Saturday, December 14, 2013

19 Days and Counting

In 1996 I began to write novels set in the Holy Land. At first, these stories were simply a way for me to help myself better understand the Bible narrative; by putting myself in the position of various people in the Bible, I was forced to examine more closely the original context of the scriptures rather than blindly accepting modern translations and interpretations. In order to grasp the nuances and complexities of the cultures in which the stories were set, I plunged into primary and secondary historical resources such as Josephus. I learned much. However, there was one glaring void in my knowledge, and that was first-hand experience of the geography that gave birth to these cultures. Write what you know, the adage goes, but all of my knowledge was second-hand.
Thank you, Google maps!

Using modern technology, I was able to visit Israel, Jordan, and Egypt “virtually.” I flew from the Nile delta to the Jordan River using Google Earth, and spent hundreds of hours poring over aerial maps, video travelogues, and photos. These resources allowed me to describe locations, but only visually. For sensory details, I still had to rely on the reports of others. What I needed was to travel to these lands myself, but with my limited income this dream became a “bucket list” item and was set aside time and again. Next year in Jerusalem, I whispered each spring, along with millions of Jews worldwide.

In 2008, I shared some of my writing with a few close friends, and their response surprised me. I had grown to understand the gospels better as I researched the cultural context in which Jesus delivered his message; now my friends declared that they, too, had been drawn to a deeper relationship with Christ and his word as they came to know his culture through my novels. Encouraged by this response, I began to publish the stories, and I have received similar feedback from many people worldwide. With greater influence, however, comes greater responsibility; I might be lax in my accuracy when writing for myself, but I do not want to pass my errors along to others.

During my studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, I have gained additional understanding that has helped me keep my writing both historically and spiritually accurate. To visit the Holy Land as part of an Asbury team, rather than with a general tour group, will add a dimension to the experience that I cannot begin to imagine. What are my expectations? Everyone I know who has taken a trip of this sort has told me that the event was pivotal in their spiritual life. I expect God to use this journey to change me in some way, though what that way may be, I dare not even guess.

What questions do I have? Not many, if by questions I limit myself to facts and figures. I’ve watched so many programs based on other people’s tours of this region that I can quote numerous “authorities” regarding the history and geography of the Holy Land. The questions that I bring are purely subjective, intensely personal, and some can never be answered because the distance between me and the land I so long to visit cannot be measured in miles only, but also in years. What did it feel like, to walk these roads? That is the question foremost in my mind. Until time travel becomes commonplace enough that someone like me can afford it, however, I will have to settle for What does it feel like, to walk these roads? This question, at least, I hope finally to answer for myself in a few weeks.

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