May 9

A highlight today was soaking in the Dead Sea — truly an unusual experience. You can soak and you can float but you can’t go under completely (not that you would want to get that high intensity of salt water anywhere near your eyes or mouth!)

Soaking — it’s much of what I’ve been doing this first week in Palestine / Israel — soaking it all in. There are days when I have absorbed all that one can possibly soak up. But by the next morning, after a good nights sleep, there is room for more.

This morning as we left our guest house in Bethlehem I noticed what was around me and around the bus as we drove. We leave the guest house on foot. Everywhere we turn there is tan. The streets, sidewalks, and walls of the buildings all connect and all are solid tan stone. An occasional potted flower adds color to this otherwise monochromatic world. Monochromatic, that is, until the shopkeepers open up and a multitude of color spills out.

As we head to the bus around 8, the shopkeepers are opening the big green metal doors and dragging out the overflow onto the area in front of their shops. Each shop is approximately 12’ x 15’, crammed to overflowing with it’s own particular type of items — bread, cloth, fruits & vegetables, chickens turning on rotisseries. An occasional hardware store is tucked into the mix. Shop keepers live in small dwellings above their shops.

Each day, we know we’re on the right path as an older man, dressed in local garb, leads his plodding donkey up the street towards us. Ah yes, the streets. Somehow when I pictured the little town of Bethlehem, I didn’t picture it on the side of a steep hill. Our legs are finding new muscles as we trudge up and down the cobblestone streets and many steps in this city.

We’re grateful to climb onto the bus ahead. As we drive out of the downtown (which is really uptown) there are more houses and less shops. The closer we come to the edge of Bethlehem, the larger the houses, the bigger the walled manicured gardens filled with gorgeous roses and olive trees.

And then, the ugly wall rears up before us. Reminders of the occupation and separation of the peoples in this land. It reminds me of the photos I’ve seen of the wall surrounding the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto of Nazi Germany. And I wonder, how can a group that was so persecuted turn around and do the same thing to another group? Yet another question to hold in tension as I tour this complex land.

A guard with an automatic weapon meanders down the aisle of our bus quickly glancing at each of our passports. It is easy for us to pass through with our American passports.

As we leave Bethlehem, illegal Israeli settlements (large towns / small cities) sit on top of the surrounding hills. Looming reminders of the issue of land and land rights in this part of the world.

As we drive, Kevin Clark prays: “God, you placed us here to ask the questions and to respond with your love. Help us to hold our questions in your presence . . . “

This land and it’s people are getting into my skin just as the salt water penetrated this afternoon in the Dead Sea. But, unlike the nasty salt water, I’m not ready to wash it off. I have much more to absorb in this land of Jesus.

May the God of Peace walk with each of us as we journey. -Dawn Ranck