Monday, 30 December 2019

By Knowing Me Here - Jo Sarah Stanford

Somewhere between Nazareth and Capernaum.

It’s just after lunch and the hottest part of the day. Day three of hiking the Jesus Trail – from Nazareth to Capernaum.We’ve probably done about 45km already – 27km more to go. I am tired, my feet are sore and my pack feels heavy on my back. I come over a hill and look down into a valley…and straight into my story.
I stop dead in my tracks. Before me lies a dirt road with a field of wheat, growing golden-green on my right. The path ahead winds to the left around a big hill that stands in our way. I take a deep breath. I wrote this. Not just, oh this reminds me of my novel… but, that’s the hill where my character cuts across the fields, when she comes home from school because she doesn’t want to go the long way. Even though her neighbour asks her to not… It was my story…and I was there.

I recently spent a year in Israel, volunteering for the non-profit Bridges for Peace. I was part of a team of ten young adults, who came from all over the world to participate in their unique discipleship program. While there, my job was “journalist and International Content Manager” for thepublications department (Cool, hey!?). During Passover, we went on the popular hike called the Jesus’ Trail, which runs 72km from Nazareth to Capernaum, ending on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It is a four-day hike, tough for anyone, let alone for someone with a physical disability like myself. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it all the way… but I did.

        The circumstances that led to me living in Israel were a miracle in themselves. I knew God had called me. However, hiking the Jesus’ trail – the lows, the highs, the exhilarationthe tears – was a unique experience of its own. So many times I thought to myself, ‘this is good material for my story.’ Then I came to that valley, with a scene I had already written laid out before me, and a little voice inside me whispered, ‘perhaps God brought me to Israel for another reason too.’ So I could finish my novel.
It was one I had been working on for quite some time (years) and was very close to my heart. It was also the one giving me the most trouble. The plot was elusive, the characters silent and I struggled to put into words what I saw and felt inside. To me it was more than “just a story”, but given its current not-even-a-draft status, in reality it wasn’t much a story at all. Friends were publishing their first and second – even third– novels , and I didn’t even have a name for my fantasy world. 
It is easy to get despondent over a lack of progress in our work. Whether we sit day and night at our desk and more papers end up on the floor than filled with words, whether we are too busy or just can’t find the motivation – there is a little voice inside us calling, ‘remember your mission.’ How many of us read books wishing we could be a part of that world, envying the characters’ journey yet forgetting they had struggles of their own? Some people accuse readers of “reading to escape” but I don’t escape. I learn.
My favourite books have taught to me to put others first, to be brave and to stand tall because the bad guys can be defeated. They have taught me about myself and about my faith. They have taught me that even if you are tired, your feet are sore and your pack feels heavy on your back – if you keep going you never know what story you might enter into.
In C.S. Lewis’ the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Aslan reveals to Lucy one of the reasons he brought her into Narnia. ‘That by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.’ God brought me to Israel for many reasons, but one of them was so that I might finish my story. Hiking the Jesus’ Trail made my story more real to me. The lows, the highs, the exhilaration and the tears I experienced will become words scratched out on page after page, eventually turning into this novel I know I am supposed to write
I saw a scene from my own story, quite literally before my eyes, and I marvelled at the work of God – the Great Author – and how He planned this all before I even knew how to write. In knowing Him in that moment, I know Him better now. What story has God given you, so that one day a reader might be braver, stronger, kinder? How might they know Him better because of the words you write? 
Remember your mission. Don’t lose heart. Keep writing.

(The Sea of Galilee. I made it to the end.)

Jo Sarah Stanford is a freelance writer with her own business: Write It Up! She has recently spent a year as a journalist in Jerusalem, Israel and is the editor of Bridge Builders the national bi-monthly magazine for Bridges for Peace. She is also a karate instructor and lives in the Adelaide Hills with her chickens. 


  1. What an adventure! There is nothing quite so powerful as those moments of divine confirmation which encourage us to persevere. Thanks for sharing your experiences, Jo. I know what you mean when it comes to despondency - so often it's the extra weight that increases the burden that makes progress even more difficult to achieve in a frustrating vicious circle. Your encouragement is a timely reminder to ditch that weight into its own floundering wallow and leave it behind.

  2. Hi Jo, wow, what an awesome achievement, not to mention the way God stands outside of time to care for us as individuals, orchestrating these meaningful moments of confirmation. Stories like these are such powerful encouragement for us all, so thanks for sharing :) What a year to remember for a humble South Aussie! I'll look forward to seeing what you do next.

  3. You are amazing, Jo. Your faith always encourages me and God does awesome things in your life because you dare to step out and trust him. This is a wonderful confirmation for you about your writing. I can’t wait to read this story when it is finished :)

  4. Thank you, Jo. Very encouraging. Seems no time at all since you were just about to set off on your trip to Israel. I'm glad it was all so rewarding (if tough!) You will have gained insights and resource material for a lifetime.