Home Safe and Sound

Everyone arrived home safe and sound after an unforgettable, life-changing trip!  As soon as we landed, I went to the ER and my leg was actually broken – believe it or not!  I guess not everyone can say they bring a broken leg back from Israel!  It was such a blessing to have happened at the end of the trip rather than in the middle.

I am forever grateful to the people I was able to enjoy this trip with.  They are troopers as we all went up and down the holy land and grew in our faith!

Blessings to you all!

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Day 10 – Saturday, November 12

We’ve come to our last day of touring.  It has been a whirlwind tour, full of amazing revelations, a strengthened faith and new friendships that I never imagined would have formed so quickly and closely in just a little over a week.

Today we visited two churches in Abu Ghosh – The Crusader Church of the Benedictine Monks and then the Notre-Dame Our Lady of the Arc of the Covenant.  We then went to Emmaus-Nicopolis, believed to be the village in which Jesus first appeared after the Resurrection.   Also here was a first century tomb.  Not a tomb of anyone known, but a great example of what a first century tomb would have looked like.  Some of the people in our group actually climbed into the tomb!  There was also an almond tree that we picked almonds off of and used a rock to crack them open and eat them right off the tree!  They were so good!

We ate at an Elvis restaurant in Israel!  It was so fun and felt so American!

Our next stop was so fun and meaningful.  We went to the Elah Valley to see where David fought Goliath (1 Samuel 17).  We went down into the dry creek bed and collected five smooth stone, just like David did prior to fighting Goliath.  Reading the story while we were there was such a great reminder of the battles we all have to fight during different seasons of our lives.  These spiritual battles are so important for our growth and arming ourselves with God’s resources is what we can fight our Goliath’s with.  Those stones will have so much meaning to me and a great reminder of God’s power!

We had some time remaining so we went to Tel Maresha.  Although this location is mentioned in the old testament, the sites we visited have no known biblical significance, but were very neat to see.  We went to the Bell Caves, which were absolutely beautiful and then across to the Cave Complex and Maresha Caves.  We had to climb a huge hill to get to the entrance.  Upon going down into the cave, it was a spectacular maze of an underground dwelling where they also roosted pigeons for fertilizer and food.  This was used during the Byzantine and Muslim era’s.  Some of the spaces were very tight to get though and steep steps up and down throughout the cave.  As I was making my way down the hill, I was thinking about how wonderful this trip has been and even with my pain issues from the cyst on my spine I thought the meds I am taking must have also been helping with the regular knee pain I have.  I was thinking about how good I felt and when I was almost down the hill, I stepped on a slanted rock that must have had some sand or loose small stones on it and my foot slipped to the side and I rolled my ankle and fell down, tearing the knee out in my jeans!  I couldn’t believe it!  Thankfully, I was quickly surrounded by so many people wanting to help me.  I needed to sit for a minute, but wasn’t in any pain and thought I would be okay.  I had someone on each side of me to help me get stood up, but I couldn’t put any weight on it and sat back down.  I needed a bit more time to just sit.  Once I was able to get stood up, I could put some weight on it but it was very painful.  With the help of my friends I was able to get down the hill, on the bus and someone had gone somewhere to get ice in a bag, wrapped the ice around my leg and tied it with a scarf!  I was so taken care of by this team of people and felt so overwhelmed with love and care!  As disappointed as I was this had happened, it meant so much to me to feel so loved and cared for.

We end the day with a Farewell Dinner in the Old Jaffa area at this great Mediterranean restaurant.  Such a beautiful trip that has impacted my life in ways I will experience for years to come!  Getting ready to board the plane soon.

Day 9 – Friday, November 11

I was so excited for our first stop today.  It was one of the places I had been looking forward to since the trip was planned.  The Southern Steps of the Temple Mount!   These are sometimes referred to as the Teaching Steps.  These are the actual steps Jesus would use to enter the temple or to teach from.  Some of the steps have been repaired or replaced due to prior damage or destruction of the temple, but many of the steps are original and you can tell which is which – this means Jesus walked and sat on these exact steps.  Many of the places we see today have been preserved by placing a church on top of the locations or over the actual spots, but the Southern Steps look and feel just like it would have when Jesus was there.  You could see in your mind and imagine yourself sitting there listening to Jesus!  I took my shoe off and placed my bare foot on the steps.  Such a spiritual connection to Jesus.  We read from Matthew 21-22 some of the teaching Jesus may have taught in that exact space.  We had a bit of time alone to walk around or sit and read or pray.  I found a space and prayed and was just overcome by the closeness I felt to my Teacher – To my Lord – To my Jesus!  Although there were lots of great and wonderful sites we visited, this might be the number one spot for me, followed closely by the Garden of Gethsemane.

We make our way through St. Stephen’s Gate to visit St. Anne’s Church and the Pool of Bethesda.  I didn’t know who St. Anne’s Church was for, but it is 1 of only 2 churches that are fully intact from the Crusader time frame.  St. Anne was the Virgin Mary’s mother.  She was Jesus’ grandmother.  Have you ever thought about Jesus having grandparents?  He was just a regular normal kid, just like we used to be – except he was God – but God in human form with all the ordinary relationships we had as children!  It was a moment where I could identify with Jesus as a human being!  Deuteronomy 6:7 even talks about how Mary’s mother was impressing the faith on her child – Mary – the future mother of Jesus.  Kind of mind-blowing to think about Mary growing up and how God was surely preparing an unknowing Mary.  The Pools of Bethesda were right next door and the pools were used for religious purposes and many people believed the water held special powers.  In John 5, Jesus encountered a man who had been waiting for many years to be healed by the pool.  Jesus showed that he had the power to heal and the right to do it even on the Sabbath.

We walked through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem.  It is a distinct area and neat to see the shops and life here.  Very crowded with lots of vendors and bargaining for wares going on.  We got to the point in the Muslim quarter where the Via Dolorosa started.  This is the stations of the cross and is the traditional route Jesus followed bearing his cross from Pilate’s Judgement Hall in the Antonia to Calvary (Golgotha), the site of the crucifixion.  This is a traditional route which means it is the route we use to represent the path Jesus took and what happened along that way.  This was the most likely path that would have been taken but could be a little varied today due to changes in the buildings or streets in the area.  I have pictures of all the station and will be posting those and eventually tagging the locations or captioning them. Although most of the path is in the current Muslim section of Jerusalem it does cross over to the Christian section  and ends in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  An interesting fact is that a Muslim has been assigned control of the keys to the church in order to prevent violent disputes between the various Christian sects who guard their portions of the site with utmost jealously.  The church of the Holy Sepulchre was a popular place today so we had to wait in line for a while but it only took about an hour which was less time than we expected.  Like I said before, many of the holy sites are inside or underneath current day churches so these sites were marked and preserved.  You may have seen in the news late last month about the repairs they were doing on the tomb site.  They were going to close the site because it had become unstable and unsafe.  Just last week they had only 60 hours to make those repairs and thankfully we were able to see today this space.  The first thing we saw was the tombs of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  They are thought to be the actual tombs but this is not a 100% positive fact.  Further down the line we were able to go into the actual tomb where Christ’s body was laid and resurrected from.  You see the slab of marble which marks the area above the tomb.  The fascinating part is what they discovered when they removed that marble slab to make repairs.  There was another marble slab over the actual cave of the tomb.  This area had not been disturbed in more than a thousand years!  I’m sure as time passes more information will come available as to the findings.  It just goes to confirm that this was the actual spot of burial and resurrection.  We then climbed the stairs to Golgatha, the place of the crucifixion.  Again, this is hard to picture in your mind since you are in a church and this area is marked and represented inside, not in a location to easily visualize what happened there.   Also in the Church of the Sepulchre is the Chapel of Adam.  This is a traditional spot and has not been confirmed but is recognized as the place of Adam’s burial and when Jesus died there was an earthquake and it is said a drop of blood from Jesus fell on the tomb of Adam.  There is an area that you can see behind glass that shows the evidence of the earthquake.  In the main area of the church is a marble slab which is said to be the slab on which Jesus’ body was prepared for burial.  We also went into an area where it is said the actual cross Jesus was crucified on was found.  This is a traditional belief and hard to determine its accuracy, but still all these things are in the same area and in close proximity to where all these events would have taken place.  More important than the exact spots is the facts of what Jesus did for us in these general areas!

Next we went to the Room of the Last Supper.  This is also a traditional site where the last supper is remember, but may not be the actual spot.  It is a Crusader period building.  The bible only mentions an upper room two times, once when there was no space in the upper room for Mary to give birth and then that the last supper was in an upper room.  We all picture the famous representation painting of the last supper, but the table would have been a tri-calyniam table (3 sided) or floor mats on a mosaic floor.  Traditionally the host sat closest to the door for protection of his guests, followed by the guest of honor and then the next important on down as determined by the guest of honor.  John is assumed to be the host,  with Jesus sitting next to him.  Judas was next to Jesus as chosen by Jesus.  An interesting choice since Judas would be the one to betray him just hours later, but Jesus was giving him a chance to repent.  The rest was seated according to how Jesus determined, but the last or least important was Peter.  Remember, Peter was soon to deny Jesus three times.  The person who was last was who was supposed to wash everyone’s feet.  With the thought in mind that Peter would deny Jesus, it is showing us that to be first you must be last to become first.

We end the day at the Garden Tomb.  This is not the actual tomb of Jesus but was once thought that it could have been.  It does sit in garden with a tomb and is a nice place to mediate on the events that lead up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Thinking about what Jesus faced during his crucifixion – He carried my burdens and sins and when he said it is finished, my sins were forgiven and I was given eternal life – there was and is nothing more to do.  Finished means Paid in Full in Greek.  When something is paid in full, you are released from all debt and payment for the debt.  That is what Jesus did for us.  We had communion as a group which was so special.  Definitely a highlight after spending the day following the events of Christ.

Tomorrow we have a full day, but will board a plane to head home just before midnight.  It has been a whirlwind, but I wouldn’t change a thing.  I wouldn’t have wanted to miss seeing anything we did.

Until tomorrow.

Day 8 – Thursday, November 10

An excellent day today!  Meds are working great and by about 11am I was pretty well pain-free!  I should be okay until I get home!  God is sooo good!

We begin today on the Mount of Olives, where you can see the beautiful panorama of Jerusalem. We walked down the Old Palm Sunday Road to the Garden of Gethsemane. It is a beautiful, peaceful place filled with olive trees. You can see why Jesus spent so much time here with his disciples. We had time to spread throughout the Garden, find a place to sit and read scripture, pray and just picture the events that happened here. It was one of the most beautiful places to be and emotional to visualize Jesus being betrayed here. We also learned an important perspective about how much more it meant when Jesus healed the man whose ear Peter cut off when Jesus was being arrested. Peter wasn’t likely trying to cut his ear off, he was probably aiming for his throat, but being a fisherman, he was not skilled with using a sword. The last miracle Jesus performed was touching the mans ear and healing him. He healed the enemy! The thing most of us don’t know though is that slaves from that time had their ear marked by some sort of wound that would permanently deform their ear so they could not hide the fact they were a slave. When Jesus healed this man, he not only reattached his ear, but he healed it. Jesus also gave this man his freedom since he was no longer marked a slave!  Wow!

We followed the path Jesus would have walked all the time going from the Garden of Gethsemane, through the Kidron Valley toward the temple mount. I am convinced that everyone who lived in Jesus’ time was very fit. Some places are far, some are near, but all have steep hills throughout!

Next was the Palace of Caiaphas.  This was an emotional place too.  Jesus was questioned by Caiaphas after he was arrested.  This is where Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus was whipped and beat and thrown into a prison pit overnight before going before Pilot.  We got to go into that actual pit.  We read Psalms 88 while there and cried imagining what Jesus was going thorough and feeling.  Thinking about the fact he was going through all this pain, abandonment, cruelty, and torture for my salvation –  for me, for you, for all believers – was overwhelming.

The Western Wall Tunnels was our next stop. This is a tour of the tunnels that run along the Western Wall at the level of the street in Jesus’ day.   Pictures are the best way to show this.  I will post my pictures soon and try to get them labeled soon as well.  Then we went to the holiest site in the Jewish world, the Western (Wailing) Wall of Herod’s temple mount.  This is a remnant of the supporting wall of the Second Temple and was very interesting.  We got to see a couple bat mitzvah’s which was fun.  There is a women’s side and a men’s side of the wall.  Many people write prayers on paper and stick them in the wall.  This is the Jewish people’s most holy place because it is the closest they can get to the destroyed Temple Holy of Holies that once stood behind it on the Temple Mount.  Jew’s don’t believe in the New Testament, but as Christians when Jesus died and the temple curtain was torn in two we can have a direct relationship with God now.  So no, I didn’t put a prayer in the Western Wall – God will hear my prayer no mater where I pray!!

Beyond the wall lies the 35-acre temple area bought by King David (2 Sam. 24). On this site today is the Dome of the Rock (the third holiest Islam shrine) and the El-Aqsa Mosque. We will visit more of the temple mount area tomorrow, specifically the Southern steps where Jesus taught often.  I am so excited to go there!

We continued on and visited the Israel Museum where the model of Jerusalem is, a 1:50 scale model of the city in Jesus’ time and spent a short amount of time in the archeological artifacts part of the museum.  Pictures will show you some of the things we saw.  In the same area is the Shrine of the Book Museum where the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.  This was fascinating.  We couldn’t take pictures here.

Excited for tomorrow!

Day 7 – Wednesday, November 9th

We started the day with a visit to Masada, the fortress of King Herod, along the Dead Sea. We took a cable car ride to the top, but that was the end of the site seeing for me. I am having problems with the cyst on my spine, yes the one they drained less than a month ago! The cyst has filled again evidently. It started to bother me a few days ago and has gradually gotten to the point where I can’t stand or walk for a very long period of time without sitting for a bit. This was a site that would take about an hour, so I wasn’t able to see the site.
Nearby, we stopped at the site of Ein Gedi, mentioned in Joshua, 1 Samuel, 2 Chronicles, and Ezekiel. I sat out that site as well.

Next, we visited Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. I watched the video they show before you go through the site, but didn’t actually go through.

Our last stop was for a float in the Dead Sea! I DID THIS! It was a fun experience. Getting into the Sea was not easy! The mud shore is very slippery and uneven. As we were walking in, holding on to each other so we didn’t fall, I got to a point where my foot went all the way in up to my knee! You’re not really stuck and I actually just turned toward the shore and sat down. The area around me was not very deep – just my foot was deep in the mud! We figured out it was easier to sit, face the shore, and kind of lobster crawl backward to get into the Sea. You don’t worry about looking silly here, everyone looks silly and are either trying to get in, trying to get out, or is smearing themselves with mud! Once you get out to where you can’t touch, you just ‘hang out’ there. You don’t have to tread water and if you want you can put your feet up! Your body just tips back a bit and it is like you are sitting in a recliner in the water. You can figure out pretty easy how to set yourself back up. It was a fun, unique, once in a lifetime experience. Oh and your skin is so soft after your ‘mud bath’!!

If I was going to have to sit a day out of some activities, this was the ideal day for that to happen. I was really emotional about the thought of being in Israel and not being able to do and see the things I wanted to do here, and being tired from lack of sleep due to pain was not helping that thought. But God answered our prayers and provided a solution that will allow me to get though the rest of the trip with minimal or no pain! Praise the Lord!

Everyone is having a great time and enjoying this life changing pilgrimage! I am so thankful for the wonderful, caring people I have the pleasure of sharing this time with. Many have become friends! I am also so grateful for my Pastor and his wife Melinda. They have blessed my life in ways I would never have expected!

Until Tomorrow!

Day 6 – Tuesday, November 8

We drove to Bethlehem first this morning and did some shopping, then headed to the Church of the Nativity. This building is under restoration, but we could still go in and the it is the actual building built during the Byzantine time around 324 AD. It is the only church still standing from that period because when Persia invaded and destroyed Bethlehem they saw a mosaic of the Magi (who are Persian) and thought it was a Persian Church. We talked a lot about the timing of Jesus’ birth and it is fascinating. I always knew December 25th wasn’t the actual day, but didn’t know what date it was probably around. There are clues in the Bible – Shepard’s were keeping their watch. Multiple Shepard’s only kept watch overnight when it was birthing season in case one of their animals needed help. So this indicates probably spring time due to the birthing season. Interesting that the Lamb of God was born during the same time lambs were born. The Bible also refers to the time of birth being a time during a festival, which could have been Passover (Passover was 1 of only 3 festivals that required them to be in Jerusalem). So Jesus could have been born around March 14-28 in the year 5 BC. Also interesting to know that Jesus was crucified at 3pm like the bible tells us and that was the same time of the ritual sacrifice of the lambs. Even though the building was under renovation, it was still incredible. You get to see the actual spot where Jesus was born and the manger! It’s hard to put it into context though because all these holy sites had churches built around them to preserve the area, so it’s not like you go to an area that looks like a house, but the area where the birth took place is inside the church and you actually go down into a what looks like a cave because that was where the level of the ground was in Jesus time. I had a realization today that hadn’t really crossed my mind before. Some of the cities we have visited were on a tel or a mound and there were multiple layers of past cities. So in many times, ground level was lower during different eras because of destruction and rebuilding of the cities. It dawned on me why that is when we don’t have that today. Excavators! Duh! People weren’t going to dig out the rubble from the previous city by hard, so they just built on top of it – hence the mound! Funny how that all came together for me today!

While still at the Church of the Nativity, we talked about what is meant by it being easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than a wealthy man to inherit the kingdom of God. We saw an example of what was probably being refered to. The door or gate to the area was enormous and usually had two openings. You could open the entire gate if you had a large crowd or something large to bring in, but in most cases they used the small opening which is similar to a regular door size but a little lower in height. That door could be what is being refered to as the eye of the needle. A camel could kneel down (yes they do that) and schooch through the door, but for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, he needs to approach his riches with humbleness and may need to give some away in order for him to pass through the opening or the eye of the needle. You get a totally different perspective on things after being here. Seeing the way things were build, the way things were used, the topography of the land, makes the Bible more meaningful. You really understand things from a different prospective and have a deeper understanding. This is truly a life changing experience. We also got to see into the area where Jerome translated the official Latin Bible of the Roman Catholic Church, the Vulgate. That was really interesting to me because I am doing a bible study currently where we are learning about Martin Luther and have talked about this. Sorry Bob, I won’t be there tomorrow!

We moved on to the Shepard’s field which is also known as the Ruth and Boaz fields. This site showed us a typical Shepard’s cave that would have been used around the time of Jesus’ birth. It is also in the area where Ruth would have worked in Boaz’s fields. The interesting thing I learned while at the Shepard’s cave was about what a Shepard does when he loses his sheep. I’m sure you answered the way I did, he goes to find it. While that is correct – you have all seen the picture of Jesus carrying a lamb on his shoulders – well when the shepard finds the lamb he breaks his leg. This might sound cruel, but they are babies so they heal quickly and it is for their own good. It actually hurts the shepard more than the lamb because now he has to carry him until the leg heals. But while the shepard is carrying the lamb, the lamb is close to the shepard’s heart and can hear his heart beat, the lamb becomes even more familiar with the shepard’s scent and he is also being protected and cared for. This bonds the sheep to his shepard and he won’t get lost again! See what I mean?! You will never look at that picture the same way again!

We return to Jerusalem and visited the City of David. We also took a trek through Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is how the City of David got it’s water supply. The tunnel had water deep enough that went up to the top of your legs! It was really fun to walk though and think about all the men who labored chiseling this tunnel and carrying out the debris. The tunnel ended at the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed the blind man. He put mud over his eyes and told him to go wash them in the pool of Siloam.

We came back to the hotel, had a meeting to just ask any left over questions about what we have seen, ate dinner and now I am ready for bed! I guess I will find out in the morning how the election went since it is only noon there now!

Until tomorrow!

Day 5 – Monday, November 7

We visited the fairly recent excavations of the village of Magdala, home of Mary Magdalene.  This was an indescribable place!  This amazing city that Jesus visited often and the synagogue Jesus taught in!  It has only been uncovered recently but is absolutely magnificent to see and walk in this place.  It was emotional to be here!  Jesus, my Jesus, was here!  He walked in this exact place, he lived a part his human life here in this exact place.  It’s mind boggling!  This isn’t a replica or a model, this is actually it!  I can’t fully explain what it was like.

Next stop was an Ancient boat that was dated back more than 2000 year.  We can’t know whose boat it was, but it would be very similar to a boat Jesus and the disciples fished from.  An amazing discovery and shows what the boats would have looked like and were made of.

Then we visited Beit Shean, the site of Saul and his sons’ defeat by the Philistines (1 Sam. 31) and a well-preserved Roman Decapolis city.  It was destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD.  This site too was pretty amazing!  It is referred to as the Disneyland of archeology because of what was uncovered here.  The amount of dirt that was excavated to uncover this city is unimaginable.  It is only 10% of the city, but is a very large area and uncovered as recently as the 1980’s.

We stopped at the Jordan River baptism site.  I filled up a bottle of water from the Jordan to use for my grandkids baptisms (hopefully some day!)  Afterwards, we went to the Mount of Temptation in Jericho where Jesus was tempted by satan.  As we made our way to Jerusalem we stopped along the Wadi Kelt  and viewed an old Roman road that would have been traveled when going back and forth from Jericho and Jerusalem.  This was probably what is being refered to in Psalm 23 when it says “Valley of the Shadow of Death.”  Some of this is hard to explain without showing pictures.  Seeing the land definitely makes scripture more understandable and real.  It is just an amazing experience to be here and take it all in.    I wish I had more time to write so I could throughly describe what we are seeing.

We checked into our hotel in Jerusalem, had dinner and I headed to bed!

Until tomorrow!