A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

A walkway at the Arbel Guest House.

Continuing our time in the Sea of Galilee, our accommodations at the Arbel Guest House were like staying at a cozy home. We had a two bedroom apartment with a mini kitchen and living room area and outside our door was a patio with table under a wood roof with lights. Upon arrival we went right over to the pool and had a glorious swim. A cute dog followed me to the pool and I looked around the gardens before getting ready for dinner. The Arbel Guest House is owned by the Shavit family. The father is a wonderful cook and we enjoyed one of our best meals in Israel—a pot of

Our apartment at Arbel.

Our apartment at Arbel.

lamb stew topped with ice cream for dessert. The entire surroundings—in and out—were homey, lovely, and comfortable. At night I lingered on the patio where I watched a group of tiny kittens skirt around the property playing and looking for food. After they ran off we got more visitors—some neighborhood dogs who were very friendly and also looking for the free handouts the owners put out when the dining room closes. The family was very friendly and helpful and I highly recommend this place—it’s even easy on the wallet!

Cana

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

Two of the Mary mosaics at the Church of Annunciation.

In the morning we were picked up by our guide and began the day with a trip to Cana, the site of Jesus’ first miracle. He was attending a wedding and when they ran out of wine, His mother asked him to do something about it, so He turned some of the water jugs into the best wine they ever tasted. The bride’s father even mentioned how good it was because normally they serve the best first and the dregs last, but this time the best wine came last. Jesus did this because He was thinking about how wonderful it was going to be when we became the bride of Christ.

Here’s the context. Back in ancient times, when a woman and man became engaged, they went back to their respective homes and waited for the wedding day. At that point the man needed to build a house for his new bride and prepare a home for her. Once the house was ready to go, he could come and fetch her. When he did, everyone in town dropped what they were doing and they had a week long party (a.k.a. wedding reception). A motivated man would finish his house in a hurry. We are the bride of Christ as He is preparing a house for us in Heaven. We don’t know the exact date it will be ready, but when it is, He will come back for us and we have to be ready to go at that moment.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

A reflective wall of stain-glass windows in the Church of Annunciation.

We went to the church in Cana and spoke with one of the Monks there. He said he goes where they send him but some places are better than others.

Nazareth

From Cana we climbed the hills of Nazareth, parked in a tiny gravel lot, and walked up the street to the Church of Annunciation where Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was going to have a baby. The church was very large and quite beautiful with interesting stained-glass windows adorning the walls. Outside the church along a long porch we viewed the many mosaics of Mary and Jesus that were designed by artists from countries across the world and given to the church. Each mosaic depicted Mary as she would have looked if she came from that culture (e.g., the mosaic from Taiwan depicted an Asian-looking Mary in clothes that are worn in that culture). Inside the church we viewed a grotto area where Gabriel spoke to Mary. Ruins of the old town of Nazareth, which was very small, were visible underneath part of the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

The ruins of Nazareth under the church.

Somehow we made our way out of the town (no street signs in this place) and had lunch at a place called Meat the Best. We had another yummy meal with 20 bowls of salad and Shawarma.

Mount Tabor

In the afternoon we made our way over to Mount Tabor which is the site of the transfiguration. Jesus took two of his buddies (John and Peter) up a very steep and big hill (mountain) to the very top—maybe being closer to heaven made him feel closer to God or maybe the long, arduous walks were good for the soul. Once at the top, Jesus had a moment. I’ll let Mathew tell it. “There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

A monk meditates on the view outside the Church of Transfiguration.

The church grounds were lovely and we walked around looking out over the valleys and hills around us. More beautiful mosaics lined the walls and monks wandered silently around us.

Megiddo

Our last stop of the day was to the Tell at Megiddo. This is the site where the end of the world will come to a crescendo. The Hebrew word for mount (as in Mount Megiddo) is Har. If you put them together it’s Har Megiddo (keep going with it in its Greek form and you get Armageddon). Many major battles over the centuries have taken place here as it’s a major crossroads from and to the major cultural centers of the world such as Syria and Egypt. As we lingered at the top of the hill I could see the Jezreel valley below and the intersection of two roads. I took some video of the view (see below).

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

Excavated ruins on the Tel at Megiddo.

We walked around the site viewing the various ruins of the ancient city. There are 26 layers of ruins here—a testament to the importance of this area. And when Jesus returns, this will be the location of the last big battle between good and evil. Jesus will lead the army of heaven and defeat Satan and his cronies. I was imagining that battle as I looked at the horizon around us.

Back on the road, we journeyed back to our home at Arbel and another wonderful night in the pool and hanging out with the neighborhood pets before setting out for the coast the next day.

John 14: 1-3

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

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Making pancakes (or something) on the street in Nazareth.

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Mosaic of Jesus’ transfiguration (with Moses and Elijah and John and Peter looking on).

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An outside altar and benches on Mount Tabor. The hot sun shines through the slits in the ceiling cover.

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The Church of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.

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A lovely stain-glassed window in the Church of Annunciation.

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A Mary and Jesus mosaic from China (on the porch wall of the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth).

25 Pool @ Arbel

The pool at Arbel Guest House is cute, comforting and refreshing.

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The dining room at Arbel Guest House.

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Dessert was done in style!

24 Pool @ Arbel appt

Lovin the cool waters after a day of hiking the gospel trails.

 

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A door at the church in Cana with the Franciscan cross.

A short video view of the Jezreel valley from the top of Mount Megiddo.

My favorite part of our trip to the Holy Land was the area around the Sea of Galilee. This is the heart of where Jesus and his disciples traveled and it’s also a lovely area. If this was a lake at home there would be million dollar homes and resorts along the shores. Tiberius does rise above the water into the surrounding hills and there are a few resorts, but it seemed so peaceful with farms and churches for the most part.

Sea of Galilee at Capernaum.

Sea of Galilee at Capernaum.

Capernaum

After Kursi (see last post), we continued around the eastern shore toward the North and stopped in Capernaum, the town where Jesus lived and started his teachings. It was here that Peter built a house and where the Byzantines and then the Catholics built churches over ruins. The church there now is quite beautiful. There is a glass floor where you can see the rocks of the ruins of the house below. Jesus told Peter he was to be the rock upon where His church would be built. Peter had issues during the trial of Jesus but he was steadfast in his faith when Jesus was ascending to Heaven and leaving His message in the hands of his friends and disciples. He knew Peter had what it took to stick with his faith through any hardship. He was a rock of faith.

Peter's Church in Capernaum.

Peter’s Church in Capernaum.

The Church had a calming and peaceful ambiance. I was hushed by a monk when explaining a story to my dad—there were no “lessons” allowed inside the church. It was a perfect place to meditate with windows that looked out over the Sea of Galilee and the Spirit dwelling within. Outside, we walked around some more ruins of the village and sat by the Sea for a few minutes.

Tagbha

The church of the miracle of the multiplication of fish and loaves was our next stop along the Sea. There was a beautiful mosaic in the floor representing the miracle where Jesus fed thousands of people with just a couple of loaves of bread and a  few fish. I love this story for several reasons. The first is that recently I heard a sermon from Christine Caine who used this miracle to explain how God uses the uncounted—people who don’t “seem” to matter—to fulfill His miracles. You see, in those days, when crowds or cities were counted (how many people were there), only the men were counted. Women and children were not important enough to count. So when we read that 5,000 were fed, that was only the men—it was more like 10,000 or 20,000 fed if you include the women and children in the audience. So, that day along the shore as Jesus was teaching, some mother packed a small lunch for her son to take with him to hear the sermon. Two people who didn’t “count” were instrumental in the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and loaves.

Tagbha, church of fish and loaves.

Tagbha, church of fish and loaves.

I also love this story because I think God still blesses us in the same way over and over. The more we give of ourselves to others, the more we get back and then His blessing multiplies to others. The Masterpiece Fund, our family’s charity to honor the memory of my brother, Greg Crowe, is based on this principle. We believe that the more that’s given to the charity, the more it earns and the more we can give to people who maybe aren’t counted enough in our world.

A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

A view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

Mount of Beatitudes

Back to our trip—from Tagbha we journeyed up the hill to the Mount of Beatitudes—the location where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. The spot was absolutely lovely—overlooking sloping grassy hills and the wind-blown waters of the Sea of Galilee. The Catholic Church there was very pretty, octagonal in shape with windows looking out on the water and gardens of the church property. I loved this place and we sat and rested peacefully while looking at the boats sailing on the water and the lovely trees and flowers surrounding the property. I could just see Jesus teaching and thousands of people sitting on the hillside listening to His beautiful words.

Church of Magdala

The Church of Magdala.

The Church of Magdala.

It was a long day but we had one more stop at a quaint and striking church on the shore of the Sea. A young man (an intern) who was a theology student and participating in a mission, guided us around the excavation site and through the church. This place was going to be a resort developed by a reverend where Christians could come on pilgrimages. But as what normally occurs in Israel, the law states you have to excavate land to check on any ancient finds in the land before new construction happens. Well, they unearthed an ancient synagogue and little town (the village of Magdala where Mary Magdalene came from).

The reverend built a church on the site to honor the women of the bible. Several small chapels with paintings of various bible scenes surround a central hall that leads into a larger sanctuary with a window that looks out to the Sea. The altar is built into a beautiful boat. This was a treat and the experience of being in this modern church was a fitting end to a day of touring the gospel trail.

Peter's church.

Peter’s church.

Our guide took us up around the western side of Tiberius to the Arbel area and a guest house that we called home for two nights. I’ll talk about that more later as it’s worth a great review all on its own.

 

 

 

 

Matthew 5: 1-11

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

The Beatitudes

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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Entrance to Peter’s church where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law.

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Peter’s church in Capernaum–an octagonal structure built over old ruins.

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Statue of St. Peter. Mth 16:18 “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. “

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View of the Sea from the Mount of Beatitudes.

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The Catholic church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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View of the church on the Mount of Beatitudes.

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The church of Magdala.

The River Jordan looking over to the Jordanian side with people getting baptized.

The River Jordan looking over to the Jordanian side with people getting baptized.

Onward we went on our trek through the Holy Land, from the Dead Sea to an area we consider filled with life. A little back story to start off. Jesus’ name in English is Joshua which means salvation. Fitting name for our savior. We have to have faith to follow Jesus and to trust that He will take care of us. Another Joshua in the bible played a prominent role in our next destination. Joshua and his buddy Caleb were two of a group of the men tasked by Moses to check out the land across the Jordan and report back what they found. Joshua and Caleb were the only ones to give a positive report and to encourage Moses and the Jews to act now and enter the Promised Land as God wanted them to. However, the Jews heard other stories of giants and mass armies and they got scared. The result? Forty years of wandering in the desert until finally, Joshua led the Jews across the Jordan and into Israel.

Just two guys hanging out on the Sea of Galilee.

Just two guys hanging out on the Sea of Galilee.

At the time of the Jewish crossing, the river was running very fast and flooding. It was scary and dangerous. The Jewish people had to have faith in God that He would take care of them to get them across the river. It wasn’t until the priests took the first few steps into the river as an act of faith that God stopped the flow of water to allow the people to cross safely. Everything in the bible flows together perfectly. It makes sense that this river, the place where the Joshua led his people to the Promised Land, would be the place Jesus was baptized.

Jordan River

A view of the Jordan River from the Jordanian side in 2007. The Israel area was not tourist friendly back then.

A view of the Jordan River from the Jordanian side in 2007. The Israel area was not tourist friendly back then.

As we drove up through the West Bank, we entered an area that had fencing on both sides of the road. Beyond the fence were mines (or maybe used to be mines) from the days when it was a no-man’s land. As we got close to our destination, my parents and I realized we had been there before—just on the OTHER side of the river. Wow, it was something special to see the place we had visited while touring Jordan back in 2007. Back then, the Israel side was not used as a tourist destination, but now, there were groups of people in long white shirts walking into the water to be baptized. We could see the steps where we waded into the eastern shore of this very narrow river seven years ago. This time, we were able to step in on the Israeli side. I think most people visiting the river Jordan would be surprised at how narrow and small it is. It’s very calm, and has a greenish/brown color with a lot of vegetation along the banks. It would be very easy for someone to cross over the border here—and in fact there was at least one crossing years ago. On the Jordanian side there is a baptismal altar that showed up there very suddenly one year when the Pope visited. Funny thing, it used to be on the Jewish side.

Sea of Galillee. The water was crystal clear.

Sea of Galillee. The water was crystal clear.

Sea of Galilee

We continued North past Jericho and through the west bank to the shores of the Sea of Galilee. We could tell why some of the fishermen of Jesus’ time had issues—the wind comes down over the mountains and blows nicely across this beautiful body of water. White caps could be seen out on the water but as we stopped at a Kibbutz for a dip in this water, it was calm and clear as clean glass. The bottom was rocky with lots of little stones, and the surrounding countryside was filled with flowers and banana tree farms.

We had a wonderful lunch at the Fish and Bistro Restaurant in Ein Gev. The ambiance was lovely, the service was good, and the fish was absolutely delicious. I highly recommend a stop there—our guide was on the mark with this selection.

Israel's jibe at an old Syrian leader.

Israel’s jibe at an old Syrian leader.

After lunch we got back on the road and saw a black steel silhouette of a man sitting on the side of the hill with a fishing pole. This is a Jewish joke. I guess if you’re Israeli you have the right to make this kind of bold insult, but I think they went considerably out of their way to poke fun at a deceased Syrian leader who had promised that he would be fishing off the shore of Galilee near the Golan Heights before he died. He did not accomplish his desire and so a monument stands to his failure.

Kursi: the Miracle of the Swine

Mosaic floor in the ruins of the Byzantine church.

Mosaic floor in the ruins of the Byzantine church.

Our next stop was at Kursi, the location of a miracle of Jesus. This is where Jesus met a man who was possessed by demons (so many that they identified themselves as Legion). Jesus healed this man and allowed the demons to enter into a herd of swine that was grazing in the area. The possessed pigs ran down the hill and into the sea where they drowned.

The site of Kursi hosts the ruins of a byzantine church that had a beautiful mosaic floor courtyard surrounded by pillars with pictures of animals. It was pretty hot that day so we continued on around the Sea to more Christian sites. I’ll talk about those in the next post.

 

Hebrews 11: 1

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

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Mom and Dad and I on the banks of the River Jordan.

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Here, the Jordan is calm and narrow.

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Signage is always in three languages in Israel.

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An interesting Dr. Seuss-type tree grows in Kursi.

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Lots of banana farms surround the Sea of Galilee. They are covered by some kind of mesh.

Flowers bloom in the area around Galilee.

Flowers bloom in the area around Galilee.

 

Among our days in the Old City of Jerusalem, we spent time visiting holy sites of the Christian faith including the places Jesus was taken during his trial and crucifixion. Most of these sites have churches built over and around them so it’s somewhat difficult to get the feel of what it was like 2,000 years ago. And for the actual location of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, there are differences of opinion between the Protestants and the orthodox groups.

The Via Dolorosa, monks, shops and more outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher.

The Via Dolorosa, monks, shops and more outside the Church of Holy Sepulcher.

My feeling after walking around was that as much as I like history and seeing ancient sites and wonders of the world, it’s the Spirit of God that is what moves us. That Spirit can be felt just as powerfully in a walk through the woods or along the sands of the beach as it can sitting in church or standing in the “spot” where Jesus was said to have risen from the dead.

Via Dolorosa

IMG_9891On a Palm Sunday in the spring some 2,000 years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (now blocked up) on a donkey to the cheers of the crowds. He spent the week praying, scolding, and preaching. On Thursday of that week, he dined with his friends one last time before heading over to the Garden of Gethsemane at the base of the Mt. of Olives. I imagine the hike they took to get there took a while and they had to go down and across the Kidron valley. I wrote before about the steepness of the Mt. of Olives, where He went up to pray to the Father that night. And then once taken by the soldiers, He had to walk back up the steep hill and through the Lion’s Gate—the beginning of the path up the Via Dolorosa.

The indentation in the wall where Jesus placed His hand.

The indentation in the wall where Jesus placed His hand.

Via Dolorosa means “Way of Grief” in Latin. There are stations along the path that mark events that happened while Jesus carried the cross on the way to Golgotha hill, the site of the crucifixion. We stopped at these stations, starting with the churches that now represent where He was tried and beaten. We continued the walk up hill and saw an indentation in a wall where He stopped and placed His hand to catch His balance. As we hiked up the steps I kept thinking that His tortuous walk was made worse by the fact He had to do it uphill in the heat.

More stations marked points where Jesus fell down, saw his mother Mary, and was helped by Simon, the man who just happened to be visiting town on this fateful day. The walk ended at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The lavish decorations above the altar of the rock of crucifixion.

The lavish decorations above the altar of the rock of crucifixion.

In Jesus’ time the location of the crucifixion and burial was outside the city walls. Back around 300 AD, Emperor Constantine’s mother decided these sites were located in the place that is now the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which houses the crucifixion rock, the place where His body was prepared for burial and the tomb where He was buried. The church is run by six different orthodox churches, each having a space in the church. Some in-fighting led to some interesting rules that were put in effect by the Muslims who were in charge of the city in the mid-1800s. One of the rules was “status quo” meaning everything that was in place at that time was to be kept exactly where it is forever. An interesting result is a ladder outside a second floor window used to help the monks get food and supplies during a siege is now forever in place as part of the façade. Another interesting fact is that a Muslim family holds the keys to the church and every morning one of the family members who has been named custodian, opens the doors.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can see the ladder outside the top floor window to the right.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. You can see the ladder outside the top floor window to the right.

Upon entering, we walked up some steep stairs and lined up behind the masses to get the chance to touch the rock encased in a lavishly decorated room. There was an altar there and a hole where they believe the cross was raised. My mom and I bent down to get our feel of the rock before heading down to see some of the other altars located throughout the beautiful church.

We did not go into the structure that is said to house the tomb. It too was decorated with HUGE candles outside the door. Across from the tomb structure was a beautiful open area with a high dome ceiling. The paintings on the ceiling were of the four gospel writers and in the center of the floor was a religious stone called an omphalos, marking what was once considered to be the center of the earth.

My parents and I thought the church was quite beautiful; however it didn’t really give us a spiritual feeling. As Protestants we weren’t awe-inspired by the all the decorations and incense.

Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb

Many Protestants believe Golgotha and the tomb are located outside the Damascus gate. We walked a little way down a road and reached a park-like setting called the Garden Tomb. It was absolutely lovely. It had a very tranquil feeling, natural in its beauty. From a bench we could view a large rock cliff. One of the reasons this is considered to be the location of the crucifixion is because the cliff appears to have a face on the side—thus the reason it was called the place of the skull. We continued along a path to the tomb, a cave-like opening in the wall of a cliff nearby. There is much evidence supporting the claim that this area is where the crucifixion and burial happened. What I know is that to me, it brought a feeling of peace and I could really imagine the events taking place here. (Here’s a video of the site with some information on the evidence.)

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

It was a great way to end a very long day of touring. It was now the start of Shabbat so we went home to cook some dinner and prepare for our visit to Bethlehem in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

49 Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb has two places for bodies to be laid to rest.

45 Tomb Sepulchre

The Byzantine structure that surrounds the tomb located in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The location where Jesus what convicted by Pilate.

24 7th Dolorosa

One of the stations located along the Via Dolorosa.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

Golgotha near the Garden Tomb. A face can be seen in the rock of the skull.

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The place of Jesus’ anointing located next to rock of crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

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The Via Dolorosa.

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A simple sign over an archway that opens into a small plaza outside the Church.

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The keeper of the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

 

 

 

Visiting the Holy Land is a dream for many people throughout the world. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all consider this land to be the center of our religious and historical past. But visiting this place has its risks. Growing up I never really thought it would be possible with all the fighting, but over the past few years, as more people I know went there, my parents and I thought it would be a good time to go.

And go we did, just last week. Our timing was fortuitous. Throughout our visit, our Jewish guide kept asking us if we felt safe and asking us to be ambassadors back home, “You can tell everyone that it’s safe—we all get along and the news outlets exaggerate.” At first we agreed. But we did a little minor eye rolling when on our last day she said it again and we silently wondered if she had watched the news the night before. The latest battles between Hamas and Israel were heating up with several deaths of boys on both sides. In the week that we’ve been home, the news outlets are reporting that tanks are rolling and missiles are being launched.

Although that seems scary and may keep people from traveling there, the sad fact is, there were dozens of people (at least) killed by gunfire on the streets in our own backyards just over the weekend. So, perspective is in order. We live in a fallen world and you have to make choices whether or not to get out and see the world the way it is.

Overall, the trip was great. There were some instances where it was next to impossible to envision the way the landscape was 2,000 or more years ago. But I think in general what I took away was the reality of the hard terrain that Jesus and his disciples (and the ancient people of the land) traversed. Lots of hills, vast deserts, and hard rocks added some serious damage to my already bad knees. But we had it easy with our air conditioned rooms, cars, restaurants with plenty to eat, and time to leisurely enjoy the days. When I think of Jesus walking up the steep slopes with his friends in 114 degree heat, I can only thank Him once again for his sacrifice and His love for us.

The land has played host to different cultures for many thousands of years. Its history can be seen in deep layers of tells (man-made hills) across the country. Much of it has yet to be unearthed but so much has been discovered already that we can now see how our ancestors lived. But more on that later.

I will be writing about the details of our trip, starting in Jaffa, a 4,000 year old city, then on to Jerusalem’s old city, to the desert heat at Masada and the Dead Sea, up to the gorgeous Sea of Galilee, and ending in Tel Aviv with a nice swim in the Mediterranean. For now, a few pictures to get started.

Genesis 13:17

“Arise, walk about the land through its length and breadth; for I will give it to you.”

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