordered and the tickets have arrived. It looks as if I’m really going to Jordan and Israel.
It’s something I’ve wanted to do for so long but to be honest I’m a just a little bit apprehensive. I’m booked to go with a company called ‘Explore’. I’ve never heard of them before but they have a tour that does what I want to do, so, I’m giving it a go and it’s only 12 days after all.
Perhaps it’s the Bedouin camp and the thought of sleeping under the stars that’s making me nervous. I’ve never been great under canvas; what will it be like sleeping in the desert with a whole bunch of people I don’t know and a few camels? What about the toilets?!
Or perhaps, it’s the thought of staying in the Kibbutz that’s making my heart race a little, sharing a room with several others; and then there’s the strange food, the weather, crossing the border, answering border control’s questions (of which there are many evidently) and not offending anyone. The copious notes I’ve been given by ‘Explore’ suggest that it’s necessary to stay as inconspicuous as possible and try and blend in as much as possible. They must be joking - how on earth can a bunch of tourists look inconspicuous? Oh! they say, and don’t forget to keep your valuables in a money pouch close to your skin. If my husband had anything to do with it I’d probably be taking a bullet proof jacket as well.
The fact of the matter is that people live in Jordan and Israel all the time; it is their home and Jordan is doing a brilliant job offering shelter to many thousands of refugees from Syria at the moment. The situation in the Middle East is undoubtedly volatile but I don’t think we can shy away from the difficult places. As a traveller in the land I won’t even be able to scratch the surface of the complex historical situations the people live in but I hope that when I return I’ll have a slightly clearer understanding of what life is like in that part of the world today. I’m also looking forward to being in some of the places where Jesus lived and journeyed.
Jerusalem, Bethany, Bethlehem, Masada, the Red sea, Galilee, Tiberius, Capernaum, the Jordan where John the Baptist preached and baptised; we are so familiar with these names from the pages of our bibles. These are among the places that I’ll be visiting. I may be slightly nervous but I’m also excited and prepared to be challenged – I think.
This year we will be thinking about journeys in some of our services. Most of the journeys we encounter in the Bible involve a degree of uncertainty and exploration of the unknown. We’ve just followed Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross and beyond, that can’t have been easy can it? Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin Welby, as heads of the Catholic and Anglican Church, are most certainly on a journey. Are their journeys important to us as Methodists? The territory they will be negotiating will be familiar but this will be the first time that they will be leading the way through that territory. They know that there are pitfalls ahead and difficulties to be faced. On their journeys they will be speaking and acting as Christians in the public spotlight and it is important for us, as their brothers and sisters in Christ, that what they say is meaningful to the world and is in a language that is easily understood. They’ve both made a good start, let’s pray that it continues.
As I go on Sabbatical I leave you with the words of Pope Francis, “Do not be afraid of tenderness, it is not a sign of weakness but of great strength.”