Not Your Typical Nine-Year-Old
By: Josiah Neumann
In this excerpt from the newly released book Every Generation’s Story: 75 Years of American Christian Engagement with Israel, Josiah Neumann shares his experience going to Israel as a nine-year-old boy—and how it impacted his life forever.
The whirling mind of an average nine-year-old often thinks irrationally and lacks maturity. It focuses on things like when they’ll get their next snack or be able to swing on the monkey bars or play another round of video games. The average nine-year-old does not necessarily yearn for knowledge from his elders on a day-to-day basis or desire to read nonfiction material to understand historical events.
But I was not a typical nine-year-old.
I was raised in a Christian home where we read God’s Word daily. My parents nicknamed me the “Old Testament Soul” because I was always drawn to Old Testament texts. The books of Kings, Esther, and Exodus are some of my favorites. I have always been in awe of the passion, level of faith, courage, and strength of the Jewish people whose stories are recorded in the Bible. As a child, I knew them all. I knew their names, their children’s names, their wives’ names—they were my ancestors! While most young children were watching television sitcoms, Marvel movies, and cartoon characters, I was obsessed with movies about King Solomon, Queen Esther, Jacob, and Joseph. These were my true heroes to emulate!
The average nine-year-old also does not have the opportunity to travel across the globe to the war-torn Middle Eastern country of Israel. But here again, my experience was not average. In 2014 when the Gaza War started, one of the deadliest outbreaks of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, my parents still accepted an opportunity to travel to Israel with Bishop Robert Stearns and Eagles’ Wings Ministries.
My father and Bishop Stearns were youth group friends and continue to share a deep connection to this day. Because of their close friendship, my parents were comfortable trusting Bishop Stearns and Eagles’ Wings with their safety during this trip. And they knew it was not an option to leave me at home! At nine years old, I was fully aware of the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. I found myself constantly watching the news on TV and social media. I understood the threat posed by ISIS and other terrorist groups in the area when we would be traveling. Even after returning from the trip, I continued to stay informed with updates from Israel regarding attacks by terrorist groups in the area and other relevant news.
Unfortunately, the Gaza War of 2014 and ongoing terrorist attacks are not recent or new phenomena. The Jewish people have been persecuted and scattered among the nations of the world throughout history, and modern Israel’s very existence is continuously threatened. However, for the first time in 2,000 years, the Jewish people have been reunited as a nation due to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Even though there has always been a Jewish presence in the Land, the founding of modern Israel marked the reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in their ancient homeland.
Despite everything that has happened to the Jewish people throughout history, they still stand to this day. As a people, they have not wavered in times of trouble and turmoil but have maintained their faith and connection to God. Even amid the Holocaust, as they were on the verge of being wiped out by the evil Nazi agenda, many did not turn from their faith in God and trusted Him that better days were to come.
Two Profound Impressions
That trip to Israel in 2014 left two indelible impressions on my life. The first has to do with my reflections on the Holocaust. As I stood in the Land, I wondered, What was the rest of the world doing while this [the Holocaust] was happening to these people? My next question was, What needs to be done so this history will not be repeated?
But my experience in Israel also caused me to realize how important it is for the United States to support Israel and protect the freedom she now holds. Before I experienced the Land of Israel for myself, I never truly understood the need to support the Jewish State. Even though my family had participated in events led by Bishop Stearns and Eagles’ Wings Ministries, such as the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem and Buffalo Celebrates Israel, my connection with God’s chosen people did not truly begin until I stepped foot in the Land.
While in Israel, I saw the Jewish people’s dedication and passion for God—but God allowed me to preview this before I even arrived in Israel. While on the plane, I experienced something profound that demonstrated the commitment and longing to speak with God that the Jewish people live for. I was awakened early that morning by the sound of praying and crying out to God. I turned in my seat to see the entire back of the plane filled with young men praying and seeking God out loud. I was shocked—I had never seen anything like this! But as I began to understand why they were doing what they were doing, I connected with them on a spiritual level because I felt their desire to connect with God. For them, nothing else mattered except their relationship with God, and the deep hunger I witnessed was something I wanted too.
We were in the Land during the holiest time of the year on the Jewish calendar: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Watching the Jewish people celebrate those events provided a profoundly spiritual experience that would forever change me. I was in awe as I walked the desolate streets on Yom Kippur, streets that were empty as an entire nation observed the most holy day of the year. I was also incredibly moved when praying at the Western Wall with my father, Bishop Robert Stearns, and other men in our group. To stand in a place with such a rich history, where so many generations had stood before us, was humbling to say the least. I carry these precious memories of Israel in my heart.
I am finishing my senior year of high school and will soon head to college to pursue a career in law, but my experience in Israel as a young boy will inspire me forever in my support of Israel. God willing, I hope to one day be a part of global meetings in which I can stand for Israel with my voice and pen. In the meantime, I stand with Bishop Robert Stearns and Eagles’ Wings Ministries as a watchman on the wall in the calling to protect Israel (Isaiah 62:6).
Josiah Neumann is a senior at Grand Island High School in Grand Island, NY, and plans to pursue a career in law and political science.
Read more inspirational stories in our newly released book Every Generation’s Story: 75 Years of American Christian Engagement with Israel.