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Going to Israel

 
I knew I had to make a conscious effort to make a community for myself when I went to Israel.
There’s something about being away from home in another country that makes you want to deviate from your true self. I’m not talking about personal growth or taking on the culture of your host country. People do things abroad they wouldn’t dream of doing in their day to day lives in their home country all in the name of seizing the day. I’ve not just seen this in others; I’m also talking about myself.
 
I knew if I did not make a conscious effort to build a community I would become unanchored from my faith.
 
I didn’t want to wake up four months into my time in Israel, when the sparkle of it all faded away, and realize I had become someone else. When you’re isolated from your community, particularly your church or mentors, and surrounded with people who are all doing things you don’t normally do, it’s hard to stay true to yourself.
Staying true to my every day life was important to me.



There comes a point when you realize how far you are from everything and if you were to bend your convictions nobody would know. Rather than firmly holding onto your beliefs, the temptation to assimilate comes. The community you build will have an effect on you, your heart and ultimately who you become. Finding a community of Christians to plug into was vital to my well being while I was in Israel.
 
Proverbs 4:23 says “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”
Who we surround ourselves with could determine the course of our lives! Following this proverb, I made a plan to safeguard my heart and stay anchored in my faith while I was abroad in Israel.
 
Blending in is not for me.

Instead of debating within myself on how I could blend in with all the new friends I would make (who most likely wouldn’t have the same beliefs or values as me) I made a plan to stay true to my convictions.
 
If you put off making a plan to prioritize your relationship with God or maintaining your convictions while you’re abroad, you will deviate from them. Waiting until you’re out with all your friends who aren’t believers to decide how you will maintain your convictions is setting yourself up for difficulty.




Studying abroad means leaving behind a support system.
 
My time in Israel would be the first time I went somewhere indefinitely. In preparation, I thought about all the details that made up my life and support system. Appreciating those details before you leave gives you a framework for starting a new life when you’re planning long-term time abroad.
 
Columbia, Missouri doesn’t have skyscrapers or famous landmarks but it’s where I was born and raised. It’s where the church I grew up in is, where everyone loves me and knows my name. My church is a huge part of my support system and community.
 
The kids at church thought I was dressed like Esmeralda.

 
“CoMo” is also the home of my alma mater, the University of Missouri. Growing up in a college town was a blessing. It meant I was near to my family and apart of their lives while attending university.
 
My sister and I both were students at Mizzou for two years. We would have sweet chats riding to and from school. Sometimes we would study next to each other in the library or cut our studies short to get a slice of pizza from Shakespeare’s, a popular off-campus spot. My brother was in high school not far from where I worked.
 
Choosing Tel Aviv University for graduate school meant saying good-bye to all of that. The place I grew up, the church I’d been apart of for ten years-how could anyone recreate a loving community like that? The truth is you can’t. You can take steps to guard your faith that will in turn build a community though.
 
Sharing my opinions on my favorite pizza place being torn down.
 
Intentionally pursuing friendships with people who had similar values, beliefs and lifestyle as me made my life away from my loved ones easier.
 
My first priority before leaving for Israel was to find roommates who had the same values and lifestyle as me. I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t do drugs and I prefer not to be around cigarettes. I am a creature of habits some may find annoying. For example, I listen to a different minister or motivational speaker for every activity of the day. These habits reflect my values and the person I want to become. I needed roommates who would put up with all this and had similar values and lifestyle.
 
Consider who you live with carefully.
 
The people you live with are the people you accidentally hang out with every day. They’re the ones you accidentally do life with. Living with just anyone was not an option for me. I prayed for roommates who have beliefs, values and lifestyles like mine. They were provided and were a blessing to me.
 
My thoughtful roommates threw me a "Life in Pink" going away party! <3


 

My second priority was finding a gathering of believers.
 
Church was and is a big aspect of my life in the United States. Before going to Israel, I spent Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in church or at church related activities. Having a place in a community of believers is imperative. If church is a part of your life in your home country, it should be in your host country if you have that option. Your community could influence the course of your life! I recommend finding a church, congregation or bible study to participate in.
 
Not going to church while in Israel was not an option for me.
 
My search began immediately.
 
I visited a few different churches and congregations before deciding on a community to commit to. Although it took a month to choose that particular congregation, it took months to feel as though it were my own. That congregation is a community of people who love Jesus but there were cultural differences. The main difference was language. Their services are completely in Hebrew.
 
Although my understanding of the songs and messages was a progression because of the language difference, I chose that gathering over others because of the worship. I really connected with worship there. Over time I made meaningful friendships, led small groups and prayer meetings there. That community is the source of many memories.
 
My third priority for remaining anchored in my faith was deliberately staying in touch with people from home. I’ve been blessed to have key encouragers and mentors in my life. While I was in Israel I set time aside to call, Skype or email them. I called my parents, siblings and grandparents on Shabbat. I would email my pastors to stay in touch and stay encouraged by them. I would have long conversations with special friends who speak life to me.
 
Supportive friends are an indescribable blessing. My spirits were lifted when they visited Israel.

All these ties were maintained on purpose because I set aside time to stay encouraged by them.
It’s impossible to recreate your life in another country. The decision to go to graduate school in Tel Aviv was not only the selection of a school. It was the selection of a new life, community and ultimately a place to call home. Had I not intentionally sought out roommates with similar lifestyles, a congregation or words of encouragement from mentors back home, I would have come back a very different person.
 
A lot can change in a year.
 
Your faith doesn’t have to atrophy while you’re abroad. Maintaining your faith and even strengthening it while you’re isolated does require effort. My advice to you is to prioritize your relationship with God before you get tempted to blend in.
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