Wadi Qelt, Jericho, Qumran, and more

Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 11th, 2013

We left Bethlehem early this morning for an exciting trek down the steep curving road to the Wadi Qelt, (a dry river bed) imagining Jesus walking this road from Jerusalem to Jericho.  Seeing the Jewish settlements along the way securely fenced,  while clearing of olive fields of the Palestinians, we were reminded that the struggle continues.

Our first stop was at the St. George’s Orthodox Monastery, where the monks have On our way to St. George's Orthodox Monastery lived in caves and hillside hermitages on the steep mountain sides  since the 5th century AD. After a steep difficult descent and then sharp incline,  we were welcomed by the Monks to the monastery for “a cup of cold water.” The cave of Elijah was within this monastery.

As we boarded the bus, our guide announced the back road he had not been on for many years due to Israeli patrol known as the Old Roman, was now open and we entered this narrow road enroute to Jericho.  The scenery was breath taking, steep, bare mountains where we were able to see the Bedouin herding there sheep.  This was most likely the road of the Good Samaritan story. Other sites along the way was the winter home and burial site of Herod The Great, the Hill of Temptation of Jesus. Finally arriving  in Jericho, the city of palms, the oldest city on earth and 700 feet below sea level, we had a refreshing lunch. There we saw the tree Zacchaeus climbed to see Jesus.

On to Qumran after lunch with the temperature now above 105, we spent time visiting the ancient ruins of the Essene Community.  This is the site of the caves where two young Shepard boys found the sealed jars of the most ancient scrolls of scripture in 1947.

Trying to put pur feet down at the dead sea (trying NOT to float) All eager to continue on to our last destination of the day- a swimming experience  in the Dead Sea. It was a refreshing experience floating and then crawling through the clay and rocks to get out. It was an ecumenical and international swim with Jews, Muslims, Indians and many other colorful folks.

Exhausted we all boarded our bus back to Bethlehem.


Janet Gerber (for the group)


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Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 10th, 2013

Today was a day filled with moments of reflection, emotion and holiness. We started the day by visiting the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, then we visited the Catholic Church of the Pater Noster built on the site of a fourth century basilica. In it you can find The Lord’s Prayer written in over 100 languages. We visited the Dominus Flevit Church (meaning “Jesus Wept” in Latin) which is built in the form of a tear to symbolize the tears of Jesus. After that we walked to the Jewish Cemetery (still on DSC_0066 the Mount of Olives) and ended our morning by visiting the Church of All Nations which is a Church located next to the Garden of Gethsemane. The overwhelming feeling that comes over you when you see the trees in the Garden of Gethsemane is indescribable. The trees, that unfortunately are surrounded by a gate and open only to those who pay, are between 1,800 and 2,000 years old and may very well be trees Jesus sat under, or even touched. We took time to meditate around this garden and it is not difficult to get lost in the wondrousness of this garden, talking to the trees and connecting to lives past.

After this fabulous morning we went toward the Muslim Quarters, past the Kidron Valley, to the Church of St. Anne and Pool of Bethesda where we had time to meditate, have lunch and even sing inside the church. The echoes heard in this church are incomparable. We stood up as group and sang a hymn and we could tell that walls wanted to sing with us. They reverberated the song back to us like they wanted us to know that we were not alone. After we were done singing (and had shut our mouths) the echo continued for at least 6 to 7 seconds. It was amazing.

In the afternoon we walked along the Via Dolorosa and ended in the Garden Tomb where we meditated, celebrated communion and visited the tomb that is celebrated as Jesus’.

DSC_0337 We enjoyed a lot of reflection time which allowed us space to absorb our surroundings, to breathe in Jerusalem and the holy sites, with all the beauty and contradictions it comes along with. I leave you with the words we read on a sign in the Garden Tomb: “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.” Peace be with you.


Anita Laura Fonseca (for all the group)


Beauty, holiness and conflict

Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 9th, 2013

Today was another full day in the Holy Land. First we went to the Temple MoDSC_0447unt. It is amazing to think that this is probably a place where Jesus spent a lot of time here on earth. It was equally sad to think that this place has caused wars between the Jews, Christians and Muslims. A place of so much holiness has been turned i nto an excuse to treat one another so poorly. For me, a lot of the land of Israel has been a mix of beauty, holiness and conflict. The Temple Mount only reiterated this feeling.

From there we continued to the Western Wall. This was a very inteDSC_0030resting experience as we were able to pray against the wall. It was a shame that all of the women were not able to experience the Western Wall has it has become segregated between men and women. The women were given a very small section of the wall and not all of them were able to reach the wall before our time there had expired. Again, holiness in the midst of division.


We continued onward to the archaeological park where we saw the “Eye of the Needle”. It was amazing to think that Jesus probably stood on the very stairway that we were standing on. We continued after lunch to the Jerusalem museum where we saw some of the Dead Sea Scrolls and an impressive model of Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. To see the city as a visual model will be something that I will not soon forget. To visually trace the footsteps of Jesus during the Passion was very helpful. Having our minds filled, we left for St. Peter’s Cathedral to have our spiritual thirst quenched.

At St. Peter’s Cathedral we descended into the pit where tradition has it, Christ spent the night before his crucifixion. This site was the place where the high priest lived. It is also the site where Peter denied Jesus. With all of these events happening here, it was appropriate for us to reflect on the historical events, as well as those who still are in prisons around the world today. It was time well spent. One of the things I have liked most about our trip, is that we have enough time that we can also pray about what we see, feel, and hear. This was a very quick synopsis of our time in Jerusalem today. I continue to hold all of you at home in our prayers and hope that this blog edifies your soul as well. May the Lord strengthen and keep you. Amen.

Drew Ensz (for the group)

Greetings from Bethlehem!

Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 8th, 2013

Today we continued our journey with a “People” day. We traveled from Bethlehem to Jaffa to meet first with David Lazarus, pastor of Immanuel House; a congregation of Messianic Jewish believers. On the one-hour journey there we were informed and entertained by Tony, our very gifted tour guide. Also on our way to Immanuel House we saw the door of the house of Simon the Tanner (Acts 10:17)and spent a short time enjoying the Mediterranean Sea.

Pastor Lazarus shared his personal story of seeking God as a Jew; yet realizing that he needed the forgiveness which comes with belief in Jesus Christ through his cross. As a Messianic Jewish believer he is able to practice his Jewish heritage and also claim Jesus as his savior. Pastor Lazarus also shared the history of Immanuel House which began under the leadership of two Mennonite Missionary families in the 1950s, the Criders and the Swarzs. After our conversation we enjoyed a delightful picnic
lunch in the courtyard there.

With Rev. Naim Ateek at Sabeel Next, we traveled to Jerusalem and visited the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center for conversation with Rev. Naim Ateek regarding Palestinian Liberation Theology. Palestinian Liberation Theology comes from the context of the Holy Land, the land of the Bible. Jesus Christ was a Palestinian who lived his life under occupation and was killed by his oppressors. Palestinian Liberation Theology is a living theology. Today Palestinians face similar problems as Jesus. Sabeel works to answer the question, ‘As Christians how do we respond to the occupation?’

Our last conversation of the day was with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church and head of the International Center of Bethlehem. He discussed Contextual Theology with us and spoke about some of the programs of ICB. I will simply share a quote from Dr. Raheb which speaks volumes about his theology, “Hope is what we do.” Theology is the agent of all the projects of ICB.

This is a snapshot of our day. We ask for your prayers as we continue to experience this Holy Place.

With grace, peace, and hope,

Darlene Wilkins (for the group)

Mission Learning Experience

Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 7th, 2013

We are here in Bethlehem staying at a Lutheran Guest House.  Rumor has it that we are in Israel.  We were in Israel the first two days when we landed at Tel Aviv and stayed in Jerusalem.  Actually, Bethlehem is in the West Bank which is part of Palestine.  Palestine is governed by the Palestinian Authority.  This was part of the southern kingdom of Israel or Judea in Biblical Times, but it has changed hands many times since then. 

Today began with a prayer.  One of our members is exhausted from climbing Herodian, the summer palace and fortress of Herod the Great. It is on top of a mountain which he made even taller by making the people haul more dirt to raise the height of the mountain.  I’m glad the rest of us made it especially us older pilgrims.

Connecting at Deheishe Refugee Camp Today was more of a mission learning experience.  We made our first stop at the Deheishe Refugee Camp and school in Bethlehem.  Imagine being a refugee in your own country for over 60 years.  The camp is rented by the nation of Jordan since 1948 and Israel can’t take it.  However, they can enter with cause and determine what is built there even though it is in Palestine.  In it there are 13,000 inhabitants, one doctor that sees all his patients during four hours a day (up to 300 patients per day), there are 2 schools for 1500 students each. All in 4-5 acres. The camp is now operated by the United Nations.  Our guide, Rageoda was born in the camp.  He said, “my family home is only 10 miles away but we cannot live there.”  The Israelis bulldozed his home and have taken many of the rural areas of the West Bank so that the map of the West Bank is now a series of disconnected towns with walled off open space or Israeli settlements in between.  Rageoda says, “the rationale that Israel needs more land for population growth is not true because even though they have built settlements on some land, places like my families home were destroyed and the land is barren.”

Next we went to a college that was begun as a cultural center for Palestinians by the Lutheran Church.  It has been turned into an Art School to train local artisans and now has the status of a Community College.  We admired the students art skills, especially sculpting and jewelry making.  Then we had lunch at the eatery of our choice on the streets of Bethlehem.  The food was different from American but delicious.

In the afternoon, we went to the Omar Mosque and listened to the Mufti Amed El Maged tell us the Muslim point of view on faith.  He said “to be a faithful Muslim you must keep your body clean (undefiled), help the poor, pray attend Mosque and attend the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once during your lifetime if you can afford it.”  He pointed out that our math and a lot of medical science was first discovered by the Muslim world.

We rounded out our day at the Hope Secondary School, an ecumenical school supported by many churches in the United States and around the world, notably for us the Mennonite Central Committee and the United Methodist Church Advance Special Mission.  The school is for Muslim and Christian poor children and it is part boarding school.  The principle says, “we can’t teach Christianity exclusively, but we are glad that Muslim children get to experience real Christian People and practice here, and not the way they may be taught about Christianity.”


Ed Wilkins, for the group



Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 5th, 2013

Dear God,

you promised in your word that you would give us a new heart and new spirit. I want my prayers to you to have power and bring change in your time not ours and this is my prayer for the world.

Looking forward into the light could be one of the themes for this trip as we continually search for peace for the people that live in the “Holy Land”. Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Furst Jenkins and I attend Eastern Mennonite University. I am originally from New York City born and raised. No one could have ever told me a couple of years ago, that I would be sitting here in Bethlehem today, studying in a program called People, Places and Prayers. I entered EMU the Fall of 2011, and I can’t begin to tell you just how much studying at this University has changed my life. Writing this blog is a living testimony of just how much Gods really loves his children. Jesus is walking with us as we visit the places Jesus lived and worked during his life here on earth.

We have been in Jerusalem for the past two days, with an agenda that was full of grace and peace for the world. Once we arrived in Jerusalem we quickly found out that this was Easter Saturday and all major entrances would be block by the Israeli Police throughout the city, this also meant that there would be lots of tension. This would make it very difficult for us to move between the many communities that live here; three separate and very different religions struggling for the rights of life. My question is why do these three communities have so much tension between them? In my heart I know the confusion is over the rights to the land, and in proving this point we saw with our own two eyes how important it is for the some to have power over others. This makes no sense to me, it was very sad to watch.

Yesterday, the most holy day of any day in the year, we saw people stopped by the police and being abused in broad day light, even the women and children. I can’t understand why can’t there can’t be peace in the middle east. this precious land does not belong to man because everything belongs to God, we are on borrowed time. We all have our different ideas and beliefs but we need to be gracious to each other, I know that there will be moments where when can not agree, but we need to learn how relax and talk things through, when we encounter Jesus we need to be on our best behavior, not build walls of separation.Walking the Streets of Bethlehem at night on our first day there

We have visited several churches that have given all of us gifts of the spirit. We are a group of 14 members in one body of Christ; traveling together and becoming more of a family with every second of everyday, and I’m so grateful. From the onset this experience has been very special for all of us. As for me personally, I have been moved and touched in so many ways in this short amount of time that I excited to continue on this journey with my new family. In one there is one, but when there is more than one there is unity and peace, blessing to all and may God be with us


Furst Jenkins (for the rest of the group)

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Old City Streets of Jerusalem

Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 5th, 2013


Today our schedule was packed full with visits in and outside the Old City Streets of Jerusalem.  This weekend is the Orthodox Christians Easter celebration so the streets were packed especially around the borders of the Old City.  We had to navigate our way through gates in which the Israeli Police were patrolling.  We ran into situations where we were not allowed to pass through gates and had to keep walking around the wall to see if there were places that we could get through.

We visited the Greek Orthodox Melkite Church where were greeted by Archbishop Joseph.   He sharedGreek Orthodox Melkite Church much history of how the Catholics and Melkites united in 172.  He was so joyful and had a loving spirit about him.  We then visited St. Marks Syrian Orthodox Church where Sister Kristine share numerous miracles.  Once we left there, this is where we experienced most of the roadblocks and had difficulty finding gates that we could get through.

We ended our evening with dinner at Tantur which is an ecumenical institute that serves scholars, teachers, students and spiritual sojourners of all Christian faiths.  For more information on Tantur, you can visit it at www.tantur.org

Tomorrow morning we are going to experience a Greek Orthodox Service which is in walking distance to our guest house.  


LaDawn Knicely (for the group)

Greetings, friends, family, and colleagues!

Posted in Holy Land 2013
May 4th, 2013

This is just a very brief message to pass on the good news that we have arrived safely in Jerusalem after many long hours of travel in and out of airports and on and off airplanes and through thousands of Looking at the city of Jerusalem miles of airspace. Thank God with us for safe, if tiring, travel. On this end we met Tony Sabella, our tour guide, rode up to Jerusalem from the coastal plain, did an overview of the Old City of Jerusalem from Mount Scopus, had two full hours to unwind at the Casa Nova, Jerusalem, ate a delicious dinner in the Casa Nova dining room, and shared our first Evening Prayers in a lovely courtyard. Tomorrow will be a day of unknowns, as we maneuver the challenges of a city virtually closed down (oddly enough!) by the celebration of Orthodox Easter. But tonight we want to get some quality “horizontal time” (read “sleep”!).

Blessings to you all! We are very happy to be here and to be starting our venture and adventure!

Dorothy Jean (for the group)

All Good Things…

Posted in Holy Land 2011
June 1st, 2011

By Dorothy Jean Weaver

Greetings, friends!

This is just a brief and final note to let you know that we have now arrived home, safely and with deep gratitude, from our Middle East sojourn in Israel/Palestine.

Last Friday morning, May 27, we enjoyed a final retreat and a closing Communion Service together at our lodgings on the Mount of Beatitudes, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was a special gift to have time alone for personal reflection and journaling and then to regather for a time of shared reflections around the circle. And it was likewise a special gift to share the bread and cup with each other in our final worship service together. Following our morning of “retreat,” we had a wonderful lunch of St. Peter’s Fish (aka tilapia) in the dining room of our guest house, in place of the sandwiches which had been “Plan A” for that meal. I noted to the group that Jesus had turned water into wine, while Tony, our inimitable tour guide, through his interventions with the travel agency on our behalf, had turned sandwiches into St. Peter’s Fish! (He liked that little joke.)

From the Mount of Beatitudes we headed south and west to Caesarea Maritima, the amazing sea harbor built by Herod the Great and the site where Paul was held in custody for several years and from which he set off by ship for Rome. Here we paid a short visit to the aquaduct (and the beach!), then visited the archaeological site. And from Caesarea we headed on south to Netanya on the coast and the Blue Bay, a hotel situated directly on the shore of the Mediterranean. It was a striking setting for our last few hours in the Holy Land. And the sound of the waves was delightful background music throughout our short stay. But our time was very brief. At 12:00 midnight we rolled out of bed, ever-so-unwillingly, to drag our bags down to the reception, drink early-morning beverages, and wait for our bus driver to show up and open the bus for our trip to Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport.

We were on the road by 1:00 AM and at the airport prior to 2:00 AM, in advance of our 5:30 AM flight to Frankfurt and our onward flight to Washington Dulles. It took several hours before we had all cleared security and checked in for our flight. And then it was all over except for the long, long, long flight home and the 31-hour day (24 + 7) which replaced for us the seven hours that we had lost on the trip east some 3 1/2 weeks earlier.

And now we are home, in body and in spirit. But our trip will continue to live with us in coming days and weeks and on into the future, as we reflect on all that we have encountered and experienced. Our worlds will never be quite the same again. And that is the gift–and the ongoing challenge–of travel and encounter with new worlds and new people.

Thanks to all of you for your participation in our journey as you have read our daily blogs and prayed for us along the way! We are deeply grateful for your gifts of interest and support as we have traveled. And if any of you have been intrigued by our travel experiences and would love to join such a travel group in future (2013), please feel free to be in touch. We would love to hear from you.

A Day in and around the Sea of Galilee

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 25th, 2011

By Steve Carpenter

What a beautiful place we are staying–a guest house overlooking the beautiful Sea of Galilee!

We began our day with a walk down the Mount of Beatitudes, along a path through the fields pondering some of Jesus’ parables en route to a cave where he may have retreated to pray. We reached the chapel of the Primacy of Peter located on the site where Jesus restored Peter by asking him three times “Do you love me more than these?” Kevin led us in a reflective exercise as we pondered Jesus’ words for each of our lives.

From there we traveled a short distance to Capernaum, the village which Jesus called home during his active ministry as recorded in the Gospels.
It was exciting to be in the place where Jesus and Peter lived and ministered. We saw the ruins of Peter’s house with a Byzantine Church built above it. From Capernaum we made a quick stop at Chorazin (Korazim) National Park, one of the three cities Jesus condemned in Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13 There we saw the remains of a Jewish Synagogue. Kursi National Park was next on our itinerary. There we saw the ruins of a Byzantine Church built in the fifth century C.E. on the probable site of Jesus’ healing of the demoniac. You’ll remember Jesus cast the demons out and they entered a herd of pigs which ran into the lake and drowned. The church floor is an intricate mosaic design which have been amazingly preserved. It is the largest known Byzantine Church in the Holy Land.

We continued on our way, circumnavigating the entire Sea of Galilee, with a brief stop at the Jordan River baptismal site on southern end of the lake. Many are baptized there, although it is most likely that Jesus himself was baptized by John further to the south. The Church of Multiplication (Heptapegon) was our next stop in the city of Tiberius. This is the place where Jesus feed the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes. There is a beautiful church built over the rock where many believe Jesus placed the bread, blessed it and gave it to the people.

Our final stop was the Church of the Beatitudes, located on the Mount of Beatitudes on the same grounds where we are staying. What a wonderful experience to reflect on what Robert called “the most radical sermon ever preached.” As most of you know, the Beatitudes are especially important to Mennonites. There we reflected them (Matthew 5-7) before ending our day with Vespers led by Robert. He included a very unusual Arabic song called “The Drink Sent Down” which includes the thought provoking line “We proudly wore our borrowed clothes before we saw our naked secret.” Such are the sites we visit and the mysteries we ponder on our pilgrimage through the Holy Land.

p.s. Yesterday we left Nazareth, stopping in the ancient Roman city of Sepphoris where Jesus may have worked. There we sat in an ancient 4,000 seat amphitheater and saw the beautiful “Mona Lisa of Galilee” mosaic.
From there, we explored and had lunch at the 700 member Lavi (Lion) Kibbutz, an impressive complex begun in tents in 1949 which now boasts a beautiful hotel, farm, and furniture factory. After a drive to Galilee we climbed the cliffs of Arbel where we saw a spectacular view of the sea below. We not only saw the Sea, we sailed upon it and Sue conducted a brief memorial service for her late husband James F. Harding and scattered his ashes on the water.