Messianic Jewish believers and the Church of St. Peter

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 12th, 2011

By Larry and Jean Emery

This morning we again had an early start heading for Jaffa, a city on the Mediterranean coast where we met with Pastor David Lazarus of Immanuel House about Messianic Jewish believers.  We met on the rooftop of the building looking out over the Sea.  It was quite a lovely setting.  It was interesting to hear that in 1866, thinking that God was going to restore the land back to the Jewish people, Christians came from Main by boat with all of their belongings including their house in kit form.  He became a follower of Jesus 35 years ago which was a very radical thing.  Two Mennonite families came as missionaries teaching and baptizing him.  He then started this church with a small group of people who believed as he did.  It was very hard for the new believers as they were shunned by their families and friends; losing their jobs and their homes.  They have now grown in number to include 150 congregations.  Some of the wood houses still stand today.  David said that he is now seeing thousands of people come to see what they believe.  They also receive much media attention.  David is seeing a lot of interest by the young people to talk with Palestinian groups.  He says that he has one wish that the Western World would try to understand the Messianic believers.

After lunch we boarded the buses again to travel back to Jerusalem to visit the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.  This is where Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.  This was a very moving place.  Several scriptures were read as our guide explained the crucifixion story and the events leading up to it.  He also showed us points of interest including the Kidron Valley and the Potter’s Field.  We were amazed at how close all of these places were.  He then took us to the “pit” below the church where Jesus was imprisoned.  It was a very small stone walled room with no way out but through the ceiling.  Psalm 88 was read and then all the lights were put out leaving us totally in the dark.  This was a very moving experience.  We then had free time to reflect on what we had heard (an actual rooster crowing), seen, and experienced.

On our return back to the guesthouse some of us got off the bus to experience walking through the checkpoint that leads into Bethlehem.   This gave us a feel for what the local Palestinians go through on a daily basis.

This day certainly invoked strong feelings in all of us in many ways.

Christian Movement in the Mediterranean

Posted in Mediterranean 2011
May 12th, 2011

Eastern Mennonite Seminary has TWO cross-cultural programs during summer 2011. Places, People and Prayers is spending three weeks in Israel/Palestine and Linford Stutzman is leading Christian Movement in the Mediterranean, which follows parts of Paul’s missionary journey’s by boat. This group had quite an adventurous start to their journey. Read on below or see photos.


Eastern Mennonite Seminary students, students from Israel, Turkey, Minnesota and Indiana, twelve in all, met at the Athens airport on Thursday, May 5 to embark on our trip following in Paul’s footsteps across the Aegean Sea.

The scene in Acts 2 where we see people from all over the known world comes to mind as we navigate through the airport.  One cannot avoid hearing an international chorus of languages.  Religious pilgrimage was one of the few reasons that ordinary people might have travelled in the ancient world.  By the time of Jesus of Nazareth, there were Jews living in every major city around the Mediterranean basin, and many had lived there for generations.  This means they were molded as much by those local cultures as they were by their Jewish roots.  They really did speak a multitude of languages.  Their scriptures and the Talmud had been translated into many languages partly because the longer they lived in any place outside Israel the less they knew of Hebrew.  Peter’s stirring sermon in Acts 2 reached the ears of people who were as different as they could be.  From the beginning the gospel was for everyone.

We traveled from by van Athens to Port Astro, a Christian camp Skorponeria Bay to the Morning Star, our home for the next three weeks.  This schooner was anchored off a camp run by Hellenic Ministries, our hosts who are providing the boat and the excellent crew.   We got situated on board, had a fine welcome meal provided by our hosts and crawled into our bunks for a much desired rest.

We began the next morning with a devotional provided by our skipper and a hearty breakfast as we prepared to get underway to begin our cruise to various Greek islands visited by Paul.  We are motoring because our intended course takes us directly into the wind, the one direction you cannot go in a sailboat.

While under way we have been pounded by waves.  Two crew members were standing in the bowsprit which is the very tip of the front of the boat.  The waves were not high, but very steep and choppy so the bowsprit was rising and falling about 15 feet vertically- like riding an elevator that goes really fast.  On the downward motion the bow plunged into the water and they were dowsed.

The pounding waves of this morning took their toll.  No worries- we are all safe and sound- but the bowsprit slapped so hard against the waves that it cracked!  We are talking about a heavy timber about 6 inches thick.  We turned around in our tracks and came back to our mooring.  This on a day we were expecting to begin our journey across the Aegean.  The remains of the day were spent in lectures and reading while the crew worked on making repairs.  We don’t know when we will be able to re-start the trip.

The next day we went by barge to the shore near the camp to explore a bit of the area.  The group hiked up the rocky peak ahead of us to a cave about halfway up.  The wildflowers were blooming in a profusion of colors punctuated by bright red poppies.  The sky was blue and the sun was shining.  Some of the group continued to the top where they had a spectacular view captured by some of the photographers in the group.

Everything we are doing is an object lesson in travel by sea.  How many times did Paul have to delay a crossing due to weather, repairs, or other unforeseen obstacles?  Perhaps he wrote some of his letters during those unexpected and frustrating down times, as I am now doing.  Reading about Paul from the deck of a boat makes his circumstances more real.

May 8, 2011

In Chapter 10 of Acts we have the account of Peter and the Centurion Cornelius.  Remember that Cornelius is a gentile.  Another point to emphasize is the fact that this story occurs in Joppa, which is a port city.  Standing on the deck of a boat helps us pay attention to details like that.  Port cities all around the Mediterranean were always more multi-cultural than inland cities.  Traders, government messengers, mercenaries, and pagans on religious pilgrimage all crossed paths in the Port cities.  Devout Jews would consider such places unclean, and the people in them unworthy. Peter has a clear vision to meet Cornelius, a Roman.

Here is a provocative thought Dr. Stutzman presented to us.  It is precisely in a port city that one expects to meet people who were considered ‘unclean.’  And at the waterfront the sails furling and unfurling would be a daily sight.  In Peter’s dream the unclean animals are let down from heaven in a large sheet.  Clean white sheets are common bedding for us, but not for the poor of that era.  Could the large fabric be a sail?  Nothing in the language of the text suggests a sail, but this is a vision of events in another port city, Caesaria.  We don’t need to press this point, but what we do know is that after this point in the book of Acts, events strongly turn to the west, with Paul’s mission concentrated west of Palestine.  Some journeys were on foot, but Paul covered many more miles aboard a sailing vessel.  The gospel was spreading first to port cities, and this began in dream in Joppa.

We spent another day waiting for the bowsprit to be repaired.  We continue with the same lectures and readings as we would, so that time is not lost, but we are losing opportunities to visit more islands on our way from the Greek mainland to the island of Samos.  It may not be fixed until late in the day tomorrow, meaning we don’t sail until Tuesday.  There is one thing to say about it.  “This IS sailing.”

May 9, 2011

Today we did a lot of deck work on the boat.  We had lessons from Dale Smyth, a Yacht Master from South Africa who volunteers his expertise to the Morning Star ministry.    Dale began with basics- terminology, essential knots and a little bit of theory about what makes a sailboat move through the water.  Some in our group have never been on a sailboat before, so he began at the beginning.

We are each keeping a log/journal for the class which is intended to include both a record of the sailing, as well as thoughts and reflections about the course content.  The first part of any sailboat’s log entry is the longitude and latitude at the time of the log entry.  Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday all begin with the note that we are located at 38 degrees 36 minutes North Latitude and 23 degrees nineteen minutes East Longitude.  We are still waiting for the repaired bowsprit, but we are told it will arrive tomorrow for installation.  Once it is in place we will make all speed out of here, as all are getting cabin fever from being anchored in one place for five days.  All are getting along famously in spite of the altered schedule.

During class time we talked about Paul’s message that did not ignore differences but did not let differences be a cause to be enemies.

Thomas Cahill’s book, “Sailing the Wine Dark Sea” talks about Greek literature, particularly the Odyssey.  We made a comparison.  Paul and Odysseus both travelled about 10 yrs.  Luke for sure, and perhaps Paul, knew of Homer’s writing.  Odysseus was a strong and clever war hero.  He spent all his energy on a homeward journey, trying to get back to a fondly remembered past.  Paul’s life and writing turned all of this idea on its head.  Paul used warrior images, and he travelled by sea like Odysseus, but Paul boasted of his weakness. Odysseus fought Poseidon, the god of the sea.  Paul was not fighting against the God who controls the sea, but is allied with Jesus, the storm-stiller.  Paul never went home for good, always moving further outward, focused intently on the future, not the return to his past. What does that say for us?

We are all hoping tomorrow will find us at a different longitude and latitude.

May 10, 2011 (from the sailing logs)

Acts 12

P1050942_800x600 First things first, WE ARE UNDER WAY!!    We waited from Friday to Tuesday for the repair of the bowsprit.  No study time has been lost, but we will miss seeing some of the Greek islands on this first leg of the sail journey.  Instead of island hopping, we will be sailing night and day to make it to Samos in time to meet our schedule.

The group morale went rocketing higher as soon as the boat started moving down the bay, the same course we took the first day when the waves broke the bowsprit.  Weather is much more moderate today, with the boat gently rolling side to side, not pounding waves head-on.

On a decent map, look north of Athens for a series of small bays and islands that are embraced by an exceptionally long curved island.  The island is called Evvia.  We’ll be sailing past it the rest of the day, heading southeast, generally, and then we turn more directly east for the trip across to the island of Samos, a Greek island just off the Turkish coast.

We sailed to a beautiful town called Halkida, located on Evvia, the second largest of the Greek islands, with Crete being the largest.  We had Greek food in a Greek restaurant near the quay.  Most of us ordered gyros and loved eating it the way gyros was meant to be.  The food was excellent.  There are lots of boats in the town, though mostly commercial tour boats, Coast Guard, ferries, and some shipping. A few tug boats chug by now and then.

After the evening meal, we walked back to the boat, to wait for a lift bridge to open.  There is a narrow natural channel between the island and the mainland, with one bridge to join the island to the land.  This bridge does not lift on demand for boats.  Rather we were required to wait  for the next opening, and join the line of boats waiting to pass through.   We waited from 9:30 pm until 12:30 am to pass through the opening.  After that we tied up beside another boat, and slept.

ACTS 12 is today’s chapter.

May 11, 2011

Yesterday we motored from our starting point to a place called Halkida on the huge island of Evvia.  Today was our first day of actual sailing, and what a day.  We put up a double-reefed mainsail- this reduced the sail area by 60 percent.  We also put up the smallest jib.  On a two-masted boat that can carry up to six sails, we were using the two smallest sails, and making fast speed.  Why?  Because the entire day we were sailing in 40 plus mile per hour winds.  (Beaufort force 8.)  This boat is extremely seaworthy and handled the wind and waves well, but it was a rock and roll day.  We sailed from 8:30 am to about 7:40 pm and covered about 58 miles with the deck pitching and rolling every moment.

Tonight we are anchored off of the town of Karystos at the extreme southern tip of Evvia Island, ready to make the leap across the Aegean to Samos, near the Turkish coast.  Tomorrow we will attempt to make that crossing, hoping that the wind is milder.  The delays from the bowsprit repair are putting pressure on the schedule, but it seems we will still reach Samos on time, weather permitting.

There are eight people on board who have never sailed before, and they are doing wonderfully.  Everyone has been game for managing with the deck in constant motion.  The local skipper says this is very odd weather for May which usually has mild winds and warmer temps.

The sailing is fun, and the discussions are every bit as enjoyable.

Acts 13 begins with a list of names of Christians, a list that reveals a variety of ethnicity and of social status.  This already says much about the nature of the early church and how it was indeed counter-cultural as to matters of social standing.

Here, in verse 4 we begin tracing the sailing journeys.  They begin by preaching in the synagogues, a natural connection for the travellers.  As we will see in other locations, Paul is embroiled in controversy.  Elymas the magician tried to intervene to stop the missionaries from preaching the gospel to the proconsul Sergius Paulus.  Notice in verse 8, we have the remark that Saul is also known as Paul.  This is significant.  Up to this point in the account, Saul has been a Jew among Jews for the most part.  Now his attention turns outward from the center of Jewish faith to the west- the Roman Empire, and its Greek-speaking, Greek thinking inhabitants.  Speaking to a Roman, a Roman name makes Paul seem less foreign.  Perhaps his words gain an audience by his identification with this wider culture.  As a Roman citizen, Paul must have been reared in a home that, while genuinely Jewish, was also influenced by the Greek world.  As Paul turns west, he embraces his western, Greek heritage.

In verse 13 the journey resumes, with the note that John-Mark left to return to Jerusalem.  There is something between the lines here, though we cannot be certain what that might be.  Did John-Mark find the rigors of travel too difficult?  Was it too hard to be an observant Jew away from the communities that kept kosher?  Were there differences of opinion sharp enough to cause a falling out?  Certainly the internal church controversies that would soon take up much of Paul’s time and thought may already have been brewing.  Being disciples of Jesus and guiding the church has never been easy.

Paul’s message is also recounted here, and it matters a lot that Paul begins with strong, deep roots in the story of Israel.  However far he may wonder from Jerusalem, Paul will always remain Saul- rooted in the promises that began with the call of Abraham, who was blessed to be a blessing.

This blog is written by Pastor Glenn Berg Moberg and EMS student, Victoria Squire.


Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 11th, 2011

By Liz Stoltzfus

Today began a bit earlier than days past. Once we were loaded onto the bus, it was off to Old City Jerusalem. This was our group’s first time going through a checkpoint to leave the city of Bethlehem. Since we are all American, this was not an issue for us. We were told, however, for a Palestinian this would have been much more difficult. Our first stop of the day was the Temple Mount. While many people believe this to be the site of the temple we have all read about in scripture (you know… where Jesus was ‘lost’ as a child to be found later teaching the Rabbis; or where Jesus went and turned over tables… you’ve all read the stories) our very opinionated (and highly knowledgeable of scripture) tour guide begged to differ. He explained to us that scripture says “not a stone will remain” and that stones have remained on the Temple Mount so the Temple must have been elsewhere. He left us to make our decisions on the topic for ourselves. Since we are not Muslim, we were not able to enter Dome of the Rock (which is located on the Temple Mount), but we were able to explore around it. It is a gorgeous picture. Blue, yellow, and white mosaic patterns on all of the external walls, a gold dome- pictures do not do it justice. While we were there, pictures were taken and conversations were had as we all enjoyed a beautiful morning with beautiful scenery in the Holy Land. Visiting this area was a different kind of a first for me, and probably for most others in our group as well, because we had to go through security to enter. It wasn’t going through the security that was new, it was the fact that Bibles were not permitted on the Muslims’ sacred ground. I don’t believe I’ve ever been anywhere where I was not allowed to take my Bible.

The next stop on our journey required going through security again, but this time, Bibles were allowed. After spending our time at the Western Wall (also known as the Wailing Wall) we headed to an archaeological museum. I personally found this fascinating. This site allowed us to see a Herodian street, ruins of buildings, and to spend some time on the South Facing Steps. For most of our group, spending time on the steps held a high significance. These are the steps that would have been home to the money changers. These are the steps that Jesus would have walked many times. These are the steps where Jesus may have talked to many people. These are the same steps we got to spend time on today. We sat where Christ sat.

After going our own ways for lunch and some time to explore the Old City, we loaded the bus once again. This time we were on our way to Sabeel Theological Institute to hear a lecture on Liberation Theology in Israel, and how it relates to the oppression and other troubles going on in Israel between the Jews and Palestinians. In case this sounds boring to anyone reading this, it was actually a very interesting and educational lecture. Over all, I think today can be considered a great day!

Hope in Bethlehem

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 10th, 2011

By Carl and Becky Van Stavern

Greetings from Bethlehem. It has been another beautiful, but challenging day.

Today we visited the Bethlehem Bible College for a discussion of Christian Zionism with Dr. Alex Awad. The college was started as a local Christian school with a vision and only twenty dollars. They claim their greatest assets are the students and graduates who are trained to be pastors, Christian educators, counselors, teachers, and tour guides. They firmly believe that as long as they are Christ centered and faithful, the college will survive any pressures that exist.

Next, we visited the Hope Secondary School in Beit Jala where we were greeted by Principal Solomon Nour and his daughter. We visited with some of the children in their classrooms, were given a tour of the school, and visited their chicken houses. Reta Finger was offered a fresh egg right from the source but did not feel it would be secure on the bus ride back. Many of the children are from low-income families; in addition some of the students are orphans. The school was originally started by Mennonites and currently receives support from many sources including both the United Methodist and Lutheran Churches. They served us a delicious lunch.

We returned to Manger square to visit the Mosque of Omar and had conversation with Mufti Atef Omar. Everyone had to remove their shoes before entering the mosque. The women had to put scarves on their heads and all were properly dressed. Atef shared the basic principles of Muslim belief.

Our last stop was at the Dheisheh Refugee Camp where Palestinians have been living since 1948. We were given a brief tour of the refugee camp. It is an experience we will never forget. The children have such beautiful smiles. There are approximately 15,000 people living on 0.31 kilometers of land.

We were in places today that showed evidence of profound hope and places in which there was just a pinch of hope. Yet, there was still hope. For what we could see through that short tour may have seemed hopeless but with God all things are possible. As we close this blog, we hear the prayer bells in the distance.

Peace in Bethlehem?

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 9th, 2011

By Jared Stoltzfus

Greetings from Bethlehem. It has been another wonderful day in the Holy Land.

Today we spent our time visiting both Biblical and Ancient sites. We started our morning with a short walk to Manger Square, where we toured the Church of the Nativity and the Church of St. Catherine. There was a mass going on in the room where the manger is said to have been, so we where not actually able to see it, but we had a wonderful time learning some of the history of this very old church from our tour guide Tony.

After this we journeyed to Shepherd’s Field. This was not the one where all the tourist go but it was a wonderful place to visit. We gathered together in a cave and heard the Christmas story read. We then broke off for some time of reflection. It was a much needed time to sit and reflect after  the hustle and bustle of the last couple days. As I sat there thinking about the message of peace that the angel(s) brought I could not help but feel the tension that was around me. Yes, the moment was peaceful but I am in a land that has known very little peace. I had to look no further to know this than off in the distance, where an Israeli settlement stood atop a hill. Later in the evening we heard stories from the Pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church. He reflected about a terrible time just a few years ago in which threats of biological warfare loomed over this country. America was glad to send gas masks for Israeli citizens but not for Palestinians. He had a 10-month old daughter at the time.

This is the pain of the land that knows no peace. This is the pain of a people that have been oppressed for the last 60 years all in the name of what? I wish I could figure out what would make anyone think that this is what needs to be done, or that this is what God or Jesus would have wanted.

After our time of reflection we journeyed to a man made mountain, built by King Herod as a fortress. We had a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape and  could see the Dead Sea and the plains of Moab (Jordan). We continued along, via bus, to the Pools of Solomon, ancient water reservoirs that supplied water to Jerusalem (yes Bethlehem is higher than Jerusalem).

At this point our day of exploring was over. We returned to the guest house to rest. Later we gathered again for our  time of group reflection. That was  followed by another wonderful dinner.

As I end this e-mail the sounds of the call to prayer sound in the distance, and I wonder if the message of Christmas day, the message of peace, will ever come to be. Will this land know the promise of the angel?

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)

May 8

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 8th, 2011

By Robert Russo

Greetings from the West Bank. What a glorious day here in the Holy Land.

We awoke this morning to this blessed sun filled Sunday morning. We started the day gathering for a very special worship service at the Greek Melkite Church in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem. Today the Greek Melkite Church, an Orthodox Church in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, was holding a Catholic ecumenical service in honor of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux being there for the day, thanks to the sponsorship of the Carmelite Order. Many local priests led by the Bishop led us in the congregation through The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom in a magnificent display of wholehearted worship to the holiness of God with full worship of each aspect of the Trinity.  Many in our group were touched deeply by the high liturgy and worship to our LORD in this service. With beautiful iconography of Jesus all over every inch of the walls and ceiling, the incense, the singing, and the pageantry, was a spiritual feast for all the senses and truly touched our spirits. The two hours of liturgy was preceded by an hour of deep prayer in preparation for the service and culminated by a procession of the relics through the Christian section of the Old City. The whole service of worship stood out as both “ancient” and “holy.”

The afternoon was spent in free time where folks took time eating, drinking fine Turkish coffee (pretty much espresso), bargaining at markets, walking the wall of the Old City, visiting the Museum of Jerusalem or revisiting sites from the day before.

Yesterday I couldn’t help feel a sense of offense to the spirit inside me as I semi-rushed through these ancient churches and Biblical sites taking tons of photos, and not enough time of prayer. So today I revisited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  I stood in line with many prayerful Eastern Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims to spend time in contemplative prayer while touching the stone and sitting next to the rock of Calvary and lying at the empty tomb of Jesus. It was truly awe striking for me to be there prayerfully reflecting upon what Jesus did there from His life, His death on the cross and His resurrection. From the looks on the faces of other pilgrims there, I know this feeling was shared by many. You would often find women and men sitting in a corner or standing by candles lost in prayer. Such a spirit of humility by Jesus Christ’s modern day disciples was deeply moving and beckoned me into reflecting on my own sense of humility in this world and before God.

We entered Bethlehem this evening, a much more economically poor area, but rich with culture and history. As I spent the evening with a small group, walking to the Church of the Nativity and through Manger Square anticipation grew for our time of learning and reflection here where our Lord Jesus was born of Mary.

Pray for us to hold the sacredness of the history here centered in us as we see what life is like today in what is yet again an occupied territory. Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

Signing off for the evening, wishing you all many blessings from Bethlehem, on behalf of us all here,


May 7

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 8th, 2011

By Adam Blagg & Todd Christensen

Greetings from Jerusalem!  Our journey today was one of many locations, most of which were placed within the Old City and each had moments that could fill the contents of this blog.  We will relate a brief glimpse of each location and a few reflections on selected places of interest.  It is fair to say that our day was full and rich on a variety of levels and whatever is included is simply a glimpse into we experienced.

Our day began with a visit to the Melkite Greek Catholic Church built in 1844 and a talk with Father Joseph.  The church was decorated with numerous icons and frescos that related various stories of the gospels, with a strong focus on the resurrection.  The church is in communion with the Roman Catholic church but many of their practices were of the Greek Orthodox church, including the Heavenly Gates, Angel Doors, Icons, use of the Divine Liturgy.  The church also includes all three initiation sacraments early in the life of a new Christian, Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, another Greek Orthodox practice.

Our next stop took us to St. Mark’s Convent where we were greeted by our tour guide’s sister-in-law, Justina. She shared with us the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, the language of Jesus and also related personal experiences of the mystery surrounding the icon of the Virgin Mary.  This convent also held one of the two places possibly attributed to the Last Supper.

We then moved to one of the more popular stops in Jerusalem, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a place of worship for six different churches.  It was interesting to observe a variety of different approaches to this holy site, from great veneration, high worship, quiet contemplation, and photo snapping hurriedness.

After lunch we moved to the Dormitian Church, a church built for the honoring of Mary and the Assumption.  This location had a fresco of Jesus, depicting him reaching down towards Mary who was lying in state on the floor below the fresco.  This is contrary to the normal artists rendition of Mary holding Jesus.  Numerous alcoves, each with some form of icon, sculpture or artwork depicting saints surrounded this area.  We also visited another location of the Upper Room, one that showed use by all three Abrahamic traditions at some point in its history.

We arrived at the Armenian Orthodox Patriarchate for vespers but were met with disappointment as the gates were locked and the priest was preparing for their allotted time at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  We waited for a few moments to observe the procession and were greeted by the sight of the priest in full vestment led by two men carrying swords and pounding the ancient stones with wooden staves.  Others, dressed in brown albs followed, making their way with a solemn pace to their appointed destination.  What was truly unique for us observers was the accompaniment of three army escorts.  Watching a holy procession with an armed escort placed this moment in a context unfamiliar to us.

All told the day has provided some memorable opportunities for future reflection and has been a wonderful start to this trip. We look forward to what still awaits on this journey through the Holy Land.


Opening Blog – Posted from Jerusalem – Friday May 6, 2011

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 6th, 2011

By Steve Carpenter

We have all arrived safely in Jerusalem after more than 20 hours of travel. Thanks be to God (Al hmdulillah!)

The days and hours leading up to our departure from the Eastern Mennonite Seminary parking lot at noon on Thursday were frantic. Four of us graduated from EMS the weekend before. Some were frantically and diligently searching for passports and other precious items. I delivered three copies of Master’s thesis in to my advisor at 11:35 pm, just minutes before we left for Dulles.

When we arrived at the airport in D.C. we caught up with Sue and Monroe, two other members of our group. Robert flew out of NYC and met us in Frankfurt, Germany completing our party of 15 travelers and 2 experienced guides (Dorothy Jean and Kevin).

For many it was a sleepless night but we were particularly joyful when Dorothy Jean was able to clear customs at the notoriously diligent security desk in TelAvi despite having overstayed her visa while on sabbatical in Israel several months ago. Reflecting on the experienced Dorothy Jean said, “I feel like I saw God at work today. . . . It feels like my life was given back to me.”

From the airport we boarded a tour bus and visited Mount Scopus which has a spectacular view of Jerusalem. For many it was our first glimpse of the Holy City. Later that night at evening prayers we reflected on our experience of seeing Jerusalem from Mt. Scopus. It was a powerful moment, both the first glimpse and the time of reflection.

We chuckled that the sign on our tour bus said “Easter [sic] Mennonite Seminary Group. We thought the name change should be suggested to Michael King, the seminary dean.

We entered Jerusalem through the Jaffa Gate and walked the narrow stone paved streets of the city to the guest house where we are staying for the first two nights. It has a beautiful rooftop courtyard where we are able to see the Dome of the Rock, and hear both the Muslim call to prayer and the joyous singing of a Jewish Youth group staying in the hotel beside ours.

At evening prayers, Kevin reminded us of the admonition, found in Psalm 122 verse 6a, to “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” Thank you for your prayers for us and for this unique, majestic, ancient and conflicted city.


Places, People and Prayers- Safe Arrival

Posted in Holy Land 2011
May 6th, 2011

The Places, People and Prayers: Middle East Cross-cultural has safely arrive in Israel/Palestine and is now making their way to Jerusalem. Check back later for journals and photos of their adventures.

A few final words…

Posted in Holy Land 2009
May 28th, 2009

Greetings, folks!

I opened our “Places, People, & Prayers 2009″ blogs in a long distant past (well, May 1 to be precise!) with an account from Jerusalem on our first night in the Holy Land.  Time always seems to balloon when one travels far away from home and regular schedules.  And by my reckoning, we could easily have been gone months, rather than the 3 1/2 weeks that stretch from Thursday, April 30, to Saturday, May 23.  But our trip is now history, so far as the travel of it is concerned.  And now here I am once again, with “a few last words” about our concluding days of touring  . . . .

From Wednesday, May 20, through Friday noon, May 22, we made our home on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, at the YMCA just north of Tiberias.  Here we had stunning views morning by morning of the sunrise over the Sea.  (It’s enough to take your breath away.  But don’t trust me.  Go, see it for yourself!)  The peacefulness of this setting was profoundly nourishing to our spirits after the emotional challenges of our time in the West Bank in previous weeks.  Here we could sit just above the beach, facing the water, for our regular Evening Prayers.  And here we could eat our breakfasts and dinners in the open air with a stunning view of the Sea in front of us.  What a gift!Sunrise sea of galilee

Wednesday was (finally!) our day to see the sites associated with Jesus’ Galilean ministry.  We started our morning that day with a peaceful boatride across the Sea of Galilee from Nof Ginnosar (site of ancient Genessaret) to the boat landing at Capernaum (Jesus’ “hometown” during his Galilean ministry).  No wild storms or sinking boats on May 20, 2009!  Nor did anybody step out of the boat and walk on water!  We stopped in the middle of the water, though, to read the Markan story of Jesus calming the storm.  From there we traveled to Chorazin, with its ancient synagogue ruins and its “Seat of Moses” (see Mt. 23:2), and then on to the Mount of Beatitudes, a high bluff overlooking the Sea of Galilee.  After time for quiet reflection (and photography!) at the Church of the Beatitudes, some of us hiked down the hillside, still covered with the same “lilies of the field” that Jesus saw and enjoyed 2000 years ago.  You can’t build a church over an entire hillside!  And if you look the other direction from the banana plantation now covering half of the hillside, you can imagine things just fine!  Down below we visited the churches of the Primacy of Peter (see John 21) and of Tabgha (the church that commemorates the multiplication of the loaves and fishes).  At Capernaum we saw the gorgeous ruins of the ancient (2nd/3rd century) synagogue built on first-century foundation stones from the synagogue that Jesus would have known.  And we looked into the “house of St. Peter,” a site which stands a very good chance of being the “real item.”

Thursday was our trip to the “north.”  Days before we had traveled to the “south” (the Negev desert), to Beersheba, where it was all dry and brown and barren.  Now we traveled to the other end of the biblical “Land of Israel” (“from Dan to Beersheba”) to Tell Dan, at the headwaters of the Jordan River.  Here everything wasBeautiful river of Tell Dan. lush and green.  And here the water rushed furiously along its little stream on its way into the Jordan.  From Tell Dan we traveled on to Caesarea Philippi (known also as Banyas, for the temple built there to the god Pan), where Jesus questioned his disciples about his identity.  Here, on the site of a large complex of pagan temples built up against a huge cliff, we pondered the words of Jesus (“But who do you say that I am?”) and the confession of Peter (“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”).

In the afternoon we hiked from Banyas to a beautiful waterfall before boarding our bus for a drive through the Golan Heights.  Here we caught a glimpse of Mt. Hermon, with its snow-covered peak, witnessed the ruins of a Syrian military camp from 1967, and looked across a great wide plain past a UN border camp into Syria itself.  And here we stopped to buy fresh cherries at a Druze village near to the Syrian border.  But our most significant stop of the day was at Yardenit on the southern edge of the Sea of Galilee, the “baptismal site” at the spot where the Sea of Galilee opens into the Jordan River.  Here we witnessed, joyfully, the baptism of Marilyn Gerlach and the immersion of Curtis Wheeler in remembrance of his baptismal vows.  This was truly a day for “living water”!Baptisms in the Jordan River

On Friday we closed out our time together with a morning of retreat–a time of worship, silence, journaling, shared reflections, and a Communion service by the Sea of Galilee.  After lunch at a nearby restaurant (St. Peter’s fish, complete with their smiling heads on the platter!), we headed south to Caesarea Maritima for a short stroll along the beach at the Mediterranean.  We had now gotten our toes (at very least) into the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan River, and now the Mediterranean.  And from Caesarea we headed south and east to Abu Ghosh (one of three different “Emmaus” sites!) for our final night before our trip home.  Here we were housed at the Sisters of St. Joseph, a stunningly beautiful setting high on a hill.

And at 1:00 AM on Saturday, May 23, we boarded the bus for our trip to the airport . . . .

It has been a rich experience–and a stretching one as well–in all kinds of ways.  And now that we are home, we can begin to “unpack” all that wealth of experiences, both the happy ones and those that stretched us far beyond our comfort zones.  We give thanks to God for all that we have lived and learned in these past weeks.  And we give thanks to all of you for your prayers as we  traveled.

Blessings to all of you who have been following our travels!  Perhaps such a journey could be yours in future . . . .

Dorothy Jean (for the entire “Places, People, & Prayers 2009″ group