Israel has always been close to my heart! Shortly after I came to Christ, in my mid-20s, I experienced my first trip to Israel. I was totally in awe of its antiquities and archeological treasures. We were kept spellbound by Professor Wilbur Williams of Indiana Wesleyan University, our tour guide, as he regaled us with his stories and his incredible Old Testament knowledge. Understanding the Holy Land brought the Bible to life and was foundational to my new faith. More recently, my wife and I had the privilege of taking two large tour groups there. Each time my heart and mind were captivated by the incredible history that defined this land. Two weeks after October 7, I was offered another trip to the Holy Land, but this trip was different.
When John Lyon, president of the nonprofit company My Medic Charities, asked if we would like to support this venture, I was quick to say, “Yes!” Watching the news since October 7 had left me with an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. Sure, I prayed for Israel, I prayed for peace, but I longed to make a tangible difference for the people of Israel, amid the horrific atrocities so many had experienced. The thought of sending trauma medical kits to civilians, first responders and IDF just seemed the right way to satisfy my longing “to do something!”
I contacted the necessary people at our church to raise support. The outpouring from the congregation and community was overwhelming. So many others had felt that same depth of helplessness … just like me!
When John asked if I would like to see these kits be delivered, I immediately responded again with a “Yes!” I thought he was going to send me videos, but soon realized he was offering me a chance to hand deliver these kits — an opportunity I could not refuse. John Lyon, Kier Boyea, a retired Navy Seal and a medic, and I began a trip I will never forget.
Our first day took us about a mile from the Gaza border. Leora, a type of community organizer for 32 kibbutzim — intentional communal settlements in Israel — with about 17,000 people, was quick to share her experiences. These were the kibbutzim that were savagely attacked by Hamas on that memorable day. In her group alone, 250 died that day, 140 were kidnapped and over 100 were injured. All of these people were known to her. She shared her experiences with us:
“We thought the soldiers were just passing through to warn us about something inconsequential … we were accustomed to seeing soldiers with guns. But then they turned their guns on us. They began shooting and killing everyone they could reach. We didn’t understand what was happening.”
The pain everyone suffered was evident.
Leora shared, “We stayed in our war room for three days, as I had no safe room in my home. When we came out, we realized we had lost friends, relatives, neighbors and children. We are a close community. We use the same schools, the same facilities and have been connected for generations. So, we knew everyone who died! All I do is attend funerals. I didn’t know who made it out alive, so I find myself hugging all the people I see because I now know they were given life back. Nothing is normal anymore and I am out of tears. Some places will never recover. I can’t thank you enough for coming. I have smiled more in the last two hours than I have in two weeks.”
Zohar, the kibbutz’s security leader said, “In spite of the painful loss we have experienced and all the darkness, this is a time that lifts our spirits — people like you who have come to help us!”
There were numerous other stops and experiences over our days in Israel, all echoing the same themes. As I traveled home, I couldn’t get the thoughts out of my mind. I became very emotional as I tried to recount our experiences with my wife. Watching the news now took on a different perspective than before. It all felt so real and my heart would be forever with those who were caught in the crossfire of this war. I will never forget Leora or Zohar. I picked up two small coins that were left at a gas station table near Lebanon and now hold these shekels in my pocket as reminders of those three days. They are reminders for me to pray for Israel, to pray for peace and to pray for these specific names.
I was asked, “Do you feel you had special words of encouragement that you were able to share with those you encountered?” Because, after all, I am a pastor and have been paid to talk for 40 years! But this time my answer was, “No!”
There was no special gift of words that could provide the needed comfort to those devastated or fighting for their lives. Rather, the greatest gift we could provide was the “gift of our presence” in their time of greatest need. Sometimes we feel we need to have just the right words to touch hearts at their time of need. Exceptional wisdom or flowery words will not meet the greatest need of those experiencing loss in your life; it is the simple gift of presence. You, too, can use that gift and make a difference in the world around you. It’s a gift we can all afford!
Rev. Arlie Davis is a retired lead pastor of Christ Wesleyan Church and superintendent of Meadowbrook Christian School.