I haven’t publicized it to very many people, besides my family and those I am in ministry with, but I am headed to the Holy Land! As I write this post to be a place to share with you updates along the trip, I am sitting at Newark Liberty International Airport awaiting departure to Tel-Aviv at 11pm. So, how did this trip happen? It wouldn’t be a blog post without a little more story now, would it?
This past fall I had two colleagues reach out to me asking if I would be interested in being a part of a Holy Land tour through Educational Opportunities in February. After looking at the sticker price, I was a little unsure. However, I was able to sign up as a tour host, and in doing so I was able to decrease my final price. But … sign ups were due in December, and when December 1st rolled around I had no church members signed up! I initially thought I was just going to pull out and not work anymore toward the trip. Yet, thanks to friends, other colleagues, and continuing education support I was able to make the trip and sit here in Newark, NJ to type this post to you all.
Along this trip I look forward to sharing with you all the many experiences through photos and videos. Please stay up-to-date on this site, as well as look daily for picture and video updates at:
It is my hope that through this experience I will be able to share more fully what we read in the scripture texts and to help others to see and share as if they are in the Holy Land too!
Talk to you soon!
Monday (or is it Tuesday)… 2/20/18
My brain is all confused as to what day it is. We left the US at 11pm Monday evening, and arrived in Tel-Aviv at 4:30pm on Tuesday afternoon. So, technically, right now it is Tuesday afternoon in the US and it is bedtime here in Bethlehem. The flight was about 9.5 hours. So, I’m trying to figure up how long I’ve been awake, and I can’t do the math … let me see:
Woke up Monday (US): 7am
Going to bed on Tuesday Evening (Palestine): 9pm
This equals: 38 Hours
Time change: -7 Hours
Total time awake: 31 Hours
Does that sound correct?! I’m so completely tired, sleep on the place was useless…the food was fair (not sure what the pasta dish was – and those eggs this afternoon (our breakfast) looked horrific, haha).
We met our tour guides from Education Opportunities, and have checked into a pretty neat hotel in Bethlehem. We begin our day traveling around the City of Bethlehem, and am looking forward to the Olive Wood Shop.
Today has been a jam-packed 12 hours. We started off the day at 8am and headed out of Bethlehem into Jerusalem to start the Nativity Story. It was from Nazareth that Mary the mother of Jesus walked to Ein Karem (on the western side of Jerusalem) to visit with her cousin Elizabeth who was carrying John the Baptist. It was on this excursion Mary shared with Elizabeth that she, too, was pregnant with the Messiah. On this site we saw Mary’s Spring, which is on the site of a now closed mosque. A journey uphill leads to the Church of the Visitation. We then travelled to St. John Ba-Harim, the church built at the site of John’s birth. After looking at all of the artwork dedicated to this story, we traveled to back to Bethlehem to visit Shepherd’s Fields. This is an area in the West Bank that is cavernous, which allows for the reasoning that this would be the site the angels came to share the good news of Jesus’ birth with the shepherds. In the caves the shepherds would have kept their flock and their family gathered for warmth, food, and safety from the elements. From here we hopped back on the bus to visit the Church of the Nativity. This is the oldest Christian church in the world. It is built at the location in which it is believed Mary gave birth to Jesus. The original structure built by Constantine was mostly destroyed in the 500s during a Samaritan rebellion. However, Byzantine Emperor Justinian rebuilt the church, and you can still see the original tile mosaics in doors that open in the floor. We then walked about 5 minutes through an alley-way to visit Milk Grotto Church. This is believed to be the place in which Mary went with Jesus following his birth in order to find some peace to nurse him, before they travelled to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath. But, the most influential gathering I have had on this trip is with a wonderful Palestinian family. Tonight we gathered around the table with a grandmother, mother & father, three sons and a daughter. We are rice, chicken, tomato and cucumber salad, vegetable soup, and lemon cake. It was beautiful to hear their stories, and especially about the children’s education. The two oldest boys are 14 and 16. They both speak at least 4 languages each, and are super smart individuals. The father is versed in old and new Greek. They all speak English very well, as their main language is Arabic. To hear how life is during these political times really brings our lives in America in perspective … which led me to the conclusion that we as Americans are so self-indulged that we do not have any understanding of the true nature of the world. That may be a harsh statement, but I do believe if we would take the time to truly open our eyes and ears to the concerns of all of the world and to see what is happening in our world, and if we would truly see and hear the beauty of cultures – we can have peace, and we can have a more well-rounded understanding of cultures, instead of being so scared of things that are unlike us. As in creating boarders we are certainly losing out on understanding and being excited about the beauty that is surrounding us.
Continue to check out the updated picture album.
Update you tomorrow!
Today has been a very active day. We have traveled from Bethlehem to The Wilderness (the place where Jesus was tempted by Satan following his baptism in the Jordan River), to the city of Nablus (which is the Old Testament Shechem). Out of all of the sites so far, The Wilderness looking down through the Judaean Desert has been the most moving. For as far as the eye can see there is nothing bu the chalk-white rock that makes the mountains. It brings the temptations of Jesus to life, as you can see the rock and know Satan’s temptations found in Matthew 4:1-11,
Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.” After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.” Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.” Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him. (Common English Bible)
Wait until you look through those pictures to see the bright dazzling white of these rocks and mountains and the splendor of Jesus understanding what it means to be fully human and fight temptation on our behalf!
We traveled to Yosef’s Lookout which was atop Mount Gerizim (the Mount of Blessings)where we could see the city down in the valley sandwiched between another mountain: Mount Ebal (the Mount of Curses). We then journeyed into the city to visit Jacob’s Well: the place where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. The well is located in a third rendition of the Church of St. Photina, a Greek Orthodox Church. Following, we then traveled a great bit to original site believed to be the baptism spot of Jesus on the Jordan River. The Jordan River is the boundary between Israel and Jordan. The spot has only been open for the past 10 years or so, according to our guide Salah. The spot had become an Israeli Military Base, and you could still see boundaries we were not able to walk near because of buried land mines. It was also apparent because of seeing at least two sites that looked to have been Christian churches at some point. During the time it was a military base, there was a site on further up the Jordan River that was then deemed the place of Jesus’ baptism; however, according to many tour guides, that was only set up because of the military base taking over the land during that time. After we left the Jordan River, we went into Jericho, the oldest city in the world. According to records, it is dated to almost 10,000 years old. In Jericho we ate lunch and shopped around a bit in the pottery. I’ll show you those treasures later once they’re shipped back to the US. We finished lunch and left Jericho about 4pm and journeyed two hours to where I am tonight. We have settled here in Tiberias along the Sea of Galilee. Tomorrow is another long day as we begin a three day stint here along the Galilean shore.
Remember to check out the updated album at:
Friday … 2/23/18
Another long day … it is 10:30pm right now here in Tiberias along the Sea of Galilee. We ventured out at 8am this morning headed toward Caesarea Philippi. It is on this rocky soil and site of many pagan rituals and worship. It add so much to the story from where Jesus ask’s Peter who he is, as we find in this account Matthew 16:13-20,
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. (NRSV)
What an amazing backdrop, as you will see in the pictures, of how this story is so much more meaningful because of its true contextual location.
We walked on a trail from the stone and rock area down a path that was guided by the Banias River, one of three headwaters of the Jordan River. We walked along a path and underneath a Roman bridge that leads to Damascus that both Jesus and Paul would have traveled on. Along this path we then entered the Palace of Agrippa II, the place where John the Baptist’s head was delivered after being severed at the request of King Herod’s daughter-in-law Salome. We then ended the trail at the location of a hydro-ran flour mill, that was in operation until 1986!
Leaving Caesarea Philippi we journeyed to once was the small Town of Nazareth (no more that 70-100 families in Mary’s day) which is not he bustling City of Nazareth of around 80,000 folks. We ate lunch and proceeded to the Church of the Annunciation. Inside the church is the home of Mary where the angel came to share with her the news that she would bear Jesus … she would be Theotokos. Inside and outside the church are mosaics and artwork from many countries depicting the annunciation, it is beautiful to see the different styles of artwork and story portrayals.
We left Nazareth and headed to Cana. Here we had a short stop to visit the Wedding Church at Cana. This is the site of Jesus’ first public miracle where he turned water into wine. The church has a relic believed to be the stone water basin that would become wine.
A the long drive back to Magdala, which allowed for a quick nap, we stopped by the excavation place of the City of Magdala. Magdala is the home of Mary Magdalene. My friend and colleague Rev. Rebekah Ralph describes this place best in her most recent Facebook post,
Emotions ran high this evening as our last stop was at the newly excavated site of Magdala. For you who know me well, I have Mary of Magdala, better known as Mary Magdalene, tattooed on my arm as a reminder that women are children of God and are called to preach the Gospel and that I am called. The Center is also a statement in favor of woman’s rights in the Middle East. Each pillar has a name of a childless woman on the pillar and out of 8 there are names written. On the 8th pillar it is blank for the many childless women in the world today. It was beautiful and a very touching moment as I thought, Jesus walked here, she walked here, I am blessed.
This is a remarkable place to see a synagogue with floor, mosaic, and frescos intact, knowing that Jesus could have very-well taught and preached here and seen these same floors and artwork. A few sentences from www.magdela.org:
Magdala is a unique Holy Land site with a first century city where the Jewish residents gathered in a synagogue where Jesus visited and taught. It is home to the beautiful Duc In Altum, which provides a place for worship, mass, and prayer.
Because of its unique nature, Magdala will actively contribute to building positive relationships with the diverse community of Christian believers and between Christians and Jews.
The most stunning piece of artwork is found in the lower chapel area in the Duc In Altum. It is a mural titled, “Encounter,” by Daniel Cariola. It is a stunning piece of artwork sharing the story of the woman touching Jesus’ hem of his garment,
Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:43-48, NRSV).
This is the second most stunning place I have been on the trip so far, right behind The Wilderness mountains.
I am still updating captions on the pictures from today, but they are uploaded, so enjoy! Hope to have all captions completed tomorrow. Good Night, tomorrow is another long day, but less travel as we stay around the sites hear around the Sea of Galilee.
Saturday … 2/24/18
Today was another event-filled day. We started out again beside the Sea of Galilee, heading first to Church of the Beatitudes, near the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount. Our guide told us this was actually a plot of land the church could buy, and is not the actual site of the Sermon. It would have taken place a little closer to the sea and probably near a cave. The church was a beautiful place, and the gold dome inside…take a look at my pics, there is a 360º photo where you can see the whole thing. The church also had an octagon rotunda that shared the 8 beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount found starting in Matthew 5.
We then journeyed on to Tabgha, the Church of Jesus’ Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish. This church was filled with beautiful mosaics filled with all types of symbolism that I would have to do some better research one before offering thoughts here. The altar was built on top of the rock where Jesus would have laid the fish and loaves of bread to multiply them and feed the crowds.
Our travels then took us to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. During the Passover meal, Jesus says that one of the disciples will betray him three times. We know in scripture this is Peter,
Matthew 26:31-35 (CEB)
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Tonight you will all fall away because of me. This is because it is written, I will hit the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will go off in all directions. But after I’m raised up, I’ll go before you to Galilee.” Peter replied, “If everyone else stumbles because of you, I’ll never stumble.” Jesus said to him, “I assure you that, before the rooster crows tonight, you will deny me three times.” Peter said, “Even if I must die alongside you, I won’t deny you.” All the disciples said the same thing.
Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant woman came and said to him, “You were also with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it in front of all of them, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” When he went over to the gate, another woman saw him and said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” With a solemn pledge, he denied it again, saying, “I don’t know the man.” A short time later those standing there came and said to Peter, “You must be one of them. The way you talk gives you away.” Then he cursed and swore, “I don’t know the man!” At that very moment the rooster crowed. Peter remembered Jesus’ words, “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” And Peter went out and cried uncontrollably.
John 21:15-19 (CEB)
When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”
It is an act of forgiveness between Jesus and Peter. Walking along the shore where a man who denounced Jesus three times is then asked a question about love three times shows the undoing or negating of Peter’s actions and the assurance of forgiveness. The water along the shore, the beauty of the tiny shells, and the rocks being worn and rounded by the pounding of the waves shares in the beauty of God’s love for us all, no matter how we fail.
Before lunch we headed to The Ancient Galilee Boat museum. Here we traveled along the sea, we heard of Jesus’ teachings along and on the water, and we danced traditional Jewish dances. There was some fun to, as it was a peaceful boat ride in the cool fresh and crisp air as the sun shone bright glimmering onto our faces as it bounced off the water.
Following lunch we went to our final stop for the day, a place where we had plenty of time to share in reflection and in peaceful moments along the water. We went into Capernuam, one of the primary places of Jesus’ ministry. He would have taught and preached here in the 1st century synagogue; where the 4th century synagogue is built overtop. This is also the location of the church built over St. Peter’s house. This is the home in which Jesus would have healed Peter’s mother-in-law,
Mark 1:29-31 (CEB)
After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
We spent about an hour on these grounds, most of the time walking along the water, standing on the rocks, and climbing a tree to gather some shade. The stillness of the water is beyond understanding, the sun shining off of it as it begins to sun is amazing, and the beauty of it all is overwhelming. This is the perfect time of year to enjoy the setting as it was not hot, nor cold, it was breezy, yet so refreshing to hang out along the shore this afternoon.
Sunday … 2/25/18
Good Evening (or early afternoon to all of you in the States). Today has been an awesome Sunday here along the Mediterranean Sea and in the Old City of Jerusalem. We started out the day heading to Mt. Carmel. It is on top of the church at Mt. Carmel where they have a lookout (you can see the many different directions and vantage points in the photo album) where you can see so many different regions with such a deep history rooted in scripture. As in the words of A.J. Thomas, a fellow colleague,
On top of Mt. Carmel where you can see so many different regions: Mediterranean one way, Samaria another, Jordan on a clearer day, Mt. Tabor, and the Jezreel Valley below. Beautiful. So much history from a 360 degree vantage point.
Let me remind you from scripture what happened at Mt. Carmel,
So Ahab sent to all the Israelites, and assembled the prophets at Mount Carmel. Elijah then came near to all the people, and said, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” The people did not answer him a word. Then Elijah said to the people, “I, even I only, am left a prophet of the Lord; but Baal’s prophets number four hundred fifty. Let two bulls be given to us; let them choose one bull for themselves, cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it; I will prepare the other bull and lay it on the wood, but put no fire to it. Then you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; the god who answers by fire is indeed God.” All the people answered, “Well spoken!” Then Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose for yourselves one bull and prepare it first, for you are many; then call on the name of your god, but put no fire to it.” So they took the bull that was given them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon, crying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no answer. They limped about the altar that they had made. At noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” Then they cried aloud and, as was their custom, they cut themselves with swords and lances until the blood gushed out over them. As midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice, no answer, and no response.
Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come closer to me”; and all the people came closer to him. First he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down; Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name”; with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. Then he made a trench around the altar, large enough to contain two measures of seed. Next he put the wood in order, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the wood. He said, “Fill four jars with water and pour it on the burnt offering and on the wood.” Then he said, “Do it a second time”; and they did it a second time. Again he said, “Do it a third time”; and they did it a third time, so that the water ran all around the altar, and filled the trench also with water.
At the time of the offering of the oblation, the prophet Elijah came near and said, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench. When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord indeed is God; the Lord indeed is God.” Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; do not let one of them escape.” Then they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon, and killed them there.
1 Kings 18:20-40, NRSV
From here we traveled a good distance to Caesarea Maritima, along the Mediterranean Sea. This was such a beautiful place, with the water, sand, beaches, and shells; however, it was not a beautiful place as we come to see its scriptural history. We read much about this place in the book of Acts. However, here is a brief description from Rev. A.J. Thomas,
Caesarea. The Roman capital of Judea in Jesus’ day – the center of cultural and governmental life, built to impress Rome and bring money to the region, and enrich King Herod. The Roman Centurion, Cornelius, came to Christian faith along with his family here. These first Gentile converts paved the way for Christianity to move beyond the Jewish faith. The theatre is where St. Paul’s trial took place. Ruins of Herod’s palace right on the sea, complete with a swimming pool with mosaic tile floors. Today, the city of Caesarea is a wealthy seaside playground.
It truly is a beautiful place, as I could not get enough pictures of the water, and the architecture, and to realize where first Christians professed faith; yet, also where a Christian missionary (Paul) lost his life.
We finally ended the day in the Old City of Jerusalem. We spent time in the Christian Quarter learning how to haggle prices, and looking at the beautiful artwork, scarves, jewelry, and the authentic and beautiful creations that share a remarkable story. Here is one story … me and my friend and colleague Rev. Rebekah Ralph were looking at hand sewn tapestries to see how they could be used throughout the liturgical year for paraments. We started chatting with Hammada Abu Omar (only know this because we are not Facebook friends, I am bad at remembering names) in his store of tapestries. I spotted a beautiful purple piece, and Rebekah a red piece. In our discussions, Hammada told us the story of what the tapestries mean. He is a part of a group that is known as Bedouin. Bedouin means,
Bedouin, also spelled Beduin, Arabic Badawi and plural Badw, Arabic-speaking nomadic peoples of the Middle Eastern deserts, especially of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsual, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Syria, and Jordan. (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bedouin)
The tapestries are made up of different shades of the same colors, and intricately sewn together with sequins and other adornments. This makes up one tapestry to show unity between the different tribes, religions, and sects within the one area of Israel/Palestine. What a beautiful story from a Muslim man to us as Christian pastors, and with tapestries we want to use as paraments in our churches. This, my friends, is the beautiful unity we all share in the tree of life … Thanks be to God. I’ll share the tapestry with you all soon as I get home, but a picture will not do it justice, as I would rather share it with you in person. Thanks Hammada for your hospitality in your store today!