Up to Jerusalem

We left the Galilee this morning and headed for Bet She’an, about a half hour drive away.  Bet She’an is a really great site because there are a lot of old ruins that students can actually climb on.  The city itself was destroyed by an earthquake several centuries ago and until recently, lay covered under rubble.  They took some of the toppled columns and erected them but some they left down and so at once you can see the shape of the city but it also leaves some up to the imagination!

From there we entered the West Bank, to Jericho so that the students could take a ride on a camel.  They each got a short ride and were all swarmed by men trying to sell keffiyeh (the Arab head scarf) and jewelry.  The men were convincing and some students ended up walking away with some goods.  After that we had my favourite lunch at a Palestinian restaurant in Jericho.  The dish is traditional and is called “upside down” – a mix of rice, chicken, and spices – and it’s absolutely delicious!  We don’t always get to try this sort of regional cuisine so I was happy to have it today.

Finally we went on our way up to Jerusalem.  Our guide told us that this is what one always must say: I am going up to Jerusalem.  One never goes down to Jerusalem.  As we entered the city, our guide played us a couple of songs about going up to Jerusalem – one in Hebrew, and the other in English.  I guess it’s a thing.  Our first stop was to drive up the Mount of Olives and the Pater Noster or Church of Our Father.  This church has a courtyard that has the Lord’s Prayer in hundreds of languages all over its walls.  Our Winkler folks made sure they found the one written in Plautdeutsch.  From the Pater Noster, we walked over to the Dominus Flavit chapel.  This is another church designed by our friend Antonio Baluzzi.  If you read yesterday’s blog about the Mt. of Beatitudes Church, you’ll remember that Baluzzi is very intentional with his design.  This church focuses on the tears of both the women that wept for Jesus and for Jesus’ tears as well.  It is shaped like the little vases that mourners will use to hold their shed tears.  Inside behind the altar, there is a large window with a cross in the middle.  This cross falls directly in line with the Al Aqsa mosque (the golden dome that everyone recognizes is in Jerusalem), as if beckoning worshippers to pray over the city of Jerusalem and the religions that converge there.

Our final stop of the day was the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations.  A few of us had some cool experiences there.  We have an alumna along with us Jill, who spent quite a bit of time by the Garden, pondering what it might be like the be the gardener who tends that garden all year.  Since the gardener was in there, she struck up a conversation and found out that he has been the gardener for 22 years, and his father for 40 years, and now he is considering passing it onto his son.  He then gifted Jill with a cutting from an olive tree in the garden.  It was a very special moment for her.  I met a young Japanese man who asked me if I knew what the significance of that place was in Christ’s journey.  It took a few tries as his English was limited but we got there and he finally nodded saying he remembered reading the story but found it difficult to understand.  He thanked me for explaining and was on his way.  It made me think about all the nations that come together to meet in this place – in the Holy Land.  We hear so many different languages all day long but as pilgrims, we are united under the banner of Christ and his love for us.  It’s staggering to consider all of these people from all over the world who come to this place for this purpose.  We are also here with 2 other major world religions and that is something that is fascinating as well.  Tomorrow we will hear more about this as we visit a Jewish settlement, a Christian Bible College, and a Muslim Palestinian refugee camp.

This is a short one today with no pictures.  I will add pictures tomorrow.  Yesterday was the start of the Purim Festival and there are major festivities happening in the city tonight!  I’m heading out with a handful of students to see if we can find at least one of the parties.  We’re also doing a bit of a social experiment where nobody is allowed to bring a phone or a camera and only 20 shekels so that we can really experience being present.  I’m looking forward to how this goes.  And now…it’s party time!

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