Going Back Home – for the First Time

The Fellowship  |  February 14, 2020

The Sun's rays shining over the Western Wall in Jerusalem

Eric Frans, Vice President of Philanthropy at The Fellowship, reflects on how he was changed by his recent trip to Israel.

When I started packing for the return flight from Israel – this was my first trip to the Holy Land – I realized I was missing something I had brought with me.  After careful searching and reflection, I am pretty sure it’s an important piece of my heart.

I’ve been back home for a few days now. This was a unique trip in so many ways. It has been a few years since I traveled to a country for the first time. A career in international relief and development has made the list of countries I haven’t been to shorter than the list of ones I have.

Still, there’s something about Israel, the land of our spiritual forefathers, of biblical history, and I can honestly say I now feel like, in Israel, I have a second home. And what’s truly unique is feeling that you’ve gone “back home” – for the first time.

A Bend in the Road

I think the moment during my trip when I began to change occurred, as these things often do, at the time I least expected it. As our bus drove past a stunning vista, just one of so many on this trip, a team member mentioned, almost offhandedly, “That valley over there is where David fought Goliath. When the Bible talks about his voice booming across the plains towards the armies of the Tribes of Israel, it’s literal, because that valley is a natural echo chamber. You could yell from there and be heard across the valley.”

And then we drove on, because we were just passing by. This was just a bend in the road, a corner where we turned left towards our actual destination. It shook me that this brief moment had made tangible a story I’d heard since childhood. It was like a voice from the recesses of my mind exclaiming with incredulity and astonishment, “This is real!”

I had the same feeling when our Fellowship team brought food, space heaters, and blankets to some elderly people who were shivering in the winter cold. Honestly, I wasn’t certain if the chill I felt in my spine was from the cold or from coming face to face with actual Holocaust survivors who were still so frail and vulnerable. Reality washed over me when their tears fell because they were so happy to have someone care for them. That moment brought history lessons to life in a way that no dusty textbook ever could.

One Fellowship, One Vision, One Mission

Two women standing next to each other in the Fellowship House for the Elderly.

The rest of the trip is still almost a blur of snapshots, sound bites, and bus rides (and I’ll likely be unpacking those until the next time G-d decides to bring me to Israel). I say almost a blur for a reason.

Amid all the unfocused, swirling colors, tastes, and sounds in my memory, one thing has been embedded in my brain in solid clarity – this team I’m so lucky to work with. I have never felt the idea of One Fellowship, One Vision, One Mission more clearly than over the course of those days traveling through Israel.

Ours is not just a job – it’s an understanding that the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is built on our commonalities, the core of our Judeo-Christian heritage: Abba, G-d the Father, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and His people. Our G-d. Our same G-d who admonishes and reminds that He will bless those who bless Israel.

We don’t wake up every day to punch a clock. We don’t do it simply to make phone calls and send emails and raise money. That’s a job.  Ours is a fellowship, a privilege. Like they said of a kibbutz, “give all you can and take what you need.” When I talked with the coordinators from the North and the South and heard that they’ll make thousands of home visits in a year; that they wake up early, come home late, drive thousands of kilometers and do it with the passion and conviction of their calling, that’s when I saw our responsibility.

Tilting the Balance Toward Life

Vin sitting with an elderly Jewish man, holding his hand.

We have the immense privilege, a precious burden that we happily accept, of representing them and the impoverished, elderly and vulnerable Jews and minorities to The Church in America (both the congregations and the individual congregants – including those who do church alone). These aren’t “beneficiaries” or “projects”. These are people: men, women, children and babies, fathers, mothers and grandparents, Holocaust survivors, and toddlers. Real people who rely on The Fellowship, on you and on me, every day for the basic necessities of survival.

There is a very real life and death balance, and we get to put our fingers on the scales on behalf of life.

We get to invite others into this story, this amazing narrative that stretches back over millennia. And like that little voice in the back of my head communicated to me, each day we can wake up, have our coffee and as we sit down to work be reminded, “This is real! And I am a part of it!”

There’s no better feeling in the world than being home.

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