Lost and found in the Holy Land
A Testimony of Bro. Rich Carrier
In 1994, I went on a trip to Israel that changed my entire life. Initially, I went there for purely secular reasons from the vantage point of seeing an exotic place, not at all with the intention of seeking God. My cousin and his wife were Christians and I ended going with them and other members of Living Word Church. I made it clear to my cousin that I wasn't there for religious purposes. And as far as I was concerned, I really didn't want to hear anything about Jesus. I wasn't looking for the Lord, but I now realize… He was looking for me. Below are the details concerning what occurred.
China, Japan, or… Israel?
In 1994, I was planning to travel to China in the hopes of seeing an exotic place. I had met a girl in France who lived in Taiwan, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to visit her and be able to see the country with a native speaker. My mother of course, was very nervous about me going to a place as dangerous as China by myself. Needless to say, I continued ahead with my plans, obtained my new passport, and had the money saved up in the bank ready to go. At this point, I was simply waiting for this girl to tell me when it would be a good time to come and visit her.
I waited and waited and finally received a letter from her in the mail. She said that she had just taken a job with the airlines as a stewardess and was seldom home now. She extended the invitation to still come to China if I wanted to and that I could stay with her parents in Taiwan. I thought, "There's no way I am going to stay with people I don't know!"
So, I decided that since I wanted to see some place exotic, I would drop a line to my friend from Japan (who I also had met in France), and see if it would be a good time to come and visit him. However, even before I was able to get a letter off to him, he sent me a letter from Nepal stating that his job had taken him there and that he would be there for the next 2-3 years. He extended the offer to come and visit him in Nepal. I said to myself, "Nepal? Where the heck is that?" So, I pulled out my world map to find that it was that small country above India. Immediately, I shot down this idea as well. I had no interest in going there!
So, I was stuck. Here I was with passport in hand, money in the bank, but with no place to go. Around the same time that all of this was occurring and I was pondering where I should go, my mother came home one day from her hairdresser's appointment very excited.
She said, "Guess what? I just came back from the hairdresser and she told me that she was going to Israel with the Living Word Church!" (I was familiar with this church since my 'crazy' Born Again cousin and his wife attended there. Evidently, this hairdresser was Born Again also.) So, I said, "So what? What do I care about that?" She replied, "So, we were talking and I told her how you like to travel and she said you didn't have to be a member of the church to be on the trip and that there were still openings if you wanted to go!"
(At this point, I was stunned; I couldn't believe my mother was suggesting this. This just wasn't my mother talking here! My mother! The woman who was afraid to have me be anywhere by myself, was suggesting I go to Israel!) I asked, "Ma, I don't get it – just the other day you were scared to death of the idea of me going to China by myself, because you said it was too dangerous over there. Now, you're suggesting I go to Israel?! I mean, Israel… How is that different than going to China? She answered, "It's different because you wouldn't be alone. You'd be traveling in a group of about 250 people, and besides that, your cousin Tom and Desirèe (his wife) are going to be on the trip also, so you'd be with them!"
(I still couldn't believe my ears! But the idea started to sound good – Israel, huh? That's kind of exotic! Hmmm….) But then, the thought popped into my head about being with a bunch of 'Born Agains' (as my mother and I used to call them). I quickly dismissed the idea and said, "Aw mom, if I go with them, they're going to talk about 'Jesus' the whole time! I don't wanna hear that." She said, "I know, but why don't you go anyways and just be respectful?" So, I decided to go – purely from the vantage point of seeing an exotic place, not at all with the intention of seeking God.
The Sea of Galilee
We went to the Sea of Galilee and stayed in a kibbutz there. We were going to be taking a boat tour the next day. I was sharing a room with an older man from the church named Phil who didn't have a roommate. Early the next morning, I heard him crying and thanking God. (He was trying to be quiet so as not to wake me up, but I was already awake.) After we got up, he said in a jovial way, "Good morning, Richard – I hope I didn't wake you up this morning; the Lord woke me up to talk with me – He does that sometimes."
I thought to myself, "Oh brother, here we go!" So, I replied in a sarcastic way, "Really? So tell me, what did 'The Lord' have to say?" He picked up on my sarcasm and laughed and said, "Well, He doesn't speak in words, He speaks in your heart." So, I replied, "Ok… so what happened?" He answered, "Well, the Lord told me that when we go out on the boat today, He's going to reveal Himself to us, He's going to make His presence known to us." I asked, "How's He going to do that?" He smiled and said, "I don't know…but we'll find out when we get there!" And then he left the room, singing to himself.
Immediately, I thought, "This old man is nuts! He's really out there! If he's just saying this to try to get me to join his church, or something, he's really gone too far! If he's lying, he's…" But then I thought, "If he's lying, he has nothing to gain by this… If he's telling me the truth…And what does he mean, 'The Lord is going to make His presence known to us?' Who's 'US?' Am I included in that? Am I going to see this, too?"
My thoughts began to bother me as I went from insisting that he was lying to now wondering if he was telling me the truth and whether or not I would see it. I began to be troubled thinking that maybe only those people from his church might see this, and that I would be left out because I wasn't like them. I said within myself, "If this is going to happen, I want to know! I don't want to be left out!" (Hallelujah! Jesus is so good, He didn't leave me out!)
As the group was entering the boat, I began to look around wildly, trying to find any indication of the Lord making his presence known to us, as I didn't want to miss anything that might happen. The clouds were as dark gray as any I'd ever seen, and it was evident that it was going to storm in a big way momentarily. The wind picked up considerably and the waves were very choppy. Meanwhile, the tour guides were contemplating on canceling the tour because of the weather conditions. Nevertheless, we got on the boat. Instantly, as the boat began to move, the clouds 'rolled' back and the sun came out and was shining only on our boat and nowhere else! The wind dramatically just stopped altogether and the waves subsided. I noticed that there were two seagulls, one on each side of the boat just hovering alongside the boat, but not actually flying by. By now, every single church person that I could see was singing, worshipping, crying, and being filled with the Holy Spirit. At this point, I felt an indescribable peace as I looked out and realized that the Lord was making His presence known to all of the people, just like Phil said. Then, I got another feeling of peace…as though I could tell that the Lord was not only happy that those people were there, but that He was happy that I was there, too! The Lord not only made His presence known to everyone, but He didn't leave me out! I experienced His presence, too!
The Israeli tour guides had no idea what to make of the strange weather change and the church worshipping in the Spirit. As soon as the tour ended, the clouds went back over the sun again. Everyone agreed that this was quite unusual, enough to the point where several people commented on it. Although it was evident to me that this was no ordinary weather occurrence, I kept the matter quiet thinking it could've been coincidence.
The Shalom Jerusalem Hotel
On December 4th, we had entered into Jerusalem. On the way there, some other events transpired where other people were telling the group what the Lord was doing in their lives during this trip. It was quite moving and at one point, as one lady shared what was going on with her, she broke down and began to sob as she was recounting what happened. The whole bus was crying with her, and I myself could not hold back tears at hearing her story.
Late that night in the Shalom Jerusalem Hotel, Phil and I began to talk about the events of the trip, how the Lord saved and healed Phil, and many other subjects. Ironically, I did most of the talking and for some reason, began to lay out my life to Phil. I found myself opening up and telling him many personal things that were on my mind. In doing so, I began to realize how empty and lonely my life really was. I saw what kind of person I was, and I didn't like it. No matter what I said to him, he always seemed to have an answer leading back to Jesus Christ and the need for me to repent of my sins and to turn my life over to Jesus to be saved. The conviction of the Holy Spirit was very strong on my heart, but I did everything I could to resist and find an excuse as to why I should not get saved. All of my excuses seemed to crumble with Phil's answers. He asked me if I believed that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead, and I said that I did. He asked me if I believed that I was a sinner- (that was a no-brainer!) I said, "Oh yea!" No question about that. He asked if I believed that Jesus was going to come again, and I said that I did.
It was now around 2:00 am, and I finally decided I was tired, and couldn't stand any more of the conviction I was feeling. So, I said, "Well, why don't you pray for me… maybe someday I'll find the Lord." He said, "I'll pray for you, but you need to pray as well." I responded (hoping it would end the conversation), "Yea right, I'll pray." Phil beamed and said, "Good, how about we pray right now?" I responded, "What? You mean NOW?? Pray right here, NOW?" He laughed and said, "Sure, this is as good a place as any!" So, I said, "Alright." We knelt down together at the foot of the bed and he told me to ask Jesus to be my Lord, my Master, and my Friend. When I said the word, "Friend", the conviction on my heart was more than I could bear. I completely broke down and began to sob. Phil began to sob also, and he put his arm around my shoulder and we both wept together.
In the midst of crying, I said to him, "I know why I am crying, but why are you crying? He said, "Because the Bible says that when one sinner repents, the angels in heaven rejoice. Now, I can truly call you my 'brother'." We cried some more and he told me that I was now saved and born again. I didn't understand and I said, "I don't feel any different." He assured me that if I walked with the Lord, in time I would see changes in my life.
The next morning, my cousin and his wife heard the news and were very excited. I was happy, but I didn't understand the whole thing and had many questions. My cousin instructed me and explained many things. As many people asked me about how I got saved, I was still reeling with all of this. At one point, I prayed silently and said, "Lord, I don't understand all of this. I didn't come here to Israel to look for You. But, I believe you showed me what You showed me at the Sea of Galilee, I believe that was from You. Now, everyone's telling me that I am born again and that I'm 'saved', I don't understand this. Lord, if this is really You, would You show me one more thing that I cannot deny is from You? All these other things could seem like coincidences or 'feelings of the moment', I need something that I know without a doubt, is from You."
(Little did I know how the Lord would answer that prayer in a mighty way that would change my entire life!)
(At that time, I didn't know that the Bible says, "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord." - Jeremiah 29:13-14) The Lord heard me, and He let me find Him!
The Garden of Gethsemane
On December 7th, we went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus Christ was arrested and betrayed by Judas Iscariot. Our tour guide, a Jewish woman, began to tell us what happened to Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane. I was amazed that in all my years as a Catholic, I never remembered hearing about this. She told us that she wasn't going to tell us what we wanted to hear because of our beliefs, but that she was going to tell us the truth. She said, "We here in Israel know that THIS is the Garden of Gethsemane. We know because it is in the exact location where the Bible describes it. You know, mountains and valleys don't change much. We also know that this is the place where Jesus was because the olive trees in this garden have been carbon dated. They date back to 2,000 years old and some are as much as 3,000 years old." She then began to explain how it was not at all uncommon that olive trees in that part of the world should live that long. I was completely dumbfounded when she said this. I quickly asked her how this could be so, since she had made it a point throughout the tour to constantly tell us how Jerusalem's history was one where an enemy would come in, cut the trees down, burn the city, and then build over the top of it, and then the next enemy would come and do the same thing. Over and over, she kept emphasizing this point, so now, how was it possible that these trees never got destroyed? She said, "I don't know, I guess it must be a miracle in and of itself."
I don't know why, but I felt compelled to go over and touch one of these trees. The area was fenced off, but there was one tree off to the side. I got my hand through the first fence and the tip of my finger through the second one. As I touched the bark, I closed my eyes, and for the first time, the Holy Spirit actually spoke in my heart and the message was crystal clear and unmistakable. He said to me, "I was here when Jesus was here. And He was in this garden. He suffered in agony, He sweat drops of blood on the rocks, He was alone, He was afraid, and He gave up everything that He knew. And then He died… and He did that for you."
I was so humbled by this message, I didn't know how to respond. I said, "Lord, you did that for me? I…I don't deserve this, I don't go to church, I don't pray… I'm not worthy of this!" I searched for something that I could say that I had done, and found nothing. At this point, words failed me and I began to cry as I was overcome with emotion. Someone told my cousin that I was getting touched by the Lord, so he came over to pray with me. I told him everything that happened as I cried. Just as I got up, I turned around. I didn't realize it but the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem's temple walls was right in front of me on the hill side. (Our tour guide had been explaining the importance of the Eastern Gate and how the Bible says that Messiah would come through that gate with all the saints of heaven at the end of the world.) When I saw this gate, I knew in my spirit that if I did the Lord's will, I would go through that gate with Him. I said to my cousin, "Look! It's the Eastern Gate! And we're going to be there someday!" Then I cried all over again.
It was a moment in my life that I will always cherish and never forget. My life has never been the same since then. All the questions about whether or not God existed were now gone. All the wondering about who God truly was if He did exist, were gone. The Lord Jesus Christ revealed to me through these events that He is God and that He wanted me to serve Him all the days of my life. And by His grace, Lord willing, this shall I do!
To the reader: If you have never repented of your sins and committed your life to Jesus Christ, I urge you to do so. John 3:3 says that you must be born again to enter into heaven. This means to be born of God's Spirit and to leave the old way of living behind to become a new creation in Christ. Seek Him today, He promises that He will let you find Him!