BY SARAH CHO
Every Wednesday, Peter Kim, pastor of Korean-American Campus Mission at Berkeley, takes the Megabus up from southern California for the weekly worship service. Then he spends half of Thursday with the fellowship’s students before taking the Megabus back down. And while most of his students enjoyed winter break warming their beds and mindlessly clicking remote controls, he traveled across the planet to witness firsthand the place where Jesus Christ traveled and taught.
He’d impressed upon us, at the last meeting before his departure, the fleetingness of life. Recalling an alumnus who had recently passed away from a car crash, he’d announced his upcoming trip to Israel and the possibility that, just like the alumnus, he might not live to see us again: he was about to step foot in a foreign and, perhaps, uninviting land. He’d worn a peaceful expression as he spoke: “You don’t know when you’re going to die. My wish for you is that you live fully for the Lord, not regretting a single day, so that even if you were to die tonight, you would stand before God and say, ‘I lived my life to the fullest for You.’” Fortunately, he returned unscathed and unchanged in form except for a noticeable extra inch of hair. We met up in Bear’s Lair, as I was eager to hear about his trip.
For Pastor Peter, his trip to Israel was a way to visualize and understand the stories presented in the Bible. “I’ve read the Bible, and many times, when I read about the places, I didn’t […] grasp what exactly was going on. I didn’t understand what it meant for the Jews to first come to the Promised Land, to be in Jerusalem, why Mt. Zion was called Mt. Zion, or how far the mountains of olives stretched. I was able to see those things.”
Through the sites, he gained a deeper understanding of the Bible’s reality. He was able to “see distances, see how much people walked,” and walk in their very footsteps millennia later. He saw shepherds and visualized them coming before the baby Jesus.
“You can imagine Jesus at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is still there, shouting ‘Woe to you!’ to the Pharisees, as you look into the distance at the very white-washed tombs that Jesus referred to. You come to a realization that Jesus was not thinking up random examples, but rather, pointing to specifics that people experienced day to day. They were relevant.”
They still are. Yet the tension that existed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the Jews and Gentiles, has shifted in our world. Now they exist in the form of Israelis and Palestinians. This tension goes beyond religious values, though, to the geography and configuration of the city. “You can see walls all around. Security towers. The Jews are on one side, the Palestinians on the other. Israel is divided,” he said.
Even in Berkeley, I thought, the division is apparent. Just a few weeks ago, a group of students were protesting against the Israeli structures isolating Palestinians from the main city routes. In classrooms, the mention of religion alone pushes students to the edge of their seats. Everyone believes himself to be right, and everyone defends her version of Truth. Yet most people too easily overlook those protests on the way to class, failing to understand the actual situation fully.
“In Israel, there’s a place called the Temple Mount,” continued Pastor Peter, “where the Muslims control the top, and the orthodox Jews worship below at the Wailing Wall. Jews believe that the location of the Wailing Wall is closest to where the temple would have been on the Temple Mount. In one incident, the Palestinians threw rocks at the people under them. The place was filled with tension.”
And he insisted that this heavily religious conflict is also a chance to proclaim the good news: “Let’s get the word out. Our desire is for people to believe. But we’re not going to go out and force people to believe. The Bible talks about how, when non-believers sin, it’s not for us to point and judge and say it’s wrong; it’s our job to judge within the church to help each other live for God. We can accept and talk, but we don’t have the right to force. We want what we know to bring them peace and joy, but it’s up to them to believe.”
Returning from Israel, Pastor Peter brought with him insight into the realness of Jesus’ physical life and of his presence today as Christians engage themselves in discipleship in conviction of the truth. “When you go there, you’re just seeing the land,” he concludes, “but what’s important is not that you remember the sights, but what happened at these places.” Once the life work of Jesus Christ, who walked the very grounds of Israel, becomes known as historical events rather than distant fictional stories, Christianity will “become” factual reality. And once Christianity becomes a reality, living for Christ, as Pastor Peter exhorted, will become a willing, living journey: a natural response to the goodness of the gospel.