Jerusalem | Travel + Faith

The Zealous Israel Project participants

We have come to Mount Zion, city of the living God.
Heavenly Jerusalem, by His blood we have come.

“Mt. Zion,” Jonathan David + Melissa Helser

It’s been six months since my last blog. Honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out how exactly to put into words my experience living in Jerusalem since I moved here in July. Words fail me when I think about how to describe it.

My roommates

Of course, I could simply share some of the incredible things I’ve done and seen. Pruning pomegranate trees, hiking the desert wilderness of Timna, snorkeling in the Red Sea, riding camels, taking Krav Maga lessons, planting olive trees in the Judaean wilderness, leading our monthly worship team, leading worship weekly at Sukkat Hallel (Jerusalem’s 24/7 house of prayer), writing and performing my first original song, becoming a published graphic designer, developing relationships in the Jewish community, getting stung by a jellyfish in the Mediterranean Sea, touring the Knesset, going to a night of worship in the desert of En Gedi with thousands of people from around the world.

Sitting on a tank used in the Six Day War at Radio Hill

We’ve done and seen so much I’m having a hard time remembering everything. It’s been incredible. I often have to make myself stop and stare at the Old City walls or Temple Mount (only a short walk from where I work) and say, “I live in Jerusalem.” Because this place feels so much like home that I often forget exactly where I’m living. It’s so surreal.

Planting olive trees in the Judaean wilderness

Honestly, even though I’ve had the most incredible experiences over the past 3 months, some of my favorite moments are found in the everyday mundane activities. Watching young people stand and give their seat away to the elderly on the bus. Waving to Roni the coffee guy every morning on the walk to work. Watching Muslims and Jews engage with each other and love each other. Celebrating the Biblical holidays like Sukkot and Yom Kippur. Eating onion rings at First Station, the outdoor mall/hangout near our apartment. Deep conversations late at night with fellow Zealous Israel Project (Z3) members. Hammocking in the park. Working out on Saturday mornings. Baking cakes for birthdays. Buying fresh challah and flowers for Shabbat every Friday afternoon. Going to Krav Maga on Sunday nights. Hebrew lessons on Wednesday nights. Coffee at my 2 favorite coffee shops, Tmol Shilshom and Power CoffeeWorks. Everyday life is wonderful.

Hiking Solomon’s Pillars at Timna Park

Although I love life here, these 3 months have really challenged me more than I care to admit. As a natural introvert, I’ve been struggling to re-adjust to living with 4 other roommates and all the different personalities and preferences. I think because of this I’ve become a little more distant with people than I am at home in Ohio. I’ve really connected well with a few people, though, and find myself developing deep friendships I hope will last a lifetime.

Leading worship in the desert at Timna Park

I also have been struggling with feeling really unqualified for my role as the worship team leader. I am confident that growing in worship and as a worship leader is one of God’s major focuses for me this year. And with that in mind, I’ve kept saying yes to various things being asked of me. I’ve grown SO MUCH as a worship leader in the past few months, it’s insane. I’m so thankful for the opportunity. But all I can say is I’m thankful for my team and the way they push me, encourage me, and have grace with me. There is no group of people I’ve enjoyed playing music with more than the three others on my team, and we flow so well together, knowing without speaking when to play the same song for 10 minutes because the Spirit is moving or when to add songs not originally in the line-up. Nozomu, Eilir-Wyn, Eliza – I love you guys. May God set a fire in our souls.

Playing my first finished original song, Abundantly More.

All that being said – Jerusalem is home. No, it’s not dangerous or scary living here. I feel safer living here than I do in America, and the Middle East is nothing like it’s portrayed in the American media. The entire country is community focused, and everyone helps each other out without asking. Parents let their kids roam free because of the fact that the country is so safe and people trust one another.

Hammocking at the Promenade

This is the City of Gold – the city of God’s people. God’s presence is thick here. The history is so rich – it’s amazing to think that I am walking the same streets walked by Jesus and His disciples. That the stars I stare at in the middle of desert are the same stars Abraham and Sarah would have seen. That the roots of the some of the olive trees could have been the same roots from the time of Jesus. That I can visit and touch places where miracles occurred. The places of the Bible are real and still present today.

Hiking the Timna Arches

God has called me here for at least a year. As for what’s next after that, I honestly cannot say. I’ll be home in July for a friend’s wedding (yay for being a bridesmaid!), and that’s the only concrete plan I have right now. I’ve been praying that God will show me what’s next soon. Until then, I will wait and try to soak up every moment here. Leaving everything behind to follow the call has been so worth it.

A photo shoot for this article for Bridges for Peace’s Dispatch from Jerusalem magazine

I love you all. Thank you so much to those who have been supporting me financially. Every single dollar is so appreciated. If you are able to help support me financially, please click here to donate.

My Krav Maga class

Hoping to write again soon. Until then, shalom from Jerusalem.


Following the Call | Travel + Faith

Dear friends,

If you haven’t heard already….

I’m moving to Israel. 

For a year. 

Crazy, huh?


It’s all very surreal to me, too. I’ll be moving at the end of July as a part of the Zealous Israel Project with Bridges for Peace, an 11-month servant-based discipleship program. I’ll be living and working in Jerusalem on the organization’s publications team doing graphic and layout design. You can read more about my role and the program HERE, on my support page. I would love if you would consider financially supporting me through this!

I am very excited about this opportunity, and I feel very strongly that this is what God has been pushing me towards over the past couple years. In fact, I can point to three different times where my application should have either been withdrawn or incomplete. By no work of my own, and from a back story that I found out about after being accepted, I am moving to Jerusalem in a little over 2 short months. The fact that I was accepted is truly the work of God and a clear sign that this is His next step for me. So I’ve said yes to His call and am looking forward to spending the next year with 10 other young adults from around the world, growing in our faith and developing new, lasting friendships. I am also really, really excited that I get to work in the same building and live in the city as one of my close friends, Becca, whom I met in Israel 2 years ago on our Call to Zion tour. She just wrote a blog about perspective which I highly recommend reading, if you get the chance.

When people hear I am moving, they usually respond in one of two ways. The first is to say, “WOW, aren’t you scared?” to which I say….no. Honestly, Israel feels safer to me than America in a lot of ways, and the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) do a wonderful job of protecting the country and its people. When I was there, Israel felt like home. It’s really hard to explain unless you’ve been there. But no, I am not afraid to live in Israel, regardless of what you hear on the news.

The second response is actually a little harder for me to embrace, and it should be the easiest. Most people say “WOW, that is so amazing! Are you excited?”

Again, this should be the easy question to answer. Yet it is the hardest for me to answer with complete honesty. 

It’s complicated. As I’ve already mentioned, I am really, truly excited. Deep down. And I know I will grow more and more excited about it over time. Please hear me say that I am excited.

But if I’m being really honest with you, my answer is that right now I’m hurting.

Mostly because I am struggling to leave a few close friendships behind for an entire year, and the thought of leaving Cincinnati and the people I love, more often than not, makes me burst into tears almost daily.

I realize that technology is wonderful, and WhatsApp will allow me to remain in close contact. But it’s still hard, and I know this upcoming year will be an emotionally challenging one. I’m excited for the ways I will grow, develop, and be stretched. And at the same time, I am not excited about all the emotions that will come with it.

I’m saying yes because I am choosing to follow the call God has given me. This life was not made to be easy, and being obedient to God is often one of the most difficult things for me to do. What I want to do, in all honesty, doesn’t matter. What God wants me to do, however, matters a lot. A whole lot. So I will follow what He wants for me, even when it’s hard. And I will praise Him through the hurt, knowing that good things will follow.


“I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
    in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord!”
-Psalm 27:13-14

That’s where I am right now. I plan to blog about my experiences while in Israel, so I hope you’ll subscribe via email and follow along with my journey. I love you all – thanks for letting me be honest, and know you can be honest with me as well.

Shalom, friends.


Italy Travel Journal | Catherine of Siena | Adventure

Part of my homework for last week was to simply journal and reflect on my experience in Orvieto. It’s been hard for me to think about anything other my experience! My head has been cloudy at all hours of the day, discerning what is the next step for my life. The more I think and pray about it, the more I am positive that I will be moving this fall, and that bring a lot of things to do and risks to take to make it happen. But I am certain it is what I need to do – mostly because I know God is speaking to me when I get hyper emotional and the thought consumes my mind.

Our group outside San Domenico (thanks Lindsey for the photo!).

That being said, I am trying to separate the specific next step I heard from God to reflect on the rest of the experience – mostly the art we saw, since medieval art was the focus of the trip. It is not often that a piece of art grabs me in a way that evokes strong emotions. Usually I pass by, look at the piece, and think “oh, that’s nice – I like the colors and how detailed this is” or something of the sort. I had that same experience with most of the art I saw in Italy – not because it wasn’t magnificent (it was!) or full of rich historical background and fame, but because I’ve never connected with art on that personal of a level.  There were a few pieces in Italy that did evoke an emotional response from me, though (including Michaelangelo’s David, Signorelli’s Holy Family, various pieces of Etruscan pottery found in tombs from the 6th century BC, and various sculptures by Donatello), and although I haven’t quite figured out what it was about them that was so different from the rest, I know I thought they were beautiful. Today I will reflect on one piece in particular.

The Basilica of San Domenico (left) in Siena.

The first was a piece inside San Domenico, a basilica in Siena that houses the head and finger of Saint Catherine of Siena (yes, the literal head and finger of the saint). Unfortunately, pictures were not allowed, so I was not able to snap a photo and I cannot find a picture of it online. The piece was a stained glass window. It was a vibrant purple and had bridge shards of color piercing throughout. It showed three separate scenes of Catherine with Jesus. The only scene of the three that I remember was Jesus on the cross giving Catherine the host during communion. This piece made me stop and stare for a while, and it was one of few pieces I inquired about afterwards, hoping to find more information. I didn’t learn much, but I wish there was some way I was able to capture it (or even just remember the rest of the scenes!).

Why did this impact me?

I think because communion is typically something we do to experience Christ; a way for us to connect with Him and experience the Last Supper as the disciples did.

To be present in Christ’s final moments on earth. In this image, Christ is personally giving communion to Catherine, just as He did with His disciples. It is intimate, and it implies a close friendship and relationship. It implies Catherine was connecting with Christ on a truly deep level. It implies she was present with Him. And I wish that I was always present and intimate with Him on the same level that the image implied Catherine was. In fact, I wish that for all of us.

Most of our group overlooking Siena (thanks Chan for the photo!).

How do you pursue intimacy with Christ? How do you make (and keep) yourself present with Him?

Italy Travel Journal | Overview | Adventure

Overlooking the city of Orvieto from Torre del Moro, the tower where the pope fled during the sack of Rome.

I’m lucky to have recently spent 2 1/2 weeks living in the small town of Orvieto, a city on a hill in Italy. The experience was beautiful and emotional in many ways. I saw a lot of politically and spiritually important sights, traveled to Rome, Florence, Siena, and Assisi, got to know the cafe and shop owners in Orvieto, drank cappuccinos, ate gelato (daily, I might add), and build lasting friendships. I was particularly impacted by the professors and built some lasting relationships with them as well, which I will share more about later. For now, I want to give a general overview of my trip, and then I will share more specifics over the coming months.

I’m currently sitting at the airport in New York, awaiting my flight to Cincinnati which has been delayed for the millionth time. There is no better time to reflect on a trip than when your flight has been delayed for nearly 24 hours, right?

Roughly 32 of us (professors, spouses, friends, and students) spent time living at San Lodovico, a monastery in Orvieto, while we traveled to various cathedrals and museums learning about art and religion during medieval times. We began our morning with prayer in the chapel located inside the monastery.

The monastery of San Lodovico in Orvieto, Italy.

We spent time in studio classes learning to sculpt with Fuller Seminary’s artist in residence, Chris Slatoff. I particularly loved these classes and discovered a love for sculpting that I didn’t know existed. Hours flew by and I learned I actually had the patience to work on one small thing for a long time.

We also got quite a bit of free time, and we all spent this in different ways. I spent a lot of time reflecting on what I felt God was clearly telling me (which I won’t I share at the moment, since I am still discerning what is the next step to take). I will say that I feel God has called me to big things that I am financially incapable of doing on my own – and I now feel it is okay to use school loans to do these things. I’m just trying to figure out where in the world I am being called (location-wise) and when (sometime this year).

I typically did this over a cappuccino and pastry at one of three coffee shops – Blue Bar, Montanucci, or Capitano del Popolo. I think Montanucci wins for having the best pastries and beautiful patio seating, but Capitano del Popolo had the best coffee and coolest decor.

Cappuccino at Capitano Del Popolo.

It seems to me that God calls us to the places we feel the least comfortable, at what we feel are the least opportune times.

Does anyone else feel this way?

I was significantly more impacted on this trip than I expected, and I think it will take me a while to process everything. Which is fine, because I still have seven more weeks of classes online with the people who went on the trip (the classes: Medieval Art & Religion, The Art of Worship & Prayer). I’m thankful I get to discern with other people who were significantly impacted as well.

At the Roman Forum in Rome, Italy.

We also spent a lot of time learning about the saints – particularly Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, and Francis of Assisi. Their lives were a blend of piousness (perhaps overly and dangerously pious) and servitude, creativity and visions. I was really impacted by a stained glass window in Siena in San Domenico, the cathedral where the head and finger of the saint is on display. Unfortunately, I can’t find a picture of it online and I wasn’t able to take one (pictures were not allowed), but I remember it was a vivid purple with three different scenes of Catherine with Jesus. The scene I remember was Jesus on the cross serving Catherine communion. I want to recreate something like it with plexiglass and paint for a final class project… hopefully my memory will serve me well 🙂

Outside the Duomo di Orvieto in Orvieto, Italy.

There is a quote from Catherine I believe to have learned firsthand from this trip:

“It is the nature of love to love as much as we feel we are loved, and to love whatever the one we love loves.”

I certainly learned I was loved and could be loved by people who barely know me. This made me feel comfortable sharing intimately and pouring love in return. I’m looking forward to reflecting more intimately on my time in this beautiful place over the months to come.

At the Colosseum in Rome, Italy.

Ciao, friends.