An incredible adventure comes to a close…

El Amal school camp group pic


This is a guest post from JMU student Anna Hornberger.  We are leaving at 5am tomorrow morning so thanks for going on this adventure with us.  It’s all real and it’s all true.


Marhaba! (That’s “hello” in Arabic). As this is our final day of Young Life camp, our hearts are full of love, our minds are full of biblical knowledge, and our stomachs are full of pita.

Two days ago, we said goodbye to our Capernaum friends, and almost immediately welcomed a new Young Life camp from El-Amal (meaning “Hope”), a Palestinian school for grades 7-12. Honestly, we had so much love for our previous group that I wasn’t sure how we would have space in our hearts (not to mention energy) to love 50+ new kids! Thankfully, our love is not our own, but rooted in Jesus. As the day progressed, local leaders from Zababdeh came to lead the campers, and together we welcomed them with open arms. Our new campers spent the day relaxing by the pool, and later were ushered into club to hear a wonderful talk by our own Matt Craig (translated by Hiba, a Zababdeh leader). We finished off the day with an obstacle course, which naturally ended with everyone getting pelted by water balloons mixed with flour (which, by the way, is still not out of my hair).

Yesterday, our JMU group ended our tour where it all began — the Shepherd’s Field and Church of the Nativity (traditional place of Jesus’ birth)—both in Bethlehem. Here, we learned that God chose to share the good news of Christ’s birth first to some of the most despised and lowly people in society — shepherds. We also learned that Jesus’ genealogy included people from different ethnicities, genders, occupations, and societal status — many of whom were outsiders. The point? God’s kingdom is for EVERYONE. All are welcome — from the lowly shepherd, to the prostitute, to the king. God’s kingdom is for the disabled, for the angsty teenagers, and it’s for you, too.

It has been so incredible to learn more about Jesus and how we can glorify Him in all things that we do, wherever we are. I’ll speak for all of us in saying that it’s bittersweet to be leaving the Holy Land, but we’re looking forward to sharing all we’ve learned about God’s love (and half-learned Arabic pop song lyrics) with our loved ones.

“…to the ends of the earth.”  Micah 5:4



Special needs? More like special gifts!

Hiba sharing the good news at Capernaum club. (notice Taryn with Doha in the front row on the right)

This is a guest post by James Madison University student Rayah Martin.  And the next to last post of our trip.  We have 2 days left.

This week we had the privilege of working and serving at a Capernaum Camp! I am a Capernaum leader in the states, so you can imagine how excited I was. Day 1 was filled with joy and laughter as we welcomed campers into the Murad Hotel where camp would take place. The day consisted of field games, pool time, meal times together, and club. The joy and freedom of these friends with disabilities was a true testament to the joy and freedom that Christ offers us when we walk alongside him. Our team served many different roles throughout the day, but our biggest goal as a team was to love the campers well – sometimes physically helping campers who were blind get from A to B, sometimes just dancing with a camper during club.

A highlight from Day 1 was getting to watch a camper named Mira steal the show at club as she danced up front during every game, every song, and even helped translate the club talk. She was hilarious and fun to be around, and she also reminded me of how fun life can be if we don’t take ourselves too seriously. She challenged me to live freely and authentically and be the woman that Christ has created me to be.

Day 2 of Capernaum Camp was equally as crazy as we got to start the day off with club, have lots more pool time, more meals, and a second club, PLUS a late night dance party! Our speaker, Hiba, gave the club talks in Arabic. It was emotional for me as I realized that the God that I pray to and follow is a God of all nations and all languages. Hiba was telling our Capernaum friends the same stories about Jesus in a totally different language – how great is our God that he is a God of all people! For people with disabilities and for people without special needs, for people who speak English and people who speak Arabic! Another highlight of Day 2 was watching my friend Taryn (part of the JMU team) lovingly care for a little girl with Down Syndrome as we swam in the pool, her name was Doha. Doha wanted to swim the entire 4 hours of free time but she couldn’t on her own, so Taryn held on to her and played with her through the whole afternoon (even sometimes getting slapped in the face). It was an incredible picture of Jesus’ patience and selflessness! Shout out to Taryn. (you can see her in the front row holding Doha in her lap in the picture above)

These past few days working with high schoolers with disabilities was powerful because in this part of the world, people with special needs are often especially forgotten. Many of these kids have been rejected by both of their parents and currently live in a group home. So having the opportunity to share God’s love with them was so beautiful. Thank you all for continuing to pray through our last few days here in Palestine. We are thankful and grateful!


Up to Jerusalem!

Picture from inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Note: grave was still empty!)

This is a guest post by JMU student Alex Gerkin:

Our adventure continues in the Holy Land. We began Day 7 at the Mount of Temptation. As we stood on the mountain side where Satan tempted Jesus and attacked Jesus’s identity we challenged ourselves to look inward at our high risk places. Asking ourselves where are the high risk areas in our lives where we don’t allow God to reign above all else? Then we traveled onward to En Gedi, a place where Saul, a prideful ruler, collided with David, a ruler who is considered more broken and flawed in worldly standards, but is called a man after God’s own heart. As we stood in a cave, one just as Saul and David had, asking ourselves what kind of leader will we be in this world? Will I be a broken or a proud leader? Our journey continued at Masada, one of Herod’s fortresses that had been seized by the Jewish rebels, but then recaptured by the Romans. We ended our day with camel rides through the Judean desert, in awe of the vast desert and the love our God has for each of us.

Day 8 began with our exploration of the city of Jerusalem. We visited the Western Wall. Then we went to Caiaphas’s house, the high priest during Jesus’s time. As we sat in a place Jesus had possibly been held as a prisoner before his crucifixion and near where one of his best friends would deny him, we were reminded that our God has experienced loneliness and suffering, not because he was forced, but because he loves us so deeply. We were purchased at a cost, Jesus went forward as a volunteer, not a victim. Our final stop of the day was the Garden Tomb, a site that is believed to possibly be Jesus’ tomb. We found refuge in knowing that even if the exact tomb location is disputed, He did not stay in a tomb. As the angels asked the women at the tomb, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”

The next day we continued throughout Jerusalem. We went to the Mount of Olives, then walked down to to the Garden of Gethsemane; the place the war was truly won. Jesus pressed on, crying out to the Father, “not my will, but yours, will be done.” This is a crucial point for you and for me. Sin entered the world in a garden, but brokenness, suffering, and pain was conquered in this garden. We continued to follow in Jesus’s footsteps leading up to his death as we visited the Upper Room, Tomb of David, and Antonia Fortress. Here Jesus ate his last meal with his best friends and disciples and was sent to Pilate’s judgement hall. We ended our day at the Pool of Bethesda, a pool that had been believed to have healing powers. Jesus asked a paralyzed man who had been waiting to be healed by the pool for 38 years, do you want to get well? And as I look back on these last 3 days of our tour in the Holy Land, as I have gotten to follow so closely the footsteps of Jesus, I too ask myself: Do I want to get well? I so deeply believe that following Jesus is the way to life. The only way.


40 Days in the Desert (OK jk just 1!)

                      This was Fergie the camel that helped us get through hump day.

This is from a rising junior at JMU Katie “KT” Taylor:

The last few days here have held more adventure than my mind or heart can fathom! We swam (floated) in the Dead Sea, rode Jeeps around the Judean Desert, rode camels around the Judean Wilderness, got baptized in The Jordan River, and have continued to learn more about the heart and history of our sweet Jesus.

We saw Jacob’s Well, where a Samaritan woman encountered Jesus in her striving and thirsting for satisfaction. We saw Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found because of the people’s commitment to write, learn, and memorize scripture. We saw the Mount of Temptation where the devil tried to pierce right at Jesus’s identity and authority. We saw En Gedi where we learned that David was a man after God’s own heart. Finally, we saw Masada, a place that reminded us of the truth that living is Christ, and dying is gain.

The theme that stood out to me throughout these locations is that memorizing scripture is vital. Whether it is thirsting for satisfaction from the world, having your identity being probed at, being tempted by the devil, or anything in between – Scripture needs to be the leather that covers our whole being, and that comes to mind in every response or situation. We learned this from Jesus who responded to the devil with Scripture every time. If we don’t know the scriptures deep down in our hearts, how will we respond and defend our faith when our identity is being questioned and attacked? In the same way, if scripture is our armor, who can win the battle against us? No one. We are pondering how committed to the scripture we are, and whether or not we are letting it sink deep down in our hearts, versus twisting the words to read what we want. How freeing the Truth is. Again, it is all real and it is all true!


Holy Land Hospitality at its Best

This is the crew after painting 400+ yards of curbs. Notice the kind policeman in the middle.

This is a guest post by rising JMU senior and expert fisherman Nick Secrist:

Day 4 we woke up for our last full day in Nazareth, and it did not disappoint. At our first stop, Sepphoris, we learned that Jesus worked alongside his father and as a young man, probably started to develop his love for the world. Next we visited Nazareth Baptist school, where we have one of our best Young Life chapters. During recess, we got the chance to play volleyball, basketball, and hang out with the students. If Jesus was alive today, I believe we would find him doing something very similar – playing games and enjoying life with the people that he loves so much. Even amongst the many cultural and language barriers, the gospel is never suppressed. We left the school and headed to the Church of Annunciation, the traditional site that the angel Gabriel visited Mary. Then, to Nazareth village, a re-creation of old time Nazareth, which gave us a better understanding of what a day in the life of Jesus would’ve been like. Next, we went to the spot of Jesus’ first miracle, Cana, where He turned water into wine. We were reminded that Jesus’ love and power is abundant and shatters expectations. We ended our day on Mount Precipice, a majestic view overlooking the Holy Land.

An early start to day five led us to Tel Dan. At Caesarea Philippi on Mount Hermon, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Pete prompted us to answer that very question for ourselves our answer to that question is the most important thing about us. It will determine everything else. At our last site of the day we visited Gideon’s Spring and asked ourselves, “Are we attempting leaps of faith that are so big that we will fail apart from God?”

After the sites, we were off to Zababdeh, a village in Palestine where we met up with our friend Yousef, Area Director of Young Life in Palestine, and his team of leaders to paint the curbs of the city. As the mayor and the local police shut down the roads for our safety, we were once again reminded that the gospel brings people together, regardless of their many differences. Local families welcomed us into their homes for the night. While sitting on the roof, surrounded by my old and new friends, I realized that our Young Life community and the even bigger community of Christ followers is not defined by the countries that we live in or the languages we speak. These two days showed us that the Lord can break down any and all barriers. Day by day, the Holy Land continues to remind us that it’s all real and it’s all true.