Category Archives: Middle East 2012

Hiking the Jesus Trail

Where has the time gone?  We have only two more days left in the Middle East!  Next is Athens, which I am excited about.  However, I will be very sad to leave Israel.  Middle Eastern culture is what I’ve known for almost three months now.  I’ll miss the calls to prayer from the mosques, the small streets of old cities and I’ll miss attempting to use my small Arabic and Hebrew vocabulary.

I won’t dwell on leaving because there are still more adventures to be had before we are back in the states.  Let me tell you what we’ve been doing since arriving in Nazareth.  A week ago, April 1st, we arrived in Nazareth and stayed at the Fauzi Azar Inn.  The next morning, we headed out for four days and three nights on the Jesus Trail, hiking from Nazareth to Capernaum.  Each night, we stayed in a guest house of various kinds designed for these hiking trails. Easter sunrise service on Mount Precipice in Nazareth We hiked through fields of grain, fields of thistles, over rocky hills and it was all beautiful.  When we returned from the trail, we settled back in at the Fauzi.  The weekend has been fairly relaxed.  We’ve had to write our papers as part of our course work.  Saturday we worked in the morning at Nazareth Village, a recreation of 1st century Nazareth.  We got to dress up in 1st century garb, which was fun.  I am writing this on Easter Sunday.  Christ is risen!  We got up at the crack of dawn- literally- and hiked up to the Mount Precipice that looks out over the Jezreel Valley and had a Sunday service.  And we had an Easter egg hunt afterwards as well!  Then we attended an Arabic service at the Church of the Annunciation – the church was filled!

I’m glad we have two more days here.  I’ll take in all I can get!

-Ellen Roth

We just completed the epic four day hike of walking in Jesus’ literal footsteps from Nazareth to Capernaum on the Jesus Trail while learning what it means to walk in His metaphorical footsteps. Day 1 consisted of walking from Jesus’ boyhood home, Nazareth, to where He performed His first miracle in Cana. Linford challenged us each day with something to think about or a phrase to finish. Day 1 was “The Kingdom of God is like…” Hannah Tissue came up with a wonderful analogy. It was along the lines of, “The Kingdom of God is like a well fit Chaco. If the straps are too tight — too legalistic, they will rub the wrong way and be really uncomfortable. If they are too loose, they are no longer good for protection and it is easy to lose your footing and fall.” Many could relate to this as blisters were beginning to form on our feet. She could easily relate to this as by the end of our time on the Jesus Trail, she had 26 blisters. After around 8 miles, we ended up in Cana and were welcomed into a lovely Arab home for the night.

We started off day 2 in Cana, and ended up around 6 miles later at a goat farm. Our meditation for the day was, “Behold!” We were to come up with our own “behold” phrase. This really encouraged us to pay attention to our surroundings — to the natural and unnatural sounds of the world. As the day went on, we talked less and less to each other. I couldn’t tell you if it was because we were starting to get tired, or if we were all thinking hard about our little assignment. We also had beautiful scenery to take in everywhere we walked that day. We walked through a forest, fields of beautiful wildflowers, and everything else in between.

Day 3. Around 13 miles. We walked a long time through fields of wheat. Whenever I think about the size of Israel, I think about it being roughly the size of New Jersey and how small it is for a country. Now I realize just how much land that means. We had a whole new perspective on the land today as we walked through seemingly endless fields of wheat. Somehow, the wheat turned into thistle, and many of us walked for a mile or two with our hands above our heads attempting to avoid the thistle and nettles. We also walked through fields of cows and climbed up the Horns of Hattim to get a wonderful panoramic of where we have been and where we have yet to go.

Today was nearly silent between everyone. Linford talked to us about Jesus’ ministry starting when He was around 30, giving him around 3 years to complete everything He came to earth to do. What would we do with 3 years to do whatever we wanted? I think this question really put life into perspective for a lot of us. We really don’t know how much time we have left on earth. We shouldn’t delay doing what we most want to do in life because we don’t know if we’ll have the time 10 years from now. I know it really encouraged me to live my life completely for Jesus. As I am realizing how hard it is to walk in His physical footsteps in the Holy Land, I’m realizing even more how difficult it is to follow in His Spiritual footsteps. It is definitely something to strive for! We arrived at the end of the day to a lovely little oasis which had a pool that many utilized. They refueled us with delicious food both for dinner and breakfast, setting us out on our final leg of the journey!

The Cliffs of Arbel Day 4. Cliffs of Arbel to Capernaum. Today was supposed to be the easiest of all our days, but it was far from it for most. While the terrain was more or less flat, it was hot and there was very little shade for us. We were supposed to think about the Beatitudes as we were hiking, and to come up with our own. “Blessed are the trailblazers.” “Blessed is the moleskin.” “Blessed are the trees that provide shade.” “Blessed are those who patiently wait for those who lag behind, for they shall have many friends.” “Blessed are the EMU students who hike the Jesus trail to Capernaum and leave Capernaum…walking on the Jesus Trail for the rest of their lives.” “Blessed are those who stay on the marked trail.” “Blessed are those who walk in Jesus’ physical footsteps while walking in Him.” We took a little detour from the Jesus Trail to hike up to the Mount of the Beatitudes and listened to Linford read the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. We looked over the Sea of Galilee and saw towns that are now remnants of Rome’s Empire, Tiberias specifically, compared to the everlasting Kingdom of God. We ended up on the rocky shore of Capernaum learning more about Jesus calling His disciples. At the end of the talk, we had a little symbolic foot washing in the Sea of Galilee on Maundy Thursday. I would struggle to think of a more appropriate time or place for this to happen!
Overall, this experience was probably pretty high on our list of favorite things we’ve done as a group. We learned a lot about Christ and how He grew up, and we learned a lot about us, our faith, and our determination. We all finished this incredible journey together! This time brought us all closer to each other and taught us to be compassionate and understanding of each other’s struggles. It taught us what a team looks like. It turned us into a little family… Okay. A rather large family.

32 people. 40 miles. 4 days. Nearly 75 blisters. Smiles all around.

-Janelle Dean

The God We Can’t Predict

March 3, 2012

Discovering the unexpectedness of God seems to be a theme these days. We talked in class this morning about God’s “sealing of the covenant” with Abraham. Back in the day, there were little kings and big kings. The little kings would make pacts with the big kings to be loyal to them. To seal their agreement, the little king would split animals in half and line them up across from each other, and then proceed to walk through the middle of them. It was basically saying, “Let this [being cut in half] happen to me if I should break this promise.” Now for the best part: after making his covenant with Abraham, God puts Abraham in a vision where this ritual is repeated – but here’s the kicker. God is the one walking through the middle. He’s the one putting himself in the position of promise maker. He’s saying, “If I break this covenant with you, then I’m the one who’s going to pay for it.”

Seriously? God is saying that? But I thought that was the little guy’s job? My gosh. So you’re telling me that God is the one putting Himself in the little guy’s position? But God wouldn’t do that…or would He? Maybe that’s the awesome love of God being showcased to humans early in their history. Maybe that’s kind of what Jesus is all about. Maybe that’s what we’re supposed to be all about: turning the expectations of the world and its people on their heads and spinning them into something completely and utterly different. But the difference here isn’t the kind that terrifies you. It might scare you a bit, but only because it’s so unlike your expectations. It’s like a hand moving through the air that you expect to slap you, and instead you find it resting on your cheek in a gesture of love.

God does a bunch of crazy things all throughout the Old Testament. I suppose I have always naively assumed that the person of Jesus was the first time that God really “broke the mold” on Himself. But here He is, always breaking the mold, always breaking expectations. Jesus was simply the culmination of all that. He was the crowning jewel on the crown of peculiarity that God has been crafting since before human history began. The best part is, God continues to be unexpected. He’s always surprising us, if only we watch for it, if only we’re open to Him doing strange things in even stranger ways. Jesus – God – is Living Water. He moves and breathes and has a liquid presence. He still takes some of the convictions that we are convinced are a certain way and turns them into something completely different. But He’s not unstable. There’s a big difference between unpredictable and unstable.

So these are the things that I’m chewing on; these are the things I’m ruminating: God in his goodness, so huge and so unpredictable – it can be such a nuisance when we can’t map His next move, when we can’t see where He’s taking us. It can be something that produces genuine anger. But Aaron and I were talking tonight, and I said something that sort of clicked in me. I said, “I wouldn’t want a God I could predict. I wouldn’t want to know everything He was going to do. He wouldn’t be God if I could understand everything about Him.”

A prayer:

To you, oh Mysterious Creator God, I commit this day. Just when I think I have you and your world figured out, you turn around and surprise me. And in the midst of that surprise, I thank you for your stability. Amen.

– Bridgett Brunea


March 31, 2012

This past week has been full of experiences I did not necessarily think that much about at the time they were occurring. When reflecting though I came to the realization that I have learned so very much. I had already heard many really strong opinions about the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict from the Palestinian side. While here at the Kibbutz in the Galilee, ORANIM College and even in our contact with Jewish persons the week before at Ecce Homo lectures in Jerusalem I have seen a completely different side.  I now see that the Holocaust does have an effect on why things are how they are in Israel. It created a collective memory of the past, a fear of being in a position of inferiority again and a stubbornness that comes out in stating what they think no matter if it offends as well as their argumentative nature. The Israelis have fear of the rockets being launched into their land and being “pushed into the sea” just as the Palestinians often have fears of occupation, confiscation and border crossings. Both of their fears are legitimate and deserve respect. Each side has wonderful and normal people who are just trying to live their everyday lives.

This land is not filled with only the radical groups from both sides that I had previously heard of. There are people living here on this land; all humans with needs, fears and hopes.  Israelis and Palestinians alike have good claims to the same land and often both want peace with the other side.  I asked myself what I could do with this as an outsider and found that for me I cannot just chose a side. There is so much more to consider. I cannot ask whose humanity means more to me because I have lived with them both and they are equally human in my sight. One side is not more worthy than the other to live on this land.

I was asked recently in a group event to pick a picture off a table that represented Israel the most to me. I picked one that had a tall, thin pile of rocks stacked on top of each other with Israeli flags sticking out of it and a road going behind it in the distance. This land of Israel is what other people consider to be their rock and they are represented by the flags sticking out of the rock structure that is Israel. Right now I feel like I am on the road behind it passing it by because Israel is not my rock and never will be. It has ancient Biblical sites and stories embedded in this place that I can learn from and try to understand more clearly, but the actual soil and land do not mean much to me as an outsider. My rock is God alone on whom I stand.

As such, I view Israel-Palestine as a place full of beautiful people who all have their hopes and dreams for peace in this land. I believe they can share this hope in some way in the future. So to me Israel is not a land of soil but a land of unique people who all deserve love and respect. As a child of God I can show them love and respect, but can also listen and point to the peace and justice of God, who I believe alone can help them to find peace with each other. I do not feel that actions from me as an outsider will do much good. God, my rock, has helped me understand more about this conflict where love is needed and the hope of the generations can still be born anew.

-Ariel Kiser



Hannah Tissue, Anna Hershey, Michelle Miller, Taylor Swantz, and Linnea Slabaugh pose with a great view Beauty. If I had one word to describe my time here so far, I would have to choose that one. The energy of the Egyptians, the hospitality of the Bedouins in Jordan, the honor and passion I saw in every Palestinian, and the diverse landscapes of Israel all fall into this one-word description. All of this has been beauty in my eyes; the question is, how do I capture it?

Pictures? Maybe.
Videos? Closer.

My camera can only go so far. I have realized that the lens that I see is different from what everyone else is taking in, and what we take from it will make one big collage of all of our experiences. I wish I could just bottle them all up for a forever keepsake, but I can’t.

I have come to accept that taking in every single moment is impossible. Being able to account for every mountain top I saw or to recite every Arabic word I learned is not going to happen.

This past week was a week of independent travel. During this time I had a lot of time to reflect on my trip so far and to really soak in my experiences. I quickly realized that I don’t want to sit back quite yet, for this journey is not over. I came to the conclusion that I want to wholeheartedly relish every moment, even if it means getting soaked to the bone or climbing 7,000 feet to get there. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will be gone in the blink of an eye, and I want my eyes to be wide open during all of it.

-Michelle Miller


Linford Stutzman with the American-Israeli settler who spoke with the group about land issues from his point of view February 15, 2012

It’s easy to say “tear down the walls!” It’s easy to say “we need peace!” It’s easy to say these things, but do people actually believe them? Do people want them for the correct reasons?

It’s really hard to listen to this man who doesn’t believe in the Palestinians. He isn’t the worst, he isn’t the most brainwashed, but when I live with the Palestinians and hear their stories I just cannot feel right about his words, his claims. He is not an inherently bad man and at least he doesn’t seem vindictive against the Palestinians. He is just for the Jewish people and Israel. It’s like…I can’t quite describe it… Oh I don’t know.

But I have a good feeling he is willing to do ANYTHING for the cause of Israel. And I’m glad to hear him saying that he is willing to live alongside the Palestinians, and I am glad to hear him saying he doesn’t always agree with the Israeli government or their military. But what does that really mean?

The Native Americans didn’t have any “official” claims to the land our families occupied except living there for as long as they can remember. Swimming in the James River. Hunting bison on the plains. Living in peace with nature in the West. Yes, our families hurt thousands, took their land, and left them with a paperclip and rubber band. But that wasn’t [us]. You cannot blame the people who are living now even if it is the face of past persecution.

We must learn from our mistakes instead of just blame each other for generations. We must break this cycle of colonization instead of being complacent within our roles of persecuted and persecutor. This is not much to ask for, but people are unwilling to open their eyes beyond what is in front of them, beyond their daily comfortable life.

We always need someone to blame. Someone to persecute for a scapegoat to get what we want. What would happen when the world becomes listeners instead of shouters?

I say when because I have hope. The world is not inherently bad because that’s calling the one who created us inherently bad. How we view the creation is how we treat the Creator. We don’t know how to see. We don’t know how to listen. We don’t know how to learn.

This may be the musings of a naïve twenty year old woman, but I am not incompetent. I am not uneducated. I have seen a lot during this month abroad. Not everything, but so much shoved into my head, through my eyes that I must know something. I must have some ideas. Something to offer.

I have a hope. A hope for this world. A hope for this society. It may be confusing, upsetting, destructive, crazy, chaotic, but I hope for this Earth. A hope for the humanity of this people. It’s there – it’s there in homeless shelters. It’s there in liberty in North Korea. It’s there in the Jesuit center in Jordan. We just need to open our eyes, or just need to get up off our faces and walk without bumping into our neighbor beside us. Without pushing our neighbor off this tightrope called life.

I really don’t have an answer, and I really do not think anyone does. We live our lives and in these lives we choose to be ignorant or too much in the way of positive production. When we see these injustices done to others, we want to help any way possible, but we do not have any clue how to do so. We have never experienced them ourselves. All we have is the motivation to help, but no knowledge on how to positively or effectively help.

And then we look at the perpetrator and cannot fathom or even begin to relate to that person. We don’t see anything more than a monstrous creature that holds a gun to its chest.

When I think about it…I think our goal as outsiders is to listen. To listen to the oppressed and the oppressors. They are both human and both subject to the same sins and justices we are subject to. It’s hard to do that when all you see are the injustices done to a people who have little effect when resisting the oppressors, who are subject to daily pain and suffering. But one thing we can do is that we have the opportunity to come to the other side not as the oppressed, but as listeners. As observers. As humans A group of students, headed by Andrew Hostetter, cross an ancient aqueduct built by Herod the Great connecting with each other despite difference of opinion.

We need to start spreading hope. Hope to everyone – to the oppressed and the oppressors, who are both deserving of God’s love.

So how are you going to help?

– Morgan Porter


February 25, 2012

After living and building friendships in Palestine for three and a half weeks, it was weird to tell them that I was leaving to go to a place that they can’t travel to.  We may have only driven 15 minutes to get from Beit Sahour to Jerusalem but the landscape and the feeling has changed drastically.  One of the most notable changes is the water issue.  In Beit Sahour and Palestine, people had to be so conservative with their water use and now I walk down the street and see hoses laid under planks to help water plants and grass and it seems like water is in abundance, but a couple of miles away it is scarce.

During the past three and a half weeks, we heard several emotional lectures and visited places affected by occupation every day.  We have gone to places like a refugee camp and a Palestinian farm that is continually faced with demolition threats from the Israeli army.  Sometimes it is hard to listen to emotional stories because of the human rights violations that occurred.  One day we visited a place called Tent of Nations, which is a farm owned by a Palestinian, that grows grapes, Laura Bowman, Hannah Tissue, and Mike Ferguson posing near a newly planted olive tree at the Tent of Nations almond trees and olive trees.  The olive trees are seen as a sign of hope for the Palestinians because they don’t produce olives for seven to ten years, so when you plant it you have to hope that you will see the end product.  A couple of days after we visited it, we found out that the Israeli army issued a warning towards them, saying that they would demolish some of the property unless action was to be taken in court in the next 45 days.  This is frustrating because they have already gone to court several times to prove that the land is legally theirs.

One of the most difficult days was the day we visited Ephrat, a Jewish settlement.  This was the second settler we heard talk about occupation from their perspective.  It was difficult because we tried to ask him objective questions but he would usually respond with an example about America.  One highlight I will take out of Palestine was our second to last day in Beit Sahour.  After our afternoon session, a group of us went to play soccer at a local school.  Some kids saw us with a ball and asked if they could join us.  We started off by playing against the kids as a group but after they started to double us in size, we decided to split up teams and we ended by playing for two hours.  It was so neat to lose all language and situational barriers and just interact with the kids.  It was sad to have to say goodbye to a community that we had been so connected to, but I look forward to sharing all of my experiences there.

-Mike Ferguson


Love and Fear in the shadow of the Wall

Mike Ferguson poses at the Wall

I have often observed cultures from the perspective of a foreigner, either as one or from the mind of one. My life has been characterized by movement, both permanent and temporary. My roots grow not from living in one land but through relationships and experiences. Being removed from homes I love brings sadness and fear, yet also a new energy and exhilaration to pursue novel unknowns. It is difficult for me to imagine fighting or dying for a patch of land. I am on a pursuit for answers, while still understanding the Palestinians’ desire for freedom.

One of the experiences that has impacted me the most so far is our group visit to the Wall. This zigzag Wall protrudes from the street in dark gray cement slabs littered with graffiti professing its injustice and prophesying its demise. It looks so opposite to its surroundings that few can miss the fact that the Wall wasn’t always present. It cuts the road in half and carves around the Palestinian buildings, choosing its path for the purpose of “securing” Israeli interests. I put my hand out to touch the Wall as I walked along it gazing up at the top nine meters above and searching the clouded windows of military towers for a sign of humanity within. I felt the lifeless cold and greed that brought this Wall into being. The hurt and claustrophobia emanated from this town’s eyesore making my heart cry, and wonder how this could have happened or been allowed. It is hard to comprehend what seems like hate, but the ultimate cause, I believe, is Fear. One of my teachers at EMU once said that the opposite of love is not hate but fear. The more I explore the world, the more this becomes true to me. Why would you fight for power if you did not fear losing control or insecurity or even pain?

In Hebron, settlements and Palestinian communities dwell side by side in the center of town, creating an unusual circumstance compared to other cities. Fear exists as a strong psychological barrier that feeds the physical features of the city. It is visible in the automatic guns carried by many settlers walking on a street that forbids Palestinian travel. It is demonstrated in the tension of Palestinians waiting to pass through checkpoints at the mercy of the soldiers’ good will not to harass them. Makeshift ladders and stairs dot the roofs of Palestinian homes beside a wall, as the onlyHebron method of access to the outside world with front doors blocked off. Soldiers patrol a cemetery above a military outpost for suspicious activity as legislation prepares plans for making it a road to ease travel between settlement homes. A settler we talked to avoids any sections of town where Palestinians live because it is considered by soldiers to be too dangerous. Wired mesh serves as protection against the shelling of undesirable missiles in the form of water, eggs, or rocks that settler hands drop on passersby in Palestinian alleys below.

I observe barriers constructed everywhere I go, from years of unresolved stalemate. I have seen so much injustice that I was beginning to become discouraged a few days ago. Two experiences I have spotted involving faith raise my Spirit. It is amazing to view how this situation has strengthened religious commonalities among the Palestinians. The Palestinian Christians also struggle against their denominational divisions but most reach out with “Loving Resistance” under the Kairos document. The next experience, the Tent of Nations, stands up against the suffocating settlements on the mountain tops encircling it. The man who owns the land works on cultivating the land in self-sufficient ways. He must constantly and creatively dodge the restrictions thrown in his path to retain his land. He is inspiring because he must find alternatives to procure water, electricity, and methods of construction for his dwellings that could survive demolition. Every day he lives in faith that he will keep his land. One lecturer told us earlier this week that with reasons surrounding you to break and pursue you, you (Palestinians) stay here by faith believing that God has put you here for a reason.

Our faith and actions of love I believe can demolish any barrier and bring hope to this land of discord. “And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13: 13).

-Crystal Lehman


The Thaw

Sounds dim to a lonely hum of an electric heater

Flashing, blinking lights quiet to a steady white light

Moving objects, moving minds come to a stop


I can feel the place I stand

Flashing, spinning memories ease into a bird chirping in a tree

Warmth tingles my numb fingers and toes

Slowly, ever slowly, the ice begins to soften and drip


The first three weeks of our time in the Middle East reminds me of early morning polar bear swims at camp. You run into the water full speed, flail around, screaming and laughing, then run out of the water and sit on the beach completely numb.

Now that we are in Palestine, in a home, we finally have time to sit and let the sun thaw our numbed souls. The thawing process aches a bit. We can feel the Palestinian hurt of the occupation, humiliation of inequality, and longing for their and our own homeland(s). But regaining feeling means we can also feel the joy of Palestine! The joy of celebrations with family, incredible food, meeting inspiring people working for peace, being able to order falafel in Arabic, or simply listening to a bird chirp in a lemon tree as the sun rises.

The Middle East is a place where pain and peace, sadness and joy, past and present, mourning and celebration all exist at once in an incredible balance that I hope to one day understand and embody.

-Laura Bowman


Mount Sinai and St. Catharine’s Monastery

Mount Sinai and St. Catharine’s Monastery

Rebekah Maldonado-Nofziger and Taylor Gray Harrison put their arms up in victory after hiking all of Mt. Sinai After our experiences in Egypt, we took the bus eight hours into the desert, following the path of the Israelites out of Egypt. Once over the Suez Canal (or under, as we traveled through a tunnel underneath) we were in Asia! Egypt technically controls the Sinai after Israel withdrew in 1979, but they are not allowed to build up their military there. As a result, Egypt has a hard time controlling Bedouin aggression in the region. Apparently one of these areas of unrest is the fastest route to Mount Sinai, so our tour bus company thus took us the long way around. We went almost to Jordan, then back to the center of the peninsula to visit St. Catharine’s Monastery and Mt. Sinai.

St. Catharine’s was a very neat experience. Two famous (albeit alleged) parts of the story of Moses reside at St. Catharine’s: the well, which Moses first drew from, and where he met his wife, and the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses. Like most biblical sites, nothing is 100% sure. In the case of the bush, there are a few things to consider. When Moses sees God in the bush, he was out shepherding his flock, which means at some point he would have come to the well to drink and “water the flock,” and thus, would have been near the well. According to our guide Samer, many attempts have been made to plant parts of the bush in other parts of the Sinai, but to no avail. I don’t know, but it seems that in some way the bush is special to that area.

The other notable thing about St. Catharine’s was their collection of ancient manuscripts and icons. They are the last remaining icons, the only ones which escaped the Roman icon burning spree. The old icons were beautiful and powerful, but what interested me were the old books. Perhaps the most amazing was one of the first copies of the Gospel of Jesus. So awesome to see actual evidence from that time period, further bolstering the belief that Jesus did actually exist. There were countless other books which exceeded my expectations: Old copies of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, for instance, and the book of Exodus, written in Latin. As Samer would say “simply amazing”.

We then had a packed lunch picnic style at a spot where the rock face looks like a calf… maybe the golden calf? All of the other guys and I had our lunch at the base of the calf. We then went back to St. Catharine’s to begin our long trek to the summit of Mt. Sinai. The climb to the top was intense. It took the frontrunners of the group about an hour and forty minutes to get to the top. Our legs were aching, and we were very tired, but gazing out upon the Sinai wilderness, the physical pain was worth it. It was stunning. And it really put the Israelites’ journey during Exodus into perspective. Looking at the mountains and landscape that they traveled through, you understand how the Israelites, who were not experienced nomads but slaves, needed God to survive. It was an amazing experience.

-David Everett


“Over our Heads, Your Flag is Waving in the Air”

January 21, 2012

Luxor, Egypt

We have had an amazing time in Egypt, getting The whole group with our wonderful Egyptian tour guide, Samer (fith from right, front row), and our bus driver, somewhere in the Sinai to know the people and listening to their stories. Today we got to know a lot about our tour guide, Samer (Sam). He is a man of humor and carries a sense of calmness with him at all times.  Upon our arrival to Egypt we met Samer and each girl received a beautiful rose. This wonderful bit of kindness was only a glimpse of how he would continue to care for us.

One night at dinner we were able to get insight to his life not only as an Egyptian in this momentous time period but also as a Coptic Christian (one of the largest Christian churches in Egypt) in an Islamic dominated country. We asked him if he was nervous or concerned about the parliament being 70% Muslim brotherhood and 20% considering converting to the Muslim brotherhood (if this situation were to occur, this would be the biggest majority in parliament since Hitler came into power in Germany according to Bishop Thomas).

Samer then responded in a very calm voice, “No, God still exists” and we were left “carrying the shock” (a phrase Samer often used to explain something fascinating or shocking). It was amazing how he responded with a simple phrase, but it felt so profound, “God still exists.”  He continued to tell us about what the Coptic churches were doing during this time.  After a church was bombed many Christian churches fasted together for three days.  Samer told us that through these actions (and the churches actions) he felt “something good is going to happen.” Again, we were stunned.  To have such confidence and strength at a time where things are seemingly falling apart was so greatly encouraging.

January 28, 2012Students standing on top of a desert arch in Wadi Rum, Jordan, just outside of the Bedouin camps

Petra, Jordan

A week has gone by since our enlightening  conversation with Samer, and now that we have moved on to Jordan, we think back to our time we spent with Samer in Egypt.  Three days ago we not only said goodbye to Egypt but also to Sam. We had a small farewell party for Samer and our group wrote a song for Samer.

Over our heads , your flag is waving in the air (2x)

There must be Samer somewhere

Oh, when we’re at the pyramids,

We hear “Lotus” in the air

Oh, when we’re at the temple

We hear “Lotus” in the air

Oh, when we’re in Alexandria

We hear “Lotus” in the air

There must be Samer somewhere

Oh, When we’re lost in Egypt

We know Sam will be there

Oh, when we’re tired and hungry

WE know Sam will be there

And, when we have a tour guide

We know no one can compare

We will really miss Samer

Over our heads, your flag is waving in the air (2x)

We will really miss Samer

We also were left behind with quotes that Sam often said throughout our tour and time spent with him that we would like to share with you all – that we will never forget!

Carry your shock – shocking or fascinating

Lotus – our group name he would holler with his Egyptian flag waving to round us up

Hip-Hip Hooray – at Janelle’s birthday party, Sam had us scream that!

Shall we go to the coach now (Let’s go to the bus)

-Taylor Gray Harrison and Rebekah Maldonado-Nofziger (with small notes made by Kat Pence)

First insights from Egypt

The group in front of the Giza Pyramids I think I can speak for most of the group when I say this past week has been a whirl-wind of once in a lifetime experiences, delicious foods, and the start of some great friendships.

Since arriving in Egypt, my time here has been what I had hoped it would be and more. I have seen wonders of the world, eaten fresh fish while overlooking the Mediterranean, and have encountered some beautiful people both inside our group and outside it. When I reflect over this week I cannot help but feel blessed by this amazing opportunity to learn and grow in a culture very different from my own.

A highlight that I wish to share with you all, stems from a fear of mine, and is placed in a gorgeous Coptic Church retreat center called Anafora. Anafora was founded by Bishop Thomas, a famous outspoken bishop of Upper Egypt, whom we had the opportunity to talk with about his theories on the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian conflict and why they clash. A fear of mine going into this trip was that I would not be ready or prepared to encounter the hurt of the people or the land. However, Bishop Thomas shared that we all have the responsibility to love everyone. He said that “love can change the world.” The kind of love that is from God and is never-ending. After hearing from the bishop, it hit me that love needs to be my focus and from the love comes healing and peace. To me, Bishop Thomas’s words were a simple, yet beautiful preparation; not only for the rest of cross-cultural but for the rest of my life.

Another highlight has been experiencing the beauty of symbolism found everywhere in Egypt. Symbolism that ranges from hieroglyphics in the pyramids to pillars in the Coptic churches. Everything has a meaning and it’s always so interesting to learn about it. I’m thankful for our tour guides and awesome leaders who show us the meaning of basically everything we encounter.

To end, I want to share an example of this Linford and Joel Rittenhouse watch as a carpet maker works on a silk rug inside an Oriental Carpet School symbolism that has touched me personally. All throughout Anafora there are beautiful rugs of many colors, all made from recycled scraps. When Sarah, a former IVEPer (Mennonite Central Committee volunteer) and friend to the EMU community, told us about them, she said they are to symbolize all God’s people coming together. All of us different, but together forming something beautiful. To me, this is what cross-cultural is all about, meeting different people, learning from and loving them, all the while forming something beautiful.

– Hannah Tissue


Ahlan wa Sahlan from Egypt! Our group arrived in Cairo a week ago and is still settling into the fact that this much anticipated adventure in the Middle East has actually begun!

My first glimpse of Egypt centered in on the night life in Cairo: veiled women walking the sidewalks, groups of men drinking tea and smoking hookah in dimly lit coffee shops, children scampering between street vendors selling sunglasses, scarves, oranges, or roasted sweet corn. Through the dusty bus windows, I also witnessed the roads crowded with cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and pedestrians; each navigator having a specific destination in mind yet no one knowing exactly how to achieve the desired end through the chaos of everyone trying to find their own way.

Chaos. Not only does this word apply to physical navigation in Egypt but to the “spiritual navigation” in this place as well. Egypt is spiritually alive. Both the historical and modern perspectives of Egypt point to a culture that is focused on the spiritual realm. During our time here we’ve seen this all around us: in the symbolism of rituals performed after the death of ancient pharaohs (whose tombs we’ve explored), in the man meditating inside one of the pyramids of Giza, in the miracle stories of faith that moved mountains here in Egypt, in the Anna Hershey and other students admire the architecture of a mosque devotion of Muslims who obey the call to prayer that is broadcast five times a day, in the reverence of the 7 PM to 12AM Coptic church service celebrating Jesus’ baptism, in the evening prayers and morning mass at our retreat center…

All of these practices and faith backgrounds here are a sort of Cairo-like street scene with each person or group trying to navigate the culture through the lens of their own spirituality, despite opposition from people of other faith backgrounds.  In many places here, this “street scene” has seemed pretty dark. However, glimmers of light do appear in the midst of this darkness in the form of the work of monks at the Bishoy Monastery or the ministry of the Anafora retreat center and Bishop Thomas.

And so, as the drama of the street scene unfolds and the vastness of the spiritual darkness can seem overwhelming here, there is a hope in me that stems from my knowledge that Jesus is here too, walking alongside each navigator trying to find his or her way through the chaos.  The same truth can be said for our group members as we navigate this new place with open eyes, minds and hearts. And may the same be said for all of you at home as well.


-Chaska Yoder