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shepherd's fields
By Margo Fallis 2007

Every place I’d visited during my trip to Israel so far had touched my heart and soul in some way. Though it was a modern Israel now, lacking the reverence and wonder that it had in the days of old, it was still fascinating. Instead of tiny villages with men and women on donkeys, we drove through large cities with honking cars and irate drivers. Most of the biblical sites we’d been to were crowded and noisy. I’d struggled to find the peace and harmony that had driven me to come here in the first place. We’d been to the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, and the River Jordan, and each place had been a historical delight, but today we were going to the places I wanted to see more than anywhere else -Bethlehem and Shepherd’s Fields. As our bus drove along the narrow roads, headed for the small town, I could hardly sit still. I was filled with anticipation and genuine excitement. I was going to Bethlehem!

We climbed down the steps of the bus and were instantly bombarded with small Arab boys trying to sell postcards. My ears vibrated with shouts of “Ten for a dollar! I give you good deal!” I hadn’t realized that Bethlehem was in the Arab part of Israel. I had no fear and brushed past them, ignoring their calls as I had during the previous days of my journey. I walked down the cobbled streets taking in every sight, smell, and sound that I could. I wanted to savor this moment over and over again. I was in Bethlehem, birthplace of my Savior.

My heart felt disappointment when I saw the line to get into the Church of the Nativity. It was extremely long. The church was built above the supposed cave where Christ was born. I didn’t particularly want to wait in a line for three hours, but knew I may never get the chance again. Slowly the line made its way along the stone walls up to the church entrance. Once inside, we saw signs warning us to be reverent. It was so crowded and hot that I felt like I was going to suffocate. People were pushing from all angles as I made my way into the tiny room. There was a hole in the floor and markings indicating the spot of Jesus’ birthplace.

“Is this it?” I asked my mother, who was accompanying me on my tour of Israel. “We waited all that time for this?” I was discouraged. Besides being hot and crowded, I didn’t sense anything special like I had at some of the other places I’d visited, but nevertheless, I had seen it and appreciated that I’d been given the opportunity.

We piled on the bus and drove towards the Shepherd’s Fields, which is just a mile or two from Bethlehem. Our tour guide cautioned us to walk carefully. She said that when God created the earth, he found that he had leftover rocks and tossed them all over Israel. It was meant to be a joke, but as my ankle twisted with every step, I didn’t find it that much of a joke!

A tent made of goat hair, black and dust-covered, stood in the middle of Shepherd’s fields. Goats bleated and ran across the rocks with agility and grace. Young boys, looking just like the pictures we’d always seen of shepherds, carried crooks in their hands as they herded the goats off to the side. Men sat in the tent on several pillows, smoking cigarettes and muttering Arabic to each other.

Our guide gathered us ‘round her and started to read scriptures from the Bible. “There were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid…Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy. For unto you is born this day, in the City of David, our Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” I tried to feel the spirit of Shepherd’s Fields. I closed my eyes and imagined the fear and the joy they must have felt that night when the angel appeared.

What a glorious place I was standing in. Among the stones grew Stars of Bethlehem - prickly plants with tiny flowers. I bent down to take a photograph of one and saw
three young girls. They stood in the shade of the Bedouin tent. Suddenly they ran over the stones and half-buried boulders towards us. Their hands went out, begging for money.

“Don’t give them anything. Their lazy fathers force them to beg from the tourists.”

“You’re only encouraging them if you give them any money.”

“It’s disgusting that parents allow their children to be that filthy.”

“If you don’t give them money, their father’s will beat them.”

I heard so many different comments that I felt rather confused. I stared at the young girls, their straggly dark hair hanging down over their bronzed faces. Their clothes, dirty, tattered and torn, hung draped across their tiny frames. They wore no shoes. Regardless of what the others said, I felt the spirit of giving and knew I needed to share with these children whatever I could spare.

“They won’t get that money. Their father’s will take it from them and use it to buy their cigarettes!”

“You’re only encouraging them to beg!”

Ignoring the others, I reached in my pocket and pulled out several dollars. The oldest two girls grabbed the money and ran over to the next ‘victim’, begging for more.

“I told you so. They don’t appreciate anything!”

I looked down and to my surprise the smallest girl, about three, stayed near me. She stood silent, watching me. I turned to look at Bethlehem sitting atop the barren, rocky hillside and then looked back at the girl. Off in the distance another group of tourists were singing “The Lord’s Prayer.” Their music sounded angelic. The girl listened and her eyes sparkled as though she truly was hearing angels.

This sweet child, seeing the tear run down my cheek, wrapped her arms around my leg and hugged it tenderly. The words, “Inasmuch as ye do it unto the least of these my brethren, ye do it unto me.” I knelt down and looked into her big brown eyes. I slipped a few more dollars and a pack of bubble gum into her hand and sent her on her way. She ran off smiling, clambering over the rocks towards her tent. My heart, full of love for her, swelled when she turned and waved goodbye. It was truly the first time in my trip where I’d felt my Savior’s love.

During the rest of my visit to Israel, I tried to remember the look of awe and wonder on that little girl’s face. I found that inner peace I was so desperately seeking. I saw all the places related to the life of Christ, but more important than that, I felt Christ’s presence with me as I walked the paths He walked.

shepherd's fields - israel