Jerusalem, Jerusalem

We had two incredible days in and around Jerusalem. We began at the top of the Mount of Olives and walked down the “Palm Sunday road,” taking in the places especially significant to Jesus’ final week. The church near the place where Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the route he took into the city for the last time, and the Garden of Gethsemene were a few of the moving places to learn about and to pause over as Christians.

Jesus wept

Palm Sunday Road

We visited the Western ridge (today Mt. Zion), which included Caiaphas’ palace and the places of Jesus’ imprisonment and Peter’s denial.
Peter denied Jesus

Also, a location associated with the Upper Room is there, as well as a small Jewish site that they call the tomb of David (though it is not the place of David’s burial, which is still unknown). Bethany was next, where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and where his sisters Mary and Martha lived.
Crusader era Church near home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus

Tuesday was in the Old City section of Jerusalem, including the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, and the Via Dolorosa, the end of which is in the Church if the Holy Sepulcre. These were all very meaningful places of reflection for our group and very significant stops on our journey. We wound things up with a visit to the Garden Tomb. We toured this peaceful place for reflecting on Christ’s resurrection and ended with a celebration of Holy Communion together in the garden.

Western Wall

Before dinner and transporting to the airport, we got to wander the markets of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter–a fascinating and educational experience in itself! Next up: flying to Philly and on home to DFW. Wow, what an incredible group, and what an incredible journey. Thanks be to God for this opportunity to share!

evening shopping


Worship in Bethlehem

What a wonderful day full of worship in Bethlehem.  We began with an outdoor devotion at Shepherd’s field.  Singing “Angels We Have Heard On High” in the cave where the shepherds held their sheep in the 1st century was very moving.  The rain and sleet held off until we made it back to the bus. 

worship in the field

During our walk through that city center we had a good close up look at how people live in this city. We followed the church bells ringing through the streets to the Lutheren Christmas Church where we found a warm, open, friendly congregation. Half the service was in English and half in Arabic. One hymn sounded familiar and we all joined in as it was one we had in our journals that we brought with us. The hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”.  Hearing all of us raise our voices in worship all in our own language brought to mind how we all all in the family of God, just as we are, nothing else is needed.

Christmas Church

We made it to the Church of the Nativity to see where Jesus was born.  In the cave, in the grotto where Jesus was born we sang “Silent Night” and imagined what it was like in that cave more than 2000 years ago.

in the grotto

Bethlehem Bible College is a beautiful place of higher education.  We were blessed by visiting and being able to brin gifts to the college. We pray that they will be blessed with the gifts and grow in their mission.

visiting at Bethlehem Bible College

Our dinner was one of cautious optimissim.  As we split up into small groups and found our way to Christian famililies in town.  We found the host families interested in visiting with us and sharing their lives with us.  The seek to be understood and find friends outside of Bethlehem.
our host family

Every day is better and better as we get closer to God in our walk and our adventure.

It’s Good to be the King

Wow! First stop today: Masada, the incredible cliff fortress alongside the Dead Sea. The hanging palace and luxurious baths built by Herod the Great for his own enjoyment (in this fortress built for his personal defense) remind us that “it’s good to be the king.” He was amazingly creative when it came to pampering himself at the expense of the people he ruled.


The site associated with the production of the Dead Sea Scrolls and their discovery is called Qumran. It seems to have been inhabited by a pious Jewish community seeking to separate itself from the spiritual corruption that it perceived in Jerusalem, especially in the Temple leadership during the Roman period. This was an interesting archaeological site, rich and very well presented. The Dead Sea Scrolls are important for our understanding of Second Temple Judaism, early Christianity, messianism, and the history of the Old Testament text itself.

cave 4

We passed through Jerusalem with an unforgettable view of the Temple Mount and the Old City and experienced a “Genesis welcome” to Jerusalem from our guide based on Gen 14. We lunched and shopped a while in Bethlehem, where we will return tomorrow to worship, tour, and meet a United Methodist missionary.

Our shopping in Bethlehem was at the Kando store, which is run by the family of the man (Kando) who received and first held the original Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls reached the attention of the world first through him. (So we shopped boldly, you might say, with a Kan-do attitude.) We were received most graciously by his family and treated to a great presentation and a close-up view of one of the original jars in which two of the most important Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

scroll jar

Down to the River to Pray

Our departure from Nazareth this morning included another glorious morning with the sun rising over the Jezreel Valley in a light mist. The theme of our drive to the south was Samaria and “the land of milk and honey.” We traveled through the valley, passed the Harod spring of Gideon fame, and turned south through Samaria to the Jordan River Valley. The landscape changes rapidly going toward the Judean wilderness.

change in landscape

We arrived at the baptismal site associated with Jesus’ baptism, Bethany-on-the-Jordan, and we were able to take time to talk and think about baptism, and to celebrate God’s amazing grace right there at (and in) the Jordan’s waters. We also got to see an Orthodox baptism taking place nearby, performed by a bishop with much pageantry–incense and all.

jordan river

Our next stop was Jericho, including both the modern city where a certain old sycamore tree is located, and the Old Testament city associated with Joshua’s arrival in Canaan. The Mount of Temptation where Jesus is thought to have gone right after his baptism to be tempted is visible from the site also. From Jericho it was a short drive to the Dead Sea for floating in the strange mineral-rich waters, packing on the valuable mud, and generally laughing ourselves silly at this ancient “fountain of youth.”

The Lord blesses us every step of the way. There is so much to see, learn, and understand, and we’re looking forward to visiting Qumran, Masada, and Bethany tomorrow!

He is the Christ

When the sun rose in Nazareth this morning, the amazing view over the Jezreel Valley toward the Carmel ridge included a hot air balloon in the distance as well as a light mist along the ground. Our first stop was Caesarea Philippi. Peter made his confession that Jesus was the Christ there, in answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” We returned to the Sea of Galilee area through the Golan Heights, including a view of the Damascus Road from the Syrian border.

Our 45-minute cruise on the Sea of Galilee was a great spiritual time to experience the place where so many events in Jesus’ ministry took place. Some sites along the Sea of Galilee that we visited today were Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, and Tabgha. The latter is the traditional location of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fish. And speaking of fish, our wonderful lunch today was at a Christian Lebanese restaurant, where we enjoyed St. Peter’s fish (a variety of tilapia), caught right there in the Sea.

Banias Springs

lunch just like Jesus might have had

Going Over the Hill and Getting Married (Again)

That’s over the Mt. Carmel ridge and to the wedding chapel at Cana, where Jerry and Patti, and Mike and Tina renewed their marriage vows. Our day in Israel was spectacular. We started at the magnificent site of Caesarea Maritima, and we saw the archaeological site as well as put our toes in the Mediterranean Sea. From there we visited the place on Mt. Carmel where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and crossed the Jezreel Valley into Galilee.
At Cana, a good time was had by all as two of our couples renewed their vows (mazel tov!). The day finished in Nazareth, where we’re staying the night. After a time of worship at St. Gabriel’s Church, we’re still together in the hotel lounge. As we write, we’ve just ordered hot cocoa ’cause it’s on the chilly side in Galilee tonight!

ready for anything

We made it!

By God’s grace our awesome tour group is preparing for our first day of seeing the sights. We met up with our tour guide George and our bus driver John. After a night’s sleep (as best we could) we’re rarin’ to go. We’ll keep you posted as we are able.
God has provided and is blessing us in so many ways as a group and as individuals! Shalom and Qedemah!


Be Prepared, Pt 2: Reading for Jan 14

First, note the correction in yesterday’s post: Roby Barrett will be with us on January 14 (not the 8th).

Next, here are the rest of the documents that Dr. Barrett has recommended for us in preparation for our session on January 14. Three articles have been uploaded to the FUMCintheHolyLand files that you can access just like other files we’ve shared: look for the Box in the righthand column of this page.

These articles are a bit more academic. Begin with Evans’ piece on the media’s role, then Witkin on the Nation-State system (a large file), then Nisan on the Druze in Israel. I won’t be copying these to hand out or emailing them because of copyright restrictions, but I will put them in our file-sharing box only until Saturday, January 14, then  I will remove them.

Here’s what we ask: Please download and read the documents, but do not pass them beyond our group. If you print or save any of these three documents, do so only for your own individual use.

Finally, Roby recommends that we read the prologue and first chapter of Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World for some more background on the Zionist movement. If you have this book (I recommended it earlier in our series), read pages 1-53. If not, you can actually read the first 51 pages on Google Books. I’ve scanned the last two pages and posted them with our other files.

Shalom and happy reading! See you Sunday!

Be Prepared: Getting Ready for our Jan. 14 Session!

We are delighted to welcome fellow church member Dr. Roby Barrett to lead our last pre-departure session on Jan. 14. This information session will be focused on learning about the various groups and factions that exist today in the Holy Land, and how these groups relate to one another. This includes the relationship between Israel and Palestine, as well the relationships among the groups that exist within Israel and within Palestine.

Our goal on January 14 will be to listen and learn about the situation as it currently stands, in order to inform our experiences as we travel. This session will not be geared toward policy or a discussion of how things should be. Dr. Barrett will have much to offer us, and he will plan to entertain questions as they relate to the evening’s topic and objectives.

Roby has generously provided us with some resources that will help prepare us for our time together. These come in two forms: some recent web articles that you can click on, and some print resources. The former are provided below. Tomorrow, I will create access to the other materials and post instructions here for viewing them. Copyright restrictions will require us to observe some limitations, but these should not be severe.

Please take time to peruse all of the items that have been made available to us. There won’t be a test, but the more informed we are, the better our session our be!,2506,L-4117312,00.html