We're ex-Poms, Kiwis by adoption. But English habits carry over. Like sticking out a little finger when we slurp a cuppa. Using the phrase 'I say, actually!' Or writing a bread-and-butter thank-you letter after staying in someone's home. And in our case, that someone is Someone. God. And the home is Israel. More specifically: Jerusalem. We came with no guarantees of safety, all we knew was there would be trouble ahead and not to be surprised. And now, after 100 hours between waking on our last day in Jerusalem and off to sleep in New Zealand with only one night's sleep during that time, we're back! So, like the good Brits we used to be, here goes with our thank-you letter:
Wow! Thank You for having us as guests in Your city. Right slap-bang in the centre of world history, diplomatic doubletalk, and more excitement than on cable tv.
(Okay, that's the intro. Now we'll be specific. List a few things that've been important to us. Good things, other things.)
First: You've taught us heaps about little old us. We'd set up a cruisy lifestyle in distant NZ. Big house, a lump of land, no visible neighbours, animals we were on first-name terms with. Nice. And You get all the credit for that...
Then, God, you sent us here. One tiny room. City and institutional clamour. Middle East languages and manners. (Manners!) So what did You want us to learn?
Answer: to learn about ourselves. It's been an eyeopener.
(Let's pause the thank-you letter right there. Somebody, betcha it was Paul, once said 'Let no-one think more highly of themselves than they ought'. Ha! Sounds cute, until God gets in on the act. Then Mr. and Mrs. Nice Guy - us - descend a little closer to reality. Do our servant thing through gritted teeth. Wish we were fluent in Hebrew and Arabic to mingle our voices with the screamin', shoutin' and plate-throwin' throng around us.)
God - You wanted us to know that our sweet, simpering, saccharine smiles were simply short-term muscle spasms. After that, we reverted to being human. But You never allowed us the luxury of turning tail and flying home early, did You!
So we had to find out if there is any truth in the advice You gave to one of your hyperactive problem kids: 'My grace is sufficient for you.'
Phew - there is, and it is!
We stopped getting by on personality. We admitted to You we'd had it up to here. And then we found (sorry if it sounds glib) we'd just enough faith for the current moment, the current incident. Which is how we've lasted until now.
And, er, thank-You God for each other. We've always been an enthusiastic advocate of marriage. It's one of Your more fantastic creations. Plus we've always actively liked each other. Which has made most of the past half-century whizz by. But here in the cramped confines of room 612, with no space to swing a kitten, and no distant paddocks to escape to like back home - would you believe that life together has consistently been fun. And the woman Thou gavest me (George writing this bit) is still nice to be with. Thanks again!
Then there's all the turnaround in our theology. Okay, we're never aggressively evangelical, even back in NZ. We prefer to tell people what You're up to, then leave the hard work to Your Holy Spirit. Plus, here, our organisation puts folk on the next plane out if they try to convert locals to the Christian religion. But over the past months, we've seen - like, really seen - that the Jews are Your people. And have been for about 3,500 years. And will continue that way until sun, moon, stars and sea terminate their contract with You.
God - thanks for chipping away at our somewhat patronising attitude to the Jews. They're our older brother, we're the scruffy Johnny-come-lately. And they've got a whole heap to teach us.
And we need to say a heartfelt thanks for our going back to the Christian country of New Zealand.
There! We never thought we'd ever call NZ a Christian country. Pagan, yes, with the on-going Maori magic and ancestor worship that it's not politically correct to mention. Agnostic, yes, with its compulsive materialism and public refusal to talk about You. So why 'Christian' New Zealand?
Simply because the gospel, the Sermon on the Mount, the influence of truly born-again ordinary folk has modified the way people down under live and behave.
Caring for others, friendliness, the expectations of honesty and truthfulness are a norm in Kiwiland. Okay, God, they're a norm that isn't always achieved. But it's still the acknowledged norm.
Unlike - dare we even think it? - the Middle Eastern way. Look, God, we've just heard that Prime Minister Sharon wants manners and courtesy taught in Israeli schools. Great - but a quick re-spray doesn't fix a blown engine. Didn't Someone once say something about a need to be born again? (So it'll be nice to be back home for a while.)
It's been a privilege to work and live among Orthodox Jews. Perhaps our lack of linguistic skills has helped us listen rather than argue.
And we're excited to find a change of attitude toward your Son, Jesus. Why, God? Is it a reaction to Arafat trying to label the Lord as 'our Palestinian messiah'?
Is it because fewer Christians are promoting their denominational styles of worship, and accept that Jesus taught the Jews who believed in him to continue obeying the Torah?
Or is the return of the Messiah closer than ever before?
(Now, how do we close a thank-you letter to God? Polite phrases aren't safe with Someone who knows us like He does?)
And, God, thanks for looking after us right up to this moment. Bombs and rocks and stuff just make great tales to impress our grandkids. There was nothing we could do about them, except what all sensible visitors do - avoid the standard hotspots. So it was over to You from day one.
But the crazy traffic, the weird food, the sheer foreignness of a foreign country had us worried. Yet we're still alive. And if You say so, we'll be back.
Then there's the city itself. Herself, according to the Bible. The novelty of Jerusalem wore off months ago; the wonder of the place has continued to grow.
It's special to feel at home in Your home. Helping a people who - because of You, God - have been the object of immeasurable hatred, slander and violence. A people who have lovingly and reverently preserved the Hebrew scriptures for themselves and the Gentiles.
A people who are going to take their prophesied place as spokesmen for the Living God.
You've given us the richest, most exhausting year we've ever known. We've grumbled and praised, chuckled and sobbed, made friends who will remain friends in eternity. Worked our little butts off, walked the corridors of the old folks' home until our feet hurt, visited all the tourist sights and a few places the tourists never go.
God - You've answered whole swags of our questions. And though we've known the Bible since we were so high, You've clicked it into sharper focus than ever before.
Just one question remains unanswered as we unpack our suitcases.
Why, God, don't all Christians go and visit Jerusalem?
Yours sincerely - with love,
George and Eileen.
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