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Bethlehem, Cana, Church, Community, Conflict, Dead Sea, Ecclesia, fellowship, food, Galilee, Holy Land, Israel, Jenin, Jericho, Jerusalem, Nablus, Nazareth, Palestine, peace, Samaria, Tel Aviv, Winery, Yah Vashem
Our journey to the Holy Lands was more than we ever imagined. This trip of a lifetime felt like an eternity as we encountered such a wide mixture of environments and diversity of people. We left with a deep sense of humility, gratitude, and hope. Pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, it begins with sitting down at the table and enjoying a meal together. We pray that many more conversations around the table will occur as a result of what God is restoring in this special land.
The first stop was in Tel Aviv, a very metropolitan and secular city. We were able to enjoy time at the beach, basking in the beautiful Mediterranean sea, and then took a stroll with the group down to Old Jaffa for a seafood dinner watching the sunset over the port.
Some of our conversations with the locals were enlightening, and we began to understand some of the views of the next generation in Israel. Being in such an antiquated and gorgeous port brought back nostalgia as I could smell that familiar fish scent my Dad used to wear coming home from work. Beginning the trip with a sense relaxation was good for Adrian and I as we were able to transition our minds and hearts from the fast pace of home.
On the return trip we also ended up spending a half-day in Tel Aviv because our flights were changed, and this beat 12 hours in the airport. The contrast between this city and Jerusalem is stark, while the distance between them is not more than an hour. We found the best schwarma and falafel pitas of our lives and enjoyed a leisurely stroll along a quaint pedestrian walkway.
The first full day brought us to our first Biblical Site, which was Jacob’s Well inside of a Greek Orthodox Church. This is one of the sites that is considered by archaeologists to be most authentic, because, well, you can’t really move a well. The history dating this back to Jacob’s time is convincing. Adrian and I drank water from the well, and it was very cold and refreshing. Interestingly, it was 3 years ago to the day that we hit water when drilling a well in Nicaragua, which began our journey as Ecclesia members.
Passing through a checkpoint into Area A of the West Bank, we entered Nablus. There are 4 areas in Israel, and ‘Area A’ has the most regulations regarding Palestinian and Israeli movement. Here, very few people are allowed in or out. As tourists, we were able to pass through after a soldier checked our bus and passports. They were all overjoyed to welcome us to their great city. I was impressed by the displays of hospitality, diversity of foods in the markets, and impressive quality of engineering in their buildings and streets.
We stopped at a local soap factory which uses local olive trees to produce all-natural soap products and support local families. The women in our group wore head coverings out of respect, and we learned just how hot the desert sun can feel!
A stroll through the market was met with kind smiles and offers to taste many food delicacies. The juicy dates were my favorite, and we got to see how a local treat, kanefah, is made. In hindsight, I should have purchased some saffron and other spices straight from the source. The sensory experience was unique and wonderful.
Later, we enjoyed lunch with a women’s center that utilizes fresh foods to empower the local economy. Much of the water reservoirs and access to certain forms of agriculture are significantly restricted. This women’s center aims to help local farmers and also the women who may have lost their husbands or children. We had lunch with an Imam and talked about peace. We hope for more of these conversations around the table.
Later, we went to Mount Gerazim and visited with a local Samaritan high priest. He explained to us some of their rituals and beliefs, and then we took pictures together while he referred to me as ‘ginger’ girl because of my hair. I was endeared 🙂
An overlook of Nablus afforded us with breath-taking views of the entire country-side. We were able to see the small quarters of the refugee camps with a military watch tower behind us. Everyone had a great time, and the group was becoming great friends.
Finally, as if you didn’t think the day could possible be over, we enjoyed a multi-course dinner at a local winery atop Mount Gerazim. We learned more about the Jewish lifestyle and met some very nice volunteer workers and the owner who ensured we had superb wine and food.
Day 2 continued us through the West Bank town of Jenin, typically not included in a tourist itinerary, where we visited the Church of Saint George where Jesus healed the 10 lepers. In thinking about healings and the antiquity of the church (the 3rd oldest church in the world), I realized some things and ended up finding a really great friend in the process.
Next, we visited an olive oil factory that specializes in fair trade practices for the local Palestinian farmers. The oils and spices were absolutely delicious (and now sold in the states at Whole Foods!).
Our final stop before heading out was lunch at a very special winery. This winery, called Tulip, employees special-needs adults and provides them a living community with dignity and fellowship. We learned about how the winery, after several years of trying, finally earned Kosher status, showing regulators that the adult workers were more than capable of maintaining the stringent guidelines for producing kosher wine. I had such a great time and really appreciated all the hard work my mom did throughout the years by teaching special-needs children in school.
That evening we went to Nazareth, pretty worn out, so we had the option of going on an official tour or just visiting sites at our own leisure. Adrian and I opted to walk around town ourselves and visit the local souk (market), Church of the Annunciation, and spend some quiet time at Mary’s Well. Adrian teased me as I went and filled up a huge container of water and started guzzling it down – without realizing it, this was holy water from the well that people come from all over the world to take just a small sample and venerate. It was really refreshing!
And Adrian missed work so much that he explained to me all about how water engineering pumps and valves work.
The next morning we went to Cana and had our wedding vows renewed in the church where tradition says is the location Jesus turned water to wine at the wedding festival. It was a touching moment that I will cherish, and we were glad to be able to be there for our new friends as well. I was reminded how truly special marriage is, and that taking delight in every single moment together makes for a full life.
Continuing on to the Mount of the Beatitudes, we listened to the famous sermon Jesus preached in the same location that His followers would have heard it. Afterward, we had a seafood lunch and got to play in the sea a bit before embarking on a boat ride across the waters. Not too much had changed in the surrounding view and climatology since Jesus’ time, so this was particularly special. Plus, I just really like boats. I think God planned this moment for us to just enjoy His goodness a long time ago.
We left the Sea of Galilee and drove through the Jordan Valley toward Jericho. I was particularly fascinated by this drive because I had recently been reading about some political conflict here regarding allocation of agricultural land and water rights. We could almost touch Jordan to our left, but that wouldn’t have been the best idea since the land across the fence line was ridden with mines. This valley provided much of the fresh agriculture we enjoyed in Israel, and farming has been done here since the very first civilizations.
Upon reaching Jericho, most of the group was ready to relax in the pool and enjoy company. We had a fabulous meal consisting of a local dish I had really been wanting to try – moussaka – and everyone had the chance to ‘try the hookah’ afterward. The next day, we toured Tel Jericho from the Old Testament, and then got to enjoy a quick tourist moment on a camel.
Next, which was absolutely fascinating, we got to tour the Qumran site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I really loved being in the place where we found irrefutable evidence that the Scriptures had not been significantly altered over thousands of years. Also, as a water resources engineer, I was particularly amazed at the massive reservoirs, precise drainage canals, and measurements of stormwater flow from nearby valleys. Our tour guide, Shafik, is literally a genius and had intensely studied history and archaeology for many years at renowned universities. He was able to answer any question we had in detail, and he explained it all in a way that only strengthened our core beliefs.
Next, those that wished had the chance to either be baptized or re-baptized in the location that Jesus is said to have been immersed by John the Baptist. This site was only recently open to Christian pilgrims and has a strong historical evidence that it was indeed the location (well, technically just on the other side in Jordan). Adrian became friends with an Israeli soldier as they discussed camel-baks and bullets.
Next, we got to float in the Dead Sea! Through no muscle effort of your own, your body really does just float there. It was really fun, but eventually our skin started to sting, and it was time to go.
Leaving Jericho, we passed one of the many key statues in Palestinian towns. The key represents the symbol of freedom for those who left their homes. Many people wear their key around their necks for hope of the future. Adrian says the key symbolized, for him, God’s redeeming grace in this land. It is a reminder that there is hope for all involved, and that this place is home to all of us.
Finally, we make it to Jerusalem, such a special city and the heart of it all. Since the heat was particularly stressing in the middle of the day, we did most of our excursions in the mornings and evenings with a break in the afternoons. Adrian and I would take these moments to go exploring, and we found some really great markets and architecture along the way.
These are old city walls that had slits in them for people to shoot arrows at a wide angle with less susceptibility of being hit in return.
On the first evening, we took a night stroll through the Old City to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built in 326 AD when Christianity was first legal through Constantine. This was definitely our favorite church and holy site of the entire trip. With less crowds and the illuminated light, the atmosphere was exceptionally spiritual. Just the magnitude of the arches, history, and millions of worshipers who had been here before brought tears of worship. The rock of Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified, was awe-inspiring. There is also a first-century tomb that spoke volumes. There are actually two places in the vicinity that are regarded as possible locations of the Calvary, but regardless of the exact coordinate where it took place, there is something deeply significant and special about this church.
The church closed, and we stopped at the Western Wall on the way back. This wall is one of the outer walls of Solomon’s 2nd Temple and is especially venerated by Jews. The men and women pray in separate sections of the wall, and our side was very crowded this night. I was able to make it up to the wall for a moment and say a few prayers. The slips of paper left in the cracks are never destroyed since they have the name God on them. Instead, they are collected and buried on the Mount of Olives twice a year.
The following morning we got up early and walked the Via Dolorosa, which has 14 Stations of the Cross that tradition says is where Jesus walked to His death carrying the Cross. Going early in the morning was a good idea because otherwise the streets are filled with vendors, and contemplating Scripture would have been difficult. We read about how Jesus was condemned, fell for the first time, met his grieving mother, had Simon help carry the Cross, tears wiped away by Veronica, fell for the second time, spoke to the daughters of Jerusalem, fell a third time, striped of garments, nailed to the Cross, and eventually buried and risen again.
We went again to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this time in the morning, just as they were about to conduct the opening mass. After some very strong street coffee, we enjoyed partaking in a Latin service by some monks who sang so very beautifully. The tomb doors were treated with special care as the elders/priests got everything ready and bathed it in prayer. At the end, we were offered communion in a way that was extremely humbling.
During the afternoon break, Adrian and I ventured out to the Jewish market Machane Yehuda and got to sample some real treats. Since it was a Thursday, everyone was getting supplies for the following day’s Shabbat meal. We had read about a special treat called Khachapuri, a cheese and egg-filled bread bowl originating from Georgia. Coupled with authentic Stella Artois and enjoying the breeze on an alleyway patio, life was good. We had also read about some authentic Belgian waffles nearby, so we tried some of those with gelato and chocolate sauce. We figured the long walk compensated for the amount of food consumed 🙂
In the evening we got to visit the Pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralytic. This pool was written about in the Gospel of John as having 5 sides and was long debated as to its historical accuracy since nothing like that had previously existed. When uncovered in the 19th century, the geometry in the gospel account was confirmed. Also used as a fresh-water cistern, we were enamored by the structural stability through thousands of years.
The other site that is said to be a possible location of the Calvary was very interesting and special. The archaeological evidence for this site matching accounts in the Bible is strong. We saw the Place of the Skull, Golgotha, visited the empty tomb dating back to Jesus’ time, and celebrated communion together as a group. We also sang old hymns in a near-by church with excellent acoustics, and I kept getting chills.
That night we had a most special dinner with our tour hosts from Breaking Bread Journeys. Our hotel, which is run by The Vatican, has the best view of the Old City on their rooftop patio dining. A full six course meal with special wine tastings and lots of laughter made our hearts just so full.
On the final full day before traveling home, we visited the Mount of Olives, which I was very excited about because I had been learning about the parallels between King David and Jesus on this location. There were a lot of gravesites in the Kidron Valley, believed to be where the resurrection of the dead will occur at the return of the Messiah. The Golden Gate pictured here, where Jesus entered in on the donkey, was walled up by the Ottoman Turks to prevent the Messiah’s return.
At the base of the mount was the Garden of Gethsemane where some beautiful olive trees stood that are likely offshoots of the same ones where Jesus prayed and was betrayed.
We also went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and listened to guided stories about the events. This was very moving and made me remember the concentration camp we once visited.
On to Bethlehem, a short drive from Jerusalem, we got to see the Church of the Nativity, symbolic of the place of the manger, and enjoy a delicious meal.
On the last evening, we took one last stroll before the special Shabbat dinner. Since this was in someone’s home, we did not take any photos, but it was a memorable experience as we learned the special meaning of the Jewish sabbath, prayers, and hymns.
Later that night Adrian and some others received tattoos from a local Coptic Christian who had been performing the mark of the pilgrim in his family for over 600 years. This tattoo has multiple meanings for us, and Adrian described it best:
“I decided to combine it with a key which is to remember the Palestinian people, many of whom wear a key to the house/land they lost decades ago and a hope to someday return. The whole design is meant to symbolize a hope for peace and a trust that God is in the process of restoring his creation (a big thing I was reminded of while in the holy lands)! ”
This trip was definitely unforgettable, and we are so honored to have been able to experience first-hand what this land we have all learned about since childhood really looks and feels like. We are grateful to have met many beautiful people from different backgrounds and will continue to keep this place and its inhabitants in our prayers!
This blog has been going viral on social media sites, frequently re-posted by people who have yet to see the movie. After my husband and I watched it yesterday, I posted a short status urging people to still give it a shot:
Don’t let narrow-minded ‘Christian’ blogs defer you from seeing the movie Noah. We just left the theater, and I am actually extremely happy I paid money to support it. If you have an open mind, an understanding of the literary message of Genesis, and creativity, it will be a wonderful movie to enjoy. I fully support this director, yes atheist, and think he did a beautiful job of bringing this story to the masses in a unique way. Bravo! Very thought-provoking!
I now think the aforementioned blog deserves a lengthier response. My goal is not at all to be argumentative, opinionated, or rude, and I pray that my words come across as the complete opposite of that. It would be a shame for such a beautiful story of God’s character to not reach its full potential of truly speaking to someone’s heart who may not really believe in or trust Him merely because of some blogs floating around that are not well thought out and miss the mark.
My thoughts on this blog:
– You’re going to use Titanic of all movies to compare with Noah on the grounds of being morally permissible? Really? I think your point is that there is a way to add some fiction to a factual story-line to appeal to modern cinematography, which Titanic did, without taking from the main story, but how in the world is Noah any different? The director added creativity to a story that is very short in the Bible, and I personally didn’t see anything wrong with his take on how a few events may have unfurled. Titanic. Jeez. You’ll see my case below:
1) The clothing is too modern? Yes, I noticed this too, and actually at times it was a bit distracting. I made a mental note in my head that the clothes were more modern than what would have been worn back then, and then I moved on and enjoyed the rest of the movie. That is a ridiculous reason to regret your decision in seeing the film. Petty.
2) The film does not promote evolution over creationism. The way I understood it, they go hand in hand. I know many Christians disagree on this subject, but I don’t believe that it is this black and white. I’m not going to argue that point here, because I don’t think it’s at the core of the Gospel and is not worth ever arguing over, but I will stand behind the view that this movie discussed the Creator CREATING things many many times throughout the film. When Noah was explaining the creation story to his family, it was all from God. Sure, maybe not an explicit 7, 24-hour day view where things spontaneously appeared (but it didn’t really go against that either). It was just an artistic way of showing the evolution of the Earth and all the creatures within it. It was actually very beautiful and left me in awe of my God. The Creation story in Genesis is a poetic narrative and should be read as such (podcast discussing this view).
“Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds” – Genesis 1:24.
3) The rock creatures were far-fetched, I agree. There were several occasions where I looked at my husband with a puzzled look, laughed, and then kept watching. But let me say this. The more I watched the movie, and the more I thought about it, the more I fell in love with this allegory. The Bible is rich with descriptive language about created objects, including rocks, crying out to the Creator after sin entered the earth and being made into a desolate, groaning land (NT: Romans 8, OT: Jeremiah 12, the new Earth in Revelation 21). As these passages came to mind, I couldn’t help but smile at how the director, whether intentional or not (but I think the former), decided to add to the story by using God’s very creation to assist the humans in completing this monumental task. That’s how I imagine it would have been anyway, so why not use rock creatures to add to the storyline?
4) “Noah decides that God actually meant to kill everyone. While on the ark, Noah decides to end the human race by killing his family.”
While not main-stream Bible belt material, this interpretation is rich with metaphors and quite beautiful if you really think about it. Whey else would Noah have left everyone else off the ark? It isn’t far fetched to believe that people probably did cry out to get on the ark after the floods started rising. This is a creative way to look at it, and really helps us understand that there always has been and always will be Divinity and free-will. There was, and always will be, evil and good in the world and in each of our hearts. At the same time, there will always be a way out, and the movie ends with that being through pure, human love. Noah decided that humanity was worth saving because he felt a glimmer of hope deep in his heart and was overwhelmed with love for his grand-daughters, innocent and peaceful after being calmed by their new mother (do you see the parallel between the storm raging outside and the peaceful hope the doves bring with the olive branch?). Humanity has hope. We will always have evil tendencies, which is shown in Ham’s actions as he brought murder into the new creation (see Cain and Abel), but we will always also have the capacity to love righteously. I think it was really brilliant of the director to place all the tools to make this decision in the hands of a man, given the capacity to love and succeed by his Creator, God.
5) “The film’s villain successfully sneaks onto the ark by using an axe to cut a hole, befriends Noah’s son Ham to plot against his father and kill Noah.”
I do not at all believe this actually happened, but I also thought it was brilliantly moving as I pondered its meaning while driving home from the theater. I shared with my husband my take on it, which is basically showing the audience what I was describing previously: there will always be a struggle of good versus evil in creation, and this man signified that man’s sin came with them after the great flood. The villain taught Ham what it felt like to take a life. He calls him a “real man” after he murders. You can see the struggle in Ham’s heart as he contemplates murdering his father, and you can see the anguish and embarrassment in him after they land on the mountain top. He ends up leaving his family because he feels so out of place, so innately evil, and isn’t this the story of each of our lives at some point or another? The villain on the ark could have been left out, and it still would have been a fine film, but I like how it signified dark versus light, good versus evil, which is kind of a major theme in the entire Bible, including the story of Noah.
The writer of the blog goes on to urge: “For all those wanting to see Noah this weekend, please reconsider. If you value the Bible and walk with the Lord it will only leave your heart hurting and in utter disbelief.” Well, I say, go ahead and see it, and think for yourself. This move is a great opportunity to engage in a dialogue about the Bible with people from all walks of life. Each person is entitled to their own interpretation, and I personally choose to look at it as an artistic representation of a famous story that can both show us who God is while appealing to the average movie-goer.
I completely agree with everything this man has to say in his blog here:
Please take a read on that one as well.
I’ve been listening to this song called “Beautiful Things” by Gungor every morning on my way to work, as I drive by several villages of kids running around some in school uniforms, some in diapers, and the adults just working hard to have a few things to sell/trade so they can all work together and provide for their families. I see some of the kids catching my eyes and waving frantically with a big smile saying “OBRONI”, which means white person in an endearing way. There is red dust blowing up everywhere, and it even comes through the vents and into my nose and eyes. The kids are playing in it, and the mothers and fathers are accustomed to the constant stain.
From the song I hear:
“All this pain, I wonder if I’ll ever find my way; I wonder if my life could really change, at all. All this earth; could all that is lost ever be found? Could a garden come up from this ground, at all? You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of us.”
I see all the pain around me, and in the midst of it, I catch someone’s eye, and we both smile, knowing we are loved by the same God. The dust blows up, and I see through it that God is making something beautiful both in this country and in me. As I talk with the servers of the hotel, who work 7 days a week, 30 days a month, all day for measly pay, and we find out we share a common bond in Christ, we both smile genuinely, and it is beautiful, because God can create beauty out of the dust. He can create beauty out of the typhoon and the Syrian war and our trust in His provision. He can create beauty out of my failures, and he Has in this place.
My husband and I decided on a very ambitious trek for our first time backpacking and being flat-landers. We ended up making it over two passes, enjoyed a ton of amazing scenery, met face-to-face with God, and hiked over 20 miles in 3 days. We are very proud of that and can’t wait to go back for round two!
Day 1: July 5, 2013
So we were supposed to find a campsite tonight either South of Carbondale on 133 or South of Aspen on 82 to finish acclimating. Last night we stayed in Fort Collins with Adrian’s uncle, and we had a blast. Even though we got there late due to Southwest overbooking our flight, we were happy campers because they gave us over $800 in vouchers. Since last time we came to Colorado I got such bad altitude sickness for not acclimating, we wanted two nights prior to the hike. We drove past the Carbondale exit and decided we wanted to acclimate at a slightly higher altitude (8,200′ compared with 6,100′). On the way we decided to drive down Maroon Creek Road a bit just to see if any of their campsites were open, which we knew was unlikely. On the way we saw a bear near the road about 20 yards from our car. He just stared at us while we took a picture, acting like he would rather not have anything to do with us. We got very excited driving down the road as the scenery was like something out of Chronicles of Narnia. As we reached the ranger station, we were informed that all of the Maroon Bells campsites were full as well as the Independence Pass sites. We had no other options for a hotel, so he told us our best bet was to hike the 2 miles to Crater Lake and camp there as there should be about 2 spots open. We hesitantly agreed since that was at 10,000′, and we didn’t think our bodies were ready for that yet. As we started packing our things and changing clothes in the parking lot, we felt very rushed, uneasy, curious, and excited. We brisked past the Maroon Lake, snapping a few photos, and vowing to spend more time there on the return. We had less than 3 hours until dark and no idea how everything would pan out at Crater Lake. We began hiking and through the rush and chatter we ended up on a smaller trail that leads, we think, up to one of the 14ers to the South. Adrian was the first to point out that this trail wasn’t as easy to spot as the previous one, and he thought we had gotten off of the popular route to Crater Lake. We pushed on for a bit, trying our best to navigate and work together but steadily becoming uneasy as the sun kept getting lower. Our trail finally dead ended so we turned around to find the main trail again. There was a big area of rocks, and we ended up heading down a dry creek bed into the think woods. I finally lost it, and Adrian immediately prayed over me. He asked God to lead us out, scared, confused himself. Within minutes we heard a loud cough and called out. Two young men were just 30 or so yards above us and we followed their voices right to the very obvious and very close trail that I now have no idea how we could have missed. We walked with these two boys, and found out they’re both very solid faithful Christians, missionaries at times even. I wholeheartedly believe God sent us those two boys to rescue us and teach us about trusting Him instead of panicking. We finally reached Crater Lake and found a campsite. It turned out a guy had hidden his pack and tent there that we didn’t notice until we had began setting up. We moved our tent a bit away, and met him during our dinner as he was coming back from a day hike up a 14er. He was really nice and let us stay in his campsite. He too was a solid brother in Christ, attending seminary and leading guitar for worship. He was really chill and humble. I see God all around here. I pray for navigation tomorrow, trusting in God’s guidance. Tieing a bear bag proved to be difficult, but sufficient. Dinner was okay, but much appreciated after a long day.
We had a hard time sleeping as there was a night storm during much of it (it ended up raining every night and not once during the day as other trip reports had noted). We were also awoken at every forest noise. During one of our wake-ups, Adrian asked me if I could memorize something with him: The Shepherd’s Prayer, Psalm 23. He said it calmed him last night after our stressful evening, and that brought serene peace to my heart as well. We discussed how God is creator of all things, and we are so tiny, yet He loves us personally. God created the creeks, the bears, lakes, ridges, trees, and wide array of wildflowers. We can do nothing to control these things, yet God loves us so much that he knows each hair on our head and called us by name in the womb. I haven’t been in a place where I had to truly fully depend on God’s providence and grace in a while. This brought about a healthy fear and awe of who He is but also a new strong trust in His steadfast character and sovereignty.
Day 2, July 6, 2013