Jordan 

On this day we crossed the border from Israel to Jordan. A new country meant a new guide and new bus. So we all got off our old bus, watched our luggage get loaded onto a big cart and then walked through customs and immigration to where our new driver was waiting.

Once we got situated, we headed to St. George’s Church in Madaba to see a really cool mosaic map of the ancient middle east dated to the 6th century AD.

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Top: A print of the map in the visitor’s center. The left side is north. Bottom: The mosaic map on the church floor. The blue area top right is the dead sea, the row of red roofs with a white line around them is Jerusalem.

Our second stop was Kerak Castle built by the Crusaders.


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Exploring the ruins of the castle . . .

 

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. . . and enjoying the views. I can see why all these palaces and cities were built on the hills. The room in the bottom right photo was the kitchen.

At this point of the trip, our itinerary got much lighter. The extra time to sleep on the bus during long drives and down time at the hotel was much appreciated.

 

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Our hotel in Petra

Bethlehem

On this day we traveled outside of Jerusalem to Bethlehem, but first we made a stop at the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. These ancient manuscripts were discovered in caves in the 1940’s and many were well preserved. We got to see a portion of the scroll of Isaiah, one of the only manuscripts completely preserved. It was remarkable to look upon the words of Scripture written so long ago.

The museum’s model of Jerusalem shows the steps we walked leading up to the Temple Mount.


Our first stop in Bethlehem, which is located in Palestinian territory, was the wall separating the city from Israel. We spent time walking along the wall and looking at the art and stories covering the wall.

Common themes expressed were desires for peace and for freedom.

After leaving the wall, we visited Bethlehem Bible College for lunch and a lecture from one of their professors on the Israeli-Palestine conflict from a Palestinian Christian perspective. The college is doing great work training up their students to minister in the Middle East. One of the way they fund the school is through their gift shop, which I encourage you to visit here.

The campus entrance

A depiction of the angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds in the school’s entryway


Our next stop was the Church of the Nativity, built over the site where tradition says Jesus was born. Unfortunately the place was a bit of a construction zone as some major restorations and renovations are being done, so it didn’t feel very church-like or peaceful. But then I suppose neither did the stable.

Some images from outside of the church

Mosaics in the church that are currently undergoing restoration


Our last stop of the day was a community called Roots which is a farm community run jointly by Israelis and Palestinians. Two members of the community, a rabbi and a Palestinian, shared their stories of how they came to a place of being able to appreciate the other and work jointly for reconciliation on a grassroots level. Roots is hoping to send some members of their community to speak in California in the fall, so click here to learn more about the organization and to find event information.

The shade covering was hung while we were visiting. We all ave a new appreciate for shade.

We call this Friday good

On this Friday we were back in Jerusalem and traveled the path of the Passion and Christ’s resurection. We began at the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed and was arrested.

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The olive tree in the bottom center photo is the oldest tree in the garden and may have been there when Jesus was.

Our next stop on the journey was the traditional location of the Upper Room, the location of the Last Supper and the place where the disciples stayed after Jesus’ death. We then visited King David’s tomb, near the Upper Room. It is widely accepted that this is the not the actual burial place of David, but it is a place where many come to honor him.

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There were many other visitors to the Upper Room.

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The entrance to King David’s tomb

We next visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the location of the last stations of the Via Dolorosa including Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, and the tomb where he was buried. Amidst the chaos of the throngs of people and the somewhat overwhelmingly ornate decor of the church, there were many who were clearly taking the time to sit in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. We can never overstate the significance of the empty tomb, but it is important we don’t skip over the cross on our way there.

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The church entrance

We stopped for lunch on a rooftop in the old city and took some time for souvenir shopping before continuing our pilgrimage.

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Lunch with a view

 

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I was hoping to pick up a Golden Gate Bridge figurine, but I was in the wrong town.

We continued on the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took from his sentencing to the cross and then the grave. Today the locations of events that happened along the way are marked by signs. We ended up going backwards and quickly as we were trying to get to our last site before it closed. The way we traveled the Via Dolorosa was not the slow, reflective journey I was hoping for. But maybe the hurried, hectic pace while lugging heavy bags was more akin to Jesus’ journey than a leisurely prayerful walk.

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The Church of the Flagellation – the second station

 

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An overview of the Via Dolores

We ended this day at the Garden Tomb, a site believed by some to be the true location of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. Regardless of where you land on that subject, the beauty of the Garden Tomb is that the caretakers have maintained the site as a garden that fits the description of where Jesus was buried to give pilgrims a better sense of what the area was like.

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The bottom photos show us entering the tomb.

 

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He is Risen!

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The Empty Tomb!

To be in the city where Jesus gave it all was powerful. Wherever you are, take time to sit in the truth of his amazing love for us.

Rocks, Salt, and Other Minerals

Yesterday we spent most of our day underground in tunnels. Today we were up on the heights of Masada and Jerico. However the high hills were still at a lower altitude than all those tunnels in Jerusalem.

Today was also a little bittersweet as we said goodbye to our tour guide Anat and were handed over to Daniel.

We began the day at Masada, the location of one of King Herod’s palaces used as a fortress for a group of Jewish rebels under siege by Rome. The ruins of the palace are on the top of a high, isolated mountain so we took a gondola up to the top.

A model of Herod’s palace (top left) and views from the top of the mountain to show the height and isolation. The top center photo shows the ramp used to get up the mountain.

On the left is pictured a steam room (top) and the fireplace used to heat the steam (bottom). On the right are, top to bottom, a stucco wall, storage rooms, and a wonderfully shaded orientation plaza.

On top is a model of the water system. The lines in the foothills are trenches dug to feed water into cisterns at the base. Water would be drawn up from the cisterns like from a well. One of the cisterns is shown in the bottom photo.

After eating lunch in Qumran, we visited the Monastery of the Temptation above Jericho which commemorates Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

This guy was available for rides in a parking lot near Jericho.

We crammed in the cable car like sardines.

The monastery is built high into the cliffs and has a lovely intimate feel.

The bottom left photo shows caves in the cliffs where monks have lived.

This little guy was at the gift shop at the top of the mountain.

That little red spec is the cable car that took us up and down the mountain.

Our final stop of the day was the Dead Sea where we played in the mud and went for a float.

We are in the final stretch of our trip and prayers for stamina would be greatly appreciated. After experiencing so much, it is temping to shut down, so please pray that we would continue to engage for the rest of the trip.

The City of David – So Many Tunnels 

Welcome to the City of David! This is the area outside the old city walls where the Jerusalem of King David’s era lay. The site is still an active archeological dig, so it is constantly changing. One of the challenges is that much of the city is located under an Arab community that has been settled on the location for over 1000 years. Both Jews and Arabs have strong claims to the land. One people wants to excavate their history while the other wants to remain in their ancestral homes. As we have said many times on this trip, it’s complicated.

Some of the active archaeology. The Arab community on top of the City of David is pictured bottom right.

The Mount of Olives


After checking out some archaeology, we headed down to Hezekiah’s tunnel. The tunnel was built during King Hezekiah’s reign so that the people of Jerusalem would have access to water while under siege by the Assyrians. The siege is recorded in 2 Chronicles 32. We got to walk through the tunnel which was dark, narrow, and damp through water ranging in depth from mid-thigh to ankle high. It was an amazing experience and we all marveled at how they carved the tunnel by hand.

Clockwise from top: oil lamps, climbing down the stairs to the spring and Hezekiah’s tunnel, one of the many staircases we climbed, getting ready to go in the tunnel, the reservoir that held the water for Jerusalem

  

After trekking through the tunnel we made the ascent to the Temple Mount. We climbed the actual stairs Jesus would have climbed every time he went up to the temple after washing at the Pool of Siloam. Jews came up to the Temple three times a year for three different festivals. Since Jesus lived about 33 years, he would have walked these steps around 99 times. With that many trips, he must have stepped on just about every inch of those steps. As we climbed, we listened to some of the Psalms of Ascent – Psalms the Jews sung on the way to the Temple (Psalms 120-134).

Standing on a Roman road near the Pool of Siloam

The ruins of the Pool along with a rendering of what it may have looked like

Beginning the ascent to the Temple Mount

The stairs are not completely excavated, so much of the journey was through a tunnel that used to be a Roman drainage ditch that ran below the street as shown in the mural. The walls were green with mold and moss

Pictured here is a Roman Road running alongside the Temple Mount. The stones on the ground were toppled when the Romans destroyed the Temple. The damaged paving stones were broken by the falling rubble.

A partially reconstructed Roman street market

Part of the city wall, now underground

The Zion Gate

 

In the afternoon, we visited Musalaha, an organization that facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. You can learn more about their work here.

By the end of the day, we were worn out, but most of us hung in there to visit the Western Wall. We went down another tunnel along the wall and saw several Jewish women praying as close as they could get to the site of the Holy of Holies. Please pray that God would answer their fervent prayers and satisfy the longing apparent in their faces.

The Jordan

On this day we left the beautiful Gallalee and headed south along the Jordan River. Our first stop was Tel Megiddo, also known as Armageddon.

Various gates and entryways into the ancient city uncovered and reconstructed by archaeologists

This is where grain would have been stored to feed the residents of the city. There are two narrow ramps spiraling around the edge – one for people going down, the other for people coming up.

Pictured here are alters and other items of pagan worship.

King Solomon’s Stables where the remains of some of his horses were found and put on display. 😜

A tunnel built to a spring so that the city would have access to water during a siege.

 

We drove along the Jordan River to the spot where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John. Many of the places we have visited are referred to as, “tradition says such and such event happened here.” The reality is we don’t know for sure that any of these events happened exactly where they are honored today. We do know that pilgrims have been visiting many of these sites since the first century. But to be honest, the exact location isn’t of high importance to me. We know Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, but we have no problem celebrating his birthday on that date. The important thing is that we believe these things happened. To even get close to the location is amazing. And as one of our team members asked the other day, “What if this is the place?”Our last stop before Jerusalem was Ein Gedi, an oasis in the Judean desert where David hid from King Saul. We hiked up along the springs surrounded by a beautiful barren wilderness and a view of the Dead Sea.

Pictured top left is an Ibex and bottom right is a Tristram’s starling.


At the end of the day, we finally arrived in Jerusalem and stopped at the Hebrew University to take in the view. We also had another global church sighting when we ran into a group from Brazil we had seen on Mount Carmel. We even discovered that one of their ladies had lived in the Bay Area. What an amazing beginning to our visit to the Holy City.

Galilee Day 2

We began our second day on the Galilee at the Church of the bBeatitudes built on the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount which starts in Matthew 5. After walking through the church, we sat in the garden and had a time of reflection over our time in Israel.

Once we finished sharing with each other, we drove to Cana where Jesus performed the miracle of turning water in to wine. In Cana, we attended an Arab Israeli church service and got to hear the story of the pastor and his family and congregation. It was a blessing to worship with other believers and share a time of fellowship with these very hospitable people. We also got a sneak peak of their new church home currently undergoing renovations. 


Our afternoon consisted of two stops; the first was Zippori believed to be Mary the mother of Jesus’ hometown.

Pictured on top is what a Roman triclinium, or living room may have looked like. The bottom photo is the tile mosaic floor of a triclinium at Zippori. The sides of the floor without tiles were where the three couches would have been placed.

Ruins of the neighborhood in Zippori (top) and a Mikva used by Jews for ritual cleansing (bottom).

A tile mosaic of “the Mona Lisa of the Galilee” located on the triclinium floor

Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac pictured on the synagogue floor


Our second afternoon stop was Nazareth where we toured the Church of the Annunciation and crashed a wedding. 

The Church of the Annunciation was designed to honor Mary and her role as the mother of Jesus. However Jesus is at the top of the church’s facade as a reminder that he alone is Lord. Across the front is inscribed, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

The upper level of the Church of the Annunciation that serves as an active community church. If you look closely, you can see there is a wedding ceremony taking place in the front.

Looking into the room where the annunciation took place.

The church was built around the room where is is believed Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she was going to bear a son

One of my favorite parts of the church in Nazareth was pictures of Mary and Jesus given by Catholics from many different countries. Just a few are shown below and are yet another reminder of the global church we are a part of. Enjoy!

South Africa & Guatemala

Thailand, The Vatican, & Korea

Scotland, China, & El Salvador

The Slovak Republic, The Philippines, & Germany

Ireland, Ecuador, & Mexico

Wales, Sri Lanka, & the United States