July 24, 2014 Testimony of My Trip to Israel and Palestine July 24, 2014/ Ashley Sawyer The following is a testimony I shared in service at Carmichael Presbyterian Church on July 20th, 2014. In May I had the incredible opportunity to spend two weeks with our very own John Wallace and 100 other Presbyterians in the Holy Land learning, sight-seeing, and having an amazing time. We visited the big sights like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Baptismal site at the Jordan River, the Church of the Nativity and Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem, The Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and even got to sail across the Sea of Galilee- while it was storming. We also saw about 20 other churches/synagogues/mosques built on Holy Sites, and I can say I have seen and entered more churches in those two weeks than I have in my entire life. I was in a small group of 10 young adults, about half of whom were pastors which made discussions of these holy sites incredibly fascinating. But what we came to realize was that as beautiful and spectacular as these churches were, the flood of tourists seemed to take something away. There’s something to be said for getting lost on the streets of Jerusalem, with the ancient walls still standing, knowing that’s where the people we read about in the Bible stood. Or sitting on a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee knowing this is what the people of Jesus’ time saw, what He saw. It was definitely a powerful trip and truly deepened my understanding and experience of the Bible. It’s easy to get caught up in the hubbub of life and the grand gestures of all the churches we saw. But when I look back on this trip, the most spiritual moments were just simple moments. I often say I experienced every emotion in those two weeks, sometimes all in one day! Whether it was the love for the Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem that opened their doors to John and I for a wonderful meal, to sitting in the back of the bus with my new friends telling jokes and laughing until we cried, to wanting to cry from heartbreak seeing the mosque that is the site of a massacre that killed too many innocent lives, or the joy in seeing two stunning plays put together to show what life is like in the Holy Land and the pride the actors took in their work, and the awe and wonder when a group of us began to sing in the church in Shepherd’s Field, where the acoustics turned 20 voices into the most beautiful music I’ve heard. Above all where I saw God was in the people we met. In a land seemingly seeped in conflict and tension, seeing the perseverance of so many continuing to live their lives, their steadfast faith gave me hope. One Sunday we worshipped at Christmas Lutheran Church in a service performed in predominately Arabic. The church had been nearly destroyed by bombs barely 10 years prior, yet there they were, still worshipping in a beautiful sanctuary. We listened to passionate Rabbis ready for peace and working incredibly hard to bring about change in Israel. We saw the love of country in one of our tour guides who refuses to move from his home on the Mount of Olives because that is his home, and you could see the pride in his eyes when telling us the Pope would be visiting just a few weeks after us and would be staying in his neighborhood. This trip shaped my faith in a way I’m not even sure I can comprehend yet. But what I do know is I see God in the smallest things now. I saw so many wonders in my time in Israel and Palestine, but it was those small simple moments, that will remain with me forever.