Tuesday, February 12, 2008

January 23, 2008


I wrote an article for our Tri-City Newspaper about my visit to the Union Gospel Mission:

February 10, 2008: Planting Trees

A couple of weeks ago I accepted an invitation to speak to a strong group of men who’d come off the streets, and agreed to be nurtured and taught by the Union Gospel Mission. The class of men ranged from early 20’s through to their 70’s but cumulatively had lived out the gamut of human experiences. They’d seen it all from the heights of exhilaration to the lowest depths of pain.

My assignment was to take an hour to widen their world by showing pictures and talking about my recent trip to Israel. I and a friend came armed with souvenirs, Jewish artifacts and a CD of pictures from the Holy Land. I told them about the history, geography, diverse cultures and significance of Israel.

In my conversations with the men, before the class began, I saw a keen sense of both, regret over their lost years but also hope for their future. As my session began, I knew that my assignment with them was more than just being a geography teacher—I was there to encourage and to stimulate the men. But I wasn’t sure how my travel log would serve to fulfill the mandate I felt.

After studying a map for a few minutes and quickly overviewing Israel’s 4000 years of history. I led the men on a pictorial tour of the Holy Land. We started in Jerusalem, went south to Masada and the Dead Sea, and then turned north to the fertility of the Galilean region.

As we were traversing the barren hills of Judea, an applicable insight dawned on me. As I shared it, I could see many of the men’s’ eyes begin to light up.

About 3500 years ago a General, named Joshua, led the children of Israel across the Jordan River to the most lush and fertile land in all of the Middle East. Pomegranates and grape clusters so big it took two men to carry them. Olives, figs, dates and every other fruit imaginable proliferated. After the Israelites settled in the land, kings from hundreds of miles around fought and killed to take ownership of the verdant garden land. That was then.

But over the years of conflict and poor environmental management that followed Israel’s defeat, trees were cut, land was cleared, crops were uncared for, and as a result weather patterns and ecology dramatically changed. What was once a Garden of Eden became a vast, dry wasteland. Rocks and sand were the only produce of Palestine.

Since Israel returned as a nation in 1948, there has been a restoration of many miles of the land. I showed the men the millions of trees that have been replanted in what had become a desert. Weather patterns are once again changing. The barren wasteland is becoming a garden. Even around the Dead Sea, there is hope and promise of a living future.

That’s the story I told to these men. They listened intently as I described what could once again transpire in a life that has been too often misspent and abused. It was happening in the souls of those very men—new trees; the possibility of delicious and nourishing fruit was being planted. It would take some diligence (they’d already been working on it for several weeks before I came). But their dreams and hopes for the future are within the realm of possibility.

Not only my class of men caught a glimpse of hope that day. I felt encouraged and stimulated by their enthusiastic response!

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