In October 2018, several couples from Sheridan who toured Israel and Jordan together noted how much of the country was desert. Even though the desalinization of water from the Mediterranean Sea and irrigation of recycled water have promoted the greening of the country, Israel still lacks natural water resources.

In ancient times, nomadic tribesmen known as Bedouins depended upon the hospitality of villagers to provide water and food as they migrated across the wilderness. Although less nomadic today, Bedouins remain relatively isolated from the dominant cultures of Israel. I recently learned that the government doesn’t recognize their makeshift villages scattered across Israel as bona-fide communities.

One evening after traveling through hills and barren desert for a seemingly endless time, our group was invited into a Bedouin restaurant set up “in the middle of nowhere” to serve us a delicious buffet, music and entertainment.

The Bedouins welcomed us with a ministry of presence, a kind of hospitality key to their own historic survival and now was offered to visitors.

God originated the ministry of presence when he formed Adam and Eve, set them in the Garden of Eden, developed His relational presence with them and attended to their needs. In the Old Testament God’s presence with His people communicated vision, direction, guidance, law and justice, as well as God’s faithfulness, love and restoration.

When Jesus came into our world and ministered to people, He opened our understanding of additional aspects of presence — acceptance, listening, mercy, fellowship, truth, healing and blessing. After Jesus died, was buried, resurrected and ascended into Heaven, God’s Holy Spirit became our abiding Companion, Teacher and Guide offering His presence to us as we continue on our faith journeys.

As Christ followers, we can find joy providing a ministry of presence in a variety of ways. If we have been on the receiving end of a ministry, we know how much a person being there for us can mean. As a trained life coach, I am blessed with the opportunity of practicing presence frequently.

Presence to me is a gift of the heart which is given in the form of dedicated time and full engagement as I listen quietly and attentively to another person. Although being present sounds simple, it requires that I am intentional and deliberate in setting aside myriad distractors, such as cell phones, TV, to do lists, and pesky, interloping thoughts that demand my attention. My biggest challenge is to ignore my desire to talk too much. I pray fervently to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to “be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19 ) before I meet with a client. I sincerely try to create a safe place of grace for connecting with each  in a person in a way that communicates to their soul, “You matter to God and you matter to me!”

The benefit of one’s presence to another can’t be measured, but clients often acknowledge that by simply listening to them, they feel loved. By affirming them, they have been offered new hope. By cheering them on, they feel encouragement and support. As was evidenced in the tears of a recent long-distance runner whose words exposed his realization, “In my entire life, no one has ever cheered me on before.” Because Jesus has told us to love one another, the ministry of our presence can become a delivery model of His love to people on many pathways.

Thinking back on our trip to Israel, we were blessed by meeting diverse people-Hebrews, Armenians, Muslims, and Christians. Some strangers knew we were Christians; others saw us as American tourists.  However, in God’s amazing gift exchange when people meet, I witnessed times when we were empowered to provide a “ministry of presence,” which was Christ-driven, Spirit-given gifts of heart as His ambassadors.

When we returned to our homes in Wyoming, we became intentional about offering the gift of presence to others in our family, neighborhood, workplace, church or even on the edge of a desert in the middle of nowhere as was given to us at a Bedouin table.

Anita Schamber is a commissioned minister for Volunteers of America Northern Rockies.