Finding Identity in Israel
What better place to explore a biblical connection to identity than in the land where the Israelites wrestled with it? That’s exactly what Bob Cleveringa and Daniel Teerman thought as they dreamed up a new way to nurture identity.
Bob Cleveringa, director of youth ministries for the Synod of the Heartland, and Daniel Teerman, pastor of Tulare Community Church in Tulare, California, decided to organize a trip to Israel for young people and adults who were paired up in mentoring relationships. Teerman led the trip.
“We wanted to take the concept of discipleship one-on-one and combine it with youth and mentors. The goal was not to make it about the event, but about the process,” says Teerman.
For nine months in advance, mentors and mentees met monthly, studying, reading Bible passages, and answering reflection questions.
“Our ultimate goal was not to just have all this culminate with the trip,” says Teerman, “but [to have participants] go back into the church, integrating the idea of discipleship into their community and creating new patterns that change the way youth and disciple-maker work together.”
And new patterns have indeed been created.
“My faith has changed [as I’ve seen] the pictures of the Bible right in front of me,” says Caitlin Johnson, one of the students on the trip and a member of Valley Springs Reformed Church in Valley Springs, South Dakota. “And with that, I’ve not only become closer with my mentor, Tami, I’ve [also] been able to mix with other older people and learn about who I am from their stories.”
I had the privilege of going on the trip in the role of mentee. Some of the most beautiful things I saw were the intentional relationships that the mentors and mentees (or disciple-makers and sponges, as Teerman likes to say) have built through discipleship. In more vulnerable moments, I saw them hold pieces of wounded stories and broken identity in shaky hands, loving and tenderly caring for one another. In Israel, Jesus’ call to a greater story is undeniable, no matter how broken you are.
There’s something intimate about the land of Israel, to be standing where heroes of the Bible stood and praising God on the same mountaintops on which Jesus spent time with the Father. That intimacy beckoned us to join the story, to bring back new stories, to grow, to wrestle, and to dream dreams that can support the church in its own journey of identity.
“I’m finding here [in Israel] how I can live into who I am as a leader in the church and make that a gift to those who are leading and also a gift to those who are in need of leading,” says John Cleveringa, youth pastor at Haven Christian Reformed in Zeeland, Michigan, who came on the trip as both a mentee and mentor. “It’s a responsibility to tell the story I’m getting to know better here as well as my own story for those I mentor in ministry.”
It’s that mentor mentality that has made this trip so special. It has begun to change a generation as both disciple-makers and sponges have returned to their home churches to tell their stories and live them out in a new way.
Identity, as the Israelites discovered, isn’t found in the fancy culture of the Romans or in the idols of the Philistines, nor is it restricted to the Holy Land. It’s found in Jesus’ story, which is our story too—a story of redemption, hope, and purpose.
While in Israel, Teerman beckoned us—both mentors and mentees—to answer: What’s your story to tell? Together, in the intentional relationships designed for this trip and our futures, we are creating a story to tell, a story that will stir the church into deeper, authentic relationships with Jesus.
Cory Nikkel is an author, speaker, and graduate of Central College in Pella, Iowa.