Bethlehem wasn’t on our itinerary. It’s impossible to do everything in Israel. It might be a small nation, but it’s packed with possibilities. During my first trip to Israel, I had quite an adventure in Bethlehem. It’s a walled city that requires time-consuming procedures to enter, exit, and tour. I decided the time required wasn’t worth the benefits of the visit, especially with the additional options I could add to our itinerary if I removed it, so Bethlehem wasn’t on the schedule for the 2014 trip. Everyone who signed up for the trip knew we weren’t going to Bethlehem. However, one night, a couple women asked if they could fit it in.
We had no touring or serving scheduled for Shabbat. I encouraged everyone to soak in God’s presence and rest as He guided them. Understandably, many women wanted to pack in as much as they could while they were in Israel. We were close to Bethlehem, so some asked, “Can’t we fit it in on our free day?”
I explained the security issues, the necessity for a guide, and so on. I tried to encourage everyone to experience Israel in whatever ways they wanted and felt comfortable doing, but for a variety of reasons, I asked that no one go to Bethlehem on Shabbat. I like adventures, but it wasn’t worth the risk of small groups venturing outside Jerusalem, finding a guide who could tour in Bethlehem, and going through the security without having someone who spoke more than English. Everyone respected the decision, yet I felt there was a little tension about it.
Fast forward a few days, and I brought it up with a couple women I knew had been disappointed. I wanted to make sure they understood why I had said, “no.” They said, “It’s okay. We’re over it.” They assured me they wanted to ask in case it was possible but trusted my decision. They knew they couldn’t do everything in Israel; they knew there were choices to make.
With acceptance and submission often comes blessing.
Only a few hours later, our guide quietly asked me if I’d be interested in adding something to the end of that day: Bethlehem. I nearly laughed aloud, knowing only God would orchestrate such an abundant blessing for the two women who wanted so badly to visit Jesus’ birthplace. Apparently, our guide was certified to lead groups into Bethlehem (with several required arrangements), so he would stay with us. I asked him not to tell the group until later in the day so no one would get distracted.
I watched each of the two women for their reactions when he announced the addition to the itinerary. They were surprised by joy, overwhelmed with the blessing. So, we ventured to Bethlehem as the sun set.
As before, it was a chaotic place. It wasn’t the peaceful place we might imagine it to be. For many, it was unsettling. Yet another surprise. I was surprised, too. Surprised by the blessing of seeing Bethlehem by night, by talking to people I didn’t know and might not meet otherwise because they were “behind the wall,” by watching women process Bethlehem for the first time, and by taking time to reflect as we sat in the long security line to leave Bethlehem.
We can’t know surprises are coming, but we can certainly appreciate them when they come our way.