Final Good Byes

We are in the final few days of Mile Two’s 4th year and this is the final blog post of this academic year, and from this address.  This blog address was actually shut down right in the middle of our Israel trip and Providence’s Marketing and Communications department worked very quickly to get it back up again, once they realized it had gone down.  Once this school year is over though, we will be finding a new place to blog that will find its way under the Mile Two website.  Thank you to those who have followed with us this year and have prayed for our students (and Jeff and me) along the way!

One Wednesday we will have 11 students completing their year at Mile Two.  It’s been a long year but as we’ve spent the last few days reflecting with the students, it’s been a valuable year, full of growth.  We’ve seen all of the students grow and change in their own ways and certainly all of them have fallen more in love with God.  They’ve grown to love each other and I’m looking forward to celebrating their friendships with each other tomorrow when we have our own private Mile Two party celebration.  It’s been a full year with many ups and downs but today I think we are on the upswing…and hopefully we’ll keep on that trajectory until Wednesday.  Please pray for our students as they leave this place.  A handful of them have summer jobs lined up but a number of them are still unsure of what they will be going to once they leave this place.  Mile Two for many becomes somewhat of a haven and so it can be a difficult transition to leave this safe space.  But they are stronger, wiser, and kinder than when they arrived, so I’m not too worried that they’ll land safely once they get where they’re going.

Last full week

The countdown is on!  This week is the last full week of Mile Two and then we’ll have only a few more days after that left.  It seems like a lot of people around here are getting antsy for the year to conclude but having really cold weather has helped with that quite a lot (folks get really antsy when the weather turns warm)!

Last week the students learned a lot about social justice with Rachel Twigg Boyce.  They concluded their week with a walking tour of the West End (on a very cold day), learning about gentrification and the demographics of this very multicultural neighborhood.

This week is a bit of a mixed bag.  Jeff is going to spend the week teaching all the classes that he had wanted to teach this year but hadn’t had the time/space to do.  Tomorrow the students will tackle a theology of money.  Another day they’ll dive deeper into learning more about discipleship, the next day, they’ll do a review of the year, and finally, they’ll have an opportunity to write the story of the Bible – a daunting task to be sure, but they’ve really immersed themselves in the Bible, so I think they’ll do well!

Please pray that the Mile Two students will be able to finish off this year well.  They were really chatty this morning, which signaled a lot of social and spiritual growth for some of these students.  It’s so great to see them pushing towards the end!

Easter Monday – Eastertide

I think we all welcomed a shorter week last week as the students are starting to slow down with the end of the year swiftly approaching.  They all enjoyed having Danny McKay around for a few days, teaching on evangelism.  They all learned how to share their own testimonies in a compact format and one of the students shared this morning about an opportunity that came their way to share the Gospel on the weekend.  It is so great when our students can immediately put into practice what they learn in class during the week.

This week we are looking forward to having Rachel Twigg-Boyce join us in the classroom.  Rachel will be teaching on social justice and will conclude the week’s teachings in the city on Friday as she guides the students on a walking tour in Winnipeg’s West End.  I’m looking forward to having this particular class right near the end of the semester, as it provides an opportunity for the students to take all that they’ve learned throughout the year about what the Bible teaches and move it into praxis.

Please continue to pray for our students, as they finish their year of Mile Two in only a couple of weeks.  They still have some assignments that are due and the stress of this has been overwhelming to some.  Please join me as I pray that they will be able to focus on learning from and completing their assignments while being able to enjoy the meaningful friendships and relationships they’ve been able to build in this community this year.

Holy Monday – Holy Week

It’s the final week leading up to Easter.  It’s hard to believe how quickly time is going.  With Good Friday happening this Friday, it’ll be another short week for the students.  Last week the students had a great time with Brian Neisteter teaching them on prayer and worship.  It sounds like they were challenged to expand their views on worship and prayer and found Brian’s teaching valuable.

This week we’re happy to welcome Danny McKay back to the classroom.  Danny works with the organization I am Second and will be focusing his teaching on evangelism.  Danny is a really charismatic guy who is gifted at evangelism, so I think the students will be really drawn into his teaching this week.

And then…it’s the long weekend!  Happy Holy Week, Happy Easter everyone!

March 19, 2018

First blog post since Israel!  The students arrived back on campus last Thursday and we spent the following 2 days debriefing the trip.  They all got to discuss and choose their favourite places to visit (no clear champion in that voting process) and then they discussed more of the Israel-Palestine conflict.  I’ll say this much – this is the most educated group we’ve had yet, heading to the Middle East, and it showed as we traveled around together, consistently encountering the conflict in various ways.  I think it’s possible that this group found their empathy for all parties a little more accessible because they had come into these lectures with so much information beforehand.  Last Friday, we did the SOAP note process together in realtime, rather than the students doing it beforehand.  As we walked through a few chapters in the Gospels, it was really cool to hear the gasps and recognition of the names of places as students realized that they had been standing on that very spot not even a couple weeks before.

This week the students are back in the full swing of things.  We are going to be welcoming Brian Neisteter to the Mile Two classroom this week.  Brian works with Sanctuary House of Prayer in Winnipeg, which is basically a 24-7 movement of prayer.  This is Brian’s first time teaching with Mile Two so we are looking forward to hearing what he has to share on prayer.  Please join me in praying for Brian as he teaches our students this week!  Please also pray for the Mile Two program as we are accepting applications for the fall and we would love to see applications pouring in for next school year!

Final Day :(

Today felt a little more relaxed because we didn’t have the pressure of any bookings except towards the middle afternoon.  We had planned on heading up to Al Aqsa mosque (Dome on the Rock, Temple Mount) first thing this morning but the line to get up there was too long – possibly a 2 hour wait.  The whole city has been busier than we’ve experienced before, but we got to see some different things as a result of shifting our schedule (which I’m more than happy about!).  We ended up adding the Upper Room – acknowledging where the Last Supper happened, King David’s Tomb, and the Dormitio Abbey – the resting place of Mary, mother of Jesus.  These were nice additions to the schedule and I wonder if the students got more out of these places, than they would have, wandering around the Temple Mount anyway.  From there we zipped over to The Pool of Bethesda and St. Anne’s Church.  We sang the Doxology because this is a thing that tourists do – sing in cavernous churches with beautiful acoustics.  It was so peaceful and lovely that Cameron guided us through a couple verses of Amazing Grace.

The big thing of the day was the Via Dolorosa.  This walk is also known as the Way of the Cross and is the traditional route that Jesus took to his death and then his resurrection.  We usually do this walk, first thing in the morning because it’s not so busy and most of the shops aren’t open.  Doing it in the afternoon this year made for a hurried and distracting walk.  I was more intentional this year about focusing on each of the Stations of the Cross but I noticed it was difficult for everyone to stay focused because at times it was difficult to even hear the explanations of each Station.  When we got to the tomb, the lineup was far too long to stand in, so we looked at the outside for a moment and exited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where the end of the Via Dolorosa is.

We had just a couple of hours of free time to eat lunch and shop in the Old City.  I went back to a couple of my favourite shops.  It’s amazing talking to some of these shop owners who have owned these shops for many generations.  I always go to one shop that has the dad and 3 sons working there.  Two of the sons are jewelry makers and they always remember me when I return.  It’s full of knick knacks and it’s an interesting enough shop for both genders, so I took a rather large group of students there to look at their scarves, their Ottoman period crown, and their ancient (older and deepest they say) well in the corner of the shop.

Our final stop of the day was The Garden Tomb.  This is probably the only Holy Site in Jerusalem that is dominated by Evangelicals.  It’s a peaceful garden where they have proposed an alternate site to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We were able to share communion in the garden and it was very meaningful as Cameron sort of forced us to pause and reflect on being in the Holy Land.  He reminded us that it didn’t matter where it happened – just that it happened!

We finished the day with a longer debrief, which I will try to consolidate at a different time and a dinner out with our tour guide and bus driver.  We leave tomorrow morning – we head out at 8 a.m. local time so you’ll be seeing us soon.  It’s been nice to keep all of you updated with the blog and I’m glad that you decided to join us on this trip.  Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s been very difficult to post any photos or sound clips on here because of our Internet connection, so in the next few days I’ll be adding to these posts.  I hope you come back to give them a look.

Wondering what it sounded like in our hotel, around 3 and 6 pm?  Click the link below.

CalltoPrayer

Out and About Jerusalem

Today we started out on foot with our first stop at the Western Wall.  We did a virtual tour first, where the VR takes you to the 1st century temple and you can see what it would have looked like in all its glory.  We then stepped outside into the already warm sun and spent a bit of time at the Western Wall (also called the Kotel or Wailing Wall).  It was relatively quiet since it was still pretty early in the morning, but there were a number of people worshipping and praying.

The better part of our morning was spent worshipping with other Christians at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, right in the Old City.  Our tour guide our second year introduced it to us, as it is his home church.  We find it a welcoming space and the preacher, Rev. Carrie’s messages always seem to hit home.  Her message today, about all of us as imago dei was especially poignant as we have been meeting so many people from all over, and hearing their stories.  Just before we left the Old City, we stopped in Moshe Kiminski’s shop in the Jewish Quarter.  Moshe and his brother moved from Toronto to open up a book shop in Jerusalem.  Quite often, he has a group that drops by, closes his shop, puts out a bunch of stools, and invites the group to sit down for a conversation.  Today he shared with us why he and his brother opened this shop, which was to remind people why they are here.  He told us that he feels that people don’t decide to go to Israel – that if they are in Israel, they have been called to Israel.  He has a number of Christian groups that stop by his shop and it is very apparent that he loves the dialogue and is open to it.  Unfortunately, it was a shorter visit than we would have liked, but hopefully one that opens up more dialogue.

I think the highlight of the day for most was Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which we did in the City of David.  This tunnel is 533 km long, all under ground.  It’s a very fantastic work of civil engineering, thinking about how they started the tunnel from opposite ends and worked their way towards each other!

We finished our day with 2 museums.  The first museum was Shrine of the Book.  In front, there is a 2000 square meter 50:1 scale model of 1st century Jerusalem.  Honestly, I’ve seen it 4 times, but it made even more sense after the VR tour this morning!  We then went and looked through the Shrine of the Book which is dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls and to a lesser degree, the Aleppo Codex.  The highlight of this is the facsimile of an almost entirely intact Isaiah scroll.  There’s something so significant about any person who can read Hebrew (which is mostly everyone in Israel), being able to read this scroll, even though it was written a couple thousand years ago.  One thing I did spend time asking myself about both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Aleppo Codex, is why these remained secret for so long.  Both of these items were shrouded in great mystery…I just think if I had something so precious, representing the Truth, that I would want to make sure I’m sharing this Truth with others.  Again, one of those periphery questions!

Our final stop of the day was Yad Vashem – the Jewish Holocaust Museum.  To say it is a difficult journey, is an understatement.  Every year, I try to talk about it, but words always seem to fail.  It’s such a significant part of our trip, but unexplainably hard.  I had a lot of thoughts going through but I will write about one difficult thought and one hopeful today.  First the difficult.  There’s a poem that I have noticed a couple of times before in the museum, found in a notebook of poetry, written by Abramek Koplowicz, murdered in Auschwitz at age 14.  I wrote it down so I could write it here and it goes like this: “I’ll travel and see this world of plenty.  In a bird with an engine I will sit myself down, Take off and fly into space, far above the ground I’ll fly.  I’ll cruise and soar up high Above a world so lovely into the sky.”  It was so easy for us to get into this bird with an engine and fly the 12 hours to Israel, hardly even giving any thought to what was happening.  Abramek had this dream that was never realized.  We’ve encountered many Palestinian children that have this same dream that will never be realized.  I hope our students will be able to know how much they have and be thankful.  The second thought I had was this: I walked into the Children’s Memorial which is a very haunting experience.  Half a million children were murdered during the Holocaust.  All the numbers are staggering.  When you walk into this dark building, there is a haunting hum that you hear, and then you see a number of translucent black and white photos suspended in the air.  As you walk further in, it’s dark and you can see a few candle flames that are thrown onto mirrors to represent all the children that died.  An ominous voice reads out the names, ages, and countries, of each of the children.  Anyway it’s very sobering but as I stared into the darkness and the many lights, I thought about how much they reminded me of stars and then I thought about God’s promise to Abraham – that he would make his children as many as the grains of sand on the earth and as vast as the stars in the sky.  I thought about how important it is for Yad Vashem to name each name whenever it is possible and I thought about the Room of names that holds volumes upon volumes of names and personal stories from each Jewish person that experienced the Holocaust.  In a way their light has not been extinguished, but is carried on in this legacy.  And I thought about how extraordinary it is that there is always a remnant.  No matter how hard man has tried to extinguish the Jewish people, God has kept his promise to Abraham.  I hope this fills you with hope as much as it has filled me.

Tomorrow is our last day in Israel.  We fly out the next morning!  Please come back and check on these posts in a few days as I will have added photos and in some cases sound, to them.

 

 

Desert Day

We had an early start this morning so that we had plenty of time to spend in the desert. Our first stop of the day was Masada. It was a smoking 28 degrees by the time we took the gondola to the top of the fortress. Masada is a fortress built on top of an escarpment or a butte in the middle of the desert. It was built by Herod the Great and even now is very impressive. The other fascinating part of its history are the 900 Jews that completed a mass suicide there, sometime after it had been abandoned by Herod. As we wandered around the site, it was not entirely difficult to imagine the luxury Herod must have lived in, on top of Masada. We’ve spent some time on this trip considering the people on the periphery of the stories we hear. I may have mentioned the other day that one of our students had spent a lot of time wondering about the Apostle Peter’s wife and how she must have felt when he went and followed Jesus. There are so many ways, that as we are out and about, that we are interacting with millions of peoples’ stories that will continue to go unheard. But it is certainly something to spend time pondering. And if it’s not worth considering, it is at least entertaining.

Our next stop was En Gedi. This is where David hid from Saul and when Saul was busy relieving himself, David cut off a piece of his robe, to later show him that he could have killed him, but chose not to, because he respected him as king. So if you could, for a moment imagine, that we are in the middle of the desert. There are a few trees, but they look to have been planted by the Israel Parks board. We went for a hike in, on a narrow, rocky path upwards, when suddenly there’s an oasis – a waterfall, succulents, greenery. It is quite stunning when you see that and this is where Cameron chose to spend some time on reflecting on God as our Living Water, in a dry and thirsty land. He reminded us of the desert we were in the midst of and the massive, dry cisterns we had observed up at Masada. Then, as we looked around at the waterfall, at the streams, we were reminded that this had been here when David needed it, as he ran from his enemies. Cameron later brought up that verse, Psalm 42:1 “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you.” I drank about 3.5 litres of water today because it was so hot. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to wander around a desert for any length of time and how thirsty I might get. The water situation here makes me think about how much for granted we take water! It came up yesterday because while we were at Dheisheh, we learned that their water will turn on once every 15 days for a number of hours. They aren’t told when exactly it will happen, it just does. Then it’s a mad scramble as they collect water in water tanks on their roofs. If they miss it, then they either have to wait another 15 days for water or they can order a water tank to come by and fill it for $100. This is something that I will never have to think of, as long as I live in Canada. This is another thought I will have to continue to ponder.

 

Our final stop for the day was the Dead Sea. The beach was packed when we got there but the students had fun floating around on their backs and slopping mud all over their bodies.

 

Tomorrow we head into the Old City for church and then we’ve got a couple of museums on this list. It’s hard to believe – only 2 more days in Israel!

All Day Bethlehem

We spent our entire day in the West Bank today with our first stop at the Jewish settlement of Efrat which is part of the Gush Etsyon Block.  Driving into Efrat is like driving into a little European town, except that we are in the Middle East and we had to enter into it much like a North American gated community.  The infrastructure is well-maintained and all the signs are in both Hebrew and English.  We met up right away with our host Ardie Feldman, who is an American Jew from Chicago.
Ardie is an affable man and a natural teacher.  He and his wife made aliyah in the 80s and have grown their family in the Efrat settlement.  Now, I realize that I may have used a bunch of words that not every reader will understand, so let me back up just a bit and explain a couple of things.  The West Bank is under the Palestinian Authority and there is a wall/fence that stretches across the border of Israel/West Bank.  On the West Bank side are many Jewish settlements that are large towns dotting the West Bank countryside.  These are more or less recognized internationally as illegal.  The settlers would say that it is their God-given right to be on that land.  Aliyah is the act of a Jewish person, who is living in the diaspora (outside of Israel), to move to (or return to) the land of Israel.

Ardie shared with us a bit of his own story and gave us some background on Efrat.  He then opened the floor to questions.  There were a couple of things that I found of interest that I thought I’d share today. 95% of homeowners in Efrat are religious.  However, 50% of children under 18 would consider themselves non-religious.  Of 6 children, 2.5 of Ardie’s children do not keep any religious observance.  I could tell that this is difficult for Ardie but he has hope that his children will return to their religious roots, just as he did, as an adult.  When he was asked about the 50% of non-religious children, Ardie talked about how difficult young people can find it to keep the Law.  There are too many restrictions, but interestingly, for Ardie, he said he recognizes that they are restrictions, but deep down, he doesn’t feel them as restrictions.  Ultimately I think it comes down to what we had heard another time from a different Jew – that to obey the Law is to love God.  And to love God is to obey the Law.  When asked why he stays there, why he lives in Efrat, and continues to observe the Jewish Law, Ardie replied, “My connection to my people is connected to my God and my understanding of my purpose here – it feels like I’m following the path”.

From Efrat, we headed into Bethlehem and after a short stop at a wood carving shop for some shopping, we dropped in at Bethlehem Bible College for a lecture and lunch.  Our lecturer, Grace, is a Christian Arab Palestinian and she shared with us her perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict from a Christian perspective.  We heard a lot about the forced restrictions on her as a Palestinian citizen, which really contrasted with the restrictions that Ardie talked about!  She said they have many young college students at BBC that just dream of what it is like on the other side of the wall – they feel trapped behind the wall.  Grace shared a final personal piece on working for peace as a Christian.  For her, she makes peace by making personal checkpoints – with college students, with her colleagues, her church, and her neighbours.  It was an interesting use of the word “checkpoint”, as it’s the access point to get to the other side of the wall and ultimately that might be one of my prayers for Grace and her colleagues at BBC – that they may make these personal checkpoints, and be an access point to God.

Our brains were pretty full at this point so we took a break in the lectures and visited the Church of the Nativity.  This is the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.  Thankfully the lines weren’t long and we were able to move through the church quickly, to look at the grotto, where there is a star to mark the spot that the star shone over and then a creche, a few feet away.  I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t tire of returning to the Holy Land year after year, and I was thinking about this today because things are always a little bit different year after year.  Sometimes there are new discoveries that are made and sometimes it just takes a long time to uncover or reveal some piece of art or architecture that’s been plastered over for centuries.  This year, a lot of scaffolding has been removed from inside the Byzantinian church.  This means that the first room you would enter into, is flooded with natural sunlight from the windows.  They have also uncovered these beautiful mosaics on the walls, and paintings of saints on the columns.  Because I love this aspect of the trip so much, this has been very exciting.

Our final stop for the day was the Dheisheh Refugee Camp.  As we tumbled off the bus, I heard a few exclamations of, “What?  That’s it?  We’re here?”  When we usually talk about refugee camps in class in the fall, students imagine that this is a whole area, filled with tents.  And when we get there, they are surprised to see it almost tucked a little bit in from the street and then narrow building after narrow, tall building.  Dheisheh was established in 1947.  There were tents back then, until they built 3×3 m rooms for each family.  So imagine being a family of 6 children and 2 parents, living in a 3×3 m room!  Their footprint hasn’t gotten a whole lot wider, but they were eventually able to build upwards, many years later.  So now you have a 500 square meter space, filled with narrow, tall buildings, narrow roads, and 14000 people.  At Efrat, there are 14000 people that live in 7 square km and when some of us heard that, we thought that is quite crowded compared to the 1 family per mile in some areas of southern Manitoba!  But then you enter a place like Dheisheh where the walls that surround the camp, must feel like they are closing in.  Our guide at Dheisheh for the past 4 years has been a man named Hamzeh.  He is a social worker that works with young people and he was born in the camp.  He’s a bit of a world traveller and told us that he had just gotten back from a trip to Greece a couple days ago.  He also mentioned that it is a whole lot easier for him to travel to Greece than it is to travel the 15 km or so to Jerusalem.  Hamzeh said that one of the worst things is to be a refugee  in Dheisheh while your home is 12 km away.  Hamzeh, his family, and most of the families in Dheisheh still hold the key to their homes they were forced to leave in and around Jerusalem.  It was another “can you imagine” moment, which is what my hope is for the students on this Bethlehem day every year. My hope is that they walk into this day, hearing the stories at opposite ends of this conflict, cultivating their empathy as they try to imagine what it would be like to be in the shoes of the other.  My empathy runs deep for Dheisheh.  Ever since my first visit 3 years ago, I have consistently found myself drawn to it and their story.  Something about Dheisheh has touched my spirit and I’m not sure what it is, but I can make a very good guess at it.  Today in particular, as I was listening to Hamzeh talk about his grandfather and all that was taken from him, never to be returned, I was reminded of my grandparents, who also had all of their things taken away from them, never to be returned.  You see, my dad was born in BC’s interior, in an internment camp for Japanese-Canadians, during the Second World War.  My great-grandmother’s “alien identity card” can be found in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of home and being home, without being at home.  Hamzeh has talked to our group before about how he will never call Dheisheh his home – it’s temporary.  This is part of the reason he holds onto his identity as a refugee and continues to live at Dheisheh.  He’s a sharp guy with great opportunities that regularly get offered to him.  But identifying as a refugee seems to be important to him.  I think part of it, is that it gives him a platform to share his story and the story of his people.  It’s also imbued with a lot of hope – a hope to return home some day – this is certainly what the keys point towards.  I would never want to begin to compare my own story with Hamzeh’s, but I think there’s a special understanding that can be shared because of my family’s experience.  I could go on about this experience for a while, but I’ll stop here, spend time processing, and come back to it in a little while.  I will end with this one quote from Hamzeh, only because I said I would earlier today and Hamzeh has a habit of naturally speaking poetry.  Cameron boldly asked (without expecting an answer) what Hamzeh thought the solution to this conflict was.  Surprisingly Hamzeh thoughtfully responded (so many are hesitant to respond to this question): “I believe in a one-state solution.  Jerusalem is not for Jews, it is not for Muslims, it is not for Christians.  It is for everybody.  We should all be able to live in justice and equality, not in peace.  We tried peace and it didn’t work. If we have justice and equality, love and peace will come later.”

I’ve been having a lot of trouble with our Internet connection, so I have not been able to post pictures.  I do want to get to them, but we have an early start tomorrow, as we spend our day in the desert!  I will get to these pictures though, even if you have to wait until we get home.  I’ve still been taking a lot!

***an update since yesterday

I slept on these thoughts last night and woke up this morning with a few more.  I’ll just add one of them here.  There were a couple of themes running through the three main lecturers we heard yesterday.  All of them talked about relationship, connection and belonging.  They also all talked about purpose and having a purpose.  This is what moves them forward every day and this is what keeps them rooted to this land.  All three of these speakers are bright, intelligent, and have experienced life outside of the West Bank.  The West Bank isn’t an easy place to live.  They don’t have easy and comfortable lives.  Grace and Hamzeh are often surrounded by depression.  But I heard hope in all of them.  Where they live is where their people are  – they feel connected to them and they belong to them, they hope and dream and pray for them.  And so should we.

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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