Computer training in the,Holy Land



AS a child, I had always wanted to visit Israel. The land of the Bible fascinated me and I wanted to have that experience of walking on the very same soil that the Lord Jesus walked on.
My dream was realised in 1992 when I joined a tour to Israel and Egypt. Since that time, I have made five trips to the Holy Land, leading a couple of them myself. However, it was my second trip in the year 2000 that was another answer to prayer. I had wanted to attend a study programME in my line of work, computers. The second trip answered that prayer – it was a month long training on computerisation in Israel.
I was working then as Computer Operations Manager with the Information Technology Division in the Department of Finance. At the same time, I was coordinator of a Prayer for Israel chapter based at the Tokarara Christian Fellowship.
I had got into contact with an Israeli couple, Avraham and Zippora Stamper through the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. Avraham worked for a company called El Bit in Port Moresby, while his wife “Zippy” was a professional Hebrew teacher to migrants in Israel. She became our teacher at our Ulpan at Tokarara.
In the course of time, they introduced me to the Mashav scholarship, an initiative of the Israeli government. This scholarship gave opportunities to people from third world countries to attend specialised training in fields of agriculture, health, technology and other disciplines. Having such training in a nation that God has gifted tremendously is certainly a bonus for anyone.
With help from my friends, I filled in the forms and submitted them to the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. After a short wait, I got the news that I was accepted. The programme would run in May 2000. Thankfully, my bosses at my department gave their blessing and I got prepared for my trip. I was excited because I knew that the Hebrew that I had been learning would now come into good use!
Having been to Israel eight years earlier, it was easier for me as I knew what to expect. The vigorous questioning at the airline check-in is always intimidating for the first time traveller. However, it is necessary to ensure travel will be safe, especially in that part of the world where danger of terrorism is real!
Flying El Al, the Israeli airline, I soon arrived at Ben Gurion Airport and was received by our hosts. Some of my course mates from other countries also arrived around the same time on other airlines and after clearing customs, we were on our way.
The course was “Computerisation of Social Systems” and it was run at the Aharon Ofri Centre, located at Ramat Rachel (Tomb of Rachel), a kibbutz between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
We were billeted in pairs in their lovely hotel. My roommate was George Wasonga from Kenya who was an engineer by profession. In all, there were 22 of us from many different parts of the world. We had very knowledgeable lecturers

With my course mate, Zaina, a Moslem girl from Zanzibar.

come and present their sessions on various aspects of computerisation, showing us how technology can benefit all sectors of the society. I was impressed at the advances this tiny nation has made in all these areas, and that they are also willing to share their knowledge with others.
The programme was interspersed with lectures and field visits to certain companies to study their use of technology. Besides that, we went on sightseeing trips throughout the land. My favourite was when we spent a couple of days at a resort on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
We were placed in groups of three to a bungalow. In my bungalow, I had the big room while my two young friends from South Africa and Lesotho shared the smaller one. Both boys were quite mischievous and I had to caution them a few times. The Lesotho guy even hooked up with a Belarusian lady member of our class and we had to fish him out of the girls’ bungalow on more than one occasion. He’d get sent back home if they found him!
Anyway, we enjoyed the friendship and the laughs. I however, cherished the times I would go for a prayer walk after dinner along the shores of the great sea, imagining my Lord walking by my side. It was truly a sacred moment.
The next day, as we crossed the lake in a boat, our host, Sagit, asked if anyone wanted to sing a song in their language. Most were feeling shy but the Costa Rican man got up and sang, followed by another South American. Meanwhile, my two roommates asked if I could sing with them. They had heard me singing that Swahili song popularised by Miriam Makeba many years ago called, “Malaika nakupenda malaika”. I agreed but asked for someone to write the full song for me. George and Amos from South Africa jotted it down quickly and after a quick rehearsal at the back of the boat, we were ready. We had George and a young Moslem girl, Zaina, from Zanzibar to join us. The harmony was perfect and our item was a hit. It was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone! I blended in and easily passed as a fellow African!
We moved on from the lake and visited other biblical sites in Jerusalem. Because of my previous visit, and as I was familiar with the biblical teachings relating to Israel and eschatology, I became the ‘unofficial tour guide’, answering questions from my colleagues. On occasions, I prayed with those who needed prayer and encouragement. The visit to the Garden Tomb to see Calvary, the place of crucifixion was quite a solemn time. It was in such a place that even our African playboy took time to ponder the sacrifice of our Lord on our behalf!
Another thing I loved doing was going for a spin to Zion Square in Jerusalem after classes. I got a bit tired of eating hotel food and wanted to try my favourite falafel in the many restaurants at that shopping centre. I learned that bus number 7 route was from Ramat Rachel to Jerusalem and back.
With my bits of Hebrew, I was able to communicate and travel around on my own. One time, after a nice meal of falafel and chips, I loafed around a bit and then went to catch a bus. As I stood at the bus stop, I noticed some weeds popping out from the cracks of the pavement. On looking closer, I noticed it was actually aupa! The famous aupa, my favourite kumu! I bent down and plucked it out. Here, in the Holy Land, of all places, I found my kumu. I was really excited. I’m sure any Israeli looking at me would wonder why this weird alien was smiling at a weed! I said lehitra’ot (see you later) to my small patch of aupa and caught the bus home.
Apart from studies, I attended church every Sunday at the Kehilat Sar Shalom congregation led by Pastor Paul Bianchini. I joined the prayer group and after service we would take freshly baked bread to Christian families in the Palestinian towns of Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. Going through Palestinian checkpoints was quite an experience, especially with Palestinian Christian believers on board. The guards checked us thoroughly to make sure none of us was a Jew!
While in Israel, I also met a fellow Papua New Guinean, Gedisa Yasipsa. He was a brother who we fellowshipped with at the AOG Travelodge Church. He had come to serve with Bridges for Peace in Israel.
One weekend, I caught a bus and went to meet Gedisa. We attended a Paul Wilbur concert at the convention centre and then spent the night at his place. Gedisa had some Ox and Palm tinned meat and packets of Paradise biscuits from home so we were ready for a local meal. The Ox and Palm (red tin) and biscuits tasted so good in the Holy Land! After eating, we sat and chatted into the night. The next day, Gedisa left for Port Moresby while I returned to the centre for the final week.
Soon, it was my time to leave. There were lots of tears and hugs as we said our goodbyes. George left a day earlier and suddenly the room was very quiet. Zaina and Selome from Eritrea came to say goodbye; so did my African brothers and the others.
Soon, it was just me and my sister from Thailand, Tui. We took the same ride to the airport where we said goodbye and went to our separate ways to our respective check-in counters.
It was really quite a sad time for us all as we had been like family. Meeting friends from other nations at such programmes makes you realise that the world is really a small place. We meet briefly and soon we disappear from each other’s lives. We return to live our lives as we have been living. That meeting was but a brief interlude.
This was my second trip to Israel and it was 21 years ago. Yet, the memories still linger.
I am truly grateful to the Israeli government for the Mashav scholarship and the opportunity to train in that special land of miracles. I know that many fellow Papua New Guineans who also benefitted from this scholarship in their respective fields were blessed as I was.
We certainly were privileged to have attended. However, I will always be grateful to my Hebrew teacher, Zippy, and her husband Avraham, for all their assistance. I came away with an appreciation for the Israeli people and their resilience and determination in life, plus their selfless desire to assist others. These are qualities we can all emulate!

  • Rev Seik Pitoi is a freelance writer. Do contact him for a chat on 7673 0892/7154 7257 or email [email protected]