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Sunday, 13 January 2013

Travels - Rotten Luck?

Lately I have been writing about my travel history, and over the past week, my last blog When things Go Wrong seems to have scored a sizable hit, making it into the top ten popular posts chart on the side of  the main article, in less than a week. The idea of sharing my personal experiences is to convey to the reader on how these mistakes can be avoided, if only a more proper research was carried out, or for one case, making sure that my money was safely packed away before boarding a packed train where there was standing room only - and not pushing the travel cheques carelessly into a pocket, making this a prime target for either a professional or opportunist thief.

Then one of the two other examples at to know when the Israeli New Year holiday, or Rosh HaShannah, was to fall, so I would have been far better prepared when the entire nation shut down - including every shop, every office, every facility and all public transport except for a few taxis plying the area. And a simple lesson in geography would have informed me that in 1985 there were two railway lines out of Dieppe, both for Paris, but only one passed through Rouen, in which all trains stop, being a principal station. Instead, my ignorance and presumption allowed me to board a train for the other line, hurtling towards Paris with practically no money and with no means to buy another ticket for the Paris-Rouen train after arriving at the French capital. How fortunate that there was a group of compassionate teenagers who literally saved my day by instructing me to alight at Serqueux and change trains there.

 Gare de Serqueux, where a change of trains saved the day

These three incidences were due to the falling short on my part, even if by 1985 I should have had enough travelling experience to have known better.  But there were times when something occurs in a situation which was totally out of my control - or was it? Could a word said out of place bring such catastrophe? Israel 1994 could be one such incident, which I am now happy to share.

But I need to go further back to one ordinary Monday morning in October 1992. The weather was pleasant as I prepared for the day's work. One householder, an unmarried Christian who I had known since 1981, got into quite a rowdy disagreement and he basically threw me out of the door. It was after I started work elsewhere that I realised how much I was in the wrong. I had no one but myself to blame for the ending of a fine friendship, and I felt defeated, hopeless. While I was on top of the ladder, cleaning a window, I had what seems to be a sudden revelation. The vision was for me to go to Jerusalem for a week the following year to pray over the city. As I pondered on the revelation, I prayed if I can have two weeks there instead. A peace flowed into my heart as if the answer was "Yes."

The idea that this was from God has borne out from that very day on, when my financial situation had changed dramatically. Before then, I barely made enough each week to get by. But from that day on into 1993, I was able to put money away, enough to ensure that the holiday to come was fully covered.

Yet I was amazed. I got into a tiff, the other person was right, I was in the wrong, yet it was me who God spoke to, perhaps contrary to the opinion of every church leader, elder or pastor in the country. Maybe the fact that I had been to the Middle East before, in 1976 and having a deep respect for the Jews and for the future of Jerusalem, might have been the basis on why God chose me above the other person. Then again, maybe it was just sheer grace alone.

 Above Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem 1993.

Other than a six-hour delay at London Gatwick Airport due to the need to replace a faulty part on the aeroplane, the rest of the journey to Israel was uneventful. Having booked a bed at Lod Airport for one night at a hostel in Tel Aviv, the next day I made my way to Jerusalem Old City, and found a small hostel occupying a medieval building well within the city walls. It became home for the next two weeks.

I stood on top of the Mount of Olives and prayed over the city, from which I had a great panorama. I also attended Christ Church at Jaffa Gate, the only Church of England in the whole of Israel. While I was there, after the end of the evening service, I found myself talking to a volunteer of I.T.A.C. - the Israel Trust of Anglican Churches. Over here in the UK it was known as the Church's Ministry to the Jews, or C.M.J. It was a Church of England organisation which owned several properties in Israel, one being Stella Carmel Christian Conference Centre in Isfyia, near Haifa. After a long, persuasive talk with the volunteer, I decided to give it a try myself, if I can, the following year in 1994.

Cutting a long story short, I arrived at Stella Carmel in June of that year. If I recall over eighteen years, there was the director and his wife, three permanent staff (making five in all) and twelve volunteers (known as vollies) - seven females and five males. Before jetting off to Israel, I attended a one-day course at a C.M.J. centre in North London. At that centre I learnt that there were strict separation between the genders, the males specialised in general maintenance while the females dealt with the housework, the remaking of beds in each room (the centre was a former hotel) and other domestic duties.

Yet how unlucky was I? The female volunteers had a self-made leader from New Zealand, who I will refer as just J. She was one of the undergrads who went for these gap-year schemes, an extrovert who was respected even by the permanent staff. At Stella Carmel, the duties were not so segregated as was told in London. Alternate days for maintenance and domestics were carried out by each gender.

And that's was when I put my foot in it. During one of our weekly meetings, I made a suggestion that the domestic and maintenance duties should be assigned more to female and male volunteers respectively, after observing that we men weren't quite as good at domestics, or at least I wasn't, neither did the women looked comfortable shifting heavy rocks or involved in "masculine" tasks.

My wife Alex at Stella Carmel, 2000 - taken six years after being a "vollie" in 1994. 

I became a pariah from that moment on. I think during normal times, my statement would have been laughed off and forgotten, but instead, J. stirred up hatred among the female vollies, even if the men agreed with me, none had it in them to defend my case. When new females arrived at a later date, J. made sure that they knew I was the centre pariah. Yet the director must have agreed with me, along with the organisation's upper management, because since that day, we were assigned mostly maintenance tasks while the females remained in domestics, with only occasional swaps.

Which angered J. even further. She kept saying that I should learn to be the New Man, the feminising of the male to adapt to domestics while they (the females) go for further education to pursue a professional career and become the main breadwinner. The rest of the females who sided with her also took a stance against me and insisted, more or less, that a social revolution need to take place, with professional women running the country while the men stayed at home.

Exaggerating? No, not at all. Not long after all this, they begged the director to dismiss me as a volunteer, and to keep the peace, the director agreed. I had to go the very next day. I was dropped off at Haifa Bus Terminal and left there alone. I took the Egged bus to Jerusalem, where I booked a bed at the same hostel I stayed the previous year. Even at the Anglican Church, I was looked upon from the corner of their eyes.

During the days that followed, I often lay on the bed while the other backpackers were out and about. If it wasn't for J, I would still be a volunteer, most likely much happier, engaging in both domestics and maintenance and fulfilling what I believed what God called me for. Unlucky, what rotten luck!

This was the time I turned away from the faith. I was sick of the pretence and hypocrisy. All those at the conference centre were Christians. Among the mass of teachings against eternal security, I too accepted that I fell out of God's favour and was heading for Hell. Yet, as I paced aimlessly through the streets of Jerusalem, I remembered God's promise to Israel and to Jerusalem in particular. Gently, I felt the Lord calling me, very, very gently. I responded, and found myself praying. Although I was still to feel devastated for months to come, I was aware of God's presence.

I spent a month in Jerusalem, living at the hostel, and seeing that the "unbelieving" backpackers were far more amenable and humane than those "Christians" at Stella Carmel. Two days before flying home, I stood once more on the summit of the Mount of Olives, looking down at the splendid panorama of the city. It was while I was gazing at the view, when once again I had a revelation, very much like the one I received in 1992. The next year I was to fly to New York. Sure enough, in 1995, exactly one year to the very day after disembarking from the airline at Gatwick airport, I boarded another airline bound for New York from London Heathrow. Thus began my time of travel, covering the whole of the United States, Singapore and Australia.

 San Diego, California 1995- one of several places which for me was so spiritually therapeutic.

I returned to Stella Carmel during the Autumn of the year 2000, after being stranded on the summit of Mt. Carmel during Rosh HaShannah and was given a lift by a taxi driver who was also a pastor of a Christian church in Haifa. With me was Alex, my wife who I have, in the last thirteen years of marriage, to be the perfect partner, companion and comforter. Unlike J, she fully respects my views, which, when properly understood, does not mean that women are inferior to men, as J. tried to get me to say. Rather, I was simply implying that men and women have different roles, both equally important.

Alex my wife prefers not to go to work, instead spending time keeping house, visiting and helping my elderly parents, showing hospitality to visiting church members and taking care of the finances. In turn, my duty is to make sure the money comes into the house in the first place. As a result, I'm happy to say that our marriage is robust.

Paul wrote,

And we know that in all things God works for the good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

And that was what it was all about. God working in me for the good. All things, not just the good or pleasant. And the rest of the chapter that follows makes tremendous reading. If only the whole of the centre had concentrated on this chapter instead of debating whether we are eternally saved or not, who knows, things might have turned out much better.


  1. One reason the unsaved world often finds Christianity unappealing is that so many so-called Christians are far less forgiving and loving than the unsaved world. Jesus said our love would be the mark of the true believer.

    You're right that a little checking things out or watching what we say would often change what happens. Thankfully, God is able to use even our failures to accomplish his will.

  2. Great post Frank. It's true, sometimes those who are supposed to be good and holy, use their faith to hide a nasty personality, or to control and manipulate others; this has nothing to do with Christianity or being a Christian. Sometimes those who have nothing to do with Christianity have more love and charity and compassion than some so-called Christians.

  3. Hey Frank! In answer to your question on my post, No, your post did not offend me in ANY WAY. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Sometimes I have to read and re-read something to get the WHOLE picture, and to retain what I have read.

    Personally, it sounds to me like J. was a feminist or someone who liked to be "THE VOICE". I have met plenty of women like her. It probably wouldn't have mattered if you were male or female. If it wasn't her idea, "it wasn't a good one".

    I'm sorry that it turned out that way. It sounds like you would have made an excellent volunteer. You definitely have a heart for God.

    I also believe that God spoke to your heart. NO DOUBT. Just a quick question, though. When you realized that you were in the wrong with your friend, did you go to him, apologize and ask forgiveness?

    The reason I ask this is it gives your friend a chance to ask forgiveness (for throwing you out) as well. Remember, God's Word says that He cannot forgive those who won't forgive others. This way both of you have a chance to set things right.

    Great Post!

    God Bless,

    1. Dear PJ,

      I'm happy to tell you that he and I have been good friends now for a very long time.

      There were no apologies offered on either side. Instead, we simply started talking and gradually got closer to where we were before, without letting the incident get in the way.
      Much of this was because he had allowed the dispute to pass by and refused to let it bother him.
      God bless,