Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I'm In a Hurry...

It seems like no matter where I’m at when things start happening, they all happen at the same time. The last few weeks have been extremely busy, for example last week I gave a Sunday night service at the English Hospital in Nazareth, on Tuesday I taught a class in Doctrine of the Holy Spirit on Augustinian views concerning gender in relation to the Holy Spirit, I gave a lesson on Luke 4 at the church in Acco, and of course had my regular class; Introduction to the Pentateuch on Thursday. On top of all of that I started Arabic lessons (with the Galilean dialect) and had couchsurfers staying at my place.

To say the least, I spent a good part of my time studying and preparing which was good since it was raining almost every day. However, I did make time for some fun. On Monday, I went to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee again with the couchsurfers. We spent some time lost in Nazareth, trying to find the correct bus stop heading to Tiberias, and after asking about 5 people where we should go, and getting about 5 different answers, all of which were wrong, we finally spotted the right bus at a stop light. Running to the next bus stop to catch it, we were finally on our way. It was nice to go again, since unlike last time I wasn’t incredibly jetlagged and falling asleep. We spent some time just admiring the sea, and I got to tout my limited biblical knowledge of the sea. Unfortunately, we got a late start so there wasn’t time to go see some of the major sites, so we just spent the afternoon walking along the sea. On our way, we did spot what we thought was an abandoned archeological dig, so naturally we found a weak spot in the fence climbed over an ancient wall and started exploring. After looking around for a few minuets, we found out it wasn’t as abandoned as we thought, and came upon a group of archaeologists who had cut out a square in the middle of a mosaic and were digging underneath it trying to find pottery and coins that might help them date it. Luckily for us, they were quite friendly; they introduced themselves, and showed us what they were doing.  They were also kind enough to point out some of the more interesting spots of the dig, which included a Roman amphitheater currently being excavated a little further up the mountain which we were able to explore.

I suppose it goes to show, that even when things are at their busiest, and even when the weather is terrible, there are adventures to be had. While there hasn’t been a lot else going  on I’ve had a good couple of weeks. It’s nice to have things to do and to stay busy. Friday I’m heading to Prague where I’ll meet up with my Granny Pam who will then come back to Israel with me on Monday. We will be traveling to more places in Israel and I’ll have my camera in tow to take lots of pictures. And speaking of pictures, I’ve finally uploaded some of my pictures to thespoiledamerican.smugmug.com/ so be sure to check them out!

Much Love,

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mistaken Identity...

I’ll be honest, I’m not a super spiritual person. I often wish I was more spiritual but it doesn’t come to me naturally. Generally I am moved into action by events taking place around me instead of an internal desire to be better. I often wish that I was more spiritual, and for that reason I’m always thankful when I come into contact with people who are. I like the push to be more reliant on God and less reliant on myself, and while that’s something often preached, even something I’ve preached, it’s not natural for me. It’s hard for a variety of reasons, maybe lack of trust, maybe the belief that the things happening in my life aren’t important enough, but mainly because normally it’s not a requirement.

Having grown up in America, I know the push to be self-made, and to be individually reliant. The American gospel is one that says everyone starts out at the same spot and therefore wherever they end up is by their own doing. The American identity is wrapped up in self, and has little room for anything else. And while that’s my American identity, the one the world has handed me, I strive to be more concerned with what my Christian identity is.

Here in Israel the question of identity is a big one. Living in Nazareth means living in a predominately Arab culture. Those I’ve spent the most time with struggle with who they are exactly, are they Israeli, or are they Palestinian.  As one friend explained it, it depends on the context, they may say Israeli if they are in the west because people will know they mean from Israel. But if they were to say they are Israeli to another Arab in the Middle East they could easily be branded a traitor, therefore they would claim Palestinian.  Since most of the Jewish culture only views Jews as being Israeli it adds another level of confusion to everyone involved. And as for the Jews, they are largely a mixing pot of people from all around the world, coming together to rebuild the Jewish state.

Beyond that comes the question of religion.  Again for the Arabs they are either Muslim or Christian, and while Nazareth is a peaceful city housing both Muslims and Christians it’s still mostly Muslim (some of whom are my friends.) Thus for the Christian Arab they find no true middle ground living in Israel, they are treated less for being Arab in a Jewish country and less for being Christian in a Muslim culture. If you are a bit confused reading this, then imagine the confusion that plagues those living it.  Add war to the mix of people trying to find where they belong and you can start to see a problem.

From what I’ve witnessed with both the Christian Arabs, and the Messianic Jews, they have to try and find their identity in Christ, because it’s the only one that unites them. Because of this, the decisions they make, and the actions they take do not only affect them as an individual but effects how others perceive them as a whole. Since coming to Israel I’ve heard at least four sermons on loving your enemy and turning the other cheek. In a culture that is at war on its borders, and is divided on issues of race and religion it carries a special impact. As one Arab pastor put it “Darkness cannot defeat darkness, only light can do that. In the same way war cannot defeat war, only peace can do that.” Peace here is a chosen action that the Christian’s are known by.

Therefore, the identity of a peaceful Christian is not a passive identity; it’s one that people recognize. When I first got here I was talking with a girl who was frustrated because she wanted to work at the Mall in Nazareth Illit, which is literally “Upper Nazareth,” a separate city that is mostly Jewish. She was frustrated because some of the stores won’t hire Arab’s, and she was told by one shop to reapply after she’s served in the military. This is a bit of a joke to those living here, since all Jews male and female have to serve in the military for a few years they often do not look for work until their service is done. For the Arabs, however, there is no requirement to serve and most don’t because for one they would most likely be mistreated in the army and two they may be faced with firing on other Arabs someday. Despite this, store owners are often more likely to hire a Christian since by their identity, they are known for turning the other cheek, but in the case above it just added a little more insult to the claim since it was another reason she wouldn’t be serving the army.

Of course, I’m simplifying things a bit, and making some general statements about the cultures that aren’t true everywhere, but it shed’s some light on what those living in Israel may face day to day. I’m continually grounded to the fact that I’m an outsider looking in, but when I’m with other Christian’s I’m with fellow citizens. And I’m thankful that we share an identity that is not dependant on race or borders but finds itself in a Kingdom that is so much bigger.

Well, I hope that wasn’t as confusing for you as it was for me trying to explain it. Beyond all of that the last few weeks have been great. I feel like this week I’ve finally hit my stride with the students that I’m teaching, they are a great group of men and I hope to write more about them soon. I’ve had a good couple weeks of travel going to Eliaboun for a pastor’s dinner, Mt. Tabor where I visited the Church of the Transfiguration, Haifa where I visited another small church but also saw the Bahá’í Garden that goes all the way up Mt. Carmel, and I finally visited the Church of the Annunciation which is just down the street and is also the biggest church in the Middle East where I was somewhat trapped into a 3 hour Mass. I also finally got a SD card reader and will be uploading pictures later this week. And last but not least, I learned a valuable lesson the other day after I had an entire meal stolen by cats.

Much Love,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Cue The Doogie Howser Theme Music...

Only three weeks in Israel and I’m already behind on my blogging, this is the story of my life.  The last couple of weeks have been fairly interesting but not super eventful. Last week when I started to write I started out by saying that it had been a week of new encounters, and it indeed it was.  Classes started at N.E.T.S. so I was able to start meeting the students. We have classes here on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Some of the students live in or around Nazareth but a lot of them commute from Haifa or other cities.  Overall it was a great week, the students in my Thursday class are all Sudanese students who are very excited for the recent developments in the Southern Sudan. I’m still learning the ropes of teaching in this type of atmosphere but the first day of classes went well. They are a great group who have a heart to serve their Lord and are hungry to learn the word of God. It’s refreshing to come into contact with these sorts of individuals, no matter where one lands. 

Besides getting to meet the students I’ll be working with I had the chance to go to Acco. Acco has had several names, but perhaps most notably to Christians it was once Ptolemais, which is where Paul landed in Acts 21:7 while traveling up the Mediterranean Sea. The old part of the city is remarkable, situated on the Sea its ancient walls that held off even Napoleon still stand. Walking around the city is like stepping back in time, street shops throughout the city sell a variety of items, from Crocs (the sandals) to sharks (the big fish with teeth.) It’s easy to get lost (which I did a few times) since it’s built around narrow windy streets surrounded by looming walls. My trip to Acco was the first of hopefully many, while there I was introduced to a small church that has been growing over the last several years. The group of believers in this city have the same fire to learn the word of God that I encountered at NETS and I’m looking forward to partnering along side them. It’s always interesting coming in contact with a church that is different from what one is use to, if anything it’s an opportunity to be taught how the Christian faith looks from another brother’s or sister’s eyes.

Between the students at NETS the church in Acco and some American’s I’ve ran into, last week was indeed full of new encounters. But this week has been more less a week of solitude, as I’ve been sick since Tuesday. It wasn’t anything too bad but I woke up Tuesday with a bad cold and sore throat, I’m finally getting better but I’ve pretty much stayed home all week trying to get over it.  So to say the least, not much has happened this week, besides silently thanking my Grandma Jean for teaching me how to hang up cloths since I don’t have a dryer (a talent I think I promised myself I would never use) and seeing a rather large gathering last Sunday in support of Egypt. 

Anyways…  When I start writing one of these I usually feel like Doogie Howser typing up a journal entry on an old IBM, which should summarize everything and tie in a great moral lesson. Since I don’t have one in stock, I’ll leave you with this.

Much Love,

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Its Been One Week...

If you read the title of the post and didn’t put it to the tune of the Barenaked Ladies’ song One Week, then please go back and reread it. It’s been a very exciting week here in Nazareth as I settle into my apartment and strive to conquer the jet lag. Since I’m new to this whole blogging thing it’s a bit hard for me to decipher what will be interesting for people, so I guess I will just cover some of the basics.

I was asked, “What was your first meal in Israel?” It was a chicken casserole at Bryson and May Arthur’s apartment (Bryson is the president of N.E.T.S. and from Scotland.) Probably not the most exciting answer despite how delicious it was. So inevitably I was asked; “okay, what was your second meal?” Oh well, we had lunch at a Chinese restaurant. I’m bringing this up to maybe demystify modern Israel a bit; while it is the Holy Land it’s still a very modern state. For example when I needed more cloths hangers I went to Ace Hardware, for pens and paper I went to Office Depot. I told the lady I was with while at Ace Hardware that a lot of people in the states probably wouldn’t believe me if I told them where I was.  In fact on the way to Nazareth from the Airport we passed through Armageddon, and the first thing I saw was a McDonald’s, I figured it was only a matter of time before they acquired a Wal-Mart and Satan’s armies would be complete.

Despite all the stores, all the traffic, and all the noise there is still something very special about Israel, it is after all where Jesus lived out his ministry. As I said before, my second meal was at a Chinese restaurant, what I didn’t mention was that it was on the Sea of Galilee. It was spectacular looking out across the body of water where Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water. Bryson set across the table calmly explaining to me where they think different events took place.  The Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5000, and the casting out of demons into swine. My mind was working at full capacity thinking that it was on this shore that Jesus called his first disciples, taught the masses from a boat, and just lived life.

Before we went to lunch on the Sea of Galilee we attended church in downtown Nazareth, just a short walk from where I’m staying.  The service was in Arabic, and they had a translator for the English speakers. The message was out of Luke 2, about the Shepherds who went to Bethlehem to see Jesus after he was born. It struck me during the sermon that when Bethlehem is mentioned it means something completely different here, it’s not an ancient city that only exists in mind, rather it’s a real place that one could easily drive to.  While the sermon was great, the thing that got to me most was the worship. Most the songs were in Arabic, but there were a few in both Arabic and English. That is to say, they were led in Arabic but the overhead projector had both English and Arabic lyrics. As most the congregation sang in Arabic, Bryson sang in his Scottish accent and I sang in my American accent, I felt that I was getting a glimpse into the throne room of God, where every tongue will confess the glories of God. I suppose I’ve always heard the glories of God confessed in English, or in another language, but never at the same time. It was truly remarkable to hear Christians, no matter what their earthly allegiance, singing praises to their creator.

Out of everything I’ve seen and done in the last week the most impactful happened yesterday. While out running errands with May she took me to Mt. Precipice. I’ve been to Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and Italy on Biblical tours, but I’ve never had so many butterflies in my stomach as we ascended the mountain. Traditionally this is the spot where after reading from Isaiah and proclaiming the year of Jubilee the crowds in Nazareth tried to throw Jesus off a cliff (Luke 4).  You see, the crowds Jesus was preaching to were happy with his reading from Isaiah, and hearing that he was there to bring good news to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, and free the oppressed. They identified themselves as the poor, the blind, the oppressed, and the captives, but Jesus went on to give a sermon after his reading. He brought up the gentile widow that Elijah helped and the gentile leper that Elisha helped, pointing out that the year of the Lord’s Favor was to be extended to more than just those in the crowd. To the hearers, however, it was worth killing Jesus over the message that God might show favor to those truly hurting, and to those considered enemies. It was Jesus inaugural speech, and already he was driving crowds to murder, and what was his message? Simply, it was radical love. It’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible; it’s an outline for all of Jesus ministry, and one that can conjure up just as strong emotions today. I’ve witnessed in even my limited experience the hate that can be summoned in people, even Christians, when you tell them of radical love. The idea of truly loving an enemy is absurd, and can easily label one as a traitor, but it is the message of Jesus, from his first sermon, to his dying breath. I wondered while I stood on the top of Mount Precipice looking out across the beautiful view how many mountains the world would need if all Christians professed this same type of love. 

I realize that would have been a great note to end on, and it hardly covers everything that I've done the last week, or even mentions the wonderful people I've met, but there are a few things I want to bring up. First off, thanks for reading the blog if you haven’t already start following it; I appreciate all the support that’s been sent my way and thank you for all the prayers I've received. Also, if anyone asks about my blog they can get to it by going to thespoiledamerican.com or bryanhensley.org.  If you want to call me feel free to give a ring at (760) 990-8993, just remember I’m 8 hours ahead CST. And lastly, since I’m in Israel I want to open myself up to any questions people may have, so feel free to live vicariously through me, ask me about anything you want to know involving my travels and stay here. I don’t guarantee to have a good answer, but I would love to talk about my experience so please leave a comment and I’ll try to respond in a timely fashion. Again, thanks for all the support.

Much Love,

Friday, January 21, 2011

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Well, I figure there is no better time than the present to start a travel blog. As it turns out I’m currently sitting at the airport in Atlanta waiting for my flight to Tel Aviv. I’ll be gone for six months while I live in Nazareth and explore Israel!

A lot of people have asked me over the last few months if I’m scared and the simple answer is no. Maybe it’s just because I’m naïve, but I truly feel like I’ve been led to this moment, and what do have I to be scared about? I know that most people think automatically of physical well-being when they ask the question, but the question of physical harm has long been put to rest for me. I came to some sort of understanding when I first explored Hebrews 2:14-15 which states:
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.
It is with this promise that I truly believe that death has been defeated, and if that is the case what do I have to fear? I’m no longer obligated to live as a slave fearing what physical harm and death may bring, rather I live as one who is free in the resurrection of the Christ.

I suppose if anything I fear my spiritual well being, I feel solid in my faith but I know that a long time away from home can do wonders. I’ve never been out of the country for longer than two weeks and every time I’m ready to be home. I suppose it’s because as the blog title suggests, I’m a spoiled American. I like to think that maybe that’s not the case but there is no denying it. I use to hide behind this fact, thinking it was an excuse not to exit my comfort zone, that somehow having this knowledge was a way to avoid really stepping out on faith. In the end I find it to be a conviction not an excuse. Despite my shortcomings I know that God is going to work wonders over the next few months and I’m ready for the journey. Well the flight is boarding so here we go!