Love Your Neighbor: A Family Adjusting to Life in Israel

This is Part Four in a series of articles showing God’s call on a family, their decision to move to Israel and what happened when they did.

In Part Three, “Sanctuary of Hope and Tears,” Scott Presson wrote about their first visit to the Western Wall.  

The Sages said that Jerusalem was the center of the world and indeed Adonai Elohim declares “This is Jerusalem! I have set her in the midst of the nations, with countries all around her (Ezekiel 5:5). Anyone who has ever seen Jerusalem knows that along with Israel it is one of the most beautiful places on earth and a photographer’s delight. For a talented photographer like my father, the land of Israel was a dream come true. The light, the culture, the people and the architecture, all combined to make the iconic and the mundane a diverse mix of inspiration and creativity.

Our family was beginning to adjust. We had arrived in Israel with a vague notion that somehow Adonai would enable us to be a blessing to the people of the Land. My parents were completely trusting Adonai for guidance, for jobs and even for a place to live. While they were waiting for direction, our temporary home had become the Christ Church Guest House, just inside Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.

My brother and I had immediately begun to venture out into the streets of the city. It was strange and exciting but Jerusalem was starting to feel familiar. Before we had left the United States, I had gotten a small camera. I aspired to be as good a photographer as my Father and he had told me that one way to get better was to take lots of pictures. So I had begun taking pictures of anything and everything.

One day as my brother and I were walking down the street, we passed a group of Orthodox Jewish men. I turned and snapped a photograph of them. My action got their attention. Suddenly they began to throw rocks at my brother and me. Alarmed, I looked at my brother. After years of fighting with him, he had an expression that I knew all too well. It was a look that said that he was ready for battle.

My brother and I began to look for rocks to throw and for the first time, I noticed that there were rocks everywhere.  I grabbed one that seemed to perfectly fit my palm of my hand and I wound up and launched it. Unfortunately for the men, they were throwing rocks at kids that had grown up playing baseball. I was a 14 year old boy with well-developed hand to eye coordination. I could put a fast ball almost exactly where I wanted it to go. I remembered my baseball coach’s instructions; don’t just toss the ball, aim it and throw it where you want it to go. The coach had also said that many times a person’s instincts are delayed and they cannot judge the speed and distance of an incoming object or react quickly enough to move out of the way. Although the rock that I threw was certainly not smooth nor round like a baseball, it still reacted the way that I hoped that it would. It flew straight and a little high and then about two meters before it got to its destination intended target, it dropped. I knew that the man’s eye had perceived the rock as going high when in reality, the trajectory had curved down. Instead of avoiding the incoming stone, he had placed himself squarely in the path of it and by the time he had realized that, it was too late. The rock hit him. His heavy black coat protected him but I was pretty sure that it had hurt.

Now the four men became infuriated and began to throw even more rocks. Some came close but we easily sidestepped them. I threw another rock and it barely missed its intended target. My brother dodged an incoming rock then threw one back that hit one of the men.

“You nailed him!” I gleefully said.

I let loose with my best fast ball. It barely missed the man but in trying to avoid it, his hat fell off. It did not appear that they were going to stop, so neither were we.

Out of nowhere I had a thought. I was with my brother Stephen getting stoned by people on a street in Jerusalem, probably near where Stephen had been stoned and martyred. The irony was unbelievable.

Someone was yelling. I took a quick look around and up the street I saw my father. He was charging towards us waving his hands and yelling something. I figured that he had seen what was happening and that he was upset that these men were throwing stones at us. He had an injury that caused him to walk with a hard limp but he was moving like I had not seen him move in a long time. A couple of large rocks landed right between Steve and myself. I wound up and threw another one. As I watched it fly towards it destination, suddenly I felt the powerful grip of my father on my arm.

Ow!

“What’s wrong?” I said, just as my rock hit one of the men in the shoulder.

“What are you two doing?”

He was out of breath and looked just about as mad as I had ever seen him. I told him that these men had started throwing rocks at us. Big rocks. Like they were trying to hurt us.

My brother Steve blurted out, “Scott took a picture of them.”

“Yea,” I chimed in, “I guess they thought that I was trying to steal their souls.”

Once I had seen a television program where Native Americans had seen pictures of themselves and thought that the photographer was trying to steal their souls. It had stayed in my mind.

My father looked puzzled for a second but he didn’t miss a beat “We are here to love people.”

“But Dad,” I protested, “they started throwing rocks at us. We didn’t do anything, besides I was showing them some love. I was showing them my fastball.”

I underestimated how truly angry my father was. He jerked me around hard and got in my face.

“You listen to me and you listen to me good” he said. “Don’t you ever do that again.”

The implied threat made me swallow hard.

“But Dad…” I said weakly, my voice trailing off.

“Never” he said. “Do you both understand me?”

“Yes sir” we both said.

Wow, I thought. Love them? I am not loving anyone that throws rocks at you when you are trying to take a stupid picture of them.

My father seemed to read my mind.

“We are here to love people” he repeated, “and we are going to give them love.”

Give them love? I only had a vague notion of what loving strangers meant. I loved my family, I loved my stuff, I had loved our dog Duke that we had to give away and I had learned that “Adonai is love.” As far as extending that love to people that were trying to hurt you, that was not a concept that I had a lot of practice with. “Love them” sounded like an easy thing to say but a hard thing to do.

I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked back up the street. One of the men was waving his finger at us but I didn’t dare respond. Evidently that meant the same thing here as it did back at school in the States.

The word “neighbor” is defined as more than just someone who lives near you. It also means companion, brother, friend, associate or one who is near.

The Orthodox men and my brother and I had a shared interest in where we were. Realistically, we traveled the same streets and however temporarily, lived in the same area. We were “near” to one another. We were neighbors.

Yeshua made it clear. He said “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14). What did he command? Yeshua declared that one of the greatest commandments is to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39) and he made it clear that it did not stop there. He also said “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45). As Believers we have to admit that our neighbors are more than just the people who live near us and acknowledge that everyone is our neighbor. If we claim to be “children of Elohim,” then we have to be willing to love and to pray for those that hate us and who even may want to hurt us. In doing so we show everyone that we truly are hearers and doers of the Word (James 1:22) and that we have set our minds on heavenly things above (Colossians 3:2).

Next: Pathway To The House Of God: Adonai uses a true saint to help chart a course for our future. In 1973, God told our family to move to Israel. This is our story.