CSPC members Alan & Rebecca Williams were with a local group in Israel when Hamas launched attacks that killed about 1,400 this month. Here’s Alan’s story of how God has been at work through it all.
This was my first time in the Holy Land- bucket list item. It wasn’t a mission trip, and it wasn’t a tourism trip. It was called a pilgrimage. We were going to see biblical sites, have maybe a little sermon or devotional and then a discussion at each site, to open up about how it’s affected you. So that’s what it was all about- much more meaningful to your soul than just tourism. We flew into Tel Aviv, an hour from Jerusalem, stayed at a hotel, and had a good dinner the night before. Next morning -first full day of the trip- we’re getting our things ready to go. We knew were going to leave for Jerusalem, which was our home base. I’m sitting there having coffee, my wife is up on the balcony at the hotel, sirens go off, and we hear a BOOM! And that boom was a rocket that hit a mile from us in Tel Aviv! Rebecca got a picture of where it hit because she was right there on the balcony. I didn’t know what was going on. They came to get me and everybody in the restaurant. They said, ‘We need for you to go to a safe place.’ ‘What are you talking about? What do you mean safe place?’ Finally they said, ‘We have an explosion.’ So we got our things together and headed out of town. We were scheduled to be on the trip for two weeks, and so we continued for a few days. The pastor who led it is a preacher and an archaeologist, so he knows his stuff; great teacher. The middle of the week, we went to the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank, marking where Jesus could have been born. About a mile away is where supposedly the shepherds were keeping watch of their flock. We were having our devotional and talking about what it all meant, but in the background, I’m hearing BOOM, BOOM! At this point we’re just not focusing on the right things. It’s hard to concentrate on biblical history when things are so volatile. Right after that, we were going to make a turn onto a highway, but the Israeli soldiers blocked it off and the GPS wasn’t working.
So where do we end up? Way high on these mountain roads. Real fine, silky sand, and if you get one wheel off that, you’re a goner. It’s a 1000-foot drop. So we’re going two to three miles an hour. There are three vans full of us, we’re going around these mountain roads, and we don’t know how far we’re going. We finally get to this rise on the mountain, really high up. The first van can’t make it up, we can’t back up- there is no backing up here. It took three times for the first van to make it, and three or four times for the second, so each time the road’s getting all roughed up and everything. What had such an incredible effect on me was that third van. Everybody’s holding hands and we’re praying to get that last van up there. I really didn’t think it was going to make it, but I’m praying anyway. Then something came over me that I can’t explain, something supernatural. And I started praying again and I said, ‘We’re GOING to make it. We ARE going to make this.’ And I didn’t even see it; my back was turned. All I did was hear it. We got up that hill- and helping us, guiding us, were some Palestinian teenagers. You don’t know if they’ve got guns or what they’re going to demand. But after we got over the rise, all we did was fist bump! We were shouting and they were jumping for the joy that we had. (Of course, we paid them pretty hefty money to help us, but we got out!) Our trek wasn’t over, though. We’re still in the West Bank in a town called Bethany, where you don’t know if they’re going to jerk you out of your car or not because we’re going slowly in these conspicuous white vans. But we got through that. Then we got to a roadblock- the Israeli army is in the middle of blocking roads. We can see access closing off. So our pilgrimage guide just guns it! We’re following along- no one can see us because the windows are tinted. The soldiers raised their rifles, but all three vans went through the roadblock! Now if that were today, since things have escalated, they very well could have shot us or shot the tires out of the van. We just kept going and got back to where were staying in old Jerusalem.
As soon as we got out of our van in Old Jerusalem, the emergency sirens for the whole city started going. And everybody starts running. We don’t know what to do- we’re running, too, but we don’t know where to run to. Two minutes later, all you hear is BOOM, BOOM! The Israelis shooting down Hamas rockets. And right then I say, ‘I think it’s about time we leave.’ We had to make inroads to get our airline arrangements set up for ourselves, because at that point, nobody was really taking a good, aggressive stance from our government. They were in an assessment mode. So we in the pilgrimage group had a meeting and decided everybody was kind of on their own. And this is where you see how God works, so let me back up a little bit. When we had gotten on the plane in Atlanta, headed for Tel Aviv, at the start of this whole thing, a couple sat down with us, and the woman looked at me and said, ‘Do I know you?’ And I went, ‘I don’t know. I do TV.’ She responds, ‘I know who you are. You mentored my daughter in TV.’ Turns out this woman lives in Knoxville, but she also has a home in Jordan, and she’s also run a travel agency for 40 years. She goes, ‘Alan, if you have any issues, call us up. We’ll be glad to help you.’ So guess who we called when we needed help getting out of Israel? The people from the Atlanta airport- the Shatara family. They helped us get through the border -two drivers, a taxi and a bus- all the way to Amman, Jordan. Two days later, she had set up our trip home, and she and her husband went with us because they’re fluent in Arabic. See how God works? We just can’t believe how He worked all of this in our favor. Joshua 1:9 says, ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ I’m hardheaded. It takes me about ten times to read that, and then I forget it, and then I’ve got to go back to it, but this whole trip really brought it to mind. It’s just the feeling that came over me, that we were in such a precarious position and God was leading me along and saying, ‘Trust me, would you, Alan? Get over this. Just trust me, would you?’
My goal for this trip was to come away filled with the Spirit, not just to be more knowledgeable about where these ancient sites were in relation to where Jesus walked. Well, I’ve never prayed this hard in my life and had that feeling so much. We were prayer warriors everywhere we went, chaos or not. Even if it was quiet, everybody was praying. And it just influenced me deeply. If you’re a believer, you love to be filled with the Spirit, and that’s where I am now. I don’t want this to go away. This is an incredible feeling. I got it at that particular moment when that van reached the top of the hill, and I’ve not lost it. I’m sitting here back at my home now, but I don’t want to listen to the radio, don’t want to watch TV. I just want to dwell on the whole thing. You know, while I was still in Jordan, I spoke to a Bible study via FaceTime. I got through explaining our time in Israel to them. And after it was over, the guy who leads the study told me two people came up weeping and saying, ‘I want what he’s got.’ I didn’t realize what I had to say was that powerful. But down deep, that’s what people do want: to be filled with the Spirit. What can I say but “Thank you, Lord.”