Israel Tour Update:
Issachar 2009 Is Coming!by Sharon Stolebarger, Tour Coordinator
Israel—the Land of the Jews. The Jews—the apple of God’s eye. Just what is it about this place that has the whole world turned upside down? Our Issachar Tour attempts to expose people to a different side of Israel. The Issachar Tour is the Israel of the Bible as well as the Israel of Today.
Perhaps the best illustration of the Issachar Tour is a story of what we experienced last year. Our itinerary is very fluid, constantly changing, and we do several things as the Lord brings unexpected opportunities our way. The base at Ziporin was one of those experiences.
Jane, our dear friend and guide, had visited this base one time and had been told by the commander that she could bring our group when we were in the area. She did not count on the fact that there was no cell phone coverage at this base, situated in the north, right on the Lebanese Border and neighboring UN Base. After repeatedly trying to reach him, to no avail, we just decided to “go for it,” and so off we went.
We arrived at the locked gate, but no one was there. We had seen a patrol Humvee on our way there—on the same road where the soldiers had been kidnapped sparking the last Lebanese war, so we turned around and headed out to find them, which we did.
Our beloved friends in the bus started passing candy to the front to give to the soldiers; we were waving hello, and they (the soldiers) were probably thinking we were all crazy (not far from the truth). The soldiers were able to phone the commander, who instructed them to escort us back to the base, an open door surely from God. So, off we went, following this armed Humvee being driven by candy-eating soldiers.
We entered the base with many tanks parked along the side of the building. This building was home to soldiers (kids, re-ally) who regularly patrolled the Lebanese border. This was a cement block with windows camouflaged with netting, enabling them to look out but others to not see in. To say that their living conditions were bleak is an understatement. One soldier (again, these are kids, 18-24 years old) started crying almost from the time we got there. As a mom, all I could think of was that we reminded him of home, a normal life.
We had not come to work; our presence was just spur-of-the-moment. We came to love on them. Many had brought candy; everyone had brought hugs. They gave us a tour of the building and we then were on the roof, looking down at the UN Base. I inquired of one soldier as to where the current UN soldiers were from. He explained that many were from Indonesia, many were Muslim, and the biggest threat was that these UN soldiers provided the Hezbollah with intelligence against the Israelis. Does this take anyone by surprise? It infuriated me.
Our young participants had the soldiers dressing them up in what they wore on patrol. I think this was a very sobering experience for Aaron and Reed, seeing kids their own age involved in such a dangerous position. There was much laughter at the interaction going on; there were many overwhelmed at the dismal living conditions; and, the one young soldier, still in tears. It was immediately decided that KI would provide these young soldiers with a treadmill. They can’t exercise outside because it is too dangerous. The group spontaneously decided to buy them a ping pong table and started up a collection. One man said he wanted to buy them a pool table. You see, all they had was an antiquated television for entertainment and a whole lot of time when not patrolling to do…nothing!
It was time to bid farewell. Our group went outside, gathered in front of the tanks, and invited the soldiers to join us as we all sang the Hatikvah (the Israeli National Anthem). We do this on every tour, but it never had such an impact as this time. The young soldier who was crying turned his back; he didn’t want us to see him sobbing. In saying our good-byes, one of the Israeli soldiers borrowed Mark, our worship leader’s, guitar and gathered a few of the soldiers who sang a popular Israeli rock song…it was all great fun and a good way to leave these dear child soldiers.
Since returning to the USA, this base now has a Recreation Room, organized by Adi, our friend at Israel Emergency Aid Foundation, who arranged for all of our purchases. As it turned out, we weren’t allowed to provide them a treadmill as it was too dangerous (kind of comical if you think of these soldiers, patrolling the Lebanese border, but they might get injured on a treadmill). In its place there is a plasma television, DVD player, and a stereo system. The ping pong table and pool table are in place, and the room now has couches and a feeling of home.
This is just a taste of the Issachar Tour and every tour is different. The fall tour is October 27 – November 7 (in Israel Oct. 28 – Nov. 7). This tour usually sells out early as it is a one-of-a-kind tour and only one bus. KI Students will have priority registration through April 11, 2009. After that point, we will accept all registrations. All information is now available.
If you are not a KI student but would like to be able to register for the tour now, simply go to www.studycenter.com and sign up for a class. You can also email me and I will send you the information. I will hold all non-KI student registrations until after April 11 and will process them according to the postmark. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.