A Journey into the Wilderness
There is nothing quite like seeing the Judean wilderness in the desolate dry season for the first time. Looking out to the East, you see nothing but long, rolling hills. Everything is brown and every peak is naked except for maybe a shrub or two. If it is a windy day, the dust will obscure your visibility, but if the sky is clear, you can see all the way to Jordan.
This is the wilderness in which David shepherded as a boy. Israel crossed over from those distant mountains in Jordan into this wilderness. This is where Jesus wandered and fasted for 40 days after being baptized. The wilderness is a unique place appearing all throughout scripture. Most Israelites probably did not like it because it is a hard place to live. You might die from the lack of rain or you might die from the flooding when it does rain. Only the hardiest of creatures dwell out here.
Even with all the difficulty of the wilderness and in all its bareness, it can still be a beneficial place to go. Many of our Church Fathers and members of the early monastic movement went into it in an effort to escape the comforts and distractions of their lives. They sought to be tested and refined. Just as many of the prophets speak fondly of it, there is a sense in scripture that the wilderness is a place where people meet God. It may be dry and difficult, but it is in the desert that God provides us with his living water. It was in the silent isolation of the Sinai desert that Elijah heard the still small voice of God. The wilderness tests us and takes away our distractions. There, we meet our Maker in the rawness of his creation and we rediscover who he is and who we are.
I have gone at length to describe the wilderness because this spring there is an incredible opportunity to go into it both physically and spiritually and meet God. Christ at the Checkpoint is an ecumenical Christian conference organized by Bethlehem Bible College in Bethlehem. Its purpose is to create dialogue and facilitate Christian engagement with the incredibly difficult and complicated issues in the Holy Land right now. It also seeks to bring Christians from all over to Bethlehem to be in solidarity with their Palestinian sisters and brothers. The Palestinian Church is facing a great wilderness journey right now and Christ at the Checkpoint seeks to give them a glass of water and walk with them.
This year the Christ at the Checkpoint Student Delegation is being introduced for the first time. This exciting program allows young Christian adults to spend a full week in the Holy Land, attending not only the conference, but traveling in the Holy Land alongside some of their Palestinian Christian peers. The delegation will travel far beyond Bethlehem visiting sites of Biblical or modern significance, and will see firsthand the issues facing the Holy Land and the Christians living in it.
This delegation will not be a cute field trip. It will be an incredibly diverse, adverse, and uniquely challenging experience. The wilderness can severely test our faith. You will be challenged in ways both expected and unexpected, but every challenge is a chance to grow and to learn. We all have different experiences in the wilderness, but I promise this: going into the wilderness with the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference Student Delegation will change you somehow.
The first time I saw the Judean wilderness, it was completely dry and desolate. I saw it another time, but after the rainy season and what a marvelous transformation it had underwent! Every hill was lush and green, water flowed in the valleys, and I could hear birds singing. My hope and prayer is that you take a risk, and venture into the wilderness this spring and that it become a heavenly oasis where you grow in knowledge and love of our Lord Christ Jesus and his Church.