One of our goals at Passages is to cultivate a deeper understanding of the Holy Land, its people, and its significance to the Christian faith, both during our participants’ time in Israel and after they’ve returned home. To supplement our participants’ experiences in the Holy Land, we encourage students to complete the Passages Capstone course in the months following their trip. This course offers students a number of ways in which to process and reflect upon their time in Israel, including participating in an essay, photo, or submit-your-own-project contest. Winners have their work featured on various platforms and receive a cash prize for their creative submissions.
The following piece, “Faith Like a Mustard Seed,” written by Anna Moss, is the winning essay from our 2021 Essay Contest! In her essay, Anna talks about the lessons she learned from COVID-19, a trip to Israel, and a little mustard seed. Congratulations, Anna!
Faith Like a Mustard Seed
March 12, 2020, was a big day for me. I took a poetry exam in the morning, followed soon after by an interview for a summer job. Things were looking good and falling into place. I had my plans laid out, and I was excited for what was to come. That evening, I was interrupted from my homework by an email from my university’s dean of students: due to this virus called COVID-19, classes were going online indefinitely. Little did I know that, in the weeks and months that followed, all my summer plans—including my trip to Israel—would unravel.
This is a familiar story. Each of us, in our own way, experienced loss over the course of the pandemic—whether that was fellowship, trips, income, or even friends and family members. And we all lost the control that had never been ours in the first place. It became abundantly clear that we are not sovereign over the events of our lives, and that we must surrender our dreams and plans to God.
I was pretty disappointed about not getting to travel to Israel. It would’ve been my first time outside the U.S. and my second time on a plane. In a way, I felt that I had been preparing for this trip my whole life. As a teenager, I had experienced what Jeremiah describes: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts” (Jer. 15:16). Not getting to go to Israel was not just the loss of my first experience traveling abroad; to me, it meant the loss of a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Even when I began to receive word that a trip to Israel might be happening in 2021, I did not hold out hope for it. There was the conflict in Israel, not to mention a pandemic going around. A trip to Israel seemed unlikely at best. When we were given the green light to buy plane tickets two weeks before the trip, it finally began to set in that this was actually happening. By that point, though, I had become very fearful of traveling—if I’m being honest, I didn’t even want to go. I had so many worries, and I just wanted to stay home where everything was familiar.
However, before my group had even left the Nashville airport, God had begun to put to shame my fears. Already, I was watching in amazement as He brought all the details together, working through all the problems my group had with late covid test results and delayed flights. To my surprise, my group—who were mostly mere acquaintances or even strangers to one another before the trip—quickly meshed. The sovereign goodness of God was evident in bringing each of us to Israel on the same trip.
I witnessed the power of God in these logistics, but one moment in Galilee especially strengthened my faith. It was our second full day in Israel post-quarantine, and we were planning to visit ancient Capernaum. Unfortunately, when we arrived we discovered that Capernaum was still closed to the public, but we got out of the bus anyway and just stood on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was a rather ordinary spot, and several families were camping, swimming, and cooking. My guide showed us a few trees and plants, and we snapped some group photos. As we were leaving, he pointed out some mustard seed. Someone handed me a pod, splitting it open to reveal about a dozen mustard seeds. Involuntarily, I gasped, “Faith this tiny!”
In Matthew, there is a story about the faithlessness of the disciples. A man comes to Jesus, asking him to heal his son who has a demon. As it turns out, the man had already been to Jesus’ disciples with the same request, but they had been unable to cast out the demon because, Jesus said, they lacked faith. Then Jesus tells his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20).
As most of my group headed back to the bus, I remained rooted to the spot for a moment. I had seen mustard seeds in my pantry at home, but there was something about holding one in my palm, standing on the outskirts of ancient Capernaum, that made me see the story in a new light. Later that day, as I enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, I gripped the mustard seed between my thumb and index finger, holding it up against the mountains around the sea. Jesus had said faith this small. And he had been talking about mountains as big as these.
The apostle Paul wrote that, even when we are faithless, Christ remains faithful (2 Tim. 2:13). As I marveled at the minuscule mustard seed in my hand, I saw the greatness of God in that he can take my weak, faltering faith and use it to move mountains. It is not because of the strength of my faith but because of his power. And this is exactly what I had seen him do through my trip to Israel. From my application to the trip in October 2019 to my return from Israel twenty-two months later, he showed me that he is sovereign and I am not.
It has now been more than a month since I came home from Israel. When people ask me about the trip, I tell them about the sheer joy of sticking my head in the waterfall stream at Ein Gedi, about the sobering visit to Yad Vashem, and about the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. But what I remember the most is that God brought me to Israel at the right time and under the circumstances that most clearly displayed his sovereignty in my life. When I carefully mapped out my life and tried to control things, he revealed my arrogance and lack of dependence upon him. He showed me that, even when my faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, his power is so great that he can work through it.