Beauty in the Dust: Reflections on the Israel Seminar

“It took me going across the globe in a puddle of tenderness to fully grasp who God is and the way he so specifically uses Israel in the story of faith,” says Ali Bolsinger ’19, Christian ministries major from southern California, of last spring’s Israel Seminar. She documented her travels through photos and writing, and shares her experience in an interview with The Bell.

Why the Israel Seminar?
I remember my mom telling me about her trip to the Holy Lands, and encouraging me if I ever had the opportunity, to take it. On one of the last days of Orientation my first year, I had the gift of being driven by Dr. Phillips to a departmental dessert. By the end of the ride, she mentioned the Israel Seminar, and in that moment I remembered my mom’s words and decided right then that I was going to go on the trip.

View More:

Describe the atmosphere—the sights, sounds and tastes.
I explain the atmosphere of Israel as vibrancy mixed with a storm of dust. There were vibrant colors, smells, people and stories—all covered in dust. There is deep history everywhere you walk. I could feel the importance of each stone I stepped on, knowing it had been laid there thousands of years earlier.

Best highlight?
While sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane, we read the story of Jesus pleading with God in Matthew 26:9. I could close my eyes and feel a bit of the weight that Jesus felt. I could imagine him pleading, crying and praying. I could feel it in a way that I never had before. The olive trees swayed and wrote in my journal: “The trees were the backbone that held up the Son of Sons. Think of what these trees must have seen. Think of the conversations that they overheard. Think of the people that leaned up against them for support.”

Biggest challenge?
These were some of the most intense weeks that I have ever experienced. We were going non-stop, seeing some of the most inspiring and influential places of our faith. It was a challenge to process everything we were seeing and feeling one day, while still having space to experience everything that would come within the next day. I think I may be processing this trip for the rest of my life!

View More: did you discover in Israel?
I found beautiful people living a full life. When we hear about the Middle East, we often forget about people like Mosheh, who welcomed our group into his shop in the Old City walls of Jerusalem to tell us about the love and history the city holds, and the way that he runs his shop to promote that love. We forget about Jamal, a concierge who spends his days making foreign people feel at home in the place that he so deeply calls home. We forget about the people that call this place their home.

What was it like to essentially “walk through the Bible”?
You walk the same paths as so many key figures in the Bible. You spend time in the places that many visited daily. You humbly enter into the story that has been written and is still being written every day.

Is it true what we’ve heard, that this brings faith to life in a new way?
Once you have had the privilege of sitting in a place and reading the story that happened there all those years back, you can never read it the same way. When you have a deeper sense of knowledge and connection to the place and story, your relationship with God takes on another dimension.

View More: themes or lessons did you encounter along the way?
One day we had the opportunity to go out to the wilderness where Jesus spent 40 days fasting in isolation. I described it this way in my journal: “Perfectly silent. Only the sound of wind crashing against the mountains. Dark intense shadows on one end. Bright blinding mountains on the other.” And then, “In the silence of the wilderness came a soft hum: How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that he should give his only son. Like it was being sung in the wind, wrapping itself around each mountain top.”

What story did you want your photos to convey?
I wanted to capture the history around every corner of the Old City, to show the people and culture as well as the overcrowding of tourism among years of beauty and history. I wanted to show the colors found in the dirt and dust. I had the gift of seeing Israel for myself, but many don’t so I wanted them to be part of the experience.

View full photo collection >