Saturday, January 5, 2019

Next Steps - The Trip Ends, the Journey Continues

So here we sit in the Newark airport in the we hours of the morning waiting for our flight home. We are tired and ready to be home.

We have had an incredible trip,
have seen so many holy sites,
have been challenged by wonderful speakers and situations,
have learned about the complexities of this beautiful land and its even more beautiful people,
have argued and cried together,
have renewed our baptisms and celebrated communion,
have been encouraged to transfer all we have learned into our daily lives.

We return home completely changed in ways we have identified but in many more ways that we are as of yet unaware. This trip, our fellow travelers, the people we met along the way, will continue to work on us for days, months, years to come.

And now, here is the challenge . . .
be patient with ourselves. The changes will not transfer overnight.
continue the process we have begun.
never forget.
This is a lifelong calling toward a lifelong journey of faith together. And it is only together with all of our perspectives; all of our experiences; all of our lives that we will find a way forward.

We are humbled by the presence and history of those who have gone before us.
We are encouraged by those who walk beside us.
We are reminded of the place and purpose we have in this beautifully complex and wonderfully messy world in which we live.
May we find the courage to be human together and appeal to our better angels to leave this world a more wonderful place because we have been a part of it.

Thank you for your prayers!
The trip is over, but now the real work begins . . .

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Next Steps - Day Eight - Al-Aqsa Mosque, Dome of the Rock, and Yad Vashem

Today began with the once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the third most holy site in all of Islam - Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. There is no way to convey the power of this experience in words or in pictures. Not many have the chance to venture into these mosques. They are not open to the general population. George helped make this possible for us. And the participants of Next Steps lived fully into the opportunity. The beauty we met there is beyond compare. The holiness experienced was palpable.

The rock around which Dome of the Rock is built.
Muslims believe it was from this rock that Muhammad ascended into heaven.

Following our visit we had free time to explore the Old City. We were able to walk through the various quarters, purchase some souvenirs, and eat delicious food.

Then it was off to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. To say this experience was moving would be a gross understatement. We will be unpacking this visit for weeks, months, and perhaps even years to come.

The view as you leave the museum.

A monument to the children’s lives that were lost and whose narrative was silenced.
Inside, the names are read in a continuous loop along with their ages.
Thank you for your consistent prayers and support. We will be busy tomorrow, so this is our last blogpost. Thank you is not enough to express our gratitude for this opportunity. We will be processing this experience for years to come.

Peace. Salaam. Shalom.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Next Steps - Day Seven - Narratives, Narratives, Narratives

This was one heavy day. It was a day when the walls, a church, and people spoke to us. And we tried to listen.

First stop was Efrat Settlement outside of Bethlehem where Ardie Geldman shared the narrative of an Israeli settler. Ardie was born and raised in Chicago and moved to Israel after graduating from college.

Next, we drove into Bethlehem to visit the wall which separates Israel and Palestine. The wall itself speaks volumes.

Then we visited Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and heard from Rev. Victor Makari, a PCUSA minister who works with the Lutherans and Episcopalians in their justice and reconciliation work. He is appointed to this position by the PCUSA national office in Louisville.

Finally, we had the honor of visiting the Ibda’a Cultural Center at Deihesheh Refugee Camp. We met with Hamzeh Abedrabbu who told us about his personal refugee experience and then gave us a tour of the camp.

There is a lot to process today. We are tired and full and ready for another great day tomorrow. I leave  you with this. Our tour guide, George Filmon, told us this during a meeting with him, Tyler, and May Zawahreh that he has never done a tour like this one. He said that we are not just interested in visiting the sites, but that we are wanting to engage the narratives that exist in the land, and that we are seeing the people for who they are. Then he said, “This is what it means to be Christian. This is what Jesus was about. This is a real pilgrimage.” This is what we are hear to do. This is what we hope to continue to do when we get home. This is an incredibly humbling thing for someone to say about us.

Thank you for your prayers. They are supporting us along the way. Peace! Salaam! Shalom!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Next Steps - Day Six - Tragic Rebellion, Ancient Writings, Salty Water, and an Evening Prayer

Today, we departed our hotel to drive to Masada where we learned about and experience both the beauty and the tragedy of that UNESCO World Heritage site. The views from the top were incredible, and the story is one human tragedy stacked upon another? If you are unfamiliar with the story, here is a link to information found on the UNESCO website.

Model of Masada
Roman Bath at Masada - part of the amazing complex designed by Herod.
The diamond shape is the remnants of the largest of eight Roman soldier camps built during the siege. 
Hot room in the Roman bath. Notice the original pipes from the 1st century BCE.
After our time in Masada, we departed for Qumran where a secretive and separatist sect of Judaism, the Essenes, dwelt and practiced their faith until the time of the destruction of the temple and the siege at Masada. This community was responsible for preserving what has become one of the most important archeological finds of the last century, The Dead Sea Scrolls.  Tens of thousands of scrolls were discovered that revealed the life of the Essene community, but more importantly, confirmed the accuracy of much of the Hebrew Scriptures (commonly called the Old Testament).

Scriptorium, where the Essenes copied sacred texts. 
Twice a day, the Essenes participated in ritual bathing.
Thousands of scrolls were discovered in this cave alone. 

After lunch it was time for a dip in the Dead Sea. No danger of sinking. Everyone floats!

This sleepy camel perfectly captures the way we feel tonight! It was an early trip to bed for all of us.

Thank you for your prayers! They are buoying us along the way. We have another incredibly full challenging day ahead of us tomorrow.

Our evening ended with this magnificent prayer offered by one of our college student participants:

Mother, Father, God, first, thank you for this wonderful opportunity to travel and see new things. Thank you for bringing us together so we may see your work, and your history. In the coming days, we pray for energy, open-mindedness, understanding, and empathy. Although we know as humans it is easier to ignore the humanity of our fellow brothers and sisters, help us to realize that hope starts with us. Help us to remain open to others’ stories and be cognizant of our privilege along with others hardships. Use us, Lord, and let us be a light in a land ravaged by conflict. Let us be the hope the professor spoke us to be in these hopeless spaces. We pray for refreshing sleep to wake tomorrow to do your work. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Next Steps - Days 4 & 5 - So Busy, So Beautiful, So Holy

We have been incredibly busy the last two days.

We have been challenged. We have been overwhelmed. We are thankful.

Day 4:
The day began with a return trip to Tabgha and the Church of the Primacy of Peter built on the rock where Jesus fed the disciples and where Jesus restored Peter (John 21).

We then traveled to the Mount of the Beatitudes outside of Capernaum. This beautiful sanctuary is built on the hillside where Jesus is said to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount. We read Matthew 5:1-16; 6:1-15; 6:25-34; 7:7-12).

We got on the bus for the long journey to the Jordan River. We drove into the West Bank and had an amazing conversation with George, our tour guide, about religion, politics, and conflict.

We stopped at the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism. We went to the water and celebrated a renewal of our baptisms together. We read the story of Jesus’ baptism from Matthew 3:13-17. What a moving experience for us all. “You are the beloved child of God, in whom God is well pleased.”

Then it was on to Jericho. We first saw the tree of Zacchaeus, and we read Luke 19:1-10. We visited the Mount of Temptation where tradition says that Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil or adversary (Luke 4:1-13). Following our visit, some students were able to make a new four legged friend that spits. Hurray for camel rides! 

Then we arrived in the city of peace and got our first view. After a brief overview, we headed to the Garden of Gethsemane. What a beautiful and mysterious holy place (Matthew 26:36-46).

End of Day Four.

Day 5:
This day began with an incredible conversation with the amazing Dr. Mustafa Abu Sway, who holds the Integral Chair for the Study of Imam Al-Ghazali’s Work at Al-Masjid Al-Aqua and at Al-Quds University. The students asked incredible questions and received thoughtful responses from this gracious man. What an honor.

We then left the hotel for the Old City, where we began our tour with a visit to the Church of St. Anne, mother of Mary the mother of Jesus (we even got to hear Sarah sing!). We also visited the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man who had been ill for 38 years (John 5:1-13).

This was followed with a journey down the Via Dolorosa. We visited all of the stops. The highlights were the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross, the Church of the Flagellation, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where we saw Golgotha, the tomb of Jesus, the tomb said to have belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, and the location where tradition says St. Helena discovered the real cross.

Then we visited the Western Wall where we joined the crowds from around the world as we prayed for you, for us, and for the world. May we find a better way together.

Our final stop of the day was Bethlehem. That’s right. In a single day, we got to visit two of the most holy sites for Christians around the world. We went in to the Church of the Nativity and touched the place where Jesus was born. Then we visited Nativity Square and the Mosque of Omar. A beautiful sunset greeted us as we prepared to depart for our hotel.

So, that is all for now. What an amazing day. On to bed to rest for another adventure tomorrow. 

Thank you for your prayers, and Happy New Year from Jerusalem!