Faith in the Desert

August 2, 2016  •   Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

For Sunday, August 7, 2016, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

View of the Judean Desert

The situation seemed impossible! It had started out as a morning excursion to a nearby site, The Springs, in the Judean Desert. Since we had an average temperature of over 100 degrees for the last two months, The Springs drew us with visions of “cool, clear, water.” Little did we realize the road, then the trail, then the rocky inclines and declines would leave us sitting in a dried up wadi under a thorny skeleton of an acacia tree. Ahead of us was an incline. Behind us lay an even steeper decline. The one ahead had a forty-five degree curve about one third of the way up. Jim tried it. The engine roared. He tried it again and again and again and spun out every time. I prayed to El Shaddai, the Hebrew God of mountains and wind. I stretched out my arms as Moses did for victory in the time of battle. I sang aloud so El Shaddai would hear me. I pleaded with Abraham who had walked in this Israeli desert. Nothing. Nothing but the wind. My mind reminded me of the gentle breeze that spoke to Elijah in one of the caves surrounding this same desert. Nothing. I asked God to send at least two angels to help us. Nothing. We started walking. It was 1:30 PM, the hottest part of the day. Avoiding the road that had not a single tree offering shade, we trekked down the wadi conserving our water and resting often in the scattered shade of dried out trees.

Somehow, my heart never faltered. God would not have brought me to Israel to die in the desert. I thought of Abraham who went forth as God called. He has been my guide for the three summers I’ve volunteered in Israel. He “went out, not knowing where he was to go.” This experience in the same location helped me realize the strength of Abraham’s faith. Did he have enough water? Did he have enough food? He was not only responsible for himself, but for the entourage of people and animals traveling with him. Over and over, the Scripture passage says, “by faith”! What is faith? “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Abraham, the great father of multiple religions was the man of faith, par excellence.

Faith and hope are brother and sister. In the desert, we “walked by faith and not by sight” as our water dwindled. The hope that an angel would rescue us also dwindled as the sun moved westward casting shadows … delicious shadows. The inner core of my strength weakened and I began to be afraid we would be trapped by the night. Yes, the wadi was full of animal tracks, signs both consoling and frightening. Somehow, I still had tracks of hope in my heart that God would send help. I prayed with every step. I became aware of my breathing. Stop and rest. Stop and rest. I ate a few dried blossoms from a tree. They wet my mouth. There were no cell phone connections. Only God! Somehow, we trekked on.

At 6:30 we found Hwy 227 and sat on roadside rocks. A car going the opposite direction stopped. Evidence of faith? They poured water into Jim’s empty container. Ah! Our first angel but still no rescue! There were no cars going in our direction at all. Dusk was falling. God, another angel, please? An old truck with a red flag standing straight up in back, stopped. A ride, please? A ride? Hope rose! Our second angel gave us more water and it was cooler. Would God send a third angel? We continued to walk. According to a road sign, we had twenty kilometers to go. Darkness. Piercing my exhaustion a tiny glimmer of hope survived. God’s sheltering hand was still hovering over us. Through the darkness, I spied a truck with a red flag off the road about fifty feet. The Bedouin driver was on his knees, head touching the ground. He was praying. As we walked past, he stood up and waved. My mind called out, “Yes. Hello! And thank you for the water!”

But then, he got into his truck and drove out to us! He signaled us to get in. He spoke no English. He got out and opened the back door for me. A gentleman! A big smile. God sent our second angel back to us! All I could say was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” When we arrived back, I pressed shekels into his hand, but he pressed them right back into my hand. “No, no.” Jim handed him American dollars, receiving the same response. God bless this Muslim Bedouin, this son of Abraham, who saved two Christians who were trusting in the same God who just has a different name.

The next day after showers and gallons of cold water, we were strengthened. But the ordeal was ongoing. Our vehicle was still resting under an acacia tree in that deep wadi. Faith and hope still stood in my heart. Who to call? Who spoke English? Where to get phone numbers? At noon, finally a connection! And God sent a third angel. This time, Jewish. We finally contacted an Israeli park ranger. His dark good looks were heightened by a smile and open attitude. He spoke beautiful English! He drove us back to our “waterloo.” Would his 4×4 truck be strong enough? Again, faith and hope joined hands in my heart. I prayed as he towed us up that steep incline, slowly, slowly, slowly! Alleluia! Success! Success! Thank you, God! God of the mountains. God of the wind. God of the wadi. God who keeps his promises.

The ranger said he wasn’t supposed to do this, but… All he accepted was our thanks.

We were not prepared for this experience. It came like a “thief in the night”. We didn’t expect to be stranded in 100 plus heat with no cell phone service and only about two liters of water between us. The situation seemed impossible. We were in desperate straits! Our flimsy faith and hope were rewarded. God watched over us as promised again and again and again. What do we need to fear? God, help me remember who you are!

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

The LORD is my shepherd;
there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.

II
You set a table before me
in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me
all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD
for endless days.

—Psalm 23. Scripture text taken from the NABRE © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 CCD, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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