“Hello, hello.” “Excuse me, please come in.” To the thousands of tourists swarming through Old City Jerusalem every day, these words, spoken in heavy accents by every Arab shopkeeper lining the narrow streets, may seem endearing and inviting. But now we hear them multiple times a day, on our way to school, on our way to work, everywhere we go. They’re almost offensive to us now, because although we look like every other tourist passing by, the Old City is not a tourist attraction or souvenir marketplace for us. It’s our home now. We don’t shop for “Shalom, y’all” t-shirts or olive wood Nativity scenes here. We shop for our groceries, and clothespins to dry our clothes on, and sheets to put on our bed (well, on our mattresses on the floor).
Instead of car traffic, we get pedestrian traffic, usually groups of boisterous tour groups wearing yellow hats or something along those lines. Instead of a signed contract with a professional landlord, we get a handshake from an Arab hardware shopkeeper. Our paint is chipping. No, not chipping. It sort of rains dust and dry paint all over our apartment every day. Dust and allergies do not mix well together, by the way. Our bedroom is in our living room, which also houses our refrigerator. Down the hall, which opens up to a courtyard shared with several other Arab families and offers very little privacy, you will find a kitchen with nothing but a broken washing machine, a small sink, some cabinets, and a portable burner. Our bathroom is a part of our kitchen. No air conditioning, just a fan and two windows.
While much of it is interesting and even exciting, we encounter thousands of opportunities to grumble. We’ve begun to feel like the Israelites being tested in the wilderness, longing for the leeks and onions of Egypt. God has answered our prayers in so many ways. But life here is hard. There are no grocery stores to rely on here, no thrift stores, not the same Christian fellowship we had back home. We’re fighting hard to be grateful, though. I brought a pretty little picture frame which is sitting empty on our windowsill. We’ve decided to fill it with the humorous but helpful words of Prov. 14:4: “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”
We aren’t missionaries, but we do feel like we’re on a mission here. We believe Bryan’s studies here will help him to equip the church and serve the kingdom more effectively. Today he had his first class of the semester, on Northwest Semitic dialects. As you might imagine, not many people are very interested in studying Northwest Semitic dialects, but we believe that it will be a great help to the church. In a month we hope begin modern Hebrew classes together, which we also see as a way to improve our biblical Hebrew and knowledge of the Bible. Bryan will also be starting thesis work comparing ancient translations of a biblical passage and will start co-teaching an informal Bible school through our church here.
Yes, life is most definitely harder here. Ours probably won’t be a clean manger, but we are trusting the Lord for abundant crops.