Volume 2015, Issue 1

Following the Way of Christ

by Cathy Poponak

The earliest followers of Christ in Jerusalem and throughout the Middle East referred to themselves as “People of the Way” based upon the well-known statement by Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me." -John 14:6.  His followers most likely held fears about their safety, as they pursued their chosen way of life in a dangerous and tumultuous political setting.  The same might be said today for residents and visitors of Israel and the Holy Land.  Many of us wish to see the holy and historical sites but fear the terrorists’ threats in the area.

St. William parishioner and 2016 JFK graduate Zach Shoaf recently travelled to Israel for his undergraduate studies at Youngstown State University.  Any apprehensions he may have had about his safety were overridden by his desire to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. YSU faculty in coordination with the US embassy and the tour company had a safety and contingency plan in place, which helped to lessen some of his family’s concerns.  Recognizing that Zach is an intelligent and sensible young man, allowed his mother to go along with the plan.  Ironically, there was a short range rocket launch directed at Tel Aviv from the Gaza strip while Zach was visiting there.  Fortunately, it was intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.  Overall though, Zach emphasized that he felt very safe during his travels because of such heightened security.

A criminal justice major, Zach learned about the YSU study excursion from his professor who planned and coordinated the trip for students to experience another country’s criminal justice system firsthand.  The itinerary included attending a court proceeding in the Israeli Supreme Court building, visiting a prison and police academy, and meeting military personnel.  Also encompassed were visits to Western Galilee College and Hebrew University of Jerusalem to dialogue with students and establish partnerships and exchange programs.  Zach encountered no communication barriers, as citizens speak fluent English as their secondary language.  Primary languages are Hebrew and Arabic.  He found the people open and friendly, and especially curious about his life in Ohio.  He learned that the legal and penal system is very comparable to ours, with the exception that the death penalty is not imposed on even the worst offenders due in part to Jewish religious law based on the Torah.   He talked with a number of military soldiers too.  Interestingly, Israeli Defense Forces are comprised of mixed-gender units with both Jewish and Christian Arab soldiers, as well as a number of Druze and Circassian men.  Jewish soldiers wear a Star of David pendant around their neck, while Christian soldiers wear a cross. 

Zach and his group also experienced a snippet of domestic life when invited to a Jewish family’s home for a Shabbat meal.  Shabbat is considered a day of peace and holiness and begins every Friday night at sundown and continues until Saturday evening at sundown.  Shabbat traditionally includes three required meals: Friday night dinner, Saturday lunch, and the third meal in late afternoon.  Candles are lit, children are blessed, and special Shabbat prayers are read from the Torah.  Zach recalled the family’s kindness and hospitality as well as the delicious food and wine.  He gained a new respect for the resolve of the Israeli people as they attempt to maintain their customs and way of life in an area of the world where war is an always present threat.

A tour of the Holy Land was the highlight of the trip for Zach.  He experienced his faith reaffirmed as he strode the pathways where Jesus walked, preached, and suffered.  He visited the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is identified as the place both of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus.  He offered up prayers and petitions at the Wailing Wall.   Always thinking of others, he returned with water from the Jordan River to be placed in our baptismal font, and holy oil from the Mount of Beatitudes Catholic Church to share with our parish.  His wish is that everyone could have the experience of visiting the Holy Land, because it can be a life changing experience.

Zach Shoaf is a man following the Way of Christ; his Christian faith is at the heart of his being.  It has been my pleasure to become better acquainted with this nice young man.  His lofty career goal is to apply for early admission to Columbia Law School in September; his interests are in corporate or criminal law.  We at St. William can feel very proud of Zach, who has faithfully worshipped with us since his boyhood, knowing that he will make his most important mark in the world as a modern day disciple of Christ.


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