Flat Jesus has joined our trip.
June16: Final Day in Bethlehem
From Jim and Peg Forbes
Final Day ( and others)
It’s been kind of both a slowdown and a whirlwind these last days in Bethlehem . Forbes got to see Rana briefly on Friday and then taxied to be with Wiam and her husband Yousef and 3-week old Aram for lunch and a visit in their home. Wiam was an authentic tourism grad at Dar al Kalima and one of our scholarship students. She lost her guiding job when she got pregnant and Yusef has had trouble finding jobs in either of his degrees, Engineering or Law, so he has work managing a local hotel right now. They spoke of the lack of work in Palestine or at least Bethlehem, and how they are hoping to emigrate to Canada. Yusef said in order to practice law he would first have to apprentice for two years without pay!
Then on Saturday the 15th, Forbes had the delightful opportunity to go to a wedding party of the brother of another of our scholarship recipients, Wala. Wala lives in St. Louis with her American husband, who is a Palestinian American, and their almost 3-year old daughter Katy. Wala was in Bethlehem to visit with her family here and attend her brother’s wedding. When she found out we would be in Bethlehem, she invited us to come.
After she picked us up after the Bethlehem Bible College graduation ceremony, we entered a whirlwind of wedding joy. Nonstop dancing, loud music, and many rituals that all the Palestinians clearly knew and enjoyed, including raising the bridal couple up on chairs and even wooden wheels to dance as everyone surrounded them, clapping and dancing themselves. There was a women’s ritual of candles lit and surrounding the bride, after which the groom came in lifted high by the fez-wearing men brandishing canes. All with jubilant music, clapping and drum playing. Of course, lots of Palestinian food on the tables as well, pita and hummus, salads galore, beer and arak, a licorice flavored liqueur. Dinner of chicken breast with fresh mushroom sauce, rice and vegetables. Children of all ages, as well as elderly family members, cousins and friends galore. We were warmly welcomed and felt completely at ease.
So, finally that final day...Sunday, June 16. Pastor Ray had the chief roll in delivering the message in answer to Pastor Munther’s questions about peace.
Here is a very edited summary of his powerful message:
M: What is peace in a Christian context?
R: More a sense of wholeness, dignity than a lack of conflict. We humans may never be able to achieve a lack of conflict in our broken world.
M: How do we get peace?
R: It begins with Christ. We need to get past the superficial differences we see in others and learn to see others as Christ does, to see Christ in others and love them because none of us is better than another in His eyes.
M: How do we find peace with our enemies?
R: Christ’s example of forgiveness for a start. “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” Jesus said the Great Commandment sums it up: Love the Lord your God and others as you would love yourself. If we are at peace with God, then we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Break the wall of separation.
M: So do we give away justice then?
R: Martin Luther King, Jr. was often reviled for passivity in the face of injustice. But his non-violent response worked in the end during the years of racial injustice and civil rights. His words “An eye for an eye leave both blind” was true. We have been working through the book of Ephesians in our sermon series lately and ultimately the message to me is that the mission of the church universal is simply to reconcile the world to God through love.
After meeting folks from the church in their Fellowship Hour, most of us went to different elders’ homes for Sunday dinner. Jim and Peg and Caryl first met with Nuha Khoury, Dean of the Dar al Kalima University College and then went off to meet the latest five recipients of the Forbes scholarships. What a delightful group of young people! Munir is the eldest at 37, with a late start in his fine art education because of spending seven years in Israeli jail for being part of a protest group. He has written a book on his experiences and is working on another on his post-imprisonment. He is an artist as well in drawing and painting. Dia’a is also a fine artist in painting and takes almost anything as his subject. His graduation project is about the disorganized refugee buildings. He lives in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. Eyal is the youngest at 18. He is in the Tourism program and is practically self-taught as he went to one of the overcrowded, underserved public schools in Bethlehem. Very smart and outgoing, he already knows more about Israel/Palestine history than most of us and is eager to counter the media’s influence on people’s understanding of his home. He remembers his family being forced out of their home by Israeli police as the Wall was being built. They lived in the area which is now the Walled Off Hotel. All the young men are Muslims.
Mishleen loves nature and the out of doors. Her field of study is interior design which follows the lead of her father who is an engineer. She hopes to help create homes with more light and airiness. Tamara is from a family of five kids who all sleep in one bedroom, although two are now out of country studying. She works at a co-op store that supports people with handicaps by giving them jobs. Her field of study is graphic design. She made a business card for the store and did a project around the Balfour Declaration. Her father was in prison too, more in prison than home with the family. Both girls are Christians.
For the Forbes, these young people and their families are why we keep returning to Bethlehem. They are truly the light and hope of Palestine.
June 14 and 15: In Bethlehem
From Judith and Pastor Ray Hylton:
We are no longer a group of twenty-seven pilgrims in the Holy Land. Nineteen of our dear members are back in Chicago. Eight of us remained for extended conversations with our church’s three mission partners, our sister church - the Bethlehem Christmas Lutheran Church pastored by Rev. Munther Isaac, Dar Al-Kalima Arts and Culture College (DAK) - headed by Rev. Mitri Raheb, and the IFES MENA national movement Christian Students of Palestinian Universities - led by Nader. All of them are grateful to be in partnership with us.
On Friday, we had meaningful time with Rev. Mitri Raheb, president of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture and Rana Khoury, Vice President of Development and Outreach for Dar al Kalima (DAK)
These leaders helped us understand how the crystal clear vision of (DAK), and the many creative and artistic ministries of diyar consortium not only provide hope for Palestinian children, youth, adults and senior citizens, but is a reservoir of abundant life, dignity, and purpose. (See more detail in the post just before this one!)
We came away from those conversations full of excitement for what our church, with its greater resources, freedoms, and options can accomplish back in Evanston.
In the evening, we attended a play written by current and former students of (DAK), along with one of their music professors. The play, albeit in Arabic, spoke to our group, the families, and the children of all religions about the ways social media, smartphones, and other devices rob children of time to play, think, and be socially engaged with ”real friends.”
We ended the evening with a lovely dinner hosted by Rev. Mitri and his family. Hospitality, expressing appreciation, and taking time to be with others are extremely important values in this culture.
On Saturday, we met with our second mission parter, the current pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church, Rev. Munther Isaac. By the way, Rev. Munther will be at our church over the weekend of September 28-29. Munther helped us understand the challenges facing the church in Palestine. Christians are leaving Palestine in huge numbers due to unemployment and religious marginalization. Despite these challenges, this pastor remains committed to his calling to grow the church and share the love and justice of Jesus in Bethlehem.
We met for lunch with our third mission partner, Nader at one of Bethlehem’s best restaurants for shwerma and falafel. Over lunch, Nader shared wonderful stories of God’s grace among students at four- five Palestinian universities.
We attended graduation exercises at Bethlehem Bible College. Though they are not partners of First Pres, Rev. Munther serves as academic dean and professor at the school. We witnessed twenty-eight determined young adults march across the platform to receive their diplomas and pledge themselves to be leaders and change agents in their respective areas in the greater Palestinian society.
We ended our day with dinner back at the Guest House with Pastor Munter and elders of the Christmas Lutheran Church. For almost two hours we laughed and talked about family life, and the highs and lows of church life. Two things seem clear to us--even though our languages are different, and our cultures are different, we had a common love for Christ, and we share some of the same problems. Going forward, we must recommit ourselves to fresh ways to sustain a healthy relationship without churches.
On Sunday, we will worship with our sister church, share communion, share a message of hope with the church and have lunch with members of the church.
Good partnerships are not one-sided affairs where one side acts as if they have all the answers. Good partnerships are interdependent and mutually beneficial relationships.
June 14: Back home for some; back to Bethlehem for others
From Caryl Weinberg
Today - our group became much smaller! Twelve of the group left the hotel in Netanya at 2AM to catch a 6AM flight. Dick left on his own at 5:30AM and then six others left at 8:30AM. (All have arrived safely, by the way!) The rest of us, eight altogether, headed back to Bethlehem and spent a fairly relaxing day between conversations and meals with Rana Khoury, Vice President of Development and Outreach (Adult Education) - for Diyar/Dar al Kalima, and once again with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, joined later by his wife Najwa and daughter Tala.
Rana shared with us about her personal story of being born in Bethlehem, but then growing up for a time in Michigan. She moved back to Bethlehem in the 80s but then returned to the US for a time for college and graduate studies. In the mid 90s, Mitri and the Christmas Lutheran Congregation started “the big dream” - to reach out into the community in significant ways. Rana was drawn into that dream and committed to living in Palestine/Bethlehem. She said when you work with Mitri on the big dreams and the vision, there is always space for each person to leave their fingerprint in that vision. So people join in and stay engaged. Rana also said that no matter how big the ministry or program, “we work as a ministry person by person, giving them dignity, recognizing their gifts and purpose.”
In explaining the multifaceted community outreach, Rana said their focus is in three areas: 1) Youth (the majority in Palestine); 2) Women; 3) The Elderly. For youth, they have the academy (and primary/secondary schools), and focus additionally on sports, culture and more. Ajayal is the ministry working with Senior Citizens. The elderly are a minority in Palestine with only 4.5% of the population over 65 years old. Women are the majority of the elderly. And they are the most marginalized and disadvantaged. Most have only a High School diploma or less. They are often alone and have high levels of poverty. Some of the programs used to work with the elderly include:
They have seen increasing Alzheimer’s disease in the population with little support at home because of the shame associated with it. So they are training young people how to care for them. And they are seeking those who can train volunteers and families how to work with and care for those with Alzheimer’s.
As another part of outreach, six centers, community based. focused on adult education, have been started. These have proven to be very beneficial in their communities.
Civic education is another significant program. This involves three areas of focus:
Rana shared so much more. But, you’ll need to ask us when we return home to learn more, or come visit Bethlehem yourself. There is an abundance of vision, creativity, faithfulness and spirit led commitment that mark this amazing minority group of Christians. I am always inspired to hear the stories of changed lives that come out of what began in a church of 30 families who were open to the Holy Spirit, inspired by God’s Word, generous with their resources, and clear in their commitment to and love of the people in their community. I pray that we at First Pres. are inspired and challenged from the example of our sister church here in Bethlehem: Its not about our size or our resources. Rather, it is all about God with whom all things - even the huge dreams - are possible..
June 13: Galilee to Netanya
From Liz and Paul Ribeiro
Today we started by checking out of the hotel in Tiberias. God showed his mercy when a member of our group took a tumble in the morning slipping on a wet floor. The injuries sustained were minor compared to what could have been. The plates being carried were not so lucky. We were also able to stay close to our schedule and travel to Nazareth for our next stop on our pilgrimage. While in Nazareth we visited the church of the annunciation where Mary received the news that she was to be the one to give birth to and raise Jesus. What a scary time that must have been for her. She was known to be a young woman probably only 13 years of age. What an extraordinary task to raise the son of God. However, no less or more important than that of every parent. A precious opportunity many of us have in the task of parenting. For many of us the work of parenting can seem overwhelming when we look at the mountain of things to be done. From cleaning up messes that pile up by the day and the minute to staying steadfast in energy and vision to raise the children from cradle to commencement. Each aspect of the journey can seem like its too much. Whether it’s staying up all night to nurse a little one, saving to put them through college, or keeping our patience while teaching the children to grow their stamina. God tells us that through faith nothing is impossible. He'll move the mountain. He'll help us with whatever the task may be. Our faith (even the size of a mustard seed), and his grace is sufficient. As Proverbs tells us, we need only commit our actions to be aligned with God and he will guide the plans for us. Mary did the same. She said, "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled." Mary's love of God led her to accept the mission despite the many reasons to turn. May we do the same while weighing our "pros and cons" list. May we do the same while looking at the likelihood of success. We cannot fail when we are aligned with God's purpose.
While we were at the Church of the Annunciation we witnessed two worshiping communities that exist here. The Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic church both serve as custodians of the site. The space itself was blended so beautifully incorporating Mary's homes and elements of both religious traditions. Throughout our time in the past weeks we were welcomed into so many spaces here in the holy land. It was a joy to see each worshiping community act on the belief that they are custodians not owners of the experience. Once a year FPCE participates in "open house Chicago" where the doors of our sanctuary remain unlocked and anyone from our community and beyond is welcomed to take a peek at the stained glass dedicated to our Lord and hear the majestic roar of the organ. It made us consider what more ways might we be called to open our doors and serve as a refuge for the community in the name of the Lord. Are there physical barriers such as locked doors which prevent people from coming inside. Maybe the barriers are social in the way we behave which tells people on a subconscious level they are not welcomed. Maybe there are logistical barriers which we feel are beyond our control. God has told us through our faith will move mountains, open doors, and unlock hearts.
God also was able to help us quickly before we left Nazareth. Without a phone one of our team members was separated from us. We were able to reunite in safety. This wasn’t the only time we lost part of the flock. But God protected us then and every other time.
Next we met with Abuna Elias Chacour. He is the retired archbishop of Galilee from the Melkite Greek Catholic church. He founded a school, that now has 2000 students, which we saw briefly, but more importantly he has worked for peace among the Jewish and Palestinian people. He spoke of his deep abiding belief that the land does not belong to any one people group, but rather to God, and to God alone. This notion of course is rather foreign to Americans who have a strong concept of land ownership and domain. Each of these experiences can shed some wisdom into how we interact with our church building and the City of Evanston. It’s a wonderful spiritual lesson to bury in our hearts
He also told us a story of the building of the gymnasium at the school. He was met with incredible opposition from the political leaders. Relentlessly he visited each one seeking help getting a permit to build. The mountain stood in his way. He was told he would be imprisoned if he continued to build. Yet still he persisted. He knew it was the right of the children to have a place to learn and grow their bodies. With much determination he finally found a partner in the process who helped secure the permission to build.
We then ate at a Druze restaurant. KK our fearless leader explained that the Druze people, like the Bedouins, do not identify as Palestinian or Israeli. Rather they are a minority group living amongst a divided community. It made us think of the many places in the United States where people live disenfranchised.
This is such as the world. God does not create simply in black and white.
The world is not black and white. Republican and Democratic. Male and female. We are human beings. And God calls us to be peacemakers amongst all. Not to pick sides amongst this situation but to lead all to God through the Holy spirit. Jesus accepts us as we are and spent much of his ministry trying to connect with individuals the community had cast out. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians he stated, In Christ there is no there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. This was the message to remember. God does not categorize us as Palestinian, Israeli, or American. God does not look at people as members and visitors. God does not love only the left side or the right side of the aisle. It is incumbent on each of us to love our neighbor as God does. God wants peace in the holy land and in all the land.
On our final stop before our hotel in Netanya was Caesarea maritime. Built by Herod the Great in 25 BC it had a population of 45,000. We heard about and looked at centuries and millennia of civilization which developed, thrived, and dominated the coastline and served as port castle and administrative center. We saw "The pilate stone" (well a replica anyhow ~ the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem). It's a piece of carved block which mentions him by name providing evidence of the Roman prefect spoken of in Matthew 27 in the New Testament. Another thing that struck me is how you could see up close the mortar within the stone work containing shells and rocks which existed in the first century and still today. Yet the beach was covered in the same shells. The amphitheater was being prepared for a concert. It was unusual to consider that a historic site be used today, but also beautiful to witness the melding of ancient and modern presence. Caesarea is a park. Not a museum. It wasn't frozen in time locked behind glass, but rather continually useful and evolving to serve the purposes of the people of each day. Such as we can be with God's help. We are not meant to be stuck and painted into a corner. We are expected to grow and learn and mature in our lives.
Elias Chacour said in all his years, especially working with students he only grew more mature not older. He didn't grow old until he worked as archbishop and spent his days organizing religious structures. With God’s grace FPCE has seen 150 years. 150 years is but a flash in the pan and can be erased from the memory of history if individual agendas are more important than leading people to God's grace. Caesarea as it once stood is no more. Today it is something else. The word of the Lord endures. This is the most important thing to pass along.
Many of us noted how we so enjoyed the sites we visited and could stay at each one all day and soak in our surroundings. It was not possible. We must keep moving. This is true in our lives as well. God does not expect us simply to sit and contemplate, but rather we're are called into action. We are called to follow him. We are called to choose him. We are called out of the boat. We are called to be peacemakers. We are called to be the change we wish to see.
We said goodbye to much of our group tonight and had a brief time to reflect on the trip and share vision on what the future might look like. A group of us 8 will now journey on back to Bethlehem where we will work with Mitri and Munther. Please continue to pray for us as we listen to and try to live out the word. We are praying for you too.
June 12: Day 9, in Galilee
From Beth Rice and Ricki Rosengren
Today's key word was "Cosmic". Many of the sites are associated with the Cosmic message of Christianity.
Our first stop today was at the Mount of Beatitudes where we celebrated communion at an outdoor altar. This traditional site is run by a monastery of Franciscan Sisters and has a prayer chapel designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. Prof. Kay pointed out differences between the Matthew and Luke versions. Matthew includes 10 beatitudes in parallel with the 10 commandments. The time of communion was really special as we have now bonded as a group . It was such a joy to sing and recite together in unison and partake of the bread and wine together. Pastor Ray's message on "Blessed are the Peacemakers" encouraged us to always speak and even think in ways that bring healing and peace.
Our next stop was the Sea of Galilee. It is not really a sea, but a fresh water lake. Luke is the only gospel writer who preferred the scientifically accurate term. We saw an actual first century fishing boat that was discovered in 1986. Then we took a ride on the Jesus Boat. We stopped in the middle for a time of teaching and devotions. Again the message is not just personal, but Cosmic. In Mark chapters 5 and 6, Jesus shows that he is Lord over evil spirits, sickness, all food resources, and even the wind and the water. His message to the frightened disciples was "Take heart. I Am." The devotions from Group 3 had us look at the John 21 passage from Peter's perspective. Before we returned we were given a demonstration of net fishing by the boat's owner, an experienced fisherman.
After lunch we visited the actual historical site of Peter's family house in Capernaum. This is known as "The Town of Jesus" as it was the home base of his ministry. The house became a house church. Some of the first century basalt building material has been kept visible below the glass floor of the modern church and the basalt foundation of the synagogue where Jesus taught is also visible below the 4th century limestone synagogue.
After this we visited the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha with the famous mosaic of the loaves and fish. Remember that the mosaic shows only 4 loaves and 2 fish. We complete the picture by adding a real loaf when we take communion together as a living church.
Next door is the Church of the Primacy of St Peter. There is a lovely quiet chapel and access to the beach where one can quietly reflect or wade in the sea. We had the special treat of meeting Professor Lamontte Luker who wrote "The Land of Bible", our illustrated guide book. There was a place to sit in the shade for more teaching. This time we looked at the John 21 passage from a theological perspective and considered questions like: why 153 fish? How does the last breakfast compare with the last supper? Why did Jesus use the word for divine love in his first two questions but use the word for friendship love the third time?
June 11: Day 8 Ein Gedi to Galilee
FromJohn and Susan Powell
We, along with many others, started the day enjoying a beautiful sunrise over the Jordanian mountains on the other side of the Dead Sea. We had time this morning to walk the lovely grounds and gardens of the En Gedi kibbutz, an example of successful communal living. We looked upon the barren hills and caves in the area where David hid from Saul. Our route for the day took us from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, following the path of the Jordan River.
North of Jericho there was greater evidence of agriculture: groves of perfectly aligned palm trees waiting to have their dates harvested, grapes, melons, corn and eventually banana trees. Our first stop was Bet Sh’ean, the place where David mourned the death of Jonathan and Saul. What we saw there was the impressive ruins of a Roman city dating from the first century. Our next stop was the remains of the 6th century Alfa Synagogue. The most interesting aspect of that site was it’s largely intact mosaic floor.
After lunch we went to the Jordan River where we held a reaffirmation of baptism service. Pastor Ray baptized each of us with the waters of the Jordan River, then Pastor Ray and Dr. Kay baptized each other. It was an extremely meaningful and emotional time for all of us. It is believed that where we conducted the service was close to where Jesus was baptized. Our last stop was Kursi. This was the site where Jesus cast out the demons called Legion from the possessed man, sent them into a herd of swine, which then ran into the Sea and drowned. We also saw the ruins of the Monastery and Byzantine church built in the 5th century to commemorate that miracle. Our hotel for the night was in Tiberias, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
Today was another wonderful (albeit very hot 96 degree) day. We visited places that were of both Old Testament and New Testament significance. We were led in devotions by several of our group, which included a time of sharing a favorite experience so far. And of course the highlight of baptism. How delightful to end by the beautiful Sea of Galilee!
June 10: Day 7 from Jerusalem to Ein Gedi
From Marilyn Haase and Michele Myong
Our Monday started at 7:30 am for the folks who wanted to go through Hezekiah's Tunnel. It's named after Hezekiah who ruled over Judah and is likely the water infrastructure mentioned in 2 Kings. The tunnel is an amazing water network carved underneath Jerusalem that connects Gihon Springs to the Pool of Siloam. After our bus arrived at the city of David, we stood in an amusement park-like waiting area before an employee opened the gates for us. We watched a short video inside the tunnel area that was projected on to the stone walls and then we went on our adventure in the tunnels! The water surprised us a bit, since it was so cold and running. We trekked through the caves for about 15 minutes, ducking under low ceilings, holding onto moist cave walls, and meandering through narrow rock passages. And thanks to teamwork and our phone lights, we finished!
Then we all regrouped at the hotel to set off for Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea. Since the air conditioning on the bus was broken, we switched buses until they could repair it. We did devotions on the bus as we overlooked the Dead Sea- which is more than 1,000 ft below sea level-and arrived at the spa resort.
We ate at the spa and then most of us went out to float on the Dead Sea. We had to take a tram to the waterfront because the sea line has receded (the dead sea is dying) due to overuse among other factors. Prof. Kay promised us the sea salts would make us look much younger when we came back. When I (Marilyn) was floating in the dead sea, it helped me remember that when I am worried or frightened I can count on God to support me. And that God sends us angels to help us stand back up. It was fun, but Prof. Kay is an optimist. Of course we all shopped for creams and lotions, then we waited for the bus. While we waited we prayed for patience and sang songs of Thanksgiving for the way we have been blessed so far.
We got to our hotel in time for dinner- we're staying in.a kibbutz!- and tomorrow we leave for Tiberias. We hope this is our last adventure with the air conditioning!!
June 9: Day 6, in Jerusalem
From Judene Hylton and Donna Werdenie
Today we made our way to some of the most famous places in Israel. Our first stop was the Temple Mount which is holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians. On Temple Mount is the El-Aksa mosque which is noted for its large golden dome. It was quite interesting to see the many different religious groups coming to visit the holy site.
The presence on Israeli soldiers with large military sized weapons reminded us all of the political tension in this area. In particular we saw a large group of Jews being lead on the compound by armed soldiers as a protective measure .
We then made our way to the Wailing Wall. In order to get there we had to pass through security and we were then separated by gender. At the Wall women stood on one side and men on the other. We were not permitted to take pictures. It was the high holy day of Pentecost. It was a meaningful moment as we watched people praying fervently against the wall and placing notes containing prayer request into the crevices of the wall. We also participated in praying for Israel and also making personal prayer requests.
We took a trip to the Garden of Gethsemane and Church of all Nations. The Garden was filled with beautiful flowers and olive trees some of which dated back to 2000 years.
In the Church of all Nations there was a rock that it is believed Jesus leaned upon as he prayed about his death on the cross. We sat in on a afternoon Spanish service and afterwards went up to touch the stone.
How amazing it was to touch the very Rock Jesus leaned on during his time of agony.
These visits today stirred our hearts and inspired us to make a deeper commitment to Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.
Shabbat Shalom, friends!!
June 8: Day 5, in Jerusalem
From Cary and Sherin Peters
Our first stop today was King David’s Tomb, which is located on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. We then visited The Last Supper room that commemorates “the upper room “ where Jesus shared the Last Supper with the disciples. We had a beautiful devotion which reminded us that in times of conflict to pray, love, and do good to all.
Our next visit was The Church of St. Peter, this holy place commemorates the appearance of Jesus before the high priest Caiaphas
and the Sanhedrin, sentencing Jesus to death. Also the triple denial of Peter and his repentance when the rooster crows. The sacred pit was located under The Church of St. Peter. It recalls where Jesus was imprisoned overnight awaiting his trial.
At Mt. Olives we recited The Lords Prayer just as Jesus did with his disciples and concluded our service by singing “Alleluia”. We had a lovely lunch at City View Cafe and enjoyed a beautiful view overlooking Jerusalem. Then we followed lunch with a historical visit to St. Anne’s Church, who was the mother of Mary. We had a brief meditation & followed that with a chorus of “Amazing Grace”. We also viewed the place where Mary was buried. Adjacent to St. Anne’s were the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus performed a miracle on a man and told him to stand up and walk after being disabled for 38 yrs.
Lions/Stephen’s Gate is one of the stone portals in the historic walls of the old city of Jerusalem. This led us to our next tour, Via Dolorosa and the 14 stations of the cross. Each station was beautifully matched to the scriptures. This was a very moving moment for all of us. We finished the day with a tour of the church of The Holy Sepulchre. Our first stop was to see where Jesus was crucified. This was followed by viewing the marble slab where Jesus’s body was prepared for burial. Unfortunately because of the large crowds for Pentecost, we were unable to view the tomb of Jesus.
Although we had a very long day, the many sites visited were truly uplifting and a blessing for all.
June 7: Day 4 headed to Jerusalem
From Kay Stelzer and Sylvia Holdampf
Although we hated leaving Bethlehem, we looked forward to an early morning bus ride from Bethlehem to Jericho. On the way we stopped at Wadi Qelt which was a wonderful surprise. High up in the desert was a valley carved out of the rock. Wadi means valley. Built into the side of the cliff was a seventh century Greek monastery. Our group had a meaningful devotion time at the rest area overlooking the valley below.
While in Jericho we stopped to shop at a wonderful market famous for its Hebron glass, Dead Sea products and delicious dates. We also saw the traditional Sycamore tree that Zacchaeus climbed up into to catch a glimpse of Jesus in the crowd. Also in Jericho we had an opportunity to go to the top of Tel Jericho and check out the excavating that had been done on this 10,000- yes 10,000 year old town. We also caught a glimpse of the traditional mountain where Jesus spent 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil.
After lunch in 94 degree heat we drove to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by two Bedouin shepherd boys in 1947. The Essenes, a monastic brotherhood devoted to acceticism, built a community here, practiced ritual purity and copied the Bible. When the Romans threatened they rolled up their manuscripts and hid them in clay pots in caves in the cliffs. Even with the all the heat we were fascinated by the excavations showing us what an Essenes community had been like.
The bus than drove us to our beautiful hotel in downtown Jerusalem and we spent the evening with each other eating a delicious buffet dinner.
God blessed us with a day of interesting learning about ancient sites.
June 6: Day 3 in Bethlehem
From Cynthia Bridges
Our second full day of our trip to the Holy Land began with a hearty breakfast. In addition to the pita, humus, fresh tomatoes, cheese, ham and eggs, our amazing chef added a layered concoction of jello and cream (the cream was similar to ricotta cheese). Wonderful foods to fuel our day!
Our trek guide met us in the lobby for the walk to the bus. We had a short ride to the beginning of our hike just outside of Bethlehem. Our hike to the village of Battir, a UNESCO World Heritage site, would take us through the terraced farms of olive and apricot trees. George explained that we would be hiking in Area C. In areas designated C, Palestinians are not permitted to build or make improvements to properties. He also pointed out the trees and birds that we would see along our route. Professor Kay lead us in a devotion and prayer.
We began our hike in awe of the rugged beauty of our surroundings. We saw before us rolling hills with dirt foot paths, scruffy brush, olive trees and apricot trees, crumbling rock walls and building remnants. The sky was blue and the wind provided a gentle breeze. We could imagine David as a young shepherd watching over his sheep as they grazed on these hills.
Shortly into the hike, we realized the terrain was a bit daunting. The trail was rocky and the dirt was slippery. We turned our attention away from the flowers growing alongside the trail and pondering what a structure might have been at one time to focusing on our footing. The small descents in the path grew steeper, the sun was hotter and the breeze was intermittent. We began seeking shady spots with rocks upon which to sit or lean. In areas where the path was rocky and steep, the surefooted in our group formed a conveyor belt to guide the rest us of us from one rock to the next. They did not let go of our hands or elbows until we reached the next set of hands waiting for us. They created this safe way for all in our group to safely descend the steep slopes on our route. They must have done this 4 or 5 times.
Just when we thought the path smoothed out a bit, one of our group began to falter. She never complained but asked to rest a bit in shady areas. Many hands came to her aid. Some drenched a scarf with water to keep her neck cool. Others provided water for drinking, still others kept her company during these rest periods. It was during these rest periods that I found the opportunity to imagine what the early disciples must have experienced as they crisscrossed this rugged terrain to spread the good news. Did they have ample water, helping hands, company along the tiresome journey? At one point, Professor Kay walked by and pointed to a lovely spot in the valley below and said that is where he imagined David writing Psalm 23.
Our brave but beleaguered companion could not finish the hike so two of our group carried her while others made arrangements for a car to meet us along the trail. Our group rallied around those two to make sure they had water and made frequent stops. Once we made it to the designated spot to meet the car and our weary hiker was driven out of the area along with a few others, I had a chance to reflect on the morning. While I enjoyed envisioning David with his sheep on these hills and the disciples crossing them to reach the next town, how much more marvelous to see this group in action!! To watch the helping hands guide hikers down rocky descents, to witness the care and assistance to our companions for whom the hike was difficult and to see the joy on all faces when we made it to Battir and found our friend recovering on a bed in the back of a local shop.
We were appreciative of the hospitality of the shopkeeper who was the one with the car who met us on the path and provided bottles of water for the last leg of the hike.
After saying our goodbyes, we were off to meet Mitri at Darma Al Kalima for lunch and a tour of the college. After the exhausting hike, we were grateful for the wonderful lunch of hamburgers and fries!! Not to mention, plenty of cold water!!! Mitri gave us plenty of time to recover before our abbreviated tour of the college.
I was struck by his recounting of the origins of the school. He had a mission of keeping young Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem. To stay, they need to find work. The courses at Dar Al Kalima include visual arts, performing arts and tourism. Peg shared what is has meant to her and Jim to help 12 students with scholarships. Mitri explained that with $70,000 and a design from a renowned Italian architect for 7 buildings on a hillside that once belonged to Christmas Lutheran Church, he was determined to build a college. He appealed to Yassar Arafat for the return of the land (land that was taken by Israel and then returned to the Palestinian State) and Mr. Arafat agreed as long as the college was up and running within a year!!!
The first building was completed within the year and Mr. Arafat attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Mitri shared several student success stories including one of a man originally from the refugee settlement in Bethlehem who recently was on the red carpet in Cannes; a woman who dreamed of playing soccer and then went on to found the first woman’s soccer team in Palestine-that team has gone on to win the state nationals five times!! Students who pass through Dar Al Kalima accomplish wonderful things!
Our next stop of the day was to the refugee settlement camp built by UNESCO in 1948. Originally, the camp was designed to house 3,000 refugees. Today, 150,000 people live in the overcrowded maze of streets. The tents have been replaced with concrete housing as the situation of displacement went from temporary to seemingly permanent. Our visit there was brief.
Our final destination was the Separation Wall. We got out of the bus to read some of the stories spray painted on the wall. The West Bank is indeed an open air prison.
We returned to the hotel for a brief rest, prior to a visit to our sister church, Christmas Lutheran Church. I was struck by the inscription on the statue outside the entrance to the church (see photo below) and the beautiful stained glass windows in the 120 year old church. Our group sang “Alleluia” inside the church.
Our last dinner at the Guest House of Christmas Lutheran Church was a festive one, in fact the same one Sarah prepared for the three angels in the OT. Then Mitri presented Pastor Ray with a beautiful stole with embroidered wheat stalks and our chef presented John Powell with a delicious birthday cake!!!
Another amazing day in Bethlehem!
June 5: Two posts from day 2 in Bethlehem
From Cam: Traut:
Today was our first full day and we packed it in! Started after breakfast with Pastor Munther Ishaq of our sister church, Christmas Lutheran Church at Bethlehem sharing the Biblical perspective on who this land belongs to. His message was simple, the land is God’s land given as a gift, to ALL people, if they are obedient to God. And that this message evolved in the New Testament from “land” to “kingdom,” which meant it was/is for all in the kingdom, Gentiles and Jews alike.
After we were challenged to think differently about the land situation here, we went to Herodian to tour Herod’s palace complex. We had a breathtaking view of the land and paused to consider the number of Biblical stories that happened on that desert land so long ago. After lunch, we headed to Shepherd’s Field to see the site marked as where the angels greeted the shepherds and then visited the Church of the Nativity which has been identified as the site of the cave/stable of Jesus’ birth.
While both of these sites were wonderful to see and experience, they left some of us “wanting more.” More of what? The Church of the Nativity was bustling with tourists. As the crowd of hot, sweaty, and sometimes impatient people from all nationalities grew, we had to gently “fight” to keep our place in the horde moving towards the steps down into the manger/cave. It was quietly chaotic once there, and again had to contend with a few less than courteous visitors while trying to get a picture or glimpse of the sacred sites. We had one beautiful moment as our group stood off to the side and sang a verse of “Silent Night.” That will leave a beautiful memory in my heart each time I sing that carol from now on.
After these visits, I wrestled with my disappointment - I was hoping for a “mountain top” experience in visiting these well-known sacred sites, and much of what I felt was frustration and annoyance of people all clamoring in front of each other to get that picture or “touch the star…..,” while having to move on to the next thing to see in the church. It was not very peaceful or spiritual. We ended our day with a wonderful presentation by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, president of Dar alKalima University and a delicious dinner of Palestinian cuisine with him. Good discussions, conversations were had around the table, and we continued to get to know each other.
And it was then that I remembered a story our tour guide, John shared with us - the lesson that it’s not about the sites and the beautiful statues or churches, but the real life or spirit is in the relationships with the people. The people we are meeting, reconnecting with, nurturing relationships with our sister church and local Palestinian Christians. Getting to know each other better from our own church, sharing stories, and talking about what we had seen and experienced. This is what really matters. These are absolutely beautiful places, sometimes as a Christian they are beyond breathtaking and moving, and sometimes can be a bit frustrating and disappointing in the lack of spiritual qualities…..But what really is important is the Spirit of faith, hope, community, the life-giving Kingdom that is evident in all these experiences and people we are encountering. For God, it’s always been about the relationships, not so much the place. And that is clearly evident here, in the holiest of holy lands….God cares way more about His people and His people loving each other in His name, than anything else
From Dick Warnecke:
Today was a busy day. All totaled we walked about 3 miles much of it as fairly strenuous, at least for a mature guy like me. But one of the most rewarding experiences was the helpful hands of support by Pastor Ray and some others. It reinforced for me the sense of community that exists among on this group of pilgrims.
Most of the strenuous walk was climbing up and into the palace .Herod the Great (the one who beheaded John the Baptist). He apparently was one mean guy but a great builder. The palace was evidence of his gift as a builder and his cruelty.
The afternoon was spent at Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity which is actually 3 monasteries, Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox. The place where Christ was born is in a crypt (actually a cave) under the Armenian Orthodox Church. Very crowded and very ornate. The most awesome experience was singing silent night with fellow pilgrims in Christ’s birthplace.
We also went to The Shepherd’s Field. Apparently in the Third century the emperor Constantine’s mother traveled to Bethlehem to find and memorialize key aspects of Christ’s life including his birth, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. So we visited where the shepherds were told of his birth and the crypt where his body laid before his resurrection.
June 4: Day 1 in Bethlehem
From Caryl Weinberg
This evening- June 4, our group all came together in Bethlehem. 21 of us flew in today, and caught up with the six that had arrived a day earlier. Most are staying at the guest house next door to our sister church. But alas there was “no room at the inn” for five of us who are staying just around the corner at the Grand Hotel. We were warmly welcomed by Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb over at dinner tonight where we feasted on the wonderful homemade appetizers, and then grilled kefta and chicken with french fries. Though some went to bed after the long flights, others of us walked the short distance to manger square, through the narrow streets, lit up with shoppers because of the end of Ramadan. The air was electric as people were beginning to celebrate- men, women and children alike were out in numbers! And of course merchants had bargain prices for the array of items that were for sale.
It is always amazing to stand in manger square. But it was particularly beautiful this night with everything lit up- showing the beautiful stones of the Church of the Nativity. On the opposite side of the square was a mosque also lit up brightly, the call to prayer calling out for the last time of prayer for the day.
We all are in awe that we are actually here. And we are looking forward to sharing with you in the days ahead. We start tomorrow with Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac before heading to some of the nearby sites, and then meeting with Rev. Mitri again later.
Thank God with us for his blessings. And please pray that we see things and hears things through the eyes and ears of Christ.
June 3: We are off!!
Our sub group of 20 is at O’hare and ready to take board on Austrian Airlines! Prof “Kay” and Kungsiu, Dick, Susan and John, and Tom and Cynthia will meet us there! May the Lord go with us on our journey.....
On June 3, 2019, 27 of us will head to the Holy Land. First Presbyterian Evanston partners with Bright Stars Bethlehem to support Dar al Kalima University of Arts and Culture, and University President, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb in Palestine. We have a sister church relationship with Christmas Lutheran Church and Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac. We also support International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Palestine, CSPU. Led by Prof. Kay, Pastor Ray, and Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, we will spend concentrated time with these partners as well follow in some of the places where Jesus walked, taught, and healed, so many years ago.
Join in with us as we travel, through our blog. We hope to help you see what we are seeing, and experience what we are experiencing through words and images! Welcome!!