Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Goodbye Israel...

Tomorrow we say goodbye to Israel and what a time it's been! We've spent the past 2 1/2 days in Jerusalem and it's given me SOOOO much new insight into the Bible. It's fascinating that people here don't argue over whether or not God exists, that's a given. The arguments are more over who's right about what they believe to be true about God.

In the past couple days we have walked and sat and talked in the places where Jesus lived. Yesterday we spent some time in Bethlehem (Palestinian territory currently) and that was "interesting." The place where Jesus was thought to have been born is now covered over by a church. Well, 3 churches actually. Each one has their own "tribute" to the birthplace of Christ.

We were able to go to the Western Wall or Wailing Wall where the Jews daily go to pray for the Messiah to return. We went to the Temple Institute and heard from a young Jewish girl explain how the Jewish people are preparing to build the 3rd temple. Even though the Muslims have The Dome of the Rock in place over the temple site (actually it's been there 1300 years) the Jews have decided not to wait any longer and they are beginning to prepare things for the temple. Things such as the 24ct golden menorah that stands in the site of The Dome of the Rock. They are preparing by making instruments and the altar of shobread. She explained that they don't know who the high priest is yet that will come, but they hope that they can build the temple before he gets here.

We visited the Temple Mount where the Dome of the Rock is located. It's under Muslim control and we had to go through extra security to get there. The Temple Mount is where the original temple was built and torn down again. The Jews definitely look forward to the day that this golden dome is torn down and the 3rd temple is built in it's place. I had a bit of a funny incident there. I got "scolded" today by a "poor beggar woman" who was insulted that I would not give her enough money. In fact she would not except what I was trying to give her - which was equivalant to about .25. It's all I happened to have in my pocket and I thought I would give it to her. So much for being poor! I've never known a true poor person who would actually not accept money!

We sat on the Mount of Olives on Sunday morning and sang "Holy, Holy, Holy" in a small church just above the Garden of Gethsemane. Interestingly enough, Get' semane actually refers to an oil press. It's the tremendous pressure that's placed on the olives to produce the pure virgin olive oil. It's the garden that Jesus was "pressed" in on in His final days of life. We wondered as we gazed on this garden, what these 2000 year old trees heard that night. Trees that have literally been kept alive for 2000 years!

We walked the Via Delorosa today - the way that is thought that Jesus walked in His final hours through Jerusalem to the cross. We spent some time in Antonio's fortress, the place where the soldiers played games for Jesus clothes. We walked on the original road of that day - complete with grooves in the rocks to give traction to the the chariots. We saw the "game boards" that were carved in the rock from those days. We went to both spots that are thought to be the tomb where Jesus was laid. One place is the Church of the Holy Seplucher. Definitely not my favorite spot. The Garden Tomb however is what I like to picture as the original tomb. It's peaceful, uncluttered and empty! We ended our time together today with communion in the the Garden Tomb. It was beautiful and the grand finale of our time together as a group.

So tomorrow we leave for Egypt and say goodbye to this amazing place. With all the conflict that's gone on in this part of the world recently, we have not come face to face with any trouble. Heard it in the distance, yes. Actually we heard some gun shots in Jerusalem today for a couple minutes. When our guide was asked about it, he said if it was anything serious, we would immediately hear sirens. Thankfully we didn't! ...and Malcolm continued to speak without skipping a beat.
About of a third of our group heads back to the States. We're off for more adventures in the Sinai penninsula to see the exodus route of the Israelites. We will see the Pyramids and take a camel ride in the desert. Much to see and do still! Not sure how internet access will be in Egypt but I'll do my best to update. :-)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Well, I'm going to have to go out of order here because I'm just overwhelmed with info to share and don't know where to begin!

We went to Jericho today and saw the wilderness where Jesus wandered. Israel is a very rocky country and the deserts are VERY barren. It gives new perspective to Jesus being asked to turn rocks to bread. We were met by Bedouins peddlling their wares.

We traveled to Masada... the amazing city on top of a rock. Everything is built on the "high places" here because that's the best place to see your enemies coming. Re-read those passages and picture many mountain tops covered in towns and cities. They can all see each other from across the valleys.

We visited the Dead Sea - although I forgot my swimsuit so I couldn't go in! Ugh... It was funny to see people float on top of the water. It almost looked like they were defying nature as they lay on top of the water. Fun too watch!
We saw this dead tree at the spot that marked where King Saul would have been hung on the city wall for all to see his decapitated body. It's AMAZING to walk through places that have things that are 2000 to 4000 years old! Things we can touch and feel for oursleves! Way cool...

We visited Kumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. We had a bonfire by the Sea of Galilee. Our Pastor Steve baptised some of our people in the Jordan river... way cool. We visited the mountain where Jesus spoke the Beatitudes from... Mount of the Beatitudes. I learned that it is Jewish custom for the family to tear their clothes when a loved one dies... think about that when you think about the torn curtain in the temple at Jesus' death.

We have a Muslim bus driver, a Jewish tour guid and a group of Christians all traveling together. A Muslim, a Jew and a Christian... sounds like the start of a joke! These guys are amazing though. Manuevering the bus into places I wouldn't guess and our guide sharing his knowledge of the bible and history that brings light in SOOO many ways that it is overwhelming!
We are up and out the door by 7:30 every morning and don't get back until 7pm in the evening. It's pretty tiring but everyone is having a fantastic time! I have had my eyes open to so many new things now that I can see for myself what our Bible is talking about. It's been awesome!

Tomorrow we will start on the Mount of Olives and follow the path of the triumphal entry. We learned something significant about palm branches... which of course I can't remember! I'm sure we'll hear the story again tomorrow though. We will also visit Bethlehem. I've learned that our English translation adds the "h" to BetHlehem. The spelling here would be Bet' Lehem - I think. It literally means house of meat. Needing "meat" as a believer rather than just the "milk?" Interesting when you think about where Jesus came from.

So many stories and so little time to share them right now! Things are kinda slow in getting pictures up, but hope you enjoy the ones I do get up! I'll do my best to update, but I fear it won't be as often as I hoped for! I'll share more as I'm able. :-)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

We made it!

We made it! Made it through an interesting time in the Istanbul airport. As we were checking through, there was a "lovely" lady from the States trying to push her way with the Turkish airport personel. Not sure what happened as she was going through security, but she embaressed the rest of us by her actions. Yelling at the the airport personnel and telling them that all they want to do is fight and blow up people is probably not quite the right way to convince them that you are not a suicide bomber. Hmmm... not sure what was going through her head but they finally told her she had the choice of going back to the States or staying in Turkey but she wasn't going on... wasn't going on our flight... thank goodness.

Well, I had my first day touring Israel and my head is swimming with information! Our tour guide, Malcolm, is very knowledgeable and I can't even think of where to begin! I did wake up with a view of the Sea of Galilee out my window. Amazing. We took a boat ride across the lake and it's just amazing to know that I'm in the places that I've read about all my life in the Bible. I'm definitely going to have to have A LOT of time to process what I'm witnessing and hearing.

We did start the day with a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee. At one point the captain turned off the motors so we could experience what it would have been like to simply hear the waves against the side of the boat. We also experienced what it must have been like to fish with the fishing nets that were used. It was really neat to watch them throw the net!

When we came back to shore we had the opportunity to see a new testament period fishing boat that had been excavated. Amazing to see something like that that's been buried under mud and water for 2000 years!

We also saw a number of sites today that were excavated ruins from thousands of years ago. In fact, we saw some sites that had been built back in Abrahams time. Think of that! To stand there and look at something that had been built thousands of years ago! My head is swimming with information and it's hard to put into words all that I've seen and heard today.

We traveled the Golan Heights today, saw the possible area where Jesus sent the demons into a herd of pigs that ran into the sea. To know that we are where Jesus was is mind-blowing. What an amazing time we've had and it's only been one day! So as I type, I leave you with one of my favorite shots today. This is the sunset as we were heading back from the Golan Heights to the Sea of Galilee. You know it has to be a special sunset when even the tour guide has his camera out taking pictures. Thank you God for an amazing day!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

11 days and counting...

...til I take off for Israel! Unfortunately things may be escalating there once again? Heard news reports and saw the warnings put out by the US Department of State. It's not stopping anyone from going but just asking us to be "aware" and "vigilant" as we are in highly public places like hotels, shopping areas, restaurants. Hmmm.... all the places we are going to be going to? I can't say I'm not at all nervous about visiting there, but I can say this is bound to be the biggest adventure I've ever been on... or almost ever been on!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Stay tuned...

Off and running again! I'm headed to Israel two weeks from tonight. Yup! You read that right! In the midst of the Israel/Gaza "conflict" or "disturbance" or whatever you want to call it, I'm heading to the land where peace has not really been known since the beginning of mankind! To wait for "peace" I think, would be to wait for the end of the world.

So, I'm headed off to help lead a group of about 30 from our church. We are going to see fabulous places and walk on grounds that hold thousands of years of history, conflict, war and that was imprinted by the footsteps of Jesus. Wow. Will we be able to see the garden tomb where Jesus was laid? Will we be baptized in the Jordan river? Will we picnic on the Sea of Galilee? Will we float in the Dead Sea? So many amazing adventures lie ahead! I'll keep you posted!