Joshua Billington during his visit to Israel last week.Any trip to Israel is memorable. But for six-year-old Joshua Billington last week, touring the historic sites of Jerusalem, floating in the Dead Sea, hiking under a waterfall in Ein Gedi, and riding a boat on the sea of Galilee was quite literally a dream come true.
Almost two years ago, Joshua, from Brantford, Ontario, was diagnosed with leukemia and began the long and arduous course of chemotherapy treatment, spending much of the time during kindergarten and first grade in various hospitals and clinics.
Shortly after Joshua started receiving treatment, his family learned of the various programs that were available to help and support children with cancer through the experience. There are several foundations in Canada that offered trips to Disneyworld. Others organizations, such as the “Children’s Wish Foundation,” promised to grant any wish a child would have.
“I decided to be crafty,” Joshua’s father, Dave Billington told ISRAEL21c. “Joshua would be asked what his wish was, and if it was something that I could afford to grant – he was quite into Lego trains at the time, although this can get expensive – then I would get it for him and we would go to Florida. On the other hand if it was something that was out of my scope we would approach the Wish Foundation.”
Joshua immediately made it clear to his father that his dreams had nothing to do with Legos or Mickey Mouse.
“When asked ‘if you could have anything, do anything or go anywhere, what would you want,’ his answer, without hesitation was ‘I want to go to Jerusalem and go through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and see the ruins of the temple,'” said Dave.
Since this was clearly beyond what their family could afford, Dave and his wife Alicia decided to approach the Foundation with the wish.
Joshua composed the following letter:
“I want to go to Israel because it is the place where the Bible happened. I want to go to Jerusalem and stay in David Hotel. I want to go to Hezekiah’s tunnel and the Western Wall. I want to go to the museum in Jerusalem and I want to explore David’s Tower. I want to go to Ein Gedi where David hid from Saul. I want to go to Masada. I want to go hiking and do animal watching. I want to go to the Red Sea and go snorkeling with an underwater camera.”
The Children’s Wish Foundation initially told the family apologetically that as much as they would like to grant Joshua’s wish, they were unable to do so due to the security situation. At the time the Canadian government was officially advising its citizens not to travel to Israel at all.
But Joshua refused to change his wish – what he wanted was to see Israel. And his nurses advised the family that perhaps the delay was for the best, since Joshua would probably enjoy the trip to more if he completed his chemotherapy first.
So the family decided to delay requesting gifts or trips from any organization until Joshua finished his course of treatment.
As the security situation in Israel improved, so did the official Canadian government travel advisory – instead of no travel to Israel, the advisory said only that travel to certain areas in Israel and the territories was not recommended.
And last September, just as he was preparing to complete his treatment after 108 weeks of chemotherapy, the good news arrived – the Foundation would send him to Israel. The family acquired passports and began to plan their trip excitedly.
On Dec. 22, a box arrived at from the Children’s Wish Foundation.
“It contained our airline tickets, our hotel information and spending money,” said father Dave. “The big news was that we are staying at the King David Hotel. We really did not think this was going to be possible. It was part of Josh’s wish, as soon as he heard the name of the hotel he wanted to stay there – if it’s named after King David it must be good.”
A last minute setback occurred that put Joshua’s trip in jeopardy when he contracted meningitis just weeks before he was supposed to board his plane, and he had to be hospitalized. But his swift recovery meant that he could make the trip after all.
The Billington’s familiarity and attachment to the Holy Land, and Joshua’s extensive knowledge of the Old Testament stems from their affiliation with the Christdelphian church. Along with his father Dave, and his mother Alicia, and his siblings Cassia and Nahum, his aunts, uncles and grandparents joined the adventure and turned it into a family experience -what they called their “miracle trip” to Israel.
Theirs was a whirlwind week-long tour. Joshua walked the ramparts on the walls of the Old City and peered through the narrow slits. The family also went shopping for shofars – blowing the ram’s horn is part of their family tradition.
He had practiced for hiking at home, and wasn’t disappointed as he hiked around the hills and waterfalls of Ein Gedi, an oasis in the Judean desert.
In the Dead Sea, “Josh was so excited to get in, but was rather quick to get out, as he has acquired a few scratches that reallly stung with the salt,” his father said. The large buffet Israeli breakfasts at the King David were also a hit with Joshua.
And, of course, Joshua got his wish and the family toured the Hezekiah tunnels as well as the tunnels under the Western Wall.
“We’ve seen so much and there’s been so many big impressions on us and on Josh. It really reinforces our beliefs. It’s been pretty awesome. I don’t think anybody’s been disappointed at all. It’s definitely been a moving experience,” said Dave.
When Joshua would have to go through a difficult hospital procedure, his parents told him to “be brave like David and strong like Goliath.” So Joshua’s favorite sites in Israel were the places that were related to King David, including the valley where the famous battle against Goliath took place.
“Hezekiah’s tunnel was definitely one of the highlights for him, as were the ramparts of the Old City and the David’s Tower museum,” said his father.
The family travelled to view the Roman ruins in Caesaria, and travelled up the coast to Haifa. They also met a representative of the Jewish National Fund and planted a tree.
When they return to Canada, Joshua is planning to do a presentation at his school about his trip, and the family will relate their experiences to the church.