The Words of the Seidl Family

4th Pilgrimage to Israel - Report

R. Seidl
January 2004

Hello everybody!

So, I was one of the lucky seven STF members chosen to go to Israel to support the providence there, which means the peace rally and all the other activities surrounding it. The first thing we did was arrive to a worm welcoming at the airport with flowers and "Israel loves you" stickers. I don not know why, but most people arrived late at night or early in the mornings every day, and we were no exception coming at 2 am. Most people would spend their first day or days in a nice relaxing way -- with sightseeing. Sightseeing was an important part of the adventure in Israel. Everyday some tours were organized -- to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jericho, Galilee, the Dead See, Nazareth, and various museums -- basically no time to get bored. One could spend a whole month there just going from sight to sight and visiting places that are mentioned in the Bible, like Jesus birthplace and the valley where David killed Goliath. The bible has a totally different meaning to you then.

Not only did everybody have a chance to gain a lot from sightseeing, but also to give something back to the people living there. For about three years, since the attacks started, Israel has had hardly any tourists, which hit some places hard, like Bethlehem where 70 to 80% of the population lives from tourism. There were vendors all over the place selling all sorts of things. Our member came with a lot of money to buy and through that boost Israel's economy.

Besides sightseeing everyone was encouraged to join in service for peace projects that were also going on every day, and many people used the opportunity so that there were always more volunteers for the specific projects than needed. STF was more engaged in service projects than sightseeing tours, and me personally, I don't regret it one bit. There was so much included in the service projects besides just working. Some of it would be sightseeing anyways and to top seeing interesting and famous stuff you had the chance to get a real insight of the country and its traditions by meeting, working together and sharing with the local people who helped out with the projects. And the projects were by no means just hard work, there was a big variety to choose from and a lot of them were fun, like decorating Bethlehem for Christmas or visiting schools and having a cultural exchange with the kids there -- singing, dancing, eating, or going to an orphanage to fix it up and play with the kids. Of course, there were also projects like establishing parks and playgrounds, cleaning up neighbor hoods and cemeteries, which also gave a better picture of their lives.

And then was the day of THE RALLY. We started off with a march in the morning on Mount Zion. I think that is the first time everyone got together who came to support the providence. Altogether we were quite a few people. And all the important ministers were there, saying prayers and giving speeches. We do have connections to a lot of VIPs now. After lunch the rally started. I have no clue how many people showed up, I just know that there were loads of people as far as I could see.

Anyhow, it was a good rally. It started off with an amazing band. Amazing because they created such a high spirit that lasted throughout the entire rally filled with speeches in English, Hebrew and Arabic by significant people and what really surprised me -- the coronation of Jesus!

The rally ended successfully with everyone getting a candle to pass on the light of peace while chanting "Peace -- Shalom -- Salaam Alaikum."

That evening was a nice banquet and Rev. Kwak came to talk to us.

Then the departures started, either back home or to our missions.

Thank you for all your prayers and hard work -- it paid off! And thank you for letting me be a part of it! "Life is a crossty cake!"

Another Participant

When I found out I would go to Israel, I was completely shocked but delighted at this opportunity, although I had no idea what to expect. Once we arrived it was weird and exciting, knowing we were in such a historically and religiously significant place -- the "holy land".

Amongst my best experiences were those spent in Jesus' birth town; Bethlehem. My first visit there was as a tourist -- we saw the church of Nativity and the spot where Jesus was born. At times during the tour, I was moved and at the same time, sad. Sad that Jesus had to be born in such humble circumstances and that he was never understood by anyone, even to this day.

Outside the church I saw the present day reality of Bethlehem. Street vendors (fundraisers just like us!) surrounded us, desperate for every dollar, yet humble and friendly. I felt sorry they basically had no income for the past 3 years due to the war and I was impressed by their perseverance, I guess because I understood how much self-denial it took to ask again and again. Seeing the refugee camp there also brought home the terrible consequences of the war.

Somehow I felt connected to Bethlehem so I had a strange desire to go back there.

The next day I returned, this time to do a service project -- decorating the town for Christmas. This was an unforgettable experience. Shopkeepers were opening their doors to us as we passed, saying "welcome to Bethlehem." It was really heart-warming and we felt like we could symbolically help& as if we could lay the first seeds of peace.

At the church of nativity, while others said Christmas prayers, I prayed for peace. I was beginning to feel the same desperation as the people there; fed up of all the pointless conflict and hoping that peace could soon become a reality. I prayed and hoped that the rally could be a starting point for really, substantially creating peace on this earth because I saw that on both sides there were good people longing for the fighting to end. Suddenly I became more serious because I saw these were real families and children fleeing, suffering and dying.

In another service project (at a school) I made friends with a 15 year old girl from Nazareth, who spontaneously asked for my address and invited me to her house. Of course I couldn't go, but I was touched by her kindness. Their attitude was just to serve us as guests, even though we had come with the intention of serving them!

That day I learnt a lot about breaking down barriers -- when you're humble enough to learn from others then all walls crumble and you find out that you're not so different after all.

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