Twice now, I have had the privilege of experiencing the land and culture of Israel from the comfort of a tour bus.
Determined to see as much of the country as I could, I would keep my eyes fixed out the window of the bus as we drove from archeological sites to national parks. Now, I see the same rolling hills and old stone buildings slip past the windows of an ambulance as it pushes through the crowded Jerusalem streets as we prepare to meet our next patient.
In January of 2018, I began a ten-day training course that would prepare forty other international volunteers and me to begin working shifts on Magen David Adom’s (MDA) basic life support ambulances. Magen David Adom is the primary provider of emergency medical care in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. Through their overseas program, people of any nationality, regardless of medical experience, can operate as first responders in Israel.
My motives for volunteering with MDA were primarily self-serving. I hoped to gain medical experience that would benefit my career and studies in the Emergency Medical Care field. Not surprisingly, my expectations were completely surpassed from day one. As I got to know the MDA family, I began to get an idea of the significance of their service to the people of Israel and how great a blessing it was to be able to work with them.
A large portion of the staff at MDA volunteers their time, choosing daily to rush to potentially dangerous situations with no monetary compensation. My favorite question to ask these medics was always “why?” I wanted to know what had driven each of them to serve Israel in this way. The responses varied, but the common theme of their motivation was almost always anchored in a sense of compassion and personal responsibility to affect positive change within the world. These beliefs, which have compelled many at MDA to serve the sick and injured, resonate with the kingdom values of service and love. The often repeated saying from Philippians 2:3-4 expresses this sentiment well: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
I found myself having to answer why-questions twice as often as I was asking them. For me, these questions always followed a very specific and often repeated conversation. Each time someone on an ambulance crew would become aware that I am not Jewish, they immediately asked the same two questions: “Why do you practice Judaism?” and “Why are you in Israel?” I understood their curiosity, especially considering that very few non-Jewish individuals participate in the overseas volunteer program. Out of those who do, Messianic believers are the smallest minority. Neither of these two questions was particularly easy to answer, but after having to do so several times on nearly every shift, I formulated an answer that at least begins to express my beliefs.
First, I have always practiced Judaism because that is how my parents raised me. I was raised this way because we are disciples of Yeshua seeking to follow his teachings and, since he valued and practiced Judaism, it is only natural that we would do the same.
Second, I am in Israel because it is a second home to me. For most people who have grown up participating in Messianic Judaism, Israel has always been in the back of our minds, on our hearts, and central in our prayers. I was raised to care about this country, and as I began experiencing it in person, I only felt more attached and invested in its well-being. More specifically, I am riding on this ambulance, walking into patients’ homes at two in the morning, and holding their hand as we speed toward the emergency room because God told us to serve. I am called to help others, and this is a way I can fulfill that.
I’ll never forget my instructor, a man who has lived to see his closest friends pass away too soon and has every right to be jaded, telling us how he chooses to see every patient as his own child, sibling, or parent. I asked him if it was emotionally taxing to choose that level of vulnerability and attachment to each patient. He told me, yes, it’s incredibly difficult, but it is the level care and compassion that we owe to each patient. I believe that we owe genuine care and empathy, the kind of love that Yeshua shared, to every person whom God places in our lives. We should seek the healing of souls through selfless love as urgently as we would offer medicine to an ill person.