News from the Middle East from Pastor Tim - Part 2
Posted on Mon, Apr 28, 2008
Our story continues...
Sunday April 6, 2008
We leave the Jerusalem Hotel in Amman Jordan to go to Mt. Nebo. We take the “kings highway” to Mt. Nebo, highway number 35. We will be passing by the capital of the Amorites. It was amazing many of the names of the Old Testament times, are still used today!
We observe farms and shops and within the Jordan Valley we see green fields filled with vegetables and more sheep. Samir tells us that without the goods from the Jordan Valley, they would starve. It is a relief to see so much green after seeing nothing but the desert for so long.
We come to the border with Israel and it is time for us to say goodbye to Samir. They have a special “drop-off” terminal on the Jordanian side of the border. Samir has been a wonderful guide and we will miss him very much.
We cross the King Hussein Bridge into Israel. Please remember the name “Hussein” is not an ‘evil’ name. It is a common as Peterson, Olson or Anderson is in the Midwest!
I feel very good to be in Israel even if the customs process is tremendously thorough. They even made Nancy Furuta come to the back to search her bags separately. She has been carrying around some very suspicious jellies and jams in her bags for the longest time!
We get through the line and we are met by Dani Weiss, our new guide. Dani is an Archeologist by training and a licensed tour guide. Albert is our driver. They take us to a beautiful park right with a wonderful view of the Old City for a special Israeli welcome ceremony. They share with us very good juice and bread and we are now an official group!
He takes us to our hotel, the Prima Kings Hotel not far from the Old City and the downtown of the New City. Darrel, Dani and I discuss our upcoming schedule for the week. After Dinner, the salads were soooo good by the way, and we finally have Sunday worship. I am able to secure the hotel synagogue for our service and it is perfect. The group is tired and ready for bed, but I am so excited I can barely get to sleep, but we have a long day on Monday so I close my eyes.
Monday April 7, 2008
We are up early to catch the bus and begin an amazing day of traveling in the Old City. The weather is actually cold and we are all bundled up. We don’t go to the top of the Mount of Olives to avoid the wind and tons of other tourists, and we find a wonderful place to view the Old City across from the Kidron Valley. We begin our tour at the top of a cemetery that dates back to the days of the “City of David! We begin to hike down the Palm Sunday Road and find our way at the Church of the Nations, which honors the place where Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane. It is a beautiful church with a beautiful garden filled with Olive trees; nobody is positively sure, but some of the trees date back to the time of Jesus. The ceiling of the church is dark blue with stars painted in to give the feeling of being in the garden at night.
We walk a few steps and we see the Dominus Flavit church honoring where “Jesus wept.” There is a very large group from Nigeria staying at the same hotel and they are singing up at the church.
We see the blocked off East Gate of the Old City; According to the Jews, the story goes that when the Messiah arrives he/she is expected to pass through the East Gate. However, in hope of delaying the coming Messiah, the Muslims blocked off the gate… The Jews state that they aren’t too worried about the blocks and cement as if the Messiah comes, a few blocks of stone should not be any trouble for him, or her!
We make the walk into the Old City though the St. Stephen’s Gate. Sherri and I thought about John Travis and all the Stephen Ministers as we entered this gate. We entered St. Anne’s church, one of the oldest Christian Churches in the Old City and sang the Doxology. Outside of St. Anne’s church we saw and learned about the Pool of Bethesda. This was an amazing place where Jesus healed the man who had been waiting for 38 years for someone to help him get into the pool when the Angels ‘stirred it up.’ The point being that even though the religious leaders were doing their thing in the temple, God was doing real work healing down at the pool.
We then began our walk down the Via Dolorosa, stopping at certain stations along the way. We found it interesting as we walked along and heard about each step Jesus had to make down this ‘path of sorrows’ there were vendors constantly hounding us and inviting us into their small shops. Dani made it clear to us that when Jesus died, it was no ‘special day,’ it was a typical work day and the street Jesus carried his cross down was in fact much like the shop filled streets of today. The only difference is that when the shopkeepers of 2000 years ago Jerusalem saw some poor soul carrying a cross down their street, it meant that someone was going to die very soon.
We had lunch at a small falafel and shwerma stand. They are very good pita sandwiches. I had to have my cup of Turkish coffee! Talk about a “high octane” beverage. I was ready to walk all over the Old City, up the Mount of Olives and even back to Egypt if necessary…
After lunch we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. “Sepulcher” means “tomb,” and this is the church that houses the place where Jesus was crucified and his tomb. The church was packed, so we climbed the steps up to the place that commemorates the place where the cross was placed into the ground. The spot is located under a small altar and we had to crawl under the altar to touch the spot.
It is very interesting at how close the spot where Jesus was crucified is to the place in which his body was laid. “Golgotha” is not a “mountain” as some might think, it is really just a ‘bump’ outside the gates located in a small quarry very close to the place where many of the rich people were able to hew out tombs, like Joseph of Arimathea, who gave his tomb for Jesus’ body.
Instead of waiting for at least an hour and a half or two hours as Frank G., estimated, we headed out of the church and back onto the streets of the Old City.
We immediately came upon the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, one of our sister churches of the ELCA. It has a beautiful sanctuary so we took some pictures and sang some hymns. We sounded pretty good! They presently have worship in Arabic, German and English.
We jumped on the bus and went to another place that is also known as the place where Jesus was crucified and buried. It is called “The Garden Tomb” about one kilometer away. The Garden Tomb is a peaceful place filled with many wonderful flowers, other greenery, and piped in Christian elevator music. It was a place designated by a British officer during the time when Britain ruled Palestine, as the place where Jesus ‘must’ have been crucified (of course he had no historical or theological understanding to make this conclusion). The reason he came to this conclusion is because on the side of the hill, in the rocks, is an interesting shape of rocks vaguely resembling a “skull,” which is what “Golgotha” means, the place of the skull. Let us say he was no theologian, or biblical archeologist… but the idea stuck, and somehow with the help of some well placed bricks cemented into a wall, there was a ‘tomb’ found in the garden as well. The Bible states that Jesus was crucified near the city walls, and there are city walls within sight of the Garden Tomb, but they were built well after Jesus had died… of course the keepers of the Garden Tomb do not tell you this and most tourists wouldn’t understand this anyways. It didn’t really matter if the place was probably not the real place for Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, it was pleasant enough and it helped everyone just celebrate the Good News that Jesus died and rose for the forgiveness of our sins, that is enough. We celebrated communion in this peaceful place and realized how God had ‘encountered’ us all through the history and traditions of this amazing place.
We tried to visit St. Peter of Gallicantu, the place where Peter betrayed Jesus, plus the place where Jesus was tried and held in Caiaphis’s house, but it had already closed.
After supper, some of us went back to the old city for some shopping. I was treated to some wonderful stoles purchased at “Mike’s Store.” I was fortunate enough to find the store where I bought my original set of stoles in Jerusalem from Fredah Han in 1991. We became very lost trying to find this little store in the maze of narrow streets that make up the Old City of Jerusalem, but we found the store and purchased more treasures.
It was amazing to walk through the streets of the Old City after hours in the dark. Thank you Betty and Judy for the great adventure!
Tuesday April 8th
Another perfect morning in Israel! We had back to the Jaffa Gate and inter the area you have seen so many times in pictures. We enter the area of the “Western Wall,” oftentimes called the “Wailing Wall,” but I would not let members of the group I was leading call this special place the “Wailing Wall,” that is for tourists! We will call it the “Western Wall.” However, this was not the time to visit the wall, we will come back to that place later. We continue on to the Rabbinical Tunnels, a relatively newly excavated place to visit near the Western Walls. The tunnels follow underground along the wall that is the base of the foundation of the temple mount, which holds the Temple somewhere on the Temple Mount. It was very exciting! Here we see some of the oldest stones that belonged to the temple when Jesus came to Jerusalem. Some of the stones are thirty feet long or more… can you imagine how these stones were moved?
When we come out of the Rabbinical Tunnels we are in the area within view of the Western Wall, the most sacred site for the Jews in the world. Some of us have written prayers on small sheets of prayers to be put within the cracks of the great wall. The men must cover their heads and go to the left; the women go to the left to their own respective areas.
After prayers, we found that their were few people in line to go up onto the Temple Mount itself; The Temple Mount is controlled by the Palestinians and there is tight security. We get up on the mount and we are able to see the famous golden dome mosque that houses the stone in which Jews and Christians believe Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac, and where the Moslems believe that Mohammad ascended on a great white horse… we took pictures and tired to imagine what the great temple might have looked like on the Temple Mount. We learned that some of the pillars or columns that were used in building the Golden Mosque were also used in the Great Temple, namely columns from the area we know as the “portico” where Jesus sometime taught when he visited the Temple. There were children playing soccer, old men talking about the events of the day, and birds flying around the area, it was very peaceful.
Soon it was 11:00 a.m. and the guards were telling us it was time to leave. We descended the ramp down to the main part of the western wall and went out to a place called the Southern Steps” or the “Teaching Steps.” They are steps that remain since the time of Jesus, and it was upon these steps Jesus taught and healed! It was also an area where our guide “Dani” had been working as an archeologist and he was most impressive in telling us what to look for in the architecture of the walls and buildings. We could see how thoroughly the Romans worked at destroying the walls in the year 70 A.D. and how the stones thrown down from the upper parts of the walls had cracked the sidewalks below. We could also the great stonework that was done by the Jewish stonecutters, even in areas where no one would be able to see their work. The lesson is, if you are working for God, you do your very best because it will only be God who will see.
Many of the members of our group specifically stated that one of their goals of this trip was to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Going to the “Teaching Stairs” or the “Southern Steps” was one of the many highlights for me! We were on the very steps our Lord taught and healed! It may also be the very spot Peter preached and “thousands” came to faith. This is a very special place.
Albert our driver brought the bus up close and we were off to the “City of David.” When I visited Jerusalem in 1991 there was very little if any excavation on the area known as the “City of David” but now they have found what could very well be David’s palace, the water source for the City of David, as well as the Pool of Siloam and more.
We walked down the well into the area that supplied water to the ancient city and connected with Hezekiah’s Tunnel. We hoped to go down the tunnel, but logistics kept us from this adventure. I have already enjoyed this experience, and look forward to another attempt in the future. But seeing the pools of Siloam and knowing that there is much more to excavate just makes me want to visit this place even more in the future.
At the end of the day we went off to the Museum of Israel. At this museum they display much of the work of the Dead Sea Scrolls and so much more. There is a very accurate model of Jerusalem at the museum and we were able to put together all the places Dani had shown us into one mental picture. The model helped us see clearly where Jesus would have been beaten in the Praetoreum and then was forced to carry his cross to the place called Golgotha which is not a mountain but a small hill next to a quarry and then crucified.
Wednesday April 9,2008
We woke up a little earlier to try and get into Jesus’ tomb at the church of the Holy Sepulcher, as there were so many people in line to go into the place that marks Jesus’ tomb. The church is alive with the sound of morning mass and the smell of incense. There was a group having mass in the front of the tomb, singing and chanting. We may not have understood the words, but it was beautiful. Some of our group went off with Dani to see other parts of the church, and the rest of us stayed to enjoy the sounds and atmosphere of the moment. When the group had finished their mass, we thought it was time for us to go in, but then suddenly another group began another mass INSIDE the sepulcher (tomb) in English! It turns out they were from a Catholic church from Kentucky or Tennessee… then, when we were trying to get in, a group of Russian women somehow elbowed their way to the front of the crowd and worked their way in until a Greek Orthodox priest scolded them and asked them to leave! It was a very surreal moment to witness in front of the tomb of Jesus… but soon enough, there we were, inside the tomb of Jesus, there was nothing to do but to kneel and pray. The moment was over before you knew it, and we had to go back out to the crowd that had so quickly formed, but it was a moment I will remember for the rest of my life.
We moved on to St. Peter of Gallicantu, this is the place commemorating Peter’s betrayal of Jesus and it is also the chapel built over the house of Caiaphas the high priest where Jesus was imprisoned for a short while and had his trial before the Sanhedrin. The church erected directly above Caiaphas’s house is beautiful and there was a group worshiping there when we arrived. The basement and stable area of Caiaphas’s house still remains. There is also the “hole,” or a pit, where they possibly held Jesus while they debated his fate. In the hole we read a traditional Psalm 88.
We jumped back into the bus and took off for Bethlehem. Going to Bethlehem sounds like an easy affair, it is only about seven miles from Jerusalem, but it is controlled by the Palestinian Authority and has now been separated from Jerusalem by a huge cement wall with guard towers and checkpoints. When we arrive at the checkpoint, our Israeli guide Dani is not allowed to enter so we get on another bus with a Palestinian driver and a Palestinian guide. We pass through the gate and head into Bethlehem. We stop off at a church that is built for the “Shepherds in their fields keeping their watch by Night,” it is a beautiful church and we sing two Christmas Carols in the chapel. We learn about the ways the shepherds in their fields, and then it was off to the Church of the Nativity. There were many pilgrims standing in line to touch the place commemorating the place Jesus was born, so our guide took us off to another place in the church. The church is divided into the Roman Catholic area and the Greek Orthodox section. On Christmas Eve (which is celebrated three different times during the Christmas season by three different Christian groups) we normally see the Roman Catholic sanctuary on TV. I photographed all their pictures depicting the Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary.
There were several groups from the monastery processing through chanting and carrying candles. Our guide took us downstairs and we were able to see the place where one of the great church fathers Saint Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin, which is called the Vulgate. Then, as if a miracle occurred a secret door opened and we were standing before the place where Jesus was born! We walked up and touched the very spot, another moving moment. We have been blessed again. We walk out into the sunlight within sight of the famous church bells of the Church of the Holy Nativity.
We had lunch at a local restaurant for falafels and shawarma’s, and then there was time for SHOPPING!” Falafels are pita bread filled with deep fried chickpeas and other good things, and shawarma’s are pita bread filled with roasted chicken and other good things. After lunch we go to a gift shop and pick up treasures from Bethlehem, at this place you can find anything made of olive wood. The question is always, “are things cheaper here, or in the Old City?”
The shop had everything you could imagine, but it seemed like an “outpost for tourists” as the door was tightly secured each time anyone came in or left. But the people were very kind and we seemed very happy with our treasures.
On the way out of Bethlehem we were held up by a shepherd herding his sheep across the street ‘through’ traffic… somehow it was a very appropriate sight for a visit to Bethlehem in 2008. We also noticed the traffic jam at the gate, or checkpoint at the wall. As we drove along the street you can’t help but be amazed by the size of the wall that separates Palestinians from Israelis in Bethlehem. A great wall makes a great canvas for the “graffiti artist,” and there were tons of social expressions written for the world to see on that wall.
The driver told us it would be quicker for us to walk the last two blocks and then pass through the checkpoint. It was good to get out of the bus and walk, but it also gave us a better perspective of how the Palestinians must live now that the wall separates them from Jerusalem. When a car approaches the checkpoint to leave Bethlehem, there is a soldier with a gun aimed right down the middle of the street toward them, it is very intimidating; then there is the obligatory check of papers and then a thorough check of the car for bombs using mirrors and dogs. There was a time when the people of Israel were under the constant fear of suicide bombers and now, fear has led to the restriction of freedom and movement, but most of all it has separated people that must learn to live together and impugned the dignity of the dignity of innocent Palestinians.
After leaving Bethlehem we drove to Yad Vashem, or the Holocaust Museum. If there is anyplace that will cause you to wonder “how or why any group of human beings could be so cruel and cowardice to another group?” it is Yad Vashem. Yet at the same time, as it clearly shows the development of anti-Semitism through the misguided rhetoric of the Nazis, all in the name of nationalism and racial superiority, there is hope demonstrated through the architecture of the museum.
This place made me think about just how dangerous the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness is to our small world. Yad Vashem caused me to be more determined to help lead our church to be a light to proclaiming Truth and Compassion and question those who constantly choose to divide or deride those just because they appear to be different or considered “undesirable.”
Through the proclamation of hate, the world went to war, Nazi Germany and all of its illusory glory was destroyed, and a country rich in vitality and creativity was born.
Before we left Yad Vashem we visited the Memorial to the Children, an amazing exhibit of sight and sound. As you enter the memorial, you see faces of some of the 1.5 million or more children who were murdered as well has hearing their names being mentioned. There seems to be thousands of little candles burning all over the room, but the truth is, there is only one candle burning but through the placement of mirrors it seems as if you are surrounded by all these small visions of light… how appropriate.
Thursday April 10, 2008
We get to sleep until 6:30 this morning, but we had to pack last night, we are on the road this morning! We are on our way up north, but first we will visit the King Herod’s palace fortress of Masada. King Herod had very few friends and many enemies, so he made for himself a beautiful palace that would rival any palace in Rome with amazing views of the Dead Sea and cooled by the breezes coming down the valley. He built it is such a way that the walls all ‘looked’ like they were made of marble. He also had pools and sauna baths filled with beautiful mosaics that indeed looked like they had been built by the best craftspeople of Rome. It was also a fortress that would have been almost impossible for Herod’s enemies to enter.
However, Masada is not really famous for being King Herod’s mountain hideaway, it is better known for being the last stand for rebellious Jews who used Masada as their last refuge around the year 70 A.D. when they were besieged by the Romans. Rather than being taken again as slaves by a foreign army, all but a handful of the 900 Jews chose to commit suicide just as the Romans were about to enter Masada on the huge rampart that they had built to take the fortress.
Rather than walk, we took the tram/cable-car/rope-way or whatever you want to call it, 900 meters up the mountain. Needless to say, from the top the view is amazing. We see the places where they had stored their food, planted a garden and even raised pigeons for food as well as communication.
Sometime later there was even a monastery built on the top of the mountain, but it was not built to commemorate the Jews or the Romans who once lived there, it was only built because of its seclusion.
Nowadays, Masada is used by the Israeli Defense Forces as a place for their troops to take their vows of service. While we were there was a large group of young soldiers taking their vows that Israel will never again be taken away as slaves, check out the photo’s.
Then, since we were on the Dead Sea, it was time to visit the Ahava factory. Everyone seemed to be excited about this place, but I will be honest, I had no idea what this place was about. As we walked in, we received discount forms and a quick orientation to the wonders of Ahava mud and cosmetics. If we can sell refrigerators to people in Alaska I guess we can sell mud in plastic tubes for amazingly high prices, and still feel good about it.
After actually ‘buying mud’ we went to play in the mud. There was a place we were able to go down to the Dead Sea and smear the black mud on our bodies and then go and soak, float, or bob in the salty Dead Sea. We all claimed out skin felt much better after covering ourselves with the cheap mud from the sea, and I guess we had to after thinking about how much money some of us had spent… but it was great fun, and we felt great.
After being refreshed with the miracle mud of the Dead Sea, we got back to business with a visit to the museum of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Essene community living in Qumran. The museum is totally new and gave us a better understanding of the Essene community. We learned something I had never heard before, there is a possibility that John the Baptizer may have lived in the community for about two years before he began his ministry. As the Essene's practiced baptism as a means of ritual cleansing before meals and especially before scripture study, there is a possibility that some of John the Baptizers ideas may have come from the Essene community living in Qumran! The site has been excavated and you can easily see the places the community ate meals, worked and studied. There were ceremonial mikvahs, places for ritual cleansing, in many places all over the site. As this is a very dry place (nowadays) we were very interested in the cisterns and calculating just how much water they would have needed to survive in the desert.
One of the caves where they found some of the 900 or so scrolls and documents is right across from the museum and we took some pictures of this cave.
We continue our drive north along the Jordan River. We can clearly see the land turning more and more green as we had north. We also can see the road along the border with the country of Jordan; it is a very simple fence that can send a signal to a checkpoint if anyone or anything inters the area.
We spend the night at the Kibbutz in Ein Gev, or as it is properly called, “Kibbutz Ein Gev.” The last time I was here was in 1991; it is good to be back. The Kibbutz is right along the cost of the Sea of Galilee and it is a beautiful evening to take in the sunset.
Friday April 11, 2008
We are up and out early, ahead of the other tourists… we are off to Tabgha, the place that commemorates the place where Jesus fed the 5000, and the place where Jesus told Peter to “Feed my Sheep;” otherwise known as the Primacy of Peter. It is a beautiful traditional church! There is a mosaic featuring the loaves and the fishes on the church floor as well as the rock on which the Jesus “gave thanks” before performing the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.
Then we drove up northward to the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We read the Beatitudes in several versions, all giving a source of comfort. Here we had communion. It is good to know that our God of love is especially close to us when we are in need.
While we are here we go down to the beach at Banias on the Sea of Galilee just to touch the water, it is cool and refreshing. While we are here an Israeli Defense Force helicopter goes over reminding us that there still is tension in these parts of the world. We see the beautiful statue where Jesus seems to be commissioning Peter and saying, “Upon you ‘Petros’ (which means “rock) I will build my Church.”
The door of the Banias church commemorates when Pope John Paul II came to this area. There are many plaques, statues or figures of Pope John Paul at all the churches he visited during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. While we are there, there is a very animate monk ‘preaching’ to a group of young people. The place is alive with the Spirit!
We move on to one of the places I have been waiting to see since 1991, we arrive in Capernaum. There is a synagogue here that was built in 400 A.D. that was possibly built on top of an even older synagogue where Jesus preached. There are very distinct white blocks from the ‘new’ synagogue on top of the older darker blocks. The design is very ‘Greek’ yet there are carvings featuring the ark.
In this same place there is what most scholars believe to be the house of Peter’s mother and family. They built a church above the ruins in such a way so that the ruins are easy to see, but the church more closely resembles a UFO that has just landed…
After Capernaum, we are off to the River Jordan. Actually we have driven along the Jordan River all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee, and we have crossed over the river several times since we have arrived. However, where we are going is a place that is dedicated to people on pilgrimage who desire to be baptized called “Yardenit.” The parking lot is rather large, and there is a place to change your clothes, but it will cost you a shekel to enter the changing area. For a small fee you can rent, or purchase a white robe and towel for the baptism. Our group has been assigned an area for Cora’s baptism. The baptism area has been specially created for baptisms, the river is much wider here and there are special walkways down into the river for all the participants. Along the walls is the text describing Jesus’ baptism according to Mark 9:1-11 in many languages of the world. No, I didn’t see one written in Japanese, HOWEVER, right in front of our assigned spot there is the version written in Hawaiian Pidgin from Da Jesus Book!!! More than a coincidence!!!
Darrell Large is my assistant and we enter the water. The River Jordan is Cold!!! But as we are so excited we don’t mind. Cora comes into the water and we begin. As there are many other groups celebrating baptism, a small group of people stops to watch us, and our official group stands in as our “congregation.” Some people choose to be dunked; others choose to have water poured over them. We opt to drench Cora by the pouring method. It was a wonderful experience to shout out the good news of the baptismal promise in the river Jordan. Cora seemed to just beam with joy, for others it was a solemn and very moving experience… I could not stop myself from smiling!!
We jump back in the bus all abuzz with an overwhelming sense of being encountered by God and head up the north side of the Sea of Galilee. We go to stop at a museum which houses a wooden boat that they found in the mud on the beach that dates back to the days of Jesus. When I was here in 1991 they had just gotten it out of the mud, but now it is beautifully displayed at the museum.
We then head off to the marina to catch our own boat! We are about to cross the Sea of Galilee, but rather than on foot like Jesus, we will cheat and use a boat. We all board a beautiful wooden boat and begin our journey across the ‘sea’ back to our Kibbutz. The sea is beautiful, the sky is beautiful, the surrounding views are beautiful… guess how much we enjoyed the voyage? It was beautiful! The captain played some perfect hymns and spiritual music for the moment. Some of us talk with excitement; others are quiet, wrapped up in all the amazing experiences of the day.
We land near the Kibbutz and some of take some time to watch the sun set over the lake before dinner. We share feelings and the moment. I am emotionally exhausted but spiritually ‘full.’
The accommodations at the Kibbutz are small but very efficiently designed cabins. I had a wonderful view of the lake from my cabin, and frankly I did not want to leave. Sherri Clark took a swim in the lake, after yesterday I’ll bet she walk on top of the water for a while…
April 12, 2008
This day begins with perfect weather… again. I wonder if our guide Dani had arranged the weather as well.
Today we begin a tour of the Golan Heights. The Golan Heights look over the entire area surrounding the Sea of Galilee. Before the war of 1967 the Syrians controlled the Heights and would periodically shoot or drop bombs down on the Israeli settlers making their lives very nervous and dangerous. When the war started, Israel fought the Egyptians on the south and west, the Jordanians on the East, and the Syrians on the Northeast all at the same time. The Israelis took a rather substantial amount of land from the Syrians and later annexed the area. When I visited the Golan Heights in 1991 there were still many reminders of the conflict but now the land has been totally transformed. They Syrians did not use the land for much accept as a place to harass the Israeli settlers, but the Israelis have changed the area from a ‘no-mans land,’ to a land bountiful in crops, cattle, wind power, and even wine production. The transformation was shocking to see for me, and I couldn’t believe that I had been here in 17 years.
As we drove we saw some army bases, and we were free to photograph them (we were not allowed to do this in 1991!), but we saw very little destruction. We only saw some damage remaining on the Syrian side of the boarder.
Along the drive we stop for a walk to the Grotto of the god ‘Pan.’ It is the remains of a pagan temple built around 300 B.C. the remains of Greek influence is very clear around the area and it is very beautiful.
We then continue on to the area called Tel Dan Nature Preserve. We didn’t hike all the way back to the Tel, which is famous for its remains and the famous “judgment seat” which is where the city judge would hear all the complaints of the people. Instead, we walk along the peaceful and cool trail along a wonderful river.
As it is the Sabbath, we wonder if we will have trouble finding a place open for lunch. Thankfully we found a falafel and shawerma restaurant. As they were short handed Dani went behind the counter to help make the falafels and shawarma. It was strange for us to see a soldier just come into the restaurant with his rifle slung over his shoulder up at the counter ordering food and then sitting next to us.
We jumped back on the bus and headed towards the town of Cana to see the place where Jesus performed his first miracle. The town is a Palestinian town and the church is found in the middle of the town. We go downstairs under a beautiful sanctuary and see some of the ruins of a gathering place that go back to the place dating back to Jesus’ day. We didn’t see any of the clay jars Jesus used, but we did see a large stone water receptacle that could have been used for ritual cleansing.
Albert has the bus parked a few blocks away so we walk to the bus and head off to Nazareth. The Catholic Church in Nazareth is a newer church and celebrates Mother Mary and Baby Jesus.
Down below there are the ruins of the house scholars believe belonged to Mary, Joseph and their extended family. All that remains is the basement area of the house used for storage and food preservation, but it is very moving to think this could have been the place where Mary and Joseph might have raised Jesus!
Inside the church along many of the walls are many pictures of ‘Mother and Child’ from churches all over the world. I find the one from the U.S. and Japan. Each picture reflects the style of each country, region and church.
While we were there a group of Pentecostal Catholics from Brazil were worshiping in the main sanctuary. They were singing, speaking in tongues and having a wonderful time. It was a new experience for us Lutherans to witness.
The day has been full, and we head off to Kibbutz Nachsholim where we will spend the night. The Kibbutz is located right on the Mediterranean coast, and the salt air is good to breath again. My room is very near the beach and I spend some time trying to just process everything we have witnessed.
Above my bed is a beautiful painting depicting the waves of the Mediterranean… I think.
Sunday April 13, 2008
The next day comes early and we jump on the bus again. The weather is perfect, the breakfast is delicious and we begin our journey.
We begin to head back up the mountains to a place called the Carmelite Monastery called Muhraka. It is Sunday morning so we had a short service of Bible reading and prayer up on the ridge overlooking this amazing place. Muhraka is the site of Elijah’s prayer and the fire from heaven on the top of Mount Carmel.
This is the place that overlooks the valley called Armageddon quoted in Revelation 16. It may be a place were great armies will collide, but it is already a place where more battle have been fought than any other place in history, we are near the ancient city of Megiddo. Megiddo is also the place featured in James Michener’s book, The Source. This is another one of those places I couldn’t wait to return to since 1991. It has greatly been improved since I was here.
We explored the Tel and walked among ancient ruins. The place dripped with history. We then descended the stairs into the famous water tunnel that was dug so many years ago.
We head off to Caesarea and the remains of the city that Herod the Great had constructed. Herod spared nothing at building a city that would ‘out-Roman’ the Romans. We see amazing sculpture that would only be seen in a Roman city, far from Rome. We see the place were Cornelius the Centurion and his household were saved and baptized (Acts 10) and it was also the place where Paul made his defense before Festus and King Agrippa prior to his final journey to Rome (Acts 25 & 26).
We see the place created for the amazing chariot races and the palace that Herod built for himself right along the sea.
The day is going fast and we get on the bus for our journey into Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is a modern city with highways that are better than what we have here in Hawaii. Along with all the homes and factories, I saw a Toys R Us and of course more kosher McDonalds. I was fascinated by all the cars I saw there that we do not have here. We drove along the coast to a hotel we would rest in until we would depart very early in the morning. However, before we leave, we go to a very traditional Middle Eastern/Israeli restaurant for dinner; one family runs the place and there are family photos all over the walls. In one place of honor is a picture of a very handsome young soldier who was killed while serving in Gaza; he was the son of the owner.
We enjoyed pita with humus and many great spices and sauces, chicken and beef kabobs, and of course some wine for toasting. It was a very fitting meal to finish a terrific journey.
We return to our hotel to rest before our 1:30 a.m. departure!
Monday April 14, 2008
We begin the day early with a 12:30 a.m. wake-up call. We have decided to stay at a hotel in Tel Aviv so that we can organize our things, and get a short rest and shower before we begin our long journey home.
Everyone who is traveling on the early flight is in the lounge and drinking coffee. Before we know it, we are back on the bus heading toward the Tel Aviv International Airport. Danni has prepared us for the security procedures at the airport, but he sticks with us like a good shepherd to make sure we are on our way safely.
When I traveled through the airport in Tel Aviv in 1991, the airport resembled and outpost, but now it is a very modern, clean and efficient airport, my how times have changed. The first leg to Frankfurt is only about four hours and everything seems to work well, even the food is good! I like Lufthansa!
Next to me is a very kind woman from Iran named “Irandaught” which means “daughter of Iran,” whose family has moved to Los Angles. I show here pictures of our journey to Egypt, Jordan and Israel seems to make her homesick as she makes me stop each time I show here a picture with Arabic letters on it. We agree that most people are the same, we all long for peace, the details may be a little different, but we all just want to work, raise our families and live in peace. I tell her that I am a pastor and she asks me to pray for her daughter. Her daughter is 21 years old, and because she is legally an adult she wasn’t allowed to join her mother and father to live in Los Angeles. Her daughter’s name is “Salomeh.” (Salomeh is the name of an Egyptian Queen.) Salomeh had her master’s degree in engineering by the time she was 21 and her mother seems very proud of her. I promised her that we would remember her daughter in prayer so that she will be able to join her family in Los Angeles.
The flight was very pleasant and we landed on time in Los Angeles… however, we soon found out that our flight from L.A. to Honolulu was going to be delayed over 3 hours. Needless to say, we were not happy with our first flight in the U.S.
We just got comfortable and hoped the flight would arrive. Thankfully we were back in the air around 8:30 p.m. and on our way home.
It was sooooooooo good to smell the sweet air of Hawaii when we got off the plane. We are also thankful for the patience of all the people who met us at the airport.
Well, that is our story… but our telling of this story has just begun.
News from the Middle East from Pastor Tim - Part 2