Delhi called and asked us to quickly hop over to India since we still had a few weeks available on our Tourist Visa. Could we could come for a short time, have a few meetings that might spring things open for our visa and, at the same time, encourage an international church family that is wondering if we are really real? It was an offer we couldn’t refuse. But how do you get from Jerusalem to Delhi with just a few days notice? Option #1 is to fly west to Brussels and then east to Delhi. Mind numbingly long trip, outrageous price. Only slightly shorter, but more expensive yet was to fly north to Istanbul and then east to Delhi.
We chose option #3: Take a milk run on Israeli bus #961 a couple hours north of Jerusalem, cross the border at Israel’s only boring border crossing and into Jordan. Then creatively cajole some taxi or bus to take us the two hour trip through villages that play big parts in Bible stories on the way to Amman where we would stay over night and fly out of the next day. It still took less time and cost half as much! Why not? And as adventurous at it might sound, Lee Ann got great naps.
But border crossings in Middle East countries are another matter. The driver stops the bus, opens the door, stands and points. The bus empties. The condemned all shamble inside an austere, colorless building with flags and lots of really big, patriotic pictures of the king. Standing at attention. Riding in a tank. Or riding with his kids on the tank. I don’t know why, but when I cross borders, I always feel like an extra in a movie some director is making about World War 2 and concentration camps.
Nobody smiles. The instructions are never clear—“First, go to this window and then to that window and then, finally, to Window #3.” It’s an exercise in trial by error. No one says, “Thanks for $30 bucks you’re paying to enter our country. We love your cash.” And there are far too many guys running around with really great uniforms. As I stood in line, it became very clear where the sons of generals and their wives find employment.
Once the mission of getting the pretty stamps in your passport was complete, we headed back to our bus. Instead of reboarding, we now had to unload our luggage and hike it up and into the set of bays at a local Jiffy Lube. Our luggage went through an x-ray check and then an open bag inspection by the badly perspiring nephews and cousins of the generals and their wives.
Once cleared, we had to leave the building with our luggage and wait for our bus to find us so we could re-load for the next leg of our trip. While simmering away in the mid-day sun, a lovely Palestinian nun, adorned in her spotless, white habit took up a place beside me and we started chatting.
She is part of an order of nuns living close to the Sea of Galilee, but was on her way home to Salt, Jordan. It’s not far from the Dead Sea. I guess sometimes town-namers feel it is important to re-state the obvious. Like Concrete, Washington or Drain, Oregon.
With pride she described how one niece was soon to have a baby (her third) and another had graduated from high school. I put her at maybe 65 years old. While her eyes sparkled as she talked about her family and reminisced about growing up in her village, as we moved on to other topics, those kindly eyes shifted. They became the eyes of those have seen so much that they see what others miss.
She talked about how she has to counsel and pray for Christians in Jordan and Israel to stay and not leave. “They are all leaving for LA or England. We (Muslims and Christians) all used to get along in our town. Now it is becoming very hard. Most are telling us good-bye. It makes us sad.” I told her how sad it made me to hear those things and that I pray for Christians in the Middle East.” She smiled. And for some reason we ran out of words. She started chatting with some Korean pilgrims on her other side.
Our bus finally rolled back up alongside us and we had to pack our luggage back in the bays in the underside of bus. I tucked ours away and then I saw the Sister pull her suitcase up close.
“Sister… can I take that for you?”
She showed me her hands. They looked just like what I barely remember of the badly gnarled hands of my grandmother. Hers had also been twisted like tree roots as a result of rheumatoid arthritis. Then she put both of those hands on the top of my perspiring head. Left them there for what felt like a few long moments as she intently and slowly said, “ Bless you, my brother.”
Don’t you just love the Body of Christ?