AROUND ISRAEL ON 7-SPEED BICYCLE

May 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm 1 comment

Stan Malina with his bicycle at Sidon

FOLLOWING IN PAUL’S

FOOTSTEPS

By RALPH DOBRIN

Early one morning in May last year my wife and I were on a plane headed for Riga, Latvia. Flying always makes me a little anxious, so I usually take a good book or magazine. But the book that I had brought with me was in my overnight bag, which was in the rack above our seats. To get to it, I needed to ask the passenger next to me in the aisle seat, to let me get past. A middle-aged guy, suntanned and dressed very casually, he looked rugged and weary, and he stood up slowly to let me squeeze past him. I got my book out of the bag, which I returned to the rack. I thanked him, squeezing past him again and plonked down into my seat. I began to introduce myself but he had closed his eyes. I began reading my book, but after a few minutes, I realized that I suddenly needed to go to the toilet. Luckily, he opened his eyes and I gestured apologetically that I needed to get up. Again, he stood up tiredly and allowed me to clamber past him. When I returned from the toilet he was slumped with his eyes closed again. But he sensed that I had returned and let me get past, immediately getting low in his seat and closing his eyes.

But I had some sandwiches and dried fruit in my bag in that rack above our heads, that my wife and I had planned to eat early in the flight. He seemed to sense that I needed to do some clambering again and he opened his eyes. I smiled at him. He smiled back and stood up. We had established a rapport.

Sitting down with my bag of victuals, I offered him a sandwich, which he seemed happy to accept. “I’m Rafi,” I said and he responded, “I’m Stan!” We chatted in English. I couldn’t make out his accent.

“Do you live in Israel?” I asked. “Oh no,” he murmured wearily. “I live in Germany. But I’ve been traveling around Israel.” Now, over the years, I’ve encountered hundreds of folks who’ve just been traveling around Israel and I know how to ask all the appropriate questions.

But with Stan Malina, it was clear that my usual questions about “What did you see?” and “Where did you stay?” were somewhat incongruous. Stan had not traveled in the usual way by tour bus or hired car. Neither had he stayed at any hotels. Explaining his mode of transport, I understood his tired look! The man had ridden around the country on an old 7-speed bicycle. He had pedaled over a thousand kilometers up and down hill and valley, under the blazing sun, and he had pitched his tent most nights in fields, forests, camping sites and public parks.

An Apostolic pastor, Stan Malina was gathering material for his 5th book in a series called, “Cycling On All Trails of Apostle Paul,” published by Christian Publishing House. He had started this present route in Beirut, Lebanon, ridden south to Tyre and Sidon and back to Beirut (part of the return trip by minibus), before flying to Amman in Jordan, where he stayed for a night before descending to the Jordan Valley and crossing the Allenby Bridge into the Palestine Authority territory and then into Israel.

For eleven days he pedaled more or less in the wake of the trails of the Apostle Paul. He relied on leg muscles, great stamina and boundless faith. I use the word “faith” because, despite being part of a nation known for its ability to plan carefully and for preciseness, it seems that Malina did very little planning on a daily basis. He would set out each morning on the next leg of his journey, with one or two water bottles that might last him a few hours in the harsh Middle Eastern heat. Also, he carried very little food with him – sometimes just a packet of potato chips. Understandably, he wanted to cut down the weight of his luggage and provisions, which without food and water came to about 20 kilograms – a significant load to contend with when cycling hundreds of kilometers, often up very long, steep hills. But limiting his food and water supplies could have been very dangerous because he didn’t always know how far he’d need to ride before reaching a place to replenish his supplies or have a decent meal. In the Middle East, one can succumb to dehydration very quickly. That can be fatal if you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere. In addition to this easy-going approach, in the evenings, he would just rely on luck to find a suitable spot to put up his tent and have a few hours of slumber.

Malina describes heart-warming encounters with Muslim and Christian Arabs and Jews. Each time he needed advice on directions, or where in the middle of a deserted stretch, to find a store selling food or bottled water, or a place to pitch his tent, fortuitously, someone would always appear and answer his questions and sometimes even share a meal and a fireside in a park or offer a room for the night. He also writes about a number of times that he encountered kindness and consideration with Israeli soldiers.

Stan Malina had already written four books on the trails of the Apostle Paul and a number of other titles on the subject of belief. His wife Sandra, formerly from Durban, South Africa, has also written four books on similar topics.

He rode with a South African flag, in honor of his wife Sandra’s birthplace and the sponsorship he received from South Africans.

The trip took Malina to scores of places mentioned in the Bible. At each place he stopped to take photographs and contemplate. He was able to relish the experience or envision a biblical event or acknowledge that Paul had been there, with yet another aspect – the sheer beauty of some of these places. His itinerary, apart from his days in Lebanon and Jordan, commenced in Israel with an arduous 30-kilometer climb up to Jerusalem from the Jordan Valley, (scaling an altitude of 350 meters below sea level to 750 meters above).

From Jerusalem he took a bus to Haifa, and resumed pedaling from Acre to the Lebanese border at Rosh Hanikra, from where he began the ascent up the steep, seemingly endless hills of Galilee, presenting Stan with yet another daunting physical challenge. From there he headed for the Sea of Galilee, blue and calm and surrounded by abundant greenery, evoking numerous scenes from the New Testament. He rode through the Jezreel Valley, visited Megiddo, Caesarea and Antipatris; then on to Jaffa, Ashdod and Ashkelon. When he approached Gaza he felt relieved that the Apostle had evidently not been there, and mused: “The people of Gaza have a great need of Gospel, but who is going to bring it to them?”

In the last part of his trip Malina rode hundreds of miles through semi-desert and desert country, visiting Beersheba on his way to the Dead Sea, passing Massada, Ein Gedi and Qumran. Then he connected with the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, which he had heroically contended with at the beginning of his Israel visit. But this time he opted for a ride on an empty bus back to Jerusalem, where he spent a few days with a friend Yoel Mendel, touring the city and nearby Bethlehem, which he visited twice and where Sunday prayer service at the Immanuel Evangelical Church, turned out to be a highly edifying experience.

The book offers many insights. Written by a pilgrim who pedaled a thousand kilometers, much of the time alone with his own thoughts, he could savor the special lesson inherent in each biblical and historical site that he visited, although he suspected that many places where not on the exact spot referred to in the Bible. There are many fresh observations in this book. For instance, he writes at length about the Apostle Paul, about his earlier lessons by the great sage Gamliel who taught tolerance. Yet, despite these teachings, as Saul of Tarsus, he confronted the new Christians who initially had been his fellow-Jews, with great vindictiveness – until his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Malina is not naïve about the political realities of the Middle East. During his trip he had encountered a number protest demonstrations by Arabs. On several occasions he felt it prudent to distance himself from the angry crowds. Fairly well acquainted with the conflict, he says: “I felt irritated when I thought how the world only sees one side of the Middle East conflict – always accusing Israel.” He adds: “The Middle East conflict is like magnifying lens of world conflict, between ungodly and biblical.”

Three years earlier, Malina had toured Israel with his wife, Sandra. They had traveled around the country by car. On this trip, despite the grueling ordeal in pedaling hundreds of kilometers, sitting on a less-than-comfortable saddle, contending with thirst, hunger, heart-breaking inclines and relentless sun, he nevertheless concluded that touring by bicycle has many advantages. Perhaps only an avid cyclist or pilgrim can appreciate this sentiment.

 “Tensions Around Israel” is easy to read, informational and replete with photographs and useful footnotes. It can be ordered at: http://www.malina-home.de/books   where all Malina’s other books are also available.

 

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Entry filed under: Inspiration, Religion and belief, Things not mentioned in the press. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Christian Cruz  |  January 5, 2013 at 8:37 am

    “Tensions Around Israel” is easy to read, informational and replete with photographs and useful footnotes. It can be ordered at: http://www.malina-home.de/books where all Malina’s other books are also available.

    Reply

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