A Year Like No Other

The first two weeks were a bit strange. Everyone was in quarantine except us. We had some of our meals in the caravan and some meals with the staff. There wasn’t a lot of harvesting either, so we tried to make ourselves useful where we could. Not having much to do, I spent many mornings sat in the park while the children played.

While everyone was in quarantine, HaYovel had arranged teachings and speakers throughout the day on Zoom. We did miss quite a few talks through either being busy or because the phone signal was not always that reliable. Although it was a full schedule, the girls made a video series called “The Quarantine Games”. It was hilarious. It showed how every one of the girls were becoming unhinged. Very entertaining.

We were very fortunate, being from Britain, which is on the green list, meant we did not have to quarantine. Mr Tommy, Mrs Sherri and their children still at home with them, were still in isolation when we arrived but only had one week to go, having arrived earlier than the rest of us.

It was a good day when everyone was finally free and able to participate in camp life.

So when harvest was in full swing, Pete and the girls joined in every day. The girls were amazing. They woke up at four am, went to help prepare breakfast in the kitchen, then on to harvesting, even through heat wave. It wasn’t so easy taking all the children harvesting, so I let the children play in the playground while I did the washing up from breakfast to free up others to go harvesting.

The weeks were quite busy, Shabbat being the favourite day of course. On Friday mornings the Moms all get together in the kitchen and do the food prep for Friday night and Saturday. It gets a bit cramped in there sometimes. A few Mamas come with a baby on their back (or front) and sometimes a toddler or two. But it’s great fun.

This harvest is a very different year. Normally there are sight seeing tours: Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley, the Dead sea, Shiloh etc. This year it has been vines, vines and more vines. But that is what is so exciting:

So God brought seventy volunteers from the nations to Israel, to come and harvest grapes. Everyone else faced closed borders, apart from Israeli citizens, and those making Aliyah (Jewish people coming back to their homeland). It has been a miracle that the borders were opened just for us. Many of the newspapers have written articles about the volunteers who made it in to the country, some favourable, some not.

But, prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes and the land and the people are being restored. Sixteen years ago God called a family with eleven children to come to these mountains and help the Jewish farmers harvest their grapes. Other families began to join them and HaYovel was born.

So life here has been wonderful. Normally there are many different programs, which means that volunteers come and go, but this year has been different. Everyone is here for approximately three months, so it’s a very close group. We are getting to know everyone quite well, and its just really special. It's incredible to think that God brought this group together for His purposes, and I'm pretty sure that no one is exactly sure what God has planned for them yet, but I know that everyone is very excited.

So a highlight here has definitely been to celebrate the three fall feasts in The Land. Yom Teruah was great fun, celebrated over two days. The Wallers dressed up as Hillbillies and made us breakfast on the second day. It was hilarious. We also had a cake eating contest, and a very funny pretzel eating contest, where you put the pretzel on your forehead and then move the muscles in your face to try and get it into your mouth. This was hilarious to watch. There was also a water balloon tossing contest that turned into a water fight, followed by a very nice barbecue.

Yom Teruah is a shadow of the day that Messiah returns. It says: at the last Trump… and this day is a day of blowing the shofar or shouting, a noisy day.

The Day of Atonement is the shadow of the day that God will judge the world. It is a day of fasting, but not a sad day. We fasted food and water for twenty five hours, which was really hard at the beginning, but much easier towards the end. The feasts start at sunset, so in Jewish custom you have a meal before dark, and then the fast starts after dinner. The kitchen crew made spectacular Schwarmas, which was very brave as almost everybody was wearing white. We ate very carefully…

After dinner everyone got together, sat in a circle and read through all the Psalms. It was great. Pete, David and the girls made it through the night, but the little ones and I didn’t. I was so tired, I put them to bed and I went to bed too.

Sukkot is probably the most festive festival. Everyone builds themselves a Sukkah (an outdoor building with palm branches or bamboo as the roof) sleeps outside and invites people over for snacks and games. It was so great to sleep outside. They built a huge Sukkah to eat in too, and there was a different theme every night as different families or groups took turns cooking. It was so much fun. We had different days of Sukkah sitting at clusters of Sukkah’s, and in each one there were games to play. I think our favourite was “spoons” (played with cards and spoons) and there was also chess, a fishing game, apple stacking and Pit, to name a few.

We also had some games on a couple of days. The best one was where they had a green tarp strung across the middle of the white tent, and everyone put on their harvest shoes, as when you are harvesting, often all you can see of the person opposite is their feet under the vines. A group of about seven people stand behind the green tarp, while the rest of the group are on the other side with only their shoes sticking under the tarp. The seven then have to guess who the shoes belong to. This then continues until everyone has had a turn to guess. The other is a game called Corn Hole. Britt Waller made them. It’s a wooden rectangular box with a hole in it, towards the top of the box. They are made to stand at an angle. Two boxes are placed opposite each other at a distance of approximately thirty feet, and two teams then take turns to throw beanbags into the holes, scoring as you go. Its really good fun once you get your eye in.

There were special Sukkot prayers in the big Sukkah every morning, with Lulav’s, which are made using the four species that God specifies in Leviticus 23. We also sing the Hallel Psalms, which is Psalm 113 – 118. The Waller’s are a very gifted bunch and have put the Hallel Psalms to music in English and Hebrew, which is so wonderful to memorise scripture and be able to sing together.

One of the highlights of Sukkot was the annual talent show. This year they decided to spread it out over two evenings, with one being a music night and the other generally different skits. They normally did it all on one evening, but too much humour gets a bit tiring after eleven pm.

The talent here on the mountain in 2020 is incredible. We heard the most amazing artists sing and play, and one of the ladies who is also on staff is actually recording her song, which is beautiful. I will share that once she puts it on Spotify.

The next evening was a scream. The volunteers and staff here are not only godly and talented, they are also hilarious. It’s been a while since we have laughed this much. It was a very memorable evening.

Sukkot is the shadow of spending eternity with God. This is the time when God will tabernacle with His people forever. Sukkot is an eight-day feast, and in Hebrew, eight represents new beginnings.

So the fall feasts are over, and the grape harvest is almost over. There are a few days of olive harvesting to come, but the most exciting is tree planting. HaYovel is going to plant four thousand trees. This area used to be covered in forest and was incredibly abundant. Josephus wrote that the land was so productive even the lazy were compelled to farm it. So God sent HaYovel a tree expert to help select species that would likely have been native (using the bible and other sources for guidance), to plan, and to oversee the planting. They have raised money to buy hoes, pick axes, shovels, pitch forks, wheelbarrows, mulch, and of course, the trees. The harvesting volunteers are now a group of thorn bush clearers and pick wielding hole diggers. Not to mention making new access through some immensely challenging terrain. We have someone on prayer watch and someone on Arab watch whilst working, as at some point they will come up through the valley from the town below to try and disrupt this work.

The weeds here are enormous. The most prevalent one is called ‘widows garment’ and is very large and thorny. I’ve had the pleasure of digging up some of them around the base, but they were only small ones. Where the trees are being planted they are knee high.

We have also been on a very exciting trip to Elon Moreh. You can read about it in Genesis 12, this is where God appeared to Abraham and said "To your descendants I will give this land". This place is beautiful, as it looks out over so much of Israel. I think you can see very far on a clear day, and knowing what a fruitful land it was back then, it must have been breathtakingly stunning.

Also, the valley in the background is the one the Israelites travelled through when they came from Egypt. You can just imagine how the inhabitants must have felt seeing such a multitude of people travelling through the valley.

A few days ago most of the volunteers were whisked off to the Arogot Farm. It's a hilltop in Judea where they have built a prayer house for all nations, and they are in the process of building a retreat centre. The girls all had the honour of sleeping on the floor of the prayer house in their sleeping bags, and one of our friends had a VERY close encounter with a centipede. The men all slept outside either under a big pergola or just outside of. it, with a view of the stars. They have also built a freshwater swimming pool, which is cleaned using four species of plants and fish.

The next day was the first olive harvest, four hundred trees. They were VERY dirty and tired when they got home. Pete had taken the three eldest, while I stayed on base with the other four. That was one long day.

We are incredibly excited that we are to join the HaYovel staff next year. They are an amazing group of people, who are so excited about what God has placed in front of them to do. In just over two weeks we will be heading back to England so that I can apply for my citizenship, and for us to seek supporters who will join us in this work. Its all so exciting, but a little sad that we have to leave behind some amazing new friends. But of course we are also looking forwards to seeing our family and friends back home.

It’s an honour to be a part of the restoration of The Land, and we watch with interest while good battles evil. But we know God’s will WILL prevail, and this Land, so contested now, will eventually belong to God's chosen people again, and those who join themselves to the name of YHVH, the creator of the universe.

Isaiah 56:6-7
“Also the sons of the foreigner Who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, And to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants— Everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And holds fast My covenant—
7 Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; For My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

A number of the really good photographs were taken by a very gifted young lady called Gabby Van Baalen.