A Call from the Desert

Philippine Tatler - - CONTENTS -

An­ton San Diego and his friends found spir­i­tual awak­en­ing on an 11-day pilgrimage to Egypt and the Holy Land

A group of friends trav­els to the Holy Land for 11 days and en­counter not just a sen­sor y experience but a spir­i­tual awak­en­ing, as well; An­ton San Diego asks them for their reflections on this mean­ing­ful trip

For many Chris­tians, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is a truly ful­fill­ing—if not the most ful­fill­ing—means of understanding the ori­gin of their faith. To read about it in the Bi­ble is one thing, but to travel on foot and see ev­ery­thing with one’s own eyes is an­other experience al­to­gether. For 11 days, through Egypt, Is­rael, and Jordan, it was a jour­ney un­like any other that we had ever gone through as it was a true spir­i­tual awak­en­ing: a life-chang­ing experience that each and ev­ery one of us would never for­get.

margie mo­ran

In all my trav­els, no place has ever held my cu­rios­ity as much as the Holy Land, with its an­cient his­tory of in­ti­macy with God Him­self, and its epic con­tin­u­ing con­flicts in modern times.

And in my re­cent 18 days as a pil­grim, in search of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal proof that the Bi­ble’s con­tents are ac­cu­rate and ver­i­fi­able, none will my heart ever hold more sacro­sanct than scal­ing Mt Si­nai, tour­ing the city of Dan, and be­ing bap­tised in the Jordan River.

The Bi­ble guides us through the jour­ney which

Moses led the Is­raelites on: “The Lord de­scended to the top of Mount Si­nai and called Moses to the top of the

Moun­tain. So Moses went up.” (Ex­o­dus 19:20) Daunt­ing yet di­vine, Mt Si­nai rep­re­sents the story of the Is­raelites’ ex­o­dus from Egypt, shortly af­ter the Passover. Moses walked to its peak, alone and with only his faith to guide him. Here he waited 40 days and nights for fur­ther in­struc­tions about the Promised Land. In re­ply, The Lord gave him the 10 Com­mand­ments to bring to the Is­raelites wait­ing in the desert.

Mt Si­nai is re­plete with life’s metaphors. As­cend­ing it af­ter mid­night, I was a cu­ri­ous tourist. De­scend­ing it at the break of dawn, I came back with an ex­hausted body and an en­light­ened soul.

We all live our lives in fre­quent chances, never know­ing the out­come of our ac­tions nor the im­ped­i­ments along the way. Un­fore­seen bends that can throw us off course are plenty, but we sim­ply must forge on in faith. Re­trac­ing Moses’ steps up the Lord’s moun­tain was an acute per­sonal

re­al­i­sa­tion that life is never easy. But trust in Him, and all will be well.

The Old Tes­ta­ment re­ferred to the en­tire Is­rael as “from Dan to Beer­sheba” (from North to South).

“Dur­ing Solomon’s life­time Ju­dah and Is­rael, from Dan to Beer­sheba, lived in safety, ev­ery­one un­der their

own vine and un­der their own fig tree.” (1Kings 4:25) In the Bi­ble’s Book of Num­bers, Dan, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus, was the sec­ond largest Is­raelite tribe. Today, Tel Dan is a na­ture re­serve and an arche­o­log­i­cal site with the re­mains of old mud-brick walls and the Gate of Abra­ham. It was named af­ter the pa­tri­arch of the Is­raelites be­cause it dates back dur­ing his life­time.

An hour’s hike brought us to a for­est dot­ted with small lakes and streams with cold running wa­ter. It was a quiet place, al­low­ing one to med­i­tate and vividly pic­ture what life within its con­fines was like 3500-4000 years ago.

The gate has been re­stored to its orig­i­nal height of seven me­tres. As in an­cient times, it fea­tures two tow­ers and a hor­i­zon­tal struc­ture link­ing them be­low the arches, the old­est ever found in Is­rael. I was so drawn to this gate, as I imag­ined liv­ing in the time of Abra­ham when he was des­ig­nated by God to found a na­tion for Is­raelites. That na­tion was later known as Canaan, a place of much his­tor­i­cal drama that stand­ing on its thresh­old be­came a most awe­some boon to my newly re­freshed spir­i­tu­al­ity.

The Bi­ble is re­plete with con­flict among God’s cho­sen peo­ple. Jer­oboam, the first king of the North­ern King­dom, set up an al­tar in Dan to pre­vent

“I just didn’t feel the pres­ence of God in my heart; He made me see. He made me experience Him in the peo­ple around me”

— Ling Ling King

the peo­ple from go­ing to wor­ship in Jerusalem. He in­stalled a golden calf in Dan and an­other in Bethel, a sym­bol of Egyp­tian priest­hood (1Kings 12:26-33). The king­dom was later de­stroyed by the Assyr­i­ans in 722BCE.

Per­sonal med­i­ta­tion and his­tor­i­cal ap­pli­ca­tion to life’s truths un­ravel the golden calf in our lives—our de­struc­tible ma­te­rial idols, the sins of the flesh, and in­ter­nal per­sua­sions of evil it­self in our minds.

From this awak­en­ing, this pas­sage has since be­come my con­stant prayer:

“Do not con­form to the pat­tern of this world, but be trans­formed by the re­new­ing of the mind. Then you will be able to test and ap­prove what God’s will is—His good, ac­cept­able and per­fect will.” (Ro­mans 12:2)

Baptism in the Jordan River

Known as the site of Je­sus’ baptism by his cousin John the Bap­tist, the River Jordan falls 950 me­tres from its source in the moun­tains where Is­rael, Syria, and Le­banon meet. It joins the Sea of Galilee, fi­nally flow­ing into the Dead Sea. De­spite its im­pres­sive course, the river mea­sures a mere 2 me­tres deep and 10 me­tres wide, and any­one can wade through to the Jor­da­nian border.

Its phys­i­cal di­men­sions clearly be­lie its his­tor­i­cal significance. More so, with the sur­prise that met our visit.

We ar­rived ex­pect­ing clean and clear wa­ter, as ap­pro­pri­ate for pil­grims seek­ing to be cleansed and be born again in Christ. But be­hold, heavy rains the pre­vi­ous evening had turned the wa­ter mocha brown, silted with lay­ers of desert sed­i­ment caused by flood­ing.

Ut­terly shocked, I toyed with the wis­dom of in­stead post­pon­ing my baptism un­til we got back to Makati, where Chris­tians are bap­tised in a sani­tised swim­ming pool free of Jordan’s muck.

But no! Wasn’t this all con­sis­tent with Je­sus’ earthly life—hum­ble and lowly and in stark irony to His heav­enly king­dom?

How fortunate I am to be here in the wa­ters where Christ was bap­tised, be born again to com­mit to fol­low God’s way and to move by the power of the Holy Spirit and de­clare my faith in Him!

No mire nor sludge will mat­ter now, for as long as my re­la­tion­ship with the Lord is joy­ful!

“I re­alised that only by fo­cus­ing my thoughts, my heart, and my prayers to the Lord could I achieve true hap­pi­ness and bal­ance in my life” — Rhoda Al­danese


The most in­spir­ing part of this pilgrimage and where I learnt the most was the climb up to the sum­mit of Mt Si­nai.

Hik­ing up that moun­tain was an al­ready chal­leng­ing task; that I had al­most no sleep at all made it more dif­fi­cult. My mind was fo­cused on wor­ries and I started fuss­ing over silly things like where to find a toi­let, etc.

I rode the camel on the first leg of the climb, think­ing this would make the experience more au­then­tic—and of course, try­ing to make it easy on my­self. But my camel guide mis­tak­enly at­tached my camel to the back of Sister Deonna’s, which sand­wiched me be­tween her and Pas­tor Peter. Look­ing back, I hap­pily wel­comed this slip-up by the guide. It brought much needed com­fort to be be­tween two won­der­ful peo­ple, es­pe­cially on this part of the jour­ney.

Af­ter the camel ride, I set out on foot for an­other 750 steps on a steep el­e­va­tion to reach the top. Dur­ing the climb, I found my­self with a group of good friends who had some health chal­lenges. With­out any ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tion or pre-ar­ranged agree­ments, we de­cided to stay to­gether, at a pace dic­tated by cir­cum­stance, not mind­ing how long it would take to get to where we were go­ing.

It was a chal­leng­ing climb. Most peo­ple con­sider me ath­letic, but I was still catch­ing my breath most of the time. I could only imag­ine what my phys­i­cally chal­lenged friends were go­ing through. Much as their tenac­ity in­spired me, I also wor­ried that some­thing might hap­pen to them.

When we fi­nally reached the sum­mit and I saw the first ray of sun­light, I thought, God had been with us all along. He would not have al­lowed any­thing bad to hap­pen to all of the peo­ple hik­ing that morn­ing. We were all there to experience Him and just feel Him.

I just didn’t feel the pres­ence of God in my heart, He made me see. He made me experience Him in the peo­ple around me. Wit­ness­ing Margie’s [Mo­ranFloirendo] per­se­ver­ance to make it to the top with the help of a Be­douin guide, re­mem­ber­ing the lady next to me with the in­haler that An­ton [San Diego] needed badly, I thought of the verse of John 15:7 “If you re­main in me and my words re­main in you. Ask what­ever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

VINCE & rhoda aL­daNESE

My hus­band and I went on this trip for the ex­cite­ment of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing his­tory. But this was no or­di­nary jour­ney: this was a visit to his­tor­i­cal sites, homes, and palaces of kings, con­quer ors, and he­roes we learnt about in his­tory books. I al­ways get an emo­tional con­nec­tion and knowl­edge from the events of years past and marvel at the he­roes who are part of the his­tory of those won­drous sites long ago. Here, I ex­pe­ri­enced and met the Gr eat I Am.

This pilgrimage started in Egypt where God re­vealed to Moses that He is the I Am, the One Above all the he­roes, king­doms, trea­sures, and wis­dom of the world. But the as­cent to Mt Si­nai is where it all be­gan for all of us, the only site the Bi­ble calls the Holy Place.

The Be­douin guide shared a story that the climb has a spe­cial pur­pose. Once we reach the top, he said, we could cast away a heavy bur­den or ask for a bless­ing, then ring the bell. That is what we all did. For me, I was sur­prised with what hap­pened next. All my feel­ings of hate, anger, be­trayal, and in­jus­tice were re­placed with love and for­give­ness. This build-up of neg­a­tive emo­tions can­not be cured with­out help. I re­alised that only by fo­cus­ing my thoughts, my heart, and my prayers to the Lord could I achieve true hap­pi­ness and bal­ance in my life.

Moving on to Is­rael al­lowed me to know more about God’s cho­sen peo­ple and how they paved the way for our faith. More he­roes who lived and obeyed the great I Am. Even­tu­ally, ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dig­gings and arte­facts be­came sec­ondary. I was able to un­der­stand and experience why He is called by so many names: Saviour, De­liv­erer, Com­forter, Fa­ther. All we all re­ally need is Him be­cause He is all that to us.

Vince and I are back home now. Yes, we strug­gle still, but now we face the world with that confidence and trust that He ful­filled His prom­ise to fin­ish the work He be­gan in us. We choose to know Him in­ti­mately by read­ing His truth and prom­ise. The Bi­ble re­veals to us the way.


It was my fourth visit to Egypt and my sec­ond visit to Is­rael, but the CCF Holy Land Trip gave me a more mean­ing­ful per­spec­tive of th­ese coun­tries and an un­for­get­table first visit to Jordan.

“The Holy Land strength­ened my re­solve to be a war­rior, a peaceful war­rior— not a cow­ardly mar­tyr nor a vin­dic­tive, ego- driven, and greedy war­rior”

— Don­nie Tan­toco

I re­lived sig­nif­i­cant events from the Bi­ble as the group went through the sites (like the ex­o­dus of the Is­raelites from Egypt, jour­ney­ing through the Red Sea and Si­nai desert un­til they reached Canaan). We vis­ited Beth­le­hem where Je­sus was born, the tem­ple where Je­sus preached, and the Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross) in Jerusalem.

A mem­o­rable mo­ment was when we rode a boat in the Sea of Galilee and prayed as a group to let go of the things in our lives that keep us from fol­low­ing Je­sus. I learnt the value of emp­ty­ing our­selves so we can be filled with God’s bless­ings and His plans for us.

The trip was a good anal­ogy for this. We had to empty our sched­ules and let go of sev­eral com­mit­ments to visit the Holy Land. But by do­ing so, we were filled with en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ences such as morn­ings that be­gan with Bi­ble Study, lessons on the Bi­b­li­cal significance of the sites, bond­ing mo­ments with the group es­pe­cially our bus-mates, the op­por­tu­nity to see his­tor­i­cal places, sig­nif­i­cant time to re­flect and pray. We brought home so many bless­ings from that trip—last­ing friend­ships, a deeper understanding of God, and a re­newed per­spec­tive of the Bi­ble.


It was a lit­tle dif­fi­cult in the be­gin­ning as well as in some parts of the trip. But in the end, the 18 days of pilgrimage to the Holy Land evolved into the best experience of my Don­nie’s life.

Pas­tor Peter told me it would be lifechang­ing. I was skep­ti­cal about what I felt was an en­tic­ing but also moth­er­hood state­ment. Two months later, how­ever, I felt that the life-chang­ing part Pas­tor Peter was telling me about: the re­newal of Don­nie’s and my mind and the dif­fer­ent vi­sions we have of our cir­cum­stances, dreams, and strug­gles.

The awak­en­ings in the Holy Land were lib­er­at­ing me from my ego and help­ing re­shape the char­ac­ter and at­ti­tude that I bring to my work, as well as my in­ter­ac­tions with my loved ones and my fam­ily. I un­der­stand much bet­ter now the mean­ing of words that

I’ve used so loosely be­fore, like faith. Today, faith is my num­ber one value; and mak­ing it so has brought clar­ity and pur­pose to my day to day life.

The Holy Land strength­ened my re­solve to be a war­rior, a peaceful war­rior—not a cow­ardly mar­tyr nor a vin­dic­tive, ego-driven, and greedy war­rior. I have learnt what fix­ing my eyes on Je­sus means; and how do­ing so can im­me­di­ately im­prove our lives and our re­la­tion­ships.


25 years ago I went to Egypt and is­rael with a group of friends; re­cently I re­vis­ited th­ese places with the CCF group of Pas­tor Peter and Sister Deonna. It turned out to be the most mean­ing­ful spir­i­tual jour­ney of my life.

We went to the places where Je­sus did his min­istry. Singing “Amaz­ing Grace” on the boat on the Sea of Galilee was for me an in­spir­ing and un­for­get­table time for prayer and self-re­flec­tion.

A mem­ory that I also hold close to my heart was the climb to the top of Mt Si­nai (and not rid­ing a camel). Many things went through my head as we took the 750 steps on foot. What if I don’t reach the des­ti­na­tion? What if I col­lapse? What if I die? How­ever, through it all I kept re­mem­ber­ing what Sister Deonna told me: med­i­tate and keep on pray­ing. That is ex­actly what I did and we joy­fully and thank­fully reached the top.

This truly amaz­ing experience has taught me that no mat­ter how hard the sit­u­a­tion might be, or how high you have to climb, as long as you are an­chored to God, ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble. Strug­gles may make you weary, but you will al­ways find strength in the Lord. God will al­ways guide us with His hand and we are al­ways in His care. I praise Him for His never-end­ing love. I would say that a trip to the Holy Land should be on one’s bucket list. You will learn so much, find com­fort, and cre­ate mem­o­ries that will last a life­time.

HAy­den And VICkI BeLO-kHO

The Holy Land trip is not an or di­nary trip. No doubt there are great ho­tels there, fancy restau­rants, and “post- worthy” sites to see, but the CCF Holy Land trip is re­ally not about th­ese things. It’s a trip not just t o an­other coun­try but a jour­ney into the heart— into our very own hearts.

Vicki and I joined this t our a few years ago when we made the de­ci­sion to take our spir­i­tual lives se­ri­ously. We used to think that “faith” is be­liev­ing in some­thing that is r eally not there. “Faith is blind,” so says the crit­ics of God­be­liev­ing peo­ple. But our understanding of what we be­lieve in was com­pletely changed dur­ing the trip. We re­al­ized that God has put enoug h in this world to make faith in Him the most r ea­son­able thing, and in this Holy Land trip is where you will see plenty of them, al­beit mostly in the form of arche­ol­ogy.

For ex­am­ple, when we went to Egypt we were able to fol­low the bi­b­li­cal nar­ra­tion of the birth of the na­tion of Is­rael start­ing with the call­ing of the fore­fa­ther Abra­ham, to the ar­rival of the Is­raelites in Egypt, and their even­tual ex­o­dus to the “Promised Land.” Then in Is­rael, we were shown all the sig­nif­i­cant bi­b­li­cal places such as the tem­ple mount where Is­rael’s King Solomon built the tem­ple for God, the sheeps’ pas­ture where the an­gels ap­peared to the shep­herds an­nounc­ing the birth of Je­sus the Mes­siah, the birht­place of Je­sus and the places where He walked and preached and per­formed His mir­a­cles in His three-year min­istry, and fi­nally the tomb where His body was placed af­ter He was cru­ci­fied (the tomb is empty, by the way. Just in case you’re won­der­ing).

All th­ese are re­minders that ev­ery­thing we read in the Bi­ble is true. There has never been an archeao­log­i­cal find­ing any­where in the world that proves that the Bi­ble is not trust­wor­thy. What it says about God is true, and what it says about who we are is also true. Thus, the most rea­son­able thing to do is to be­lieve it and live our lives ac­cord­ing to it.

This is the rea­son why we in­vited this “barkada” to the Holy Land trip this year. Vicki and I wanted them to ap­pre­ci­ate the trust­wor­thi­ness of the “Word of God,” the Bi­ble. We be­lieve that God has fash­ioned us to be nur­tured and to grow in the Word, and that if one wants to truly know one­self, one has to know His Cre­ator as re­vealed in the Bi­ble. We are so happy to hear all the trans­for­ma­tive sto­ries that each of us shared when we got back in Manila. Ev­ery­one felt more alive as com­pared to when we left. The les­son of the Holy Land is this: that the nur­ture of the spirit ought to be the num­ber one pri­or­ity of our lives. We can know God by med­i­tat­ing daily in His Word. As our friend, Dr Ravi Zacharias the fa­mous Chris­tian apol­o­gist once said, “if you look at Him through the world’s eyes, you’ll never see a glimpse of Him. But if you look at the world through His eyes you will get a glimpse of the Him, and the world as well.”

“We be­lieve that God has fash­ioned us to be nur­tured and to grow in the Word, and that if one wants to truly know one­self, one has to know His Cre­ator as re­vealed in the Bi­ble”— Hay­den Kho

Pho­tog­ra­phy JAIRUS BERNARDO

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