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News from the Middle East from Pastor Tim - Part 1

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News from the Middle East from Pastor Tim - Part 1

Posted by: Pastor Tim Mason on Sat, Apr 12, 2008

Welcome to our journey to Egypt, Jordan and Israel

My name is Pastor Tim… welcome to my (our) blog…
The day is Thursday March 27, 2008… we have arrived in Frankfurt Germany, and we seem to be doing very well. We are waiting to get our boarding passes to Cairo. Susan Gruetzmacher keeps reminding us that we are feeling so well because are so excited. We are all gathered at gate B-42 here in Frankfurt waiting for our gang from St. John’s Lutheran Church, Pastor Steve Jensen and Judy Richardson. We have picked up passengers from Phoenix, Virginia and California!
You have to realize we have finished leg 3 of a four-leg journey to Cairo. It was six hours to Los Angeles, 4 and a half to Dulles in Washington D.C. and then seven hours to Frankfurt Germany. We took a break, rested and got cleaned up in Washington and stayed at a local Hyatt Hotel for a few hours. This was a great idea by Darrell Large.
Everything has worked according to schedule, no delays, and all the flights on time. The flight to Frankfurt was a little bumpy, but no worries. Sherri Clark kept getting special Kosher meals on this flight, but I received the meals of the “secular” persuasion.
We deplaned (is that really the word?) in German to the elements, 37 degrees Fahrenheit and slight drizzle… ‘Invigorating’ would be the word I would like to choose.
We are just learning each other’s ‘personal story’ but this looks like a great group!
Omar was our bus guide from the airport to our hotel. Mustaffa was our armed guard. He was ‘kind enough’ to show me that he was carrying an “uzzie” style machine gun/pistol, anther pistol (he kept using the word “glock”) and some other small but expandable baton. Omar pointed out many interesting buildings, mostly military officers clubs, mosques and minarets. It was determined that it would be a good thing to become an officer if you want to take advantage of all their “benefits.”
We crossed over the Nile and the island that separates Cairo. We got our first view of the pyramids! We checked into the Hotel and were met my Mandouh the representative of the company that was taking care of us. The hotel is called The Cairo Intercontinental Pyramids Hotel.”
We had dinner together, a buffet dinner with assorted meats, veggies, fruits, wonderful breads and pastries!
Friday March 28th
Off to the pyramids! Our first day of adventure. Saad was our bus driver and Ismail was our intrepid tour guide. The pyramids were very powerful. Sherri received one marriage proposal, Ismail said Sherri should have held to find out how much money he would pay to “make her very happy” as he had promised. Sherri informed me that he was young enough to be her son… Sherri is looking good in front of the pyramids. Tim almost had his camera stolen by a very enthusiastic camel ride vendor named, “Adam.” Another vendor tried to get into Cora’s fanny pack to get his “pay” for a “gift.” We learned quite abit about how to deal with zealous vendors in a very short amount of time.
Then we went off to for a “group” camel ride. Tim had already had enough of ‘camel rides’ and opted to just take in the view and take pictures. Sherri would have been happy with just a picture of her on a camel, but before you knew it she was starring in her own version of Lawrence of Arabia, now renamed to “Sherri of Egypt” … coming to a theatre near you.
We were then on to the Sphinx! The word “Sphinx” is a Greek word for “strangler.” There were many tourists, and we heard the story about the “Dream Rock” located between the front paws of the Sphinx. This “Dream Rock” may be one piece of evidence of the Exodus, but this was not included in the lecture we received from Ismail. You will need to wait for Pastor Tim’s presentation.
We jumped back on the bus (which had toilet onboard) to go downtown for lunch. Some of us opted for a sit-down lunch at the Arabesque Restaurant. Others went for a walk down to the Nile and to explore the downtown area. We were told this was a “safe” neighborhood, but when I came out of the restaurant, there was a soldier with an AK-47 standing guard for us…
Then we were off to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities. They did not allow cameras inside and we were all very impressed. Ismail started us off with a detailed tour that included much about the 5000 pieces of artifact they found in King Tut’s tiny tomb. When we began our free time, we were able to see the jewels found in the tomb including the golden coffins that encased King Tut’s mummy and the golden mask (11 kg of gold) that we are so familiar with. (Thank you National Geographic!)
We returned to the hotel for a quick rest. Some of us traveled back to the pyramids for the Sound and Light show of the pyramids. It was quite spectacular, again explaining the history, myths, dimensions and impact on history. During the show the wind picked up and we witnessed a little bit of what a sand storm is like.
One thing we need to understand from the start is that every time we open our eyes, we see something few of us have ever seen before, and even fewer really understand. Here in Egypt, like at home, they have cars and roads, but in Egypt the concept of “divided lanes” or “stop lights” or even driving with your headlights on at night ‘so that the other cars can see you’ are not concepts we share with the Egyptians! I am not making this up! Plus, a racing car needs to share the lane with a horse and buggy, oblivious pedestrians and other various farm animals.
One thing we noticed right away was the amazingly large number of only partially built buildings, namely homes and apartment buildings. As we were told, there is a law in Egypt saying that as soon as you finish building your house or building, you begin paying taxes on your building… therefore, in order to escape the responsibility of paying taxes on your new and beautiful building is to never finish building your building! Therefore you see many buildings with unfinished floors and tons of reinforcement rods sticking out of rough dry concrete… but there would always be a satellite antennae sticking out of the apparent rubble, indicating that someone was now living there.
Saturday March 29th
We began with an early morning. Someone made a mistake and arranged a wake up call one hour earlier than planned… but this helped us get ready with a little less stress… or so I put a spin on the sleepy heads that wanted a little more time to sleep.
We said good-bye to Saad as he took us to the Cairo International Airport so we could depart for Luxor. The flight was short and sweet.
Sunday March 30th
Breakfast on board the ship.
My notes will seem a little scattered. I have some notes that Bonnie was so kind to write for us. Here are some facts about the sites we visited.
We board the bus to Karnak. Karnak is the “husband” and Luxor is the “wife” in this amazing relationship. Down the main street is the avenue of the Sphinx; this was the causeway or procession route where the husband went to meet his wife.
We learned about but the Egyptian god “Amon” or Amen who said, “I came into being before being came into being, when I came into being, all things came into being.” Here are some of the other concepts found in the Egyptian mythology.
The goddess “Mut” is ‘mother, nature, earth’
The husband is the sun.
The wife is the earth.
The baby is the moon god.
We also saw a “lioness” god in the hieroglyphics. The lioness was holding the sign of life and its cure for humankind was “laugh with me, not at me.”
The rocks for this amazing temple were moved from Aswan during the times of floods.
We saw a huge statue of a scarab where people came to walk around the scarab; 3 times around for good life, 5 times for fertility and 7 times for your wish to come true.
After we came back from Karnak and began moving down the river. When we were stopped in front of the locks, waiting to be lifted up so that we could continue up the river, we were forced to wait for several hours. While we were there, many boats filled with vendors on little boats who came out to us to sell us their goods by throwing them up to us on the top deck. They threw the goods, mostly light blankets, scarves and such in plastic bags, and if you agreed with the price you would put your money in the plastic bag and throw it back. The trick is coming up with a “good” price.
We had our Sunday service on the boat.
That night we had the captain’s welcome. The Captain and his staff hosted a delightful “party” for everyone on the ship.
Monday March 31st
Took horse and buggy to Esna Temple.
We also visited the temple of Horus in Edfu.
Every temple had a playhouse without an audience, the audience was the gods. The play was the theme of a fight; inner and outer self, good and bad, order and disorder, darkness and light. This was the place where the Egyptians began talking about the Big Bang and the Big Crunch.
We ban to talk about Isis and Isoris, the two gods who fell in love. Isis was the god who cured humankind, and Isoris taught us how to read and write and invented wine!
They had a baby Horus, the falcon who was the link between earth and heaven. Horus was strong enough to revenge Seth, and Seth took the form of the hippo. At this temple we learned the first fractions were used. Talking about when Seth took out Horus’s eye and scattered it into 16 pieces all over Egypt. Also from this we get the Rx symbol telling us to, “please take the medicine.”
Then we bought Galabia’s, traditional Arab clothing, preparing for the big Arab “costume” party for the evening. I think Frank G. was the big winner.
Arrived in Aswan at 4 p.m. and then we went off to Kom Ombo Temple, the temple about the falcon and the crocodile. The falcon flies high and is the moon god, and the crocodile swims and dives and causes fertility and both gods are gods of medicine.
Kom Ombo is a temple people came to get healed. It is known as the place for people to find healing.  
We also saw a crocodile mummy, it looked like mud!
The priest would have to carry a live 20 foot crocodile trying to cast out evil spirits, of course this is after the priest has given the croc a good dosage of beer and wine.
We had our “Galabia” Party and it was a grand success. I was wearing a galabia with Bedouin stitching on the shoulders. I had no idea how to tie my head-scarf so a crew member tied it for me. Be sure to see Frank Gruetzemaker’s galabia! Very stylish!
Tuesday April 1st
Fly to Aswan, the land of spices and gold.
Elephentini island which was once a Jewish symbol.
We saw where the government forced the Nubians to move from the land that would be flooded from the new dams. The dams were positive in that they helped control the floods, but at the cost of loosing temples, homes & culture.
Then we flew to Abu Simbel. The temple was moved because the water rose from the dams.
Return to Aswan and see the high dam build by the Soviet Union. We could see that the bridge was heavily guarded.
We drove by the very famous “unfinished obelisk.”
We took a boat to the Temple of Philae.
Took a sailboat down the Nile to the Nubian restaurant. I had never been to a “Nubian” restaurant before. The food was tasty and spicy. We had Nubian coffee afterwords which caused
Fly back to Cairo
Wednesday April 2nd
11 a.m. departure to see the “Hanging Church” and Ben Ezra Synagogue. The “Hanging Church” is a Coptic Church that was built over the spot they think Mary, Joseph and Jesus stayed while the holy family escaped to Egypt.
Visited Memphis: saw the huge Rameses II statue
Sakkara and the step pyramid. This was an amazing pyramid and they are still excavating around the area.
We visited a “Carpet School” that pays young “orphans” to make beautiful carpets… I couldn’t help thinking about the problem with “child labor laws,” but that is just my opinion. It was great that they had a place to live, learn and earn some money. Plus, the carpets they made were stunningly beautiful.
Thursday April 3rd
This was a killer morning. We had our wakeup call at 2 a.m. (Did you hear that Lisa K.?) with bags outside our rooms at 2:30 for pick up to be loaded on the bus. We were supposed to leave at 3:00 a.m. but we left just short of our goal and left beloved but heavily littered Cairo.
We are riding in a very nice bus, a brand new Mercedes bus with a restroom and what appears to be a never ending supply of water bottles, as long as we have dollar bills to purchase them… Most of us slept for the first couple of hours, but before you knew it we were out in the desert approaching the Red Sea. The pace has been very hectic and the ride is a chance to rest for a while.
We passed through the “Land of Goshen” and travel the southward route of the Exodus. At around 10 a.m. we arrive at St Catherine’s Monastery, the monastery was constructed by the Roman Emperor Justinian around 527 – 565 AD. The monastery is built around the area that is believed to be the place of the “Burning Bush.”
We climbed out of the bus and are immediately attacked by vendors and the guys who rent out camels (be careful, they spit!). There were so many pilgrims and tourists; we could barely manage to pass through down the sidewalks between walls and into the sanctuary and other interesting nooks. We saw the finger of St. Catherine, and early Christian Martyr beheaded by the Roman Emperor Maximus for incessantly criticizing him for his worship of pagan idols. The emperor had enough of her and had her beheaded… I prefer dialogue myself, but as legend has it, angels brought St. Catherine’s body back to the top of Jebel Katerina, or Mt. Jethro of Catherine; where three centuries later some monks found her seemingly uncorrupted body and they brought it back down to the mountain to the monastery of Transfiguration.
In one of the very narrow courtyards, there is “at exactly the right spot” the same kind of bush that Moses witnessed burning yet unconsumed, a Rubus sanctus.
After seeing the monastery, some of us took naps, but we were back up on the mountain after 4 p.m. for a hike up the mountain. As I have caught a cold, I only went up a couple hundred meters. Others kept walking up the mountain, some not returning until after dark. Darrel took a camel up the mountain to a point where he could actually see Mt. Sinai. Bonnie and Betty went on the true adventure up the mountain.
We had dinner together, a wonderful buffet, with hundreds of other pilgrims and tourists, and then went to bed early for a change.
April 4, 2008
We were able to sleep until 7:15! I am still fighting a cold and cough, but it was good to stay in bed for a long time. We ate breakfast at the cafeteria and were on our way by around 9:30 a.m.
We “enjoyed” a short three-hour drive across Sinai. On the way we saw an outpost were U.S. and Egyptian soldiers were stationed. As soon as they noticed us they waved and we waved back.
I took some time to share about the importance of St. Catherine’s Monastery and how this particular area (if indeed it is the sight of Mt. Sinai…) is important to the identity of Israel and Christians alike. The monastery is built upon the spot tradition states where the burning bush was located. Up on the mountain is the place where God revealed Gods-self to Moses and told Moses God’s very name, Yahweh, or YHWY. Then, this is the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments and instructions on how to build the Arc of the Covenant. There were many chances to take pictures of camels and camels and more camels. Some of us are feeling the symptoms of cold and flu so we stopped at a pharmacy in a small town. Then we were on our way to the port where we will board a ferry to take us to Jordan. It looks like Ismail and Sharif, our guides, were not told the ferry harbor had been changed and we went to the wrong town, a miss of about 50 kilometers, whoops.
We finally boarded the ferry, a very cool catamaran, and headed off to Jordan. On the way, out in the middle of the Red Sea, we could see four countries at the same time; To our right and slightly behind we could see Saudi Arabia, to the north is Jordan, to our immediate left we can still see the coast of Egypt and just to the north and to our left we can now see the very end of Israel.
We disembarked (this is a very strange word indeed!) the ferry and met our new guide Samir. We begin our journey through Jordan… We have noticed a difference between Jordan and Egypt. Namely, Jordan has divided streets and drivers that drive according to rules and laws! Litter is a little less in Jordan, but litter continues to be a problem. We see pictures of the young king Hussein in many places, but we have learned that the king is a very benevolent king and very popular.
On the way our guide begins to teach us about Petra. The history of Petra is long and amazing. We look forward to tomorrow to see for ourselves.
We have checked into our rooms at the hotel. Last nights sleep was the longest in a long time, yet many of us are very tired. Good night! I will let you know about Petra tomorrow!
Saturday April 5, 2008
We wake up to another glorious morning. Across from our hotel is the place where Moses put his staff to a rock and water gushed out for the thirsty Israelites traveling across the desert.
We enjoy another good breakfast after a good nights sleep. Some of us are still fighting colds; I am getting over mine slowly but surely.
Along the way we saw places made famous by Sir Lawrence of Arabia! We saw the railroad used by the Turks that became a frequent target of Lawrence, and we learned the story of Lawrence from the perspective of the Arabs, a fascinating and sad story at the same time.
We gather to take off for Petra, the rose city. Most people know Petra from scenes in the last Indiana Jones movie, but believe me, there is more to Petra than what Hollywood can devise.
Petra was a city carved out of the rock and limestone by the Nabataean Arabs in the 6th century B.C. The Romans took over around 100 A.D. The Crusaders used it temporarily as a fort until the 12th century but was only known by the locals until Johann Ludwig Burckhardt discovered it early in the 19th century.
Going into Petra is a breeze, it is mostly downhill; The entire trek is about 6 miles… that means the returning trip is, so to say, uphill. Some of us chose to take buggies to and from the famous “treasury,” seen in so many of the pictures of Petra. We saw many of the niches cut into the walls that held statues that called people to prayer and sacrifices. The colors of the rock were amazing, and there were even plants and flowers growing deep within the canyon. The aqueduct going down into the city still remains. There is much more to Petra than the façade of the Treasury we are familiar with, there are many more tombs and dwellings further down the valley. There is even a beautiful amphitheatre that still remains. The amphitheatre looks Greek, but is completely Nabataean.
We crossed the desert on the “desert highway” to go to Amman. We see trucks going and coming from Kuwait, Iraq and other countries.
We enter Amman a beautiful city. We saw the U.S. embassy but were forbidden to taking pictures of the embassy for fear of having our cameras confiscated and our guide arrested.
We visited the citadel of Amman, located in the center of Amman. It was built by the Greeks, but was over-run by the Romans, Turks, and many other groups. There is a wonderful little museum in the middle of the citadel with artifacts from the Stone Age.
We saw the neighborhood many of the refugees from Iraq have settled. We also saw the official palace of King Abdullah.