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My Personal Connection to Red Mountain

Updated: Jul 15, 2021

It was hot, sunny, and I remember better understanding how the children of Israel could complain in the desert. It was good to have a hat on, and even in early March I could feel the ground heat burn up into my Yellow Box flip flops. Our experience in the gorgeous Arava stays with those of us who traveled together in 2018 to personally visit, among several places, the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center (RMTRC). I can’t say that I’d ever seen such a riding center before though I know they exist, but even if I had, I could tell the character and nature of this place was unique and compelling.

We enjoyed walking around the campus, meeting the staff – including some of the horses, which I loved – I’m a true Philippos, "horse-loving," and proudly hang stately pictures of thoroughbreds in my home, one by the amazing photographer Solomon Davis and the other by calf trainer/coach/artist Mario Thomas. I could elaborate more on those two for sure! But back to the Arava, and ahhh the peace of this remote place in the desert. Guarded by mountains behind it with views of the majestic Jordanian mountains before it, RMTRC is nestled in Kibbutz Grofit. It makes you feel far from civilization in a welcoming way, or maybe that's just my throw back to being on a Horse with No Name. The sound of the therapist’s voice with children in the ring was soft and comforting the day we were there, and the occasional laughs of a saddled child followed by a few cheers in the gallery were delightful. The gentle horses seemed to sense the needs of their unlikely riders becoming equal partners in the healing process.

The staff developmental director showed us a film about their history and mission, aptly underscored by those classic '70s /America lyrics, which I can still sing. Sitting in the darkened room watching the images of children resting on horseback, beyond their personal challenges, in spite of their disorders and palsies and physical limitations…hearing their laughter in the joy of their momentary successes, did something in my heart. A chamber opened and tears began to flow. I remembered Frank and Angela.

In the early 1970s, babysitting was my gig. I was a natural at play and storytelling (shocking, I know) and my mom’s friends kept me booked. Fifty cents an hour can really add up, you know. One gig marked me for life. One of Mom's friends had two special needs children who were close in age. Their limitations of speech and mobility were severe, so care was physical and consuming. They were propped in beds in the den, and the home had the pungent smells of in-home caregiving. It was clearly impossible for this single mother to keep up the house, her job and the care of her children…all which had contributed to the birth father’s absence. All I could do to entertain the two children was to read to them and really ham it up. They roared. They liked it loud and animated. Their responses egged me on, but also egged on each other so the ham & eggs were flying...or should I say, frying. Angela’s delight was displayed in raucous screams with big smiles. When Frank would hear her, he would arch his body on the bed and release his own joyful noise in the process. I had never witnessed such things but could tell it was good. We had a great time together, and the sights and sounds and smells of the encounter marked me profoundly.

I don’t remember how often I visited or babysat them, but Frank, the older of the two, fell ill and died. It stunned me so, that I can remember where I was standing when my mother gave me the news. Angela’s instincts told her that Frank was gone, and she died shortly after him. Their connection was as deep as siblings could go, and time with them went deeply into me, an only child. Standing at the side of the corral in the desert that day, watching children lay on horseback as the gait of the horse realigned spines to brain stems to slowly reopen the souls of these patients, if I've grasped it in my layman's understanding… well, Frank and Angela came back to me. How important their care had been, what resources their mother lacked, what respite however brief she could have used, and what might have changed for them if more had been available. I figured they had long since enjoyed heavenly delights, such as freedom and speech and mobility with unimaginable divine creatures. The outdoor smell of the dirt and the horses caused imagination to mix with memories in my desert musings that day.

The riding center developmental director shot another arrow straight at our hearts that day when he quoted something often attributed to Ghandi, “the measure of a society's greatness is in how it treats its weakest members.” Zing. Israel’s commitment to its own most vulnerable population is admirable and understandable. They rightly remember the Nazi regime bent on eradicating Jews, their children and elderly, the disabled, and other sects of the population. As a nation, they’ve committed since their earliest years to provide for themselves and protect the vulnerable in critical ways.

Photos: (left) The Janusz Korczak sculpture at the Children's Memorial at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Anutik1420/ (right) Starving Children at Belsen Concentration Camp in Germany, April 1945, the Everett Collection/

The director’s remarks made me question our own national insecurity for populations such as disabled veterans, the homeless and mentally ill, and the unborn. How much more vulnerable can you get than in the womb? How can we embrace the science of climate change and reject the documented science of a life in the womb? This is not a political question, but a moral one.

Back to the story. On our 2018 mission, we visited many incredible places that showed the outstanding commitment to Israel shared by the Arkansas Jewish community and Jewish National Fund. What amazing places have been created or preserved for the benefit and enjoyment of modern Israelis and the nations. But nothing quite touched us emotionally that trip as the visit with horses and children, where caring professional therapists strengthen families by helping their special needs members since 1999. Today, about 200 families are served in the region. We learned of their need for a bomb shelter, and committed to meet this need before the government could mandate its closure without it. The design was created…a space that children would be comfortable coming in and out of, at an affordable price – just $150,000! Since the latter months of 2018, the Jewish Federation of Arkansas and our involvement as Commission Fields have personally fundraised to reduce that to what's now below $50k at the time of this writing, due in full by Spring 2022. It's time to move this mountain, the balance on this shelter. My heart's desire is to see the Christian community eradicate that amount in an amazing show of support to the Southern Israelis and our Arkansan Jewish friends.

God bless all who labor in this field, who serve the special needs populations, who selflessly care for the homebound or bedfast. Thank God for all those who have given to this deserving project, and blessings to all who have fostered and adopted in our own state's child services. We need you all. Stay refreshed. Be encouraged that you are doing so to Him who said, "When you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto Me." (Matthew 25:40) May He bless the fruits of your labors. May God bless those who have committed to serve in this remote but necessary place in Southern Israel….and God bless those who bless them.

The summer after that particular Israel trip, I had the privilege of teaching in a pastors' conference in southern India. About 120 pastoral leaders had gathered in study and in fellowship, and my part was to open their hearts to the beauties of Torah, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the Land of Israel. I shared on the feasts of the Lord, on our vision to bless Israel and the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and gave them an opportunity to invest with me at Red Mountain. They immediately rallied, and gave with such joy and passion and with prayers for Israel as they put their rupees into an offering. What launched in that conference brought an amazing chain of miracles to that place...of divine intervention and supply, of healing, of seeing the impossible become reality through the most arduous circumstances in India, all attributed, they say, to their seeds in Israel. How precious a bridge from Arkansas in the American South, to Israel's south, to Southern India...spanning oceans and leveling mountains.

Sometimes you just gotta move a mountain. And other times, the Mountain needs to move you.

For children….for Israel.…forever.

Photos: (top) Entrance at Kibbutz Grofit where the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center is situated in Israel's extreme south. Students on horseback; photos from the 2018 Arava Mission.

Read more about our joint project with the Jewish Federation of Arkansas and Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center in Israel, which we heartily support, and consider helping us:

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Thank you, Kelly! Hopefully these important conversations can continue to be shared. Thanks for taking time to read & share!


Once again, fantastic article. What a stunning point you have made here...

"The director’s remarks made me question our own national insecurity for populations such as disabled veterans, the homeless and mentally ill, and the unborn. How much more vulnerable can you get than in the womb? How can

we as a people embrace the science of climate change and reject the documented science of a life in the womb in the same breath? This is not a political issue to me, but a moral one."

What a tremendous response to those so blind to the care and concern for "our weakest members."

Thank you keeping these issues and needs in front of us. Kelly Jackson

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