By Mikell Clayton

“A trip to Israel does not change your life, it defines your life.”

These are words I have spoken to hundreds of people I have led on tours to Israel since 1998.

What do those words mean?

A trip to Israel should not be like visiting Hawaii, Europe, or New Zealand where you just see the sites, eat some good food, and return home. A trip to Israel is going home. It is the home of where you came from, the dirt which formed your body, and the home to which you will return; His Kingdom. Unfortunately, most tours to Israel are just a vacation in a foreign land. I have been privileged to never be on one of those “Visit the Holy Land” tours, but rather be a part of connecting with The Land and just as important, the people of The Land. This has come with a heavy price; the land and the people are now personal to me.

“the land and the people are now personal to me”

This February I spent 12 days in Israel. The current war had been going on for just over 100 days. During my visit I spent time with Israelis who have become friends over my 33 trips to Israel. I heard from moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Everyone had a story of a relative who is in the IDF, or who was at the concert, or in the communities affected by the brutality of Hamas. I do not think I have ever wept so much in my life. The stories of heroism, bravery, and downright evil were, at times, overwhelming.

“The stories of heroism, bravery, and downright evil were at times overwhelming”

My trip could be best summed up in two words, Divine appointments. In this short writing, I do not have the space to write of all of them. I will choose one.  My original flight had been canceled due to weather. It took a week to find another seat. My delay opened the door for a Divine appointment. Our ministry has been working with various needs in at least three IDF units. The commander of one unit got word I was in Israel and asked me to come to a gathering just outside of Gaza. A long cab ride and I find myself as one of about 6 civilians in a room of 500 soldiers. Some spoke English; some thought they did. It was overwhelming to be in the same room with them. My Hebrew is not so good, so I did not understand much of what was going on in the ceremony, but in the end my spirit understood it all. The honoring of fourteen fallen, awards for special acts of bravery, and conclusion with  Hatikva. (Israel’s national anthem). The visuals spoke louder than words ever could.

Now, is the trip behind me? No. I awoke last Sunday to news that one of the officers I was in the room with had been killed. This morning, I awoke to news that two more from that brigade had been killed and seven wounded.

My body may have left Israel, but I am still there. The tears I shed as I write, waiting to hear if one of the officers I know well is on the injured list, transcend the physical miles between where I am and home. The pictures I received yesterday of gift bags to injured soldiers that our ministry helped purchase; more tears.

“My body may have left Israel, but I am still there”

Israel never changed my life. Israel defined my life! I have the tears to prove it. May all our tears of war and grief soon be turned into the joys of victory.

‘Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.’  Psalm 126:5

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