Saturday, June 12, 2010
I'm also very envious. And nostalgic for some days of yore.
Yore being June 2006. When Mom and I went to Israel together. It was the trip of a lifetime, and a journey that changed my soul. I can only sum it up this way: if you ever have the opportunity to tour the Holy Land, YOU MUST GO. Make haste and update your passport and GO. You will not regret it.
When planning the trip, I'd tell people where we were going, and I'd get this response, "Oh. Huh. Israel. Interesting. Why? Aren't you scared?" And I would answer, "Israel! Israel! The Israel. To tour the Holy Land and walk where Jesus walked and no, not in the least".
We flew over to Tel Aviv via Newark on El Al airlines, the only airline in the world that works six days a week. They are traditional Jews and do not work on the Sabbath. So from sundown Friday night to sundown on Saturday night, no one lifts a finger, including all the employees of El Al. It's fascinating. It took us about three hours to get through security. They all but asked us for a body fluid sample. But hey, if it's in the name of air safety, I'll oblige.
We arrived in Tel Aviv, eight hours ahead of good old Dallas time, met up with the second half of our group from Prestonwood Baptist Church, and boarded our buses for Galilee.
Galilee, y'all. As in, Jesus of.
The first few nights, we stayed in a hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee! It was from here we went to a natural amphitheatre overlooking the Sea where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount. We also took old wooden boats, similar to the fishing boats used by the disciples across the lake to have a delicious dinner of St Peter's fish, better known as tilapia, on a kibbutz on the Sea. A kibbutz is a small Jewish community that functions as a commune. We also went to Capernaum, the town where several of the disciples grew up, possibly the home of Jesus, and the synagogue where He began His ministry.
After several magnificent days on the shores of Galilee, we reboarded our buses and went to - get this - the Jordan River. And guess who got baptized in the Jordan? That's right - me! I did. I got baptized in THE Jordan River, quite possibly one of the most famous rivers in the world, and in the very same muddy waters in which Christ was christened by that crazy old John the Baptist who ate locusts. Sure, there might be a rumor or two about the Jordan being contaminated by raw sewage and all, but ask me if I cared. Not in the least. It was the Jordan River. My heart was being ceremonially abluted in the Jordan River. Wow, what an experience.
We then made our way through the desert by way of air-conditioned coach to the Holy City itself, Jerusalem. Let me tell you, this place is breathtaking. The buildings, all made of natural stone, are bright, shining white, and give the illusion of crisp, clean, splendor. The climate is warm and dry - think California weather - so beautiful flowers abound everywhere you look. By law, nothing is allowed to be built higher than the Temple, so there are no tall buildings or skyscrapers. It is also a no-fly zone, so there is minimal air pollution or noise. Everywhere, there is an aura of spirituality, of reverence, of tradition. Spectacular.
The first morning we were in Jerusalem, we went to the Mount of Olives, where we watched to sun rise over the Old Jerusalem. We then walked the same path Jesus took on Palm Sunday from the Mount down to the Golden Gate to the old city. We spent time in the Garden of Gethsamane, and gazed at olive trees said to be more than 800 years old. We posed for a group photo in front of the Lion's Gate, the same one to which Jesus will be returning someday (soon!). That evening we took a walking tour of the astounding tunnel system underneath the Temple Mount.
Some notable things we did while in Jerusalem: we visited the Upper Room where the Last Supper was held, we stood in the dungeon prison Jesus was kept and beaten the night before His crucifixion, and we prayed at the Western Wailing Wall. (Incidentally, people write prayer request notes to the Lord and place them in between the stones of the wall. Yours truly wrote a prayer asking for a family. See? He answered!) We toured the Temple Mount - although not the Dome of the Rock (the golden-domed mosque you see in photos), as it is a Muslim holy site. Both Israelis and Palestinians claim sovereignty over the Temple Mount and essentially "share" its holiness but for totally different reasons, so it is a really interesting though somewhat bizarre place to visit.
Also while there, we went to the mountaintop settlement of Masada, to Qumran to see the Dead Sea scrolls, exfoliated and floated in the Dead Sea, and walked the Via Dolorosa, the road which Christ carried His cross to His crucifixion. We had a somber visit and cried at Golgotha, then rejoiced as we stood in the empty tomb. We picked up the same-sized stones in the Valley of Elah that David used to kill Goliath - mine still sits on my desk as a reminder of what God can help little people to do. We went to the beautiful Cesarea by the Sea, and stared out in wonder and anticipation over the Valley of Armageddon.
We did have to cross into some Palestinian territories on our voyage, and it was really interesting to me to witness the distinct discrepancies between the Israeli and Arab regions. The Israeli-occupied areas were always bright, clean, cheerful and well-kept. The Palestinian zones seemed to be dirty and oppressive, the shifty citizens with dark, wary, guarded qualities to them. It could have been a coincidence, yes, but we no doubt saw this disparity everywhere we went.
It was such an incredible experience to watch history and the Bible come alive before your very eyes. Yes, there were a lot of guns - anyone who has ever served in the Israeli army is permitted to carry a gun - and every man and woman (!) are automatically drafted into the army; therefore pretty much anyone of age is allowed to carry a gun. And sure, we did have many, many security checks by the very nice and handsome men of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) with the very large submachine guns and ammunition strapped to their shoulders. But to be honest, it actually made me feel more safe to know Israel is our national ally, and that these men and women were dedicating their lives to doing their best to keep peace in their very controversial and beloved country. Carry on, friends.
Thank you for indulging me as I carry on about this fabulous trip. I still maintain, if you ever have the chance to visit this magical place, please go. It will be the trip of a lifetime. Mom and Dad, whenever you go/are there, I wish you the most meaningful experience of your lives. And here are just a few of the 500 photos I took of our trip.