History: ancient, modern and future

September 8, 2010

The Day started, after breakfast of course, with a visit to the Church of the Nativity which is at LEAST 25 yards from our hotel.

Ducking down to get through the very small door it is worth reflecting that in this, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, only a child can enter without having to bow their heads.

I can never be quite sure how groups will ‘take’ the churches in the Holy Land, so many are significantly different from those to which we are accustomed, the smells, the iconography, the lack of furniture in the Eastern Orthodox tradition .. And this church has all of that and more yet the young people seemed to find it a spiritual place – at least until someone’s phone rang with the ringtone of Hotel California – not all pilgrims are as well behaved as we are!

Leaving the Church of the Nativity, we visited St Catherine’s church next door and went down the steep stairs to the caves where St Jerome translated the Bible into Latin.

I can never come to Bethlehem without visiting my good friend Jack Giacaman in his olive wood shop in Milk Grotto street and, after visiting Milk Grotto Church, that’s where we headed next. A local Christian who employs local people to produce wonderful olive wood carvings, I was pleased to see the group buying many of their souvenirs here. It was also great to see Jack’s beautiful wife, Tamara, along with their youngest daughter. Nabil (Jack’s brother) was also their along with his mother – it was quite a reunion :)

Lunch was a falafel sandwich and we then headed up to the Bethlehem International Center (sic) where we were able to pass on the books we had brought as part of the suitcase ministry. The librarian explained to us that many of the books they needed were not allowed across the border from Israel so they rely on pilgrims from other countries to bring them in as we won’t be stopped and questioned. We were glad to take part in such a worthwhile scheme.

Walking back down to Manger Square we stopped off at the Bethlehem Museum where we were given a fascinating tour of what Bethlehem was like in the late 18th to early 20th century. The visit, including a personal guided tour from the curator, cost less than £1 each which was really value for money!

This evening we will be joined by some of my Palestinian friends who will share what life is like ‘behind the wall’.

There is so much more to see in this wonderful land – but there is just not the time. I hope that the young people will want to come and visit these places, and meet my friends, again.
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Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible, Awe-inspiring

September 7, 2010

These are just some of the adjectives used by young people in the group to describe one of today’s activities.

Unfortunately, it related to our 3 hours at the Dead Sea Spa at Ein Gedi, not the 2 hours at Masada or the visit to Qumran (where the Essenes wrote the Dead Sea scrolls) but, as leaders, Stewart, Avril and I will take any encouragement and positive feedback we can get!

The morning started early, VERY early, as we set off to Masada (site of Herod’s palace and the Jewish Zealots’ last stand) to try and avoid the heat which we knew would come. 2 hours at the top of a mountain in 43 degree heat certainly took its toll and we were glad to get back to the air-conditioned minibus. Masada is always both hot and inspiring in equal measure and we felt the group deserved a relaxing float in the surreal waters if the Dead Sea before heading on to Qumran which, if anything was even hotter!

Heading to Bethlehem (our final destination before heading home on Thursday) we passed, on our left, the Inn of the Good Samaritan. However, heading in the wrong direction up the dual carriageway, all we could do was “pass by on the other side” (copyright: S Cutler)

And, now we are in Bethlehem – tired but full after a splendid tea – and ready to start again tomorrow after breakfast at a far more civilised 8:30 :)

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Galilee … and beyond

September 6, 2010

We got over our disappointments of the hotel in Tiberias and headed north 15 kilometres or so for our first visit of the day – the Mount of Beatitudes. A beautiful church, if small, and we seemed to time our arrival perfectly to avoid all the coaches and had the church almost to ourselves. This was true of our next two visits as well; to Tabgha (Church of the Multiplication) and Mensa Christi (Peter’s Primacy)

One of the photos below shows our very own Simon Peters by the statue commemorating when Jesus named Simon: Peter. Unfortunately, our Simon Peter(s) steadfastly refuses to “feed our sheep” just because we haven’t got any sheep! Pedantic, or what? We also had time for a paddle in the Sea if Galilee…

Two of our group, who shall remain nameless (though their initials are Stewart Cutler and Gerry Goodfellow) are in strict competition to see how many points they can accrue on FourSquare. So far Stewart has checked in at “Jesus’ House” (Nazareth) and “Jesus’ best mate’s house” (Capernaum) :)

Capernaum holds a special place in my heart as it was here that I had my ‘Holy Land epiphany’ in 1997

We left Galilee after lunch (and a visit to the baptismal site on the River Jordan) and headed to our hotel in Jericho where the sumptuous accommodation and fantastic pool banished all memories of the Arbel Hotel in Tiberias.

An early start tomorrow as we head for Masala and, as the sites we will visit are archeological, not religious, we can wear shorts – praise The Lord indeed!

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Birthday girl – and future brilliant URC minister

September 5, 2010

Happy Birthday. Sam :)

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Galilee – not quite yet

September 5, 2010

An early start as we left the Knight’s Palace to head to Tiberias – with a couple of stops en route.

People in Israel drive a bit like they walk – no eye contact and if they see a space; they go for it and assume that everyone else will give way. Fortunately, they usually do!

Traffic through Tel Aviv was slow. At times it made the M25 seem free flowing but we made it to Haifa in time to visit Stella Maris/Elijah’s Cave before lunch. It may well have been here that Elijah discerned the voice of God I’m a gentle breeze but, when your sharing the venue with 3 coachloads of pilgrims, we were unable to!

And so on to Nazareth and the Basilica of the Annunciation. A beautiful church which I feel I shouldn’t like because of the ‘bling’ but I do.

Apart from being overcharged for lunch (I didn’t argue as I wanted to get to the Basilica with enough time for us to explore) Nazareth was well worth the stop.

And so to Tiberias – and the first disappointment of the trip. Maybe we were spoiled by the Knight’s Palace but our hotel here is not up to what we hoped. The pool was green, the place was generally dirty and looked like it had been shut for a while. Still, we’re only here for a night so we’ll cope.

Down to the lakeside to celebrate Sam Aspinall’s 25th birthday – made all the more wonderful with the news that, on her absence, her church had unanimously agreed to support her call to the Ministry if Word and Sacrament. Maybe it’s appropriate that she got that news in the place where Jesus exercised his ministry ….
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Meeting up…

September 4, 2010

The Palestinian young people came and spent more than 2 hours with us … they answered all our questions and asked a few of their own … it was brilliant.

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Eudoxia – not a name you hear nowadays

September 4, 2010

But, in 438, she was the Byzantine Empress who first built a church over a cave which was reputed to be part of the home of Joachim and Anne – the parents of Virgin Mary. And it was here that we started the second part of our day having walked around the Walls of the Old City, along the Kidron Valley (no stone-throwing children today!) and up to St Stephen’s Gate (Lion Gate).

Just along from St Anne’s (which included a walk around the pools of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the paralyser man) are the two chapels commemorating the condemnation and flagellation of Jesus at the hands of Pontius Pilate. Very simple, and quite small chapels, we were all struck by the beauty of the stained glass windows in Barluzzi’s chapel of the flagellation – but I couldn’t remember the artist … Anyone know? (later edit: the three magnificent stained glass windows in the choir are the work of L. Picchiarini after the design of D. Cambellotti; they represent The Scourging, The Washing of Hands and The Triumph of Barabbas.)

Doing our best to avoid the large groups which were converging from all sides and threatening to swallow us up, we dodged into the Lithostratos beneath the Convent of Eccentric Homo. We welcomed the cool of thus underground venue and it would be nice to think, as we stood on flagstones that made up the original roads of Jerusalem during the Roman Occupation that some of us might, quite literally, be following in the footsteps of Jesus.

Leaving the Via Dolorosa, we climbed the stairs to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to see the Etheopian monastery before descending through their two chapels into the courtyard we had first visited some 7 hours earlier!

Lunch on the rooftop restaurant of Papa Andreas and a visit to the sweet shop in the Souk was all that was left before heading back to the hotel.

Later this afternoon we are meeting with some if the young Palestinian Christians who are part of Youth4hope and, after tea, we are taking the opportunity to visit absolutely nowhere and do absolutely nothing – we’ve deserved it!
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Day 1 – afternoon and evening

September 3, 2010

Having walked the Mount of Olives this morning, we left the hotel mid-afternoon to visit the Garden Tomb near the Damascus Gate. It is a peaceful contemplative place – particularly as we had reached the Damascus Gate just afternoon prayers finished – it was a bit of a scrum and the tranquility and space afforded us in the Garden Tomb enclosure was very welcome!

We continued up Nablus Road Street (sic) and spent some time playing “hunt the URC kneeled” in St George’s Cathedral before walking back up to our hotel. On the way back we were stopped by a couple of young western women who told us that they were “looking for a demonstration” did we know where one was? The last Friday of Ramadan and the start of Shabbat meant that the Old City was pretty much wall to wall demonstration (which is why we avoided it today) but we pointed them in the right direction and wished them the best!

My good friend Miral was waiting for us when we got back. She has been to all of the Youth4Hope training camps and had agreed to come and meet with our young people to share a bit about herself. Unfortunately this included revealing that her favourite band is Westlife! It was lovely to see her again.

After tea, Khalil Abdinnour came to speak to us about Jerusalem Ark and, in particular, the kids and youth programmes they run. I was delighted that they were able to spend time with us.

Tomorrow is an early start for some – I’m taking anyone who wants to go down to the Holy Sepulchre at 06:30 – before it gets too crowded. A few have said that they want to come – we’ll see :)

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FURY visit to the Holy Land

September 3, 2010

Apart from my work with the Jerusalem Arc organisation, the other joy I am lucky enough to experience in the Holy Land is bringing young people to visit the places if which they have heard in the Bible.

This visit was originally intended to follow the chronological life of Jesus – start in Bethlehem, go to Galilee and end in Jerusalem but the hotels weren’t able to accommodate us in that order so we’re doing it in reverse :)

This morning, we got a lift from our minibus to the Church of the Pater Noster and then walked down to Gethsemane via Dominus Flevit.

A stop at the Cave of the Olive Press and the orthodox Tomb if the Virgin Mary before skirting the walls of the Old City (dodging the stone throwing child – or trying to!) up to the Dung Gate where we found time to visit the Western Wall – once we’d got through security!

Lunch was in the Jewish Quarter before walking back to our hotel through the Armenian Quarter.

It was good to be able to do the ‘Tour Guide’ stuff again – probably bores the young people rigid, mind you!

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