With all the turmoil in Israel these days, who knows when it will be safe to travel there again; which makes the last trip all the more precious.
We were a diverse group: several students; four married couples; a mother and daughter; my parents and a nephew; and for all, a memorable pilgrimage.
All the spectacular sites were on the itinerary: Megiddo and Masada, Jerusalem and Jericho, the churches at Nazareth and Bethlehem, the spring at Tel Dan, the pool of Gibeon, the well at Beer Sheva, the cliffs of Arbel, and scores of places whose sights and sounds transform forever those who make this journey.
This trip had its special moments. Our novice bus driver mistakenly turned west instead of north, inadvertently (or shall we say, providentially) taking us away from the northern Israeli town that suffered a mortar attack during the morning of our scheduled visit.
On our boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, a mother read aloud a letter from her daughter testifying to the miracle healing that swept over her body one year earlier as she, sick unto death, made her own pilgrimage across the Sea.
Arab men on the Mount of Olives flagged down our airport-bound bus, dramatically pointing to the open rear door, from which two pieces of luggage had fallen, never to be recovered.
But of all the unforgettable elements of this particular journey, none surpasses for me the long, difficult hike up the Sinai Mountain where, tradition says, Moses communed with God, receiving two tablets of stone and 10 commandments for life.
After a couple hours of sleep, we boarded buses to the gates of St. Catherine’s Monastery. Under the watch-care of a full moon, we began the four-hour ascent along a path that began as sand, turned to rock, and for the final two hours, was nothing but one large stone after another.
Not all who began this grueling hike had the strength of mind and body to reach the summit. In fact, only seven of us joined the other four score people from all over the world in time to watch the sun spread its light on the silent stillness of the red granite rock that stretched out in all directions.
One who made it, but could not see it, was Marie Peterson.
Marie has an eye condition called coloboma, giving her vision of 20/300. It is one of numerous physical handicaps that, taken together, constitute what doctors know as CHARGE syndrome.
It is not just seeing, but hearing, smelling, even walking that are made difficult, at times impossible, without assistance. So the climb up Mt. Sinai, tough even for those in top physical shape, presented Marie with a challenge.
Marie, however, has spent her life facing challenges.
A few days ago she graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown College. During her four years, she found a place on the academic team, student government, campus ministry and the newspaper staff. She was a member of five honorary societies. She worked on the library staff.
So a hike up Mt. Sinai was just another test of personal resolve; only this time it involved my resolve as well. Marie’s mother gave out halfway to the summit; so the guiding, lifting, pulling, warning, and yes, describing role fell to me.
I did it reluctantly, I confess, her arm linked in mine, her hand pulling on me.
My attitude alternated between a self-centered irritation at her infringement upon my own experience of Sinai and a soul-stirring amazement at her inspirational example of self-determination. We sat together at the summit and talked of Moses and his experience of God.
So when College President William H. Crouch, Jr. used the words “courage” and “commitment” in his introduction for the most prestigious award of our commencement service–the President’s Award–I knew the student about to be honored. As the Dean of Students assisted her down the grassy aisle in front of Giddings Hall, I remembered gladly the moonlit morning I assisted her up the rocky slopes of Mt. Sinai.
Several thousand people stood and applauded. As we did, Dr. Crouch said to the young lady who could not see, “They are giving you a standing ovation, Marie.”
Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.