My country, Malaysia, does not recognised the political nation of Israel and hence we, Malaysian, are not allowed to visit Israel. There is only one country which was printed in our passport which we cannot visit – Israel. So it was with joy that I learnt last year that Malaysia has begun to issue special pilgrim permits to Christians to visit Israel for religious pilgrimage. It was with great joy that we signed up with the Seminari Theologi Malaysia (STM) study tour to Israel from 21-28 May 2012. Going on such a trip is expensive but we are willing to pay for the opportunity. According to the organisers, the application for the pilgrim permit was submitted in February 2012.
We were informed in early May (a couple of weeks before our departure date) that our applications were rejected by the Home Ministry. Then followed a nerve-wrecking time of uncertainty during which the organisers made an appeal to the Home Ministry to reverse their decision. The secretary-general of the Christian Federation of Malaysia was especially helpful.
For me a personal decision has to be made whether to proceed if the appeal did not bear fruit. It was a tough struggle for me to make such a decision. On one hand, a lot of money was spent; hotels and airfares paid, and leave from work arranged. To withdraw would mean substantial financial loss and a wasted opportunity. On the other hand, I agree with Paul (Romans 13:1-7) that we are to obey our authorities (Home Ministry of Malaysia). So it was a time of intense prayer; pleading to God, and also to come to a state when I am willing to submit and let go of the trip if the approval did not come.
Jehovah Jireh! Our God provides. The approval came late on Wednesday 16 May evening. We were to leave on Friday 18 May! Phew! So after putting on our pilgrim shoes, we flew like a flock of homing pigeons to Baitulmaqdis (tulisan Arab/Jawi: بيت المقدس).