Epilogue – Back Home Safely

Just a short note to share with you all that we arrived home safely Wednesday night at 10 pm Eastern Daylight Time.  A 4:45 am wake-up call (10:45 pm EDT) aroused us, we had our final breakfast at the hotel, loaded up the bus and headed to the airport in Tel Aviv, a short 45 minute drive.   Security and luggage checks were thorough, and after a two hour process, we made it to the gate.  We got our fix of Kosher McDonald’s (I am serious), purchased our travel chocolate, and boarded the plane.  Located near the back of the plane (row 43), we watched movies, shared final stories, and looked forward to our homecomings.  The landing in Newark was a bit dicey, as the winds caused the plane to come in a bit sideways.   Our flight back to Columbus was delayed a few minutes because of weather (the wind on the coast), but we were back in Columbus by 10 pm and in bed by 11 pm – a good 24 hour day of travel.

I would like to thank you all for following along through this weblog  – it has been helpful for me to share our experiences as they happen, and I am glad to know that many took the time to read, to comment and share this with others.  As of today, nearly 2100 visits have been made to this weblog (probably about 500 of those being Joyce Michael checking on her hubby). 

My hope and prayer is that we may continue to share this information with you as a tool to encourage YOU to travel to the Holy Land.  We DO plan to go again, tentatively in a year and a half to two years from now.  It truly IS a trip of a lifetime.  A special word of thanks, blessings and praise to my fellow travelers in my group – your patience, laughter, faithfulness, compassion and tolerance were a blessing to me, and I hope we travel together again.

As we approach Holy Week, may God bless you with the promises fulfilled through Jesus the Christ, who suffered and died for you and me, and who rose from the dead, so that we might have life, and have it abundantly.

Peace

Shalom

PC

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March 23 – The Final Chapter

Our last day of touring began with a trip to the Mount of Olives for an incredible view of Jerusalem.  Hundreds, maybe thousands of tour buses are there every day, and I was wondering if it would be difficult to get a shot.  Not a problem – the view is incredible.  We got a group shot with most of our tour group, a group shot of our 7 together with our tour guide and bus driver, and, yes, much to my chagrin, an O-H-I-O shot (see the pictures through the link at the end of this post).

When done there, we drove to the Garden of Gethsemane, and were guided to a private part of the garden, where we were given time to pray among the old olive trees and flowers.  It was very moving to be in that place.   In the midst of the garden, Lisa found a turtle rustling in the leaves.  Of course, I got pictures of that as well.   On the grounds of the Garden is a beautiful church called the Church of All Nations or the Church of the Agony.  Inside are domes dedicated by different countries, including the United States.  In front of the altar is a rock  believed to be where Jesus prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from him, but not HIS will, but His Father’s will be done.  There are three paintings that adorn the front of the church, depicting the night of Jesus’ betrayal.

Out to the bus again to travel to the Archeological Park at the southwestern corner of the Temple in Jesus’ day.  The time spent walking on the ground around the Temple where Jesus and the disciples walked was very cool.  The museum had a video that depicted a pilgrim coming to the Temple, paying the taxes, buying the animal for sacrifice, washing in the purifying baths, and coming to worship at the Temple Mount.  I really enjoyed this visit at the Temple – at this point of the trip, all the pieces of the city came together for me.

A few things of note that I learned today (maybe I should have paid closer attention in Seminary):

  1. The ritual baths were located outside the walls of the city – a ritual cleansing/bath – you go down one side of the steps into the bath, and up the other side, so as to remain pure for worship in the Temple.
  2. The steps outside the Temple varied in depth, so some steps you had to take one step, others you had to take two steps – the reasoning behind this was to make sure you didn’t rush up the steps, but instead focused on the reverence of entering the holy place.
  3. To enter the Temple area, one gate would be for entering and another for exiting.  If you were mourning the loss of a loved one, you would go through the opposite gate, so that fellow worshipers would be mindful of you and bless you.

Throughout the trip, I was aware of the fact that excavation and discovery continue throughout the city of Jerusalem and across the country.  Some of the museums are very new, and some have expansion efforts going on.  I am sure that the next time we come, there will be even more to see.

We went to the Ramat Rachel Kibbutz for lunch (a kibbutz is a collective farm or settlement owned by its members in modern Israel.  There are schools and markets and centers for the people).  It was a beautiful setting, and we ate our final lunch outside enjoying the lovely weather.

After lunch, we drove by some of the government buildings, including the Israel version of the IRS – our guide said, “We call this the Wailing Wall!”  We drove on to the Israel Museum, away from the Old City, to see a scale model of the Second Temple as it looked before it was destroyed in 70 AD.  This model is on a scale being 50 times smaller than the actual city.  It is an incredible model, and helped us visualize so much of what the past 4 days have been all about.  We were even quizzed by our tour guide to see how much we caught (we passed!).  The Temple, the buildings, the gates, the spaces outside the Temple – all of it crafted with great detail.

Inside the museum is a fascinating display of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  The top of the building looks like the top of the jars in which the scrolls were found.  The hallway that leads to the main display includes findings of artifacts from the village of Qumran.  The scrolls found in the caves have writings of the Old Testament books, the Apocrypha and other writings for the spiritual life of the community.  Qumran was a very zealous community, focusing on worship, study of the Word, and the copying of these words on scrolls.  The findings were so complete and in good condition; it is an amazing discovery.  Found in 1947, these documents have been studied and written down.  It is amazing that these papers hold very close to the documents some 1000 years later used as documents as sources for the Bible today.

Back on the bus and once again toward the Old City to the Garden Tomb.  Here is a location that MIGHT be the place of Jesus’ burial.  One of the convincing arguments for that place is a rock face that looks like a skull, and Golgatha means “the place of the skull.”  The British own this garden, and have kept it very beautifully decorated, with places for worship and communion.   They have kept the place for this focus, and have been clear that a church will not be built on that property.  We got to see the rock face, then went to the Garden Tomb, that likely is NOT the grave, but is very similar to what it looked like.  We all got a chance to go inside.  The guide reminded us often that we do not worship a grave, but a Risen Lord.  I am glad that he made that clear.

We then divided up into church groups and had a worship and communion service in the garden.  We sang songs, prayed together, lifted up our families and church community in our prayers, and we shared the gift of Jesus’ body and blood, given and shed for us.  What a perfect way to end a great week.

We came back to the hotel, driving through Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, and it is easy to tell when you go from one to another – very distinct dress for both.  We gathered as the group of seven and had a final drink and dinner together.  Tomorrow’s wake-up call is 4:45 am (which is 10:45 PM your time Tuesday).  We carry with us many wonderful stories, memories, laughs and tears.  We carry with us a deeper understanding of what Jesus endured.  We carry with us a bit more knowledge of the places mentioned in the Bible.  We carry with us a greater appreciation for the conflict of the Palestinians and the Israelis.  We carry with us a desire to be back home with our loved ones, as well as a desire to come back here once again to this very special place.  We hope and pray you will consider coming along next time.

THANK YOU to all of you for your prayers, your comments, and your well wishes along the way.  We look forward to joyous homecomings tomorrow!  Tentative plans have us sharing with you all on April 11 following the late service with a potluck dinner and sharing of our trip.

CLICK HERE for pictures from today!

Peace

Pastor Charlie, Lisa, Cheryl, Janice, Sheila, Bruce and Tom

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A Free Day in Jerusalem – March 22 (Happy Birthday, Lisa)

Today we decided to start a bit slower – a whole 15 minutes – and had breakfast at 7:15 am.  I think the different spread from American food has lost its charm after a week, but we are still eating well.  Today was a free day for us to do whatever we desired.  We caught a couple of cabs and headed in to Jerusalem – we were there by 8 am.  The streets of the Old Town were being washed down by the merchants, and the streets were very abandoned.  We headed back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and we are so glad that we did – there were few people in the church (even though it opens at 4:30 am), and we were able to take our time at the place of the cross and the place where Jesus was prepared for burial.  Again, who knows for sure where this might have taken place, but it is so moving to be able to take time to really focus on these events we will soon remember the next few days in our churches.  As our Catholic member of the group mentioned, the Stations of the Cross are so scripted on Good Friday, we methodically work our way through them, but here, we have time to focus and pray at each place.

We took time to admire the incredible artwork and mosaics in the church, then got in line to go in to the place of the tomb itself.  The line yesterday was some 3 hours long.  Today we stood in line less than a half hour.  The stone walls surrounding that spot limit the number who can fit, so it takes a while to get in – only three or four at a time.  It was so nice not to be rushed.  It was a very meaningful event for all of us.

We headed out of the church and around the corner to the Lutheran Church of Holy Redeemer.  The church is very nice – simply decorated, and lovely structure – built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the 1800s.  We then journeyed up the spiral staircases (major climb of the day) to the top of the spire of the church.  From here we could see the city in all its splendor.  Because God blessed us with another cloudless day, we were able to get some incredible photos.

Once back down to the street level, we took our luck at bartering in the market place.  It was fun when Lisa was bartering for a dress, and in the process told the man that it was her birthday.  He offered her a blessing that he hoped she would live for 100 years.  In his broken English, Lisa thought he said that he thought she WAS 100 years old.  He almost lost the sale!

The other fun store was the man who was going out of business, so everything was on sale!  Tom and Bruce did very well with their bartering.  I spent time taking pictures (much safer for me!).  We all bought something, including some delicious honey-roasted nuts with sesame seeds on them.  They were great!  We also got some fresh squeezed orange juice at one shop that was wonderful.

We stopped at a few other stations of the cross, and worked our way down some streets, including the Muslim Quarter – we were the only Americans around… definitely a market place.  Spices, fresh produce, toy stores, shoe makers, you name it.  Lots of mothers and children out shopping.  We walked up one street and watched a couple of young men riding a cart downhill with fresh produce, hopefully stopping before the end of the street.

We had lunch at a small pizzeria in town, which wasn’t half bad.  We watched a couple of tour groups come and go as we ate our lunch.  After that, it was time to move on to the next stop of the day, the Yad VaShem Holocaust Museum.  This beautiful structure is free of charge, and an excellent historical site.  The museum is housed in a long, A-framed building, winding you back and forth from one leg of the A to the other.  It begins with the anti-Semitic acts and attitudes of the early 1900s, and carries you through the Ghettos, the Work Camps, the Concentration Camps and the Death Marches, and finally ends with the founding of the country of Israel.  The last room you enter is some 30 feet tall, maybe taller, a circular room with volumes of books on the shelves listing information about 3 million verified names (some say that the complete number is as many as 6 – 7 million) of people murdered in the Holocaust.  That was powerfully moving.

The exit of the museum leads you out to a breathtaking view of Israel – a reminder of the hope of the nation and the land.  We then walked through the Children’s Museum, given in honor of the son one couple lost in the Holocaust.  A garden surrounds a statue in honor of Gentiles who saved or helped hide or rescued survivors.   A final building is in honor of the children – you enter a dark hallway with lights flickering above – as you walk around the mirrored walls reflecting these points of light, names and ages of the murdered children are read.

It was a weighty experience, but so meaningful, and to walk through as young men and women in military school uniforms are there as well, and in the land of Israel – it made it all the more so powerful.

We ventured back to the hotel, then headed out tonight for Chinese – we walked 10 minutes to the Yo-Si Peking Diner – located above the grocery store down the street from our hotel.  We entered, and it was deserted.  The place had come highly recommended by a desk clerk at the hotel, but we started out fairly doubtful.  Even worse, the waitress didn’t speak much English.  So here we are, Americans in a Chinese restaurant not knowing a lick of Hebrew in Jerusalem.  BUT, things got much better fast!  We ordered drinks and meals, and the feast began – soup (corn, wanton, hot and sour), deliciously fresh egg rolls, then the main dish – orders of sweet and sour chicken, almond chicken, beef and peppers, Thai chicken, and rice and noodles.  Fantastic meal, and more than enough to eat!  The waitress understood us enough when we told her it Lisa’s birthday, so dessert came with sparklers on it.  Dessert included fried bananas and pineapples, leeche, watermelon and cantaloupe and sherbet.

It was a wonderful meal at the end of a wonderful day.  We have become good friends on this trip and have enjoyed our time together.   We are planning to share our experiences with all of you when we get back some time in April – we are thinking some Sunday after late service with a potluck included.  We will share plans with you once we get them finalized.

Tomorrow is our last day of touring – around the outside of the city.   Then Wednesday we begin our venture home.
God bless you all – I have been sharing all your comments with the rest of the group, and pass along their greetings to you.


CLICK HERE to see pictures from today!

Peace

PC

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Jerusalem – March 21, 2010

After breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the bus and headed to the Old City in Jerusalem.  We arrived shortly after 8:30 am, and headed through a security checkpoint and immediately came to the Western Wall.  The wall is on the back side of the Temple Mount, and is the wall closest to where the Holy of Holies was located in the Temple before being destroyed in 70 AD.  This is the closest proximity Orthodox Jews get to that holy place –  I will explain later.  The wall is divided – men and women (3/4 of the wall is for the men).  Head covers are required, and if one does not have a hat, skull caps (yarmulkes) are provided.   Approaching the wall, I was overcome with emotion – to actually be in this place to pray.  As promised, I took a prayer from on of our members, together with my own parchment with prayer, and placed them in the wall.  The prayers placed in these cracks are gathered and burned twice a year.  I watched the devote Jews who came to pray with books and prayer shawls with their book stands and desks and chairs – how incredible to see the devotion of prayer by these men.

On the women’s side there was one who was offering written prayers for people who might be praying for something special, like one in our group who received a prayer for a husband.   We spent about 30 minutes there before we moved on.  Out to another line to go through another check point to get to the Temple Mount.  No sharp objects, no Bibles, no religious paraphernalia at all.  We passed by several police who had riot gear near by just in case something were to come up – but let me say that today was extremely calm, and none of us felt anxious about safety at all.

We headed through security to the Temple Mount to the area ar ound the Dome of the Rock – a holy place for Jews, Christians and Muslims.  It is believed that this was where Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac.  It is here that the Holy of Holies of the Temple was located.  It is believed that Mohammad was taken up to heaven from this point.  It is currently under Muslim ownership, but the Israeli police keep it secure.  Because the EXACT location of the Holy of Holies is unknown in that place, the devote Jews do not enter, because they are unsure of where they are permitted to go and not go.  We were surprised how quiet it was there, and very few people.  The dome is beautiful – aluminum with gold added – used to be black until 1966.   As one former traveler told me, you will find that almost all your pictures will have that in it when you get home.

We headed over to the Eastern Gate, where the Messiah is to enter, but the Muslims have covered up that gate.  I am sure God can make a way!  It is the gate Jesus entered on Palm Sunday.   We then headed to the Pool of Bethsada where Jesus healed a man, then went to the Church of Saint Anne – the mother of Jesus.  A beautiful church – very simple, and GREAT acoustics.  We sang “Amazing Grace,” then one of our tour group sang a beautiful song called “Calvary’s Love.”  Many of us were moved to tears.

We then started the Way of the Cross (The Via Dolorosa) – beginning with Jesus being condemned to death, then carrying the cross through the busy streets of Jerusalem (a city of 150,000 or so in Jesus’ day, swelling to 500,000 for the Passover).  We experienced similar busy marketplace and the hills and steps Jesus endured.  The journey ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,  a church shared by many Christian groups.  Because of this, very little is ever done to make changes – a ladder sits outside a window of the church, because someone put it there, and no one can agree if and when it should be moved – been there for over 25 years!

Inside the church are the last 4 of 14 steps of the Way of the Cross, from Jesus being nailed to the cross to his resurrection.  There is a place believed to be where the cross was raised up, and a place a few yards away that is believed to be his tomb.  It is quite a site, with lots of candles and decorations, incense and people.  Many altars, places of veneration and prayer.  It is quite moving, even if we are unsure of the exact location, for we come to see and experience what Jesus endured and the great sacrifice Jesus made for us.

Once done there, we went to the market and had Schwerma – chicken in pita bread.  Then we did the archeological branch of our day, beginning with Cardo – a road recreated to look like it did in the 4th Century AD.  We then saw remnants of the wall of the city from the time of King Hezekiah (1000 BC), and finally took a tour of an archeological museum that has been built around a part of the city uncovered from the time of Jesus.  The main section of that is a mansion some 5500 square feet with many valuable finds inside, including pottery and mosiacs.

We then headed into the Jewish Quarter and saw the new synagogue that was dedicated just last week.  We saw a view of the city then that helped us visualize how it all fits together!  Pretty neat.  At that spot is a giant menorah, built for when the Temple is restored.  More artifacts for the new Temple are being made and are on display near where we were.

Finally in the city, we went to the place of where the Upper Room was located.  The building is long gone, but the site is considered fairly accurate.  Near by, we saw the place considered to be the Tomb of King David.  Once again we were segregated – men and women, as we entered there for prayer.

We left the city and drove up to Mount Scopus to view the city from afar – a picture perfect view on a gorgeous day.  We drove by some of the government buildings and headed back to the hotel.  What a great day it was!

Over dinner, we discussed the lows and highs of the day… outside of some frustration with slower members in our tour who have kept us waiting several times, the day was very positive for all of us.  We were all moved by the places of worship and prayer, and the magnitude of Jesus’ suffering and death for us.  It really puts in perspective for all of us what is ultimately important in our lives, and how the things that cause us to bicker,  disagree, frustrate or burden us are so minimal in comparison.  The devotion and dedication we experienced here put me to shame, for I find that my faith is so easily taken for granted.   I believe this trip will be a spiritual awakening for my fellow travelers and for me.  I hope that one day you can participate as well.

One final note… I know that many at home are concerned for our safety – we have been watching the news as well.  Outside of the tension we experienced at Bethlehem on Friday, our trip has been absent of such conflict.  Yes, we see the troops and police and the riot gear, and we know there is trouble.  But these incidents are isolated.  We are confident that if any issues arise, we will be steered clear of them.  We have been treated with nothing but respect.  Unfortunately, some of our fellow travelers fail to offer that respect in return.  One person warned me of ugly Americans when traveling overseas… we have seen it, and it is ugly, and unfortunate, and embarrassing.  Jesus was pretty inclusive when he said, “For God so loved the world…” and as children of God, isn’t it our role and responsibility to share that message in word and deed?

Okay, end of sermon…. more tomorrow – we have a free day, so we are going back in to Jerusalem to spend a bit more time on the things that we felt were a bit rushed today.  We also are going to try our luck at bartering in market!

CLICK HERE to see pictures from Today

Peace/Shalom

PC

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March 20 – Sabbath Day (Saturday) – Highs and Low

Today we began on the hill of Jerusalem, and started our descent to the lowest place on earth – the Dead Sea.  The Dead Sea is 1300 feet below sea level – Jerusalem is 2500 feet ABOVE sea level.  We traveled east to the Dead Sea, then headed south.  After stopping at a shop for bathrooms and medicinal mud and skin care products from the sea, we arrived at Masada.  Masada is located on the mountains/hills along the west side of the Dead Sea near its southern point.  Masada was first built by Herod just before the life of Jesus, as an escape from the pressure of Jerusalem.  He was a bit paranoid of his role, and wanted a place where he could look over his area of command, but be distant from it.   How he picked this location, I haven’t a clue.  Desolate, isolated, far away from much of anything.  He built quite a structure there.  It sits some 200 feet above sea level – a good 1500 feet above the Dead Sea.

In 66 AD, the Jews overtook the fortress.  We do not know about how that came about, but when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, many made their way to safety at Masada.  It was the last stronghold of the Jews in Israel at that time.  The Romans cornered the people there, and laid siege against the compound for nearly a year, but the people had stored up so many resources and supplies, they were able to withstand the siege.  Over that time, the Romans built a ramp to attack the compound with a battering ram, and when through the first stone wall, burned down the wooden second wall.

The rampart was complete in the spring of 73, after approximately two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress.  When they entered the fortress, however, the Romans discovered that its 960 inhabitants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide rather than face certain capture, defeat, slavery, or execution by their enemies.

The structure is incredible.  A cable car carried us up to the structure, and we spent a great deal of time walking around and seeing how the people survived, and the sacrifice they made to die rather than face the Roman tyranny.

After Masada, we headed to lunch, then a short visit at Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1947 by Bedouin shepherds.  The find happened when a stone was thrown into a cave, and it made a strange noise.  Going into the cave, the shepherds found jars with scrolls wrapped in leather.  The interest was first more in the leather.  As it was passed on and sold to various owners, the importance and value increased.  Copies of Old Testament Scripture, Apocrypha, and other writings were found.  It is believed these were written by Essenes – Jewish Zealots who were very devout, and lived in a desert community.  It is widely believed that John the Baptist was a member of this radical group of Jews.   A community remains have been found near the 11 caves that have been excavated.  This site is north of Masada by about 30 miles.  Tuesday we will get to see these scrolls at a museum not far from our hotel.

After Qumran, a ten minute drive north, to the beach, where a couple of us braved the salty water.  The Dead Sea is 10 times more salty than the oceans, with many other minerals in its mud and water.  Many rub the mud all over their bodies when there, then wash off in the sea and/or shower.  It is so easy to float – I was able to hold a newspaper and read it in the water!  We thought an easy job to have would be lifeguard at the Dead Sea.  This is until our guide told us of an 80 year old man that kept floating in the water, just floating, till the found out he was not moving – he had suffered a heart attack and died on the Dead Sea – can you imagine?

Across the sea from that point we could see across to the country of Jordan to Mount Nebo, where Moses was permitted to look across the Dead Sea and Jordan River that flows into it to the Promised Land from the wilderness.  Moses was not permitted to enter the land as he and his people had stumbled along the way, causing God to prohibit their entry.  Once Moses died, Joshua led the people through the waters to the Promised Land.

So the best line of the day was from Micah, our tour guide, who has the patience of Job!  Unfortunately, there are some in our tour group (not MY seven, they are GREAT and ALWAYS on time) who are always lagging behind and slowing us down.  Someone mentioned to him that it must be frustrating.  His response was, “Now you know why Moses quit his job!”

Tomorrow is Jerusalem.  Two things we were told – long pants and no sleeveless shirts because we are going in to holy places, so show some respect, and no Bibles – they are not allowed on the Temple Mount.  We will do a LOT of walking.  We will see many wonderful sites, and we look forward to sharing more tomorrow.

CLICK HERE to see pictures from today!

More tomorrow

Peace

Pastor Charlie

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March 19 – Friday – From Tranquility to Tension

Shalom from Jerusalem!

We awoke to the sun rising above the Sea of Galilee, and the reality that it was time to pack up and get ready to move to our next hotel in Jerusalem.  Since we came in late on the tour, we didn’t know how the suitcase drill would go – we soon found out!  Stickers on each of our bags are color-coded so the porters know to which bus each bag belongs – once there, we had to identify our bags, and then they were placed on the bus.  A VERY short drive to Yardenit, where the Jordan River flows out of the Sea of Galilee towards the Dead Sea.  This MAY be the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.  A lovely area has been developed for those who wish to be baptized or re-baptized in the Jordan River.  Seven in our tour group, including Sheila Lawson from our church group were baptized this day.  Each of the participants are given white robes to wear, and pastors from our group assisted in the service.  There are flowers and trees, and the river slowly flowing.  It was beautiful!

After spending some time in the gift shop, we got back on the bus and headed to the Roman ruins of Bet Sh’an – ‘Bet’ meaning ‘house of’ and Sh’an is someone’s name.  The city was first built in the 2nd Century AD and had been built up through the 6th Century, when an earthquake in 749 destroyed the city.  At that time, it was a city of some 40,000 people.  Amazing technology was used to create an incredible Roman city.  Bath houses, an amphitheater, hippodrome (horse races) and coliseum, as well as market place, sewer system, homes and roads were expertly created.  It wasn’t till the 1930’s that the city’s remains were discovered, and archeological digs continue to this day.  It was a great site to visit, and we were all in awe of its beauty and size.

The current city today only has half as many inhabitants, but is a lovely Israeli town – very modern and clean.  We then headed south along the Jordan River and along the West Bank of Israel.  It was along this road that our tour guide shared with us his thoughts and opinions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.   He shared the history of the Oslo Peace Accord in 1993, and how there is still great tension in the area we traveled today.  The two groups agreed to refrain from aggressive acts, and negotiate any disagreements.   This has worked only some of the time.  The hope is that the two sides can continue to talk.  I can go into great detail here, but it would take quite some time.   The reality is Israel and Palestine do not agree on who is the rightful owner of the land, especially Jerusalem. While our tour guide talked, you could sense the emotion in his words, and how this issue is not just a thing on the news, it is a way of life.  We experienced that when we saw the electric fences, checkpoints and guards along the way.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

We traveled south along the Jordan River, and the area became more and more desolate, dry and barren.  We headed toward the Dead Sea, some 1200 feet below sea level, then headed west toward Jerusalem, climbing up to 2500 feet above sea level.  You always travel UP to Jerusalem.   Along the way we passed along the Mount of Temptation, where a monastery has been built on top commemorating Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.  I have a new appreciation for “wilderness” now when we read Matthew 4.  We stopped for lunch (falafels again!) and Janice Workman (in our group)  got to ride a camel – she had just wanted to sit on it to get a picture, and the next thing you know, she is taking a ride (and paying $5 for the experience)!

We drove past Jerusalem and headed to Bethlehem – a very short distance (less than 8 miles, I would say).  It was there that we had to get off the bus, pass through a security checkpoint and enter into the area under Palestinian rule – Bethlehem is in this area.  We met a new guide and driver, as our Jewish driver and guide are not permitted into the Palestinian areas.  The streets of Bethlehem were VERY crowded, and there were many trying to sell us scarves, wooden carvings, necklaces and more.  It was a bit overwhelming for me.  We got on our bus and headed to a gift shop, where there is a lot of olive wood carvings and Mother of Pearl figurines and jewelry.  Lisa and I bought a Nativity Set and some gifts as well.

We then headed to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (the city is much hillier than I ever imagined it would be).  The church is owned by three congregations – Greek-Orthodox, Catholic and Armenian.  To enter the church, one must enter a door that is maybe four feet high at the most – this is called the Door of Humility – where one must bow to enter When we entered, there was a Greek-Orthodox service and Catholic service going on – the line to see the “place where Jesus was born” under the altar of the church was 90 minutes long.  Once we finally got to that point, we were rushed through so fast, it was not very “worshipful” at all.  As we waited, we did get to see a bit of the splendor of the Greek-Orthodox service, which I thought was great to see.  When we left the church, we drove past the shepherds field, where the angels appeared to the shepherds that holy night.  Along the road, we saw a coffee shop called “Stars and Bucks” – looking a LOT like our American coffee houses!

We then headed back to the checkpoint.  Because of the season of Lent, and Passover just around the corner, the city was packed, and the line for buses and cars was very long, so we were told to get off the bus and “be careful” as we walked to the check point.  Through a turnstile to the area between Palestinian and Israeli territory, (about 500 yards or so) we met our original bus and driver, were picked us up, and drove to checkpoint two.  Here, we had to have our passports in hand as two soldiers, armed and with bulletproof vests, walked through the bus and looked at our passports.  No words spoken, they just walked through the bus, got off, opened the gate, and on we went.

This really hit me hard today – we take for granted our freedom, and do not realize the tension in which many people live each day.  I will never think of Christmas the same after being through this experience, especially when we hear the words of the angels once again say, “Peace on Earth, and Good Will to All.”  Let there be peace on earth, dear Lord.  Let there be peace.

On the road then to our hotel on the edge of Jerusalem, a VERY nice hotel with lovely lobbies and rooms.  Bags taken up to our rooms, we headed down the hall to the other section of the hotel for dinner.  There is a place to eat in our  section of the hotel, but they are preparing the room for Passover the end of March, and so we make our way a few minutes for dinner.  The room is HUGE – seating at least 12oo people, all touring the Holy Land like us.  The food was delicious.

We met then for Bible Study and sharing.  We remember those who are sick at home, and we lift you in prayer.  We give thanks for your prayers for us,  and your warm wishes.  We take great joy in the pictures from practical jokers back at St. Paul Lutheran (I will add to the next link of pictures), and we look forward to sharing our experiences with you.  I will tell you that we will be encouraging MANY of you to come and join us next time we come.

We are off to bed.   Tomorrow is the Dead Sea and Masada.

CLICK HERE to see pictures from today!

Peace (and I ask for you to pray for peace as well),

Pastor Charlie

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Pictures from March 18

Here is the link to pictures from March 18 – captions added

More to come soon!

Click the Link Below to see pictures from Day 2 of our journey


Pictures of Israel March 18, 2010

Peace

PC

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