"Okay, you know where the university is?"
"Mm-hmm," I said into the receiver.
"Okay, you go past the university and down the hill and there's an Australian cemetery on your right. You won't be able to see it in the dark though. Then you come to an intersection--it used to be a traffic circle, but now it's a four way stop. You go straight across and there's a big Hilton-style hotel on your left. Then you follow that road around and it'll be the second falafel shop on your left."
We piled into the van, already an hour behind schedule and hungry. I knew several challenges still lay ahead for us that night--we had to find and cross through an unfamiliar checkpoint, navigate Ramallah traffic, stop at a grocery store to purchase labneh, keeps an eye out for wide bumps and potholes, find our destination with only spotty help from navigation, and communicate to our host a more accurate time of arrival...when we could come up with one.
The only thing on my mind for now though, was these scant directions, which I had received over the phone. I was replaying them in my head as I maneuvered the van around the university. I hoped there was a cemetery on the right--especially an Australian one--as we barreled down the hill. I strained to see the marks of an old circle showing underneath the square corners of the intersection. I was relieved to see an exansive hotel complex our left. I clung to those directions. I asked my front seat passenger to confirm each marker. I was on a quest as immense as I ever wanted to know--for if I misplaced a turn, I didn't know where I would feed our hungry crew.
It turned out the directions were plain--no riddles, no interpretations, no secret passcodes. Soon we were ordering four large falafel wraps in fresh and elastic bread with tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, hummus, pickles, hot sauce, and tahini. A table of firefighters sat at one of three plastic tables chatting in Arabic. A small sink and roll of paper towels was ready to rescue messy hands in the corner. A soda case filled with Fanta, water, iced tea, and Coke was the final piece of furniture in the simple falafel shop.
Our quest led us to the very best falafel we have had, before or since. It would be fuel for the rest of the night's journey, which would include dead ends and soldiers, traffic and trusting strangers.
In an age of navigational devices, Jerusalem is still better navigated by word-of-mouth. The places we needed to find were 100 ft from a certain shop, just pass the third doorway, or straight across from the bus station. People didn't give us house numbers or street addresses--instead they met us at common landmarks and had us follow them home.
We looked around us with greater attention. We leaned in and listened closely. We were grateful for those who gave directions and careful to follow their descriptions. After several successful missions, we realized their directions were easy to understand and the terrain was simple to navigate. Following directions became a practice of obedience with an immediate reward. And each time we reached a destination, we felt God was with us.