Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Final Long Day

This is our final blog entry, covering a thirty six hour period from breakfast one day to arriving home the next.  It is with slightly mixed emotions.  In one way it is hard to believe we left two weeks ago. On the other, it is good to be home.  As we came through Philadelphia, we were reminded that our journey began with part of our group traveling 60 hours with no sleep at the beginning.  That seems so long ago.

Our journey home began with a free morning.  Some of us walked through the Old City this Shabbat morning through the Damascus Gate and working our way to the Western Wall.  It was an amazing scene.  People everywhere.  The men went into the synagogue beside the wall area.  It was like the United Nations of Jewish men, young and old, reading, praying, studying.  It was a good learning experience.

Nir and Shlomi arrived around 1:15 and we headed for the area near the Knesset.  Our goal was a very significant bronze monument in the form of a menorah located across from the Knesset.  It contains 30 events, idioms or characteristics of Israel throughout its history.  We got our final group photo there.  We then went to the Garden Tomb.  While the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is historically the probable site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, the feel and sense of it all is found at the Garden Tomb.  Kieran, an Irish host guide at the Garden Tomb, gave us its story, including why some believe this is the correct place.  We then went into the tomb a few at a time.  Only one of the burial spots has been finished, just as the Scriptures describe.  But the joyous thing is the sign on the door as you leave:  'He is not here.  He is risen."  We ended our time there by taking communion together.  While in our communion area we could hear the singing of an African group and the sounds from another international group.  It gave us a taste of Heaven on earth.

Next stop:  the Elah valley, site of the battle between David and Goliath. A new excavation is going on at the top of one of the hills surrounding the valley.  This was once the boundary line between Israel and the Philistines.  Of course some of us tried to pick up five smooth stones to take along.

Our final meal was on the Mediterranean Sea after we did a short tour of ancient Jaffa.  Also known as Joppa, this is where Jonah entered a ship headed the opposite way from his assigned ministry area and Peter saw the vision of the sheet from Heaven.  It took almost all of three hours to go through security and customs before we boarded our flight to the US.  Because of a 90 mph headwind, it took us 13 hours to fly home.  After loving goodbyes, we parted ways for our final leg home.

Pam and I were very blessed to share this journey with a remarkable group of people who touched us deeply.  We truly became a family during the trip and for that we are grateful.  Shalom.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Different Picture

Today was hard.  Not because of the stress of the walk or the amount of activity we did. We went to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial.  The word "yad" means hand normally but can also refer to the place someone is.  Vashem means name.  The name Yad Vashem is a reference to Isaiah 56:4-5 where God says He will give them a "place and a name" in His house.  It is so we will never forget and so the 6 million victims (including 1 1/2 million children) will never be forgotten.  I won't try to describe it.  We lingered two and half hours, reading, listening, quietly weeping.  The memorial is designed such that when you exit the main hall of remembrance you come out onto a terrace with the view of the picture below. It gives a different picture and feeling.  Out of death, God brings life.

We then made the short hop over to the Israel Museum where we saw the Dead Sea scrolls and the four acre model of first century Jerusalem.  It is amazing to think that we were viewing copies of our Scriptures that date back over 2000 years.  In fact, one piece of a Gospel of John dates back to 135 AD, just 30 years after John died.  Wow.  And when you read the full scroll of Isaiah that they found and then read the book of Isaiah in a Hebrew Bible today you will find them exact.  God preserved His Word.

The model of Jerusalem gave us a different picture, one that helped us "see" where we had visited and understand what we had looked at when we viewed the ruins of arches and foundation stones. Different pictures can aid our understanding and this certainly did.

Following lunch we made our way to a shepherd's field across from but on the outskirts of Bethlehem.  We first were shown an ancient well that is used today to water the animals.  As we walked to the top of the small hill above the well to view Bethlehem, the Muslim call to prayer suddenly echoed through the valleys in front of us.  Bethlehem was once 86% Christian, but today is only 5%-6% Christian.  We saw caves and watchtowers in these fields like those that greeted our Savior the night He was born.

Today was Friday, and we sent Nir and Shlome on their way early so they could get home for Shabbat.  We also said goodbye to Sandersons, our new friends from Guernsey, England who joined with us since we arrived at the Scots in Tiberius.   A number of us then headed to the Old City to fulfill the 11th commandment (to shop and invest in the local Israeli economy).  Here are some pictures from today.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Tired Legs, Full Hearts

Boy are our legs tired.  We have had two very full days of over 20,000 steps each.  But our hearts are full and this group has stepped up admirably. (No pun intended)  Today we left a little after 7:00 am so we could beat the line to go up on the Temple Mount.  As Nir explained the history and tensions of this sacred spot, the area was filled with groups of Muslim men and women who were reading the Quran and praying.  A group of Jewish students entered the mount and the crowd started shouting Allah Akbar.  It was not frightening to us, just interesting.  We continued to walk and see the bedrock stones we know were there when Jesus walked in this same location.  We discussed the two possibilities of the location of the Temple.  The view of the Mount of Olives from here reminded us that Jesus one day will return on that mountain and walk into the city through the Eastern gate.

Before exiting through the Lion's Gate, we stopped by the Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne's Church.  We sang to the beautiful echoes in the church.  By the pool we read the story of the healing of the paralytic in John 5.  We discussed how it is vital for us and others to answer the question Jesus asked, "Do you want to get well?"

A short bus ride later, we found ourselves wandering from the Jaffa Gate, through part of the Muslim and Armenian quarters to the Jewish quarter.  We stood on the roof of a public section of that quarter and reoriented ourselves with everything we had visited so far.  We then walked to see a section of the wall from the time of King Hezekiah and how he expanded the wall to include the upper hill.  Following a walk down the cardo, or marketplace center of the city in Jesus day, we visited the Herodian house.  This was the home of a rich Jewish family at the time the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.  There were gorgeous mosaic floors, bath tubs, two ritual baths and evidence of expensive glassware and of the fire that destroyed the house.

Following lunch, we had the privilege of placing prayer requests from hundreds of others in the Western Wall and praying over them.  It was a sacred moment for us.  We then followed the rabbinical tunnel along the path Jesus would have been taken to be tried by Pilate.  We ended our day by following the Via Dolorosa all the way to Calvary and the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. What God did powerfully and naturally men do religiously and ornately.

Tomorrow will be an easier day but still very meaningful.  Here are some pictures from today.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Day of Heights and Depths

This was a day of contrasting altitudes.  But it did give us a well-rounded sense of the topography and historical context of Jerusalem, from David's time to the present.

We tried to go up the Temple Mount first thing this morning but the line was too long.  So we started walking at the Jaffa Gate and made our way to Mt. Zion.  We visited the Upper Room, site of the last Supper and Pentecost.  We then followed along Mt. Zion to Caiaphas' House.  This was the place where Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin and where Peter denied the Lord.  In the jail, a pit in the basement of the home, we had Martin (father of an English family that has been traveling with us since Tiberius) read Psalm 88.  It gave a solemn reminder of how the Lord may have felt that night.

Shlome our bus driver then delivered us to the top of the Mt. Of Olives for the stunning view of the Old City.  Walking down the Palm Sunday trail we could hear the sounds of "Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord."  Following a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, we spent some quiet time in a private garden of olive trees nearby.  We took a few minutes to review the night of the arrest from the last supper on Mt. Zion, to the arrest, to the trial at Caiaphas' house.  Everyone was then left to their own thoughts in the quiet of the garden.

Following lunch at Ramat Rachel, we headed for the City of David.  So much has been done to this site over the past ten years.  We went down into the city, hearing about the archeological finds that affirm the Davidic dynasty.  We then made our way along the ancient water system and sewage tunnel all the way from the Pool of Siloam to the Southern Wall of the Old City along the Cheesemaker Valley.  It was a long, sometimes tight, sometimes damp journey.  But it gave us a real sense of walking along the length of the city of Jesus' day.

We ended our day sitting on the same steps that Jesus sat on when He was twelve and was speaking to the Rabbis the time His parents left Him.  It was an amazing way to end our long and fruitful day.

Here are some visual reminders.