Psalm 42:1 – As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
When was the last time you were thirsty? I mean really thirsty? So thirsty that you doubted you could make it out in the 100-degree temperatures for five more minutes if you didn’t have a drink of water. Recently, some of us experienced the feeling of being parched in the desert, but realized we need much more than a cold drink to give us life.
April 22-25 was the spring conference here at Bethlehem Bible College. There were 38 of us in attendance: 12 students from the Biblical Studies department, 10 students from the Mass Media department, and 10 from the Tour Guide program, 4 staff and 2 of our volunteers. Our group consisted of both Christians and Muslims. Because we have the three distinct departments, students do not share the same classes and some of the lectures are held in the evenings instead of during the day. The conference was a great opportunity for the students to get to know one another and interact with other staff and the volunteers.
We traveled to Jordan and anticipated visiting the ancient archaeological sites, as well as spending some time in the desert. The theme for the conference was “Thirsting for the Lord,” and what better way to really understand the way our souls should thirst after God than to spend time in the desert, where thirst is ever present.
Our first stop was to see the Madaba Map – part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. The mosaic is a map of the Holy Land that dates to the 6th century AD. Later we stood atop Mt. Nebo, mentioned in the Bible as the place where Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land that he would never enter. It was up here on Mount Nebo that Rev. Alex gave our first devotion for the trip. He spoke of Commitment and making a decision for your life. Thinking of your future and how we need to make the most out of what God wants to do in and through us.
We drove to our hotel near the entrance to Petra and settled in for the evening. After supper the students enjoyed praise and worship and games with those they hoped to get to know better throughout the week. Shireen’s devotion challenged the students to be good leaders; to realize that they have an influence on others whether it was good or bad.
The next day we visited Petra – also known as the “Rose City”- and established possibly as early as 312 BC as the city of the Nabataeans. The Treasury is the most recognizable of the buildings carved from the beautiful stone. What a great time for all of us to explore and see this fascinating ancient city. During our day in Petra the temperatures rose above 100 degrees, and we finished the evening in the desert of Wadi Rum where the only vegetation was an occasional desert flower. It was after this time that the necessity of thirsting after God was clearly understood. We could not possibly have survived long in those dry, hot conditions without the supply of water that we all carried with us.
When Nihad brought his devotion about seeking the living water, we immediately remembered how desperately thirsty we had been in the desert. Looking around at our campsite I saw one healthy, green vine that obviously received regular amounts of life-giving water. Everywhere else around us there was only sand. No water means no life; Regular amounts of water meant life for the plant. And thus several of the students, and I myself, have commented that the nearly unquenchable thirst that we had just experienced made us realize that we must constantly seek a deep and abiding relationship with Christ, the Living Water, not just to survive but to thrive in our daily lives.
It has been so rewarding to hear the reactions from the students, both during the trip and since our return. Some had made judgments on one another based only on one conversation, or just how they had perceived someone around campus, later coming to apologize for ill thoughts after getting to know the other more personally. Some commented how a particular devotion really touched and challenged them to know God on a deeper level. There are also those who, as yet, do not have a personal relationship with Christ but said that, for the first time, they really heard and understood what leaders had been saying to them throughout the semester. They felt “something” stirring in their heart that they could not explain and wanted to understand what this feeling had been. Praise God!
One of our students has been very ill, taking chemotherapy and other treatments, only to have more complications arise shortly before the trip. He had decided not to go because surgery was being scheduled any day and he needed to be around when the hospital called for him to come in. He was strongly encouraged to come for the conference, with the promise that if he got that very important phone call, he would immediately be taken where he needed to go. At the last minute – the morning we were leaving – he decided to go. He later testified to how the conference had touched his life in a very profound way and how God had really spoken to his heart. Just days after the conference someone from the hospital called to schedule the surgery. What a blessing to have him with us at the student conference, and we praise God that this young man’s life was so impacted by the Word of God!
Since we have returned back to our classes and work here on campus, there is an obvious difference in the relationships between the students and the staff who traveled together. We don’t just say, “Good morning” as we pass one another now. Instead we stand together and have conversations about the favorite places we visited, and especially how we were challenged to seek after God, the Living Water, and the only one who can quench the thirst of our souls.