Alex Mackenzie and his mission trip to Israel

Alex Mackenzie

Back in the spring, Alex Mackenzie went on a week-long mission trip to Israel with his friend Alan Pettit from the Free North Church.

I met up with him to chat about this, but first of all, I asked Alex to tell me a wee bit about himself.

Hilton Church

Alex been coming to Hilton Church for about 15 years ever since the person he shared a house with (Angus MacLeod’s sister) invited him along.  His previous church experience was in a Free Church on Skye where he was brought up.  Hilton was much more informal that this previous church experiences, but he ‘adapted to it.’   He finds it a ‘nice friendly church’ and remembers that it ‘helped him along in terms of his faith.’ He speaks particularly of the bible study groups he attended.

Studying

Alex had moved to Inverness after competing an Honours degree in Environmental Biology at Paisley University to take up a post with the microbiology lab at Raigmore Hospital where for seven years he was one of the environmental health team analysing water samples on behalf of Scottish Water and other private suppliers. He describes using petri-dishes and incubators to test the samples for bacteria such as ecoli which would indicate the disturbing presence of foecal material in the water!

But then the time came to move on, and Alex decided to try something completely different. Beginning in September 2006, he worked through a BA Course in Theological Studies at the Highland Theological College – he wanted to find out more about the Bible, and felt it was something he should do as an expression of his commitment to God.

This course stretched him – he struggled with some of the essays, and with the quantity of reading expected of students. And it challenged his faith – everything had (rightly) to be done in a very scholarly way, and Alex felt there was a danger of ‘taking the soul out of it’ by focussing on theology from a purely academic perspective.

He found Systematic Theology helpful: it ‘cleared things up’ for him, and he now understand better the nature of God as a Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. And he particularly enjoyed Church History, exploring how the Christian church evolved from the very beginnings until the Reformation, and the history of the Scottish Church.  It’s a measure of the impact of the course on him that during his time at HTC, Alex was baptised at Hilton Church, and  became a member of the Church of Scotland.

Working at Raigmore

Alex graduated from HTC in 2009, and began to work full-time in a role he had taken as a summer holiday post while he was studying. He’s a domestic assistant at Raigmore Hospital, involved in cleaning duties on the wards. It’s a job in which he’s remained much longer than he had planned. He does his duties ‘automatically’ now, and admits that it’s ‘very repetitive’, although he appreciates the occasional opportunity to encourage patients.

He would much rather be doing something else: ‘I feel as if I definitely need a change,’ he tells me, but ‘I haven’t really decided within myself what that might be – what I’d like to do, or be good at doing.’ And he admits that ‘the longer you stay in a job, the more difficult it becomes to contemplate the challenges of leaving, of doing something different.’

He would like to find a role for which he would be a good fit, and which would use some of the expertise he gained while at HTC.

Mission

Mission is one of the things he has been exploring.  He has been on three Gospel Literature Outreach teams in the last few years: in Belfast in 2010, Spain in 2012, and France in 2017. He enjoyed being part of these teams, though they were very tightly structured and ‘full on.’  But he appreciated the range of activities  involved – over his three missions, as well as handing out invitation leaflets, Alex has taken part in  childrens’ activities, musical  events, International Evenings for students.

Spare time

Alex has a busy life out-with work. He loves nature – and at one point dreamed of having a job involving wildlife conservation.   He also loves music, TV, reading, playing piano and keyboard, and going out for the day with friends. He volunteers with Hospital Radio at Raigmore, periodically supports the hospital chaplain Derek Brown at services in the Hospital Chapel, and is an enthusiastic campanologist, on of the bell-ringers at St Andrews Cathedral.

Alex HaifaIsrael 2019

It was both to gain further experience of mission, and to support his friend Alan that Alex signed up back in Januaryto join an ongoing Operation Mobilisation initiative called ‘Zeal for Jezreel.’  Based in Haifa, Alex and Alan worked for a week with local Christians co-ordinated by the Operation Moblisation team leader and his wife.  Their task was to go door-by-door round communities  in the Jezreel valley in pairs distributing Christian literature, and sometimes knocking on doors having conversations with local people – mostly Jews and Muslim Arabs.  Neither Alex nor Alan knows Hebrew  so each of them was accompanied by a local person who could engage in conversation where the householder did not know English. ‘But I could say “Shalom”,’ Alex smiles.

The responses on the doorsteps were varied. One or two Jewish people shared their Jewish faith;  Alex was part of a good conversation with a Jewish person who was an atheist – but because of his lack of knowledge of the language he missed out on much of what was said; he also met another Jewish woman, also an atheist, who was very angry with God about the Holocaust, and told Alex and the person with him that ‘I just can’t believe in a God after what happened at that time.’

There was no perceptible spiritual responses to the team’s work during the time Alex and Alan were with them, but the leaders spoke of the importance of ‘putting it to the Lord,’ and ‘saturating’ the whole initiative in prayer. Where someone showed an interest in what was said, their contact details were taken, and a local person would subsequently be in touch to encourage them.

Alex found the whole experience quite challenging. Alan had hired a car at the airport to drive them round, and but they often found it quite difficult to find the way to the place they had been assigned for the day.  On top of their mission activities, they had to shop, cook meals, and keep the place they were staying – ‘The House of Prayer on the Rock’-  in order. And more personally, Alex found it hard to focus on prayer for the length of time each day recommended by the team leaders – an hour or so per day.

Alex is thankful for his time in Israel. It was good to support Alan in something he was passionate about and good to meet lots of new people. But he didn’t feel that the activities he was involved with were really ‘him.’ However, being in Israel was a great ‘blessing’ to him.  He and Alan stayed for another week after their week of mission. Still based in Haifa in northern Israel, they visited some of the places associated with the life of Jesus – Cana, Capernaum, Tiberias, the Sea of Galilee. ‘It was wonderful going there,’ Alex says. ‘I really felt at peace.’

And now he’s back home, and reflecting on his experience and the impact it has had on his life – and exploring further what the future holds.

Alex says a big ‘Thank you!’ to everyone from Hilton Church who prayed for him while he was away, and helped him organise the trip.

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