Be Not Afraid

I write this as I am flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I make my way to Israel. I can’t believe that this trip is finally here. In typical Rozella fashion, I was running behind this morning and almost missed my flight out of Chicago. I don’t know if it was God, luck or fate, but I made it. The only thing that I forgot was my bathing suit. Considering how absentminded I can be, I will recognize this as a major accomplishment.

I have been so anxious, and quite frankly afraid, leading up to this day. The only other time I felt something akin to what I’m feeling now is the first time I traveled to Africa. This time is different though. When I began what I call my Sacred Travel Journeys in 2004 (experiences that transform the heart, mind and soul and lead to an increased awareness) I was pretty naive. I didn’t know what to expect so any anxiety that I felt was linked to the fact that I had never traveled for anything more than a vacation before then. Now, however, I am more aware. I do not go to the Holy Land ignorant of what’s happening, of the history, of the risks. I go knowing that this is a volatile time. I go knowing that Israel and Syria are on the brink of war. I go knowing that peace talks between Israel and Palestine are to resume with much at stake. I go knowing that I am entering occupied terriotories and that I will see and experience things that have been linked to apartheid and slavery. I go with eyes wide open…

And this leads me to fear. Fear isn’t always a bad thing. It can cause us to be cautious in the face of danger. It can jumpstart adrenaline and move us out of harms way. It can also be paralyzing and this is what I want to overcome. For so much of my life I was called “scary”. This term was used to describe my fear of everything and unwillingness to ever do anything that I perceived to be risky. From not riding roller coasters to not participating in high adventure courses to not learning how to swim until I was 21, fear has played a huge role in how I viewed myself and how I viewed the world.

My sacred travel journeys have gone a long way in helping me overcome this fear. I am terrified of flying but I love to travel. I do not let my fear (nor an unfortunate panic attack that occurred on the way home from Puerto Rico a few years back) dictate how I will or won’t engage the world. In the face of fear and anxiety, I have begun to confront these emotions and stare them down. I have chosen to believe that God has called me to this place, this time and these experiences. And I believe that if God called me, God is with me and everything will be fine…

My fear was triggered today as I began this trip. When I got to Newark to make my connecting flight, I noticed that the only gate that had heightened security measures within the terminal was the gate for my flight. According to Israeli security, passengers entering the country have to go through additional screening processes before we can board the plane. Fear triggered…

As I waited to depart, I made last minute calls, one being to my bank to alert them of my travel schedule. During the conversation, the customer service representative informed me that because of the high risk associated with traveling to Israel, the US government does not allow them to “sanction” travel for their customers. While they would monitor my account, they could not guarantee that my card would be accepted abroad. I’ve never had this happen to me before, and I travel a lot. Anxiety spikes…

Due to the stringent security measures, I have a front row seat as I watch folks enter the boarding area. I realize that there are only six black folks on a full flight to Tel Aviv – a family of three, two male friends and myself. All of my fears about being black and being the only one come to the surface. Breathing quickens…

Once on the plane, an announcement was made that due to Israeli security measures, the bathrooms would be locked the last 45 minutes of the flight and passengers are not allowed to move around the cabin for any reason. Heart races…

I know that every experience in our lives equip us to deal with what happens next. As I remember this, a calm comes over me that I can only attribute to the peace of God. I don’t understand it. The fear isn’t erased. But my resolve to act in spite of my fear and anxiety is strengthened.

One of the most oft repeated phrases in all of scripture is this: Be not afraid. As I go on this journey, this is my mantra.

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