Writer and Photographer: Siosiana Taumoepeau
For Christians, Israel is the bedrock of our faith. From the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River, the land of Israel makes the Bible come to life..
Last summer, I was given the opportunity to visit Israel with several classmates with a program called the Bonhoeffer Fellowship through the club Christians United for Israel at Biola. Our group consisted of 25 students seeking this chance to strengthen their character, faith, and voice by studying the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a man of God who put his faith to action, the theme of the scholarship and fellowship program. I decided to join this fellowship because I wanted to witness what God had done in Israel, and continues to do. I also wanted to be better equipped in putting my faith to action by speaking out and fighting for truth. The most impactful part of my trip to Israel as a Bonhoeffer Fellow was the Sea of Galilee. We stayed in a kibbutz, which is a communal settlement in Israel, typically a farm. I lived everyday life alongside other members of the community. In this area, there were many people who lived lives on the same land in similar mannerisms as Jesus and the disciples. They were fishermen and farmers living off the land. They studied the law and some Scripture. They ate similar Jewish foods and practiced the same traditions and customs like the sabbath.
On my first night in Israel, I shared a devotional about what it means to follow Jesus. As a Gen Z member, I know all about influencers and following the trends. Just as influencers ask others to follow them and subscribe to their content, Jesus asked the disciples to follow Him and His teachings. In today’s culture, it may seem odd to obey commandments written millennia ago but we imitate celebrities in the same way today. We need to shift our mindset to following one who will truly be there for us and give us what we need.
On my first morning in Israel, I was swimming in the Sea of Galilee pondering on what it truly looks like to follow Jesus. As a child, I learned about Jesus through Bible stories. Often, when I taught these stories from the Bible, I watered them down. But when I was there with the people, the stories I had grown to love came to life in front of me. I began to humanize Jesus and the people He led in His ministry. I related more to the stories and how it related to my life. I was not too different from Jesus’ disciples. Jesus had called me, too, to follow Him.
Throughout my trip, the biblical sites started to give greater weight to each biblical event that crossed my mind. This beautiful love story between God and Israel is a story that includes me — and the rest of the world. The history is so rich and the future for Israel so exciting because God orchestrates it all! From Abraham making a covenant with the Lord to David the King and Jesus the Messiah, all of this led to Jesus coming to die for my sins and save me.
As I was reading through Scripture, I found myself thinking about the disciples and their lives before and after meeting Jesus. My Savior Jesus walked here. Matthew 4:18-22 records Jesus asking the disciples to follow Him. Once they decided to do so, they became fishers of men. As Jesus called me, I also became a fisher of men! I am to create disciples in my life and share the good news of Jesus with all I encounter! They immediately left their nets and followed Him. Sometimes it can be hard to drop your life before Jesus. But it is amazing to see how Jesus loves us and offers us eternal life, something better than anything of this world. Matthew 14:22-33 also struck my attention at the Sea of Galilee. I was reminded, as Peter was in this story, to keep my eyes on Jesus no matter how great the storm! Jesus has His hand out and I continue to walk towards Him in all He calls me to do.
Although God used the Jewish people to bring the Savior, God graciously saved all people. In Romans 11:11-31, it says Gentiles are grafted into God’s promise to the Jewish people through Abraham. Israel is the land of the Jews, but it also figures prominently in the Christian faith. The Scriptures we memorize and engrave on our hearts unfolded in Israel! It is a blessed land that we should care for and seek to protect as God commanded.
Although we know the biblical stories of what happened in Israel, the conversation usually ends there. When I arrived home and began to tell people about my experience, I found many people asking, “How does this connect to me?” I myself found Israel so interesting when first researching the history, but defending Israel didn’t come naturally. But, I told them, Israel is important to us in its history, present state, and future because of God! We in the West may not be connected physically, but it is relevant to us spiritually.
When leaving the Sea of Galilee, I was thankful to see who God was and is — today and forevermore. Mark 4:39 records Jesus rebuking the wind and commanding the sea, “Peace; be still!” Jesus is real, and what He is doing in my life is real as well. He is faithful, loving, and personal. The promises He has made since the beginning have and will continue to be fulfilled. He loved me enough to send His Son so we can be together in eternity. My visit to Israel deepened my faith and relationship with Jesus. I am utterly thankful for my salvation, and I have a greater appreciation for Israel.
It has truly been a blessing to walk where Jesus walked, swim where He sailed, worship where Jesus spent most of His ministry, and learn about where He called His disciples. He has stirred my heart to follow Jesus in all I do and share the importance of protecting and loving Israel and the Jewish people. God is faithful and called all of us to follow Him for a great purpose. As you learn more about Israel and what God has done through the Jewish people, you will see. My eyes have been opened to how I, a French Polynesian girl from Texas, am connected to the Promised Land of Israel.