By Tatjana Mustac
Growing up as an active, practicing Catholic, I have always had the dream of visiting Israel and to experience the Bible come to life before my eyes. This dream came true for me with a simple Google search, and of course through the guidance of God.
During the summer of 2019, God led me on this path to visit Israel. After many conversations with friends about Israel and the Holy Land, I was led to researching various programs and pilgrimages that take young people to the Holy Land. Within a few minutes of searching, I was led to a program named “Passages.”
Passages is a unique, nine-day journey that allows for Christian college students on a visit to and experience of the Holy Land. The participants encounter the roots of their Biblical faith first-hand and walk the path that Jesus walked. The program is essentially the closest trip to the Christian version of the Jewish Birthright Program. To me, the program looked way too good to be true since the opportunity I dreamed of practically fell into my hands within a matter of minutes.
After thinking about the program and meditating in prayer, I decided to give it a chance and apply. I felt that completing an application would not hurt and in fact, it would more than likely bring a pleasant opportunity. At that point, I put my destiny purely into God’s hands and hoped for the best. One thing I kept repeating to myself was that if a trip to Israel is where God wants to take me, it will happen one way or another.
For a frame of reference, my application was completed roughly around early September 2019 and in the middle of October, my dream came true! I was accepted to visit Israel for my first time with Passages!
I was accepted to a Multi-School Network bus for the Winter 2019-2020 trip season. After learning of this, I felt a wide range of emotions which led me to ultimately praying and keeping this amazing news to myself until I came to a decision to accept the offer. This decision was quite a tricky one for me since I did not know anyone that went on a Passages trip and my college was not involved with Passages. But thankfully, I accepted the offer and decided to go on a trip of a lifetime to Israel!
My bus consisted of students from Georgia to California and everywhere in between. Everyone on my bus found their own way to Passages whether it was through a friend, family member, or their college. The most interesting part of my bus was that everyone came without knowing anyone else in the cohort personally even though some of the people attended the same college or came from the same cities! This only made our bond as a bus even stronger and even to this day we have remained connected, nearly four months after returning from Israel.
Not only did God bring me lifelong friendships on my trip but He also allowed a larger love to bloom within me for my faith as well as for the State of Israel. One of my favorite parts of my trip was attending mass at 6 am in Latin, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem with a few of the other Catholics on my trip. It was on January 1 for the feast day of The Solemnity of Mary.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is known as the site where Jesus was crucified (Golgotha) and the site where Jesus was buried and resurrected. Experiencing Mass there was just indescribable and overwhelmingly beautiful. It was quite an amazing experience to take in a quiet and empty Jerusalem during the break of dawn. There was nowhere better to ring in the New Year and the new decade. Not getting much sleep that night was well worth it to say the least!
As much as my first trip feels like it was over a decade ago, I am forever grateful for the experiences Passages has blessed me with that continue since my initial trip to Israel. Following my Passages trip, I became drawn to learning more about the Middle East and sharing this acquired knowledge with my peers. These experiences have culminated in the opportunity to attend The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington D.C., with the Christian Delegation of Passages in early March 2020 to recently being a part of one of the first tour groups back in Israel with Passages’s Pilot trip this summer and even to being selected as a Fellow for a future Passages trip! Overall, Passages has led me to discover my voice for my faith and beliefs.
About two years ago, I would have never guessed that God would have led me to where I am now in all aspects of my life. Looking back on these moments, I am glad I decided to pursue a trip that was completely out of my comfort zone. I mean visiting the Middle East with forty strangers from across the United States who essentially did not know each other and only to do it again this past summer; these experiences are given to us by none other than God and I’m forever grateful.