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How Traveling Abroad Transformed My Religious Faith

Posted By Jada Hall, Monday, October 2, 2017
Updated: Friday, August 11, 2017


How Traveling Abroad Transformed
My Religious Faith

Jada Hall, Azusa Pacific University (CA)

I found myself in the 100-degree weather of the Middle East. In the Garden of Gethsemane, I lay exhausted from the hours of walking we had been doing. I contemplated where Jesus sat when He cried out to the Father. The olive trees surrounding me offered comforting shade. The stillness of the garden cleared away the reality of war just outside the gates.

There were bomb shelters dispersed throughout the kibbutz community along the Gaza Strip. When a bomb is launched, the sirens go off, giving the residents 15 seconds to reach the fortified structures. That day, we were lucky; no one decided to launch. A student asked a woman why she stayed in this region. She responded that though she is not a soldier, she stays on the front lines to show her support for Israel. This is her family’s home.

Caption: The Garden of Gethsemane

The world is becoming increasingly “globally oriented,” as Dr. David Towson puts it in his article “Why Study Abroad? What Psychology Students Have to Gain from Study Abroad Opportunities.” Travel abroad experiences, he says, are an invaluable resource for any student looking to grow professionally and personally.

I went to Israel with the intention of learning about the ongoing conflict between them and the Palestinian Authority. Politically, the situation seemed esoteric. I wanted to increase my cultural competency, which is most effectively done by traveling abroad as Dr. Towson briefly explains. Not only did I learn the Israeli perspective of fighting for their homeland to protect the citizens and basic human rights, I also learned the Palestinian sentiment of feeling like a refugee.

Caption: Bomb shelter at a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip

In addition to this professional growth, I experienced an area of personal growth not outlined in the aforementioned article: religious development. At the time of the trip, I was a five-year-old Christian in a rut. I did not go to Israel expecting to be transformed in my faith. However, three lessons and realizations occurred.

First, I saw how the Jewish people encounter God. As I approached the ancient stones of the Temple during Shabbat, I saw my Jewish sisters completing their daven as they rocked back and forth, oblivious to anyone bumping into them. They were entranced in their communion with God. It was similar to the Christian practice of rocking side to side during worship.

Second, I realized that I had not heard from God in a seemingly long while. I desperately wanted to “hear God’s voice” as I stood on the Mount of Beatitudes or to “see God’s presence” as I swam in the fresh waters of the Sea of Galilee. Only once did I remember key biblical passages reminding me that He takes care of my every need. After all, He brought me from having no money in my childhood to a university that provided the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. Aside from this, God seemed far off compared to everyone else’s experience. He showed me it was time to grow in my faith. When I returned stateside, I learned of St. John on the Cross's concept called The Dark Night of the Soul. This is a time when God seems distant, a feeling all too many Christians will experience as a wake-up call to join  the Lord in deeper communion.

Third, my travels caused the Bible to “come alive.” In Israel, I found myself wanting to see Jesus cry in the Garden and dine with His disciples over bread and wine. I wanted to sit at His feet in the unearthed synagogue in Magdala. I suppose, being in Israel created a stronger anticipation for the millennial kingdom.

Caption: (left) Jada enjoying the scenery during a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee (right) Jada getting ready to pray at the Temple’s Wailing Wall

I never dared to dream of studying abroad, but there I was in the summer of 2016, traveling to the Holy Land of my faith. TRiO, a program for first-generation college students, found an organization called Passages to make this experience possible. I can tell several stories of when my group received baptism in the Jordan river, floated in the Dead Sea, and trekked through the narrow passage of Hezekiah's tunnel. However, I will leave it up to you to experience the numerous benefits of travel abroad for yourself.

Tags:  A Better You  All Things Psych 

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