May 23, 2013
Earlier this week my father, Rabbi Eckstein, and I attended an emotional event – we dedicated the first Fellowship vehicle that will help strengthen heroic Israeli reserve soldiers in the field. Because Israel is such a small country – only 7 million residents – volunteer reserve soldiers are a critical part of keeping Israel safe. Until this event, which took place in the middle of the open desert of southern Israel, I could have never imagined just how difficult, both emotionally and physically, Israeli reserve duty is. These soldiers are truly doing God’s work by helping to keep alive the promise of Psalm 121:4, “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
As my father and I drove together to the event, we passed signs for cities that I have only read about in the newspaper. The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip was just a mile away, and we were not far from Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt. My father and I looked at each other tensely as any signs of life drifted quickly behind us. Looking ahead, we saw only desert and mountains. Along with my feeling of isolation, I drew a bit of comfort as I thought about the Jewish people’s Exodus from Egypt in this very desert.
Finally, after hours of driving, we found the tiny gas station where we were to meet the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) representative who would lead us to the event. After a brief greeting, we followed him onto a tiny dirt path that led straight into the middle of the desert. Normally I love going out and visiting the 400 Fellowship-sponsored projects in Israel. But I must admit that on this day there was part of me that dreamed about the safety of my office back in Jerusalem.
The fastest we could drive down the dirt path was 20 miles per hour, and its bumpiness reminded me of traveling the back roads of the former Soviet Union. With each gust of wind, sand covered the windows so that we could barely see. After five minutes of driving off road, we felt worlds away from any life – except for the locusts that were jumping all around our car.
I began to panic. We had no cell phone service. We were barely able to see out of the windows. We were miles away from civilization, and closer to Israel's terrorist neighbors than I ever cared to be. My heart was beating fast, but the only option we had was to continue following the army sergeant in front of us to the middle of nowhere. With faith, my father and I continued on.
Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, we saw the Fellowship vehicle parked in the middle of the desert with a perhaps a hundred reserve soldiers standing around. “Praise God, we’ve arrived safely,” my father and I said to each other as we exited the car.
As the sun beat down, my father and I toured the Fellowship vehicle. It was fully stocked with cold soft drinks, hot coffee, Internet access, and electrical outlets. The reserve soldiers are mostly men between the ages of 25 and 40 who leave their families, jobs, and homes for a month out of the year to join their IDF reserve unit for training so they will be prepared to fight in the next war. These brave men wore broad smiles and couldn’t stop thanking us and our Fellowship friends who made this desert oasis possible.
One of them, a 35-year-old father of three who is a builder by profession, came up to me with tears in his eyes. “It’s so difficult to be out in the field for weeks on end, running miles a day in the scorching sun without speaking to my family or being able to enjoy something simple like a cup of coffee,” he said to me. “This Fellowship van does a lot more than give us electricity and soft drinks,” he said. “It gives us the love and appreciation we need to keep us strong and motivated to continue protecting Israel with faith and passion. It is inspiring that Christians across the ocean appreciate my service in Israel to protect the free world.”
My father and I spoke to these heroic soldiers, thanked them for their service, and enjoyed a nice cold soda from the Fellowship van as the scorching sun burned our skin. Then we waved goodbye and entered our air-conditioned car to return back to our homes. Finally, we understood firsthand the true sacrifices that these soldiers make to protect Israel. After only an hour “in the field,” I was more than ready to leave.
As we drove down the dirt path and re-entered civilization, I dusted off my clothes, put lotion on my sunburn, and called my husband to explain why I hadn’t had cell phone service for the past hour. Then, for the rest of the drive I thought about Israel's mighty reserve soldiers, and thanked God for The Fellowship's Christian friends around the world who are keeping those soldiers strong.
With blessings from the Holy Land,