Greetings, friends!

May 31st, 2013

And thank you for your interest in our travels and your prayers on our behalf over the past three+ weeks!

As the saying goes, “All good things come to an end.”  And our trip itself is now history.  We left our Jerusalem hotel at 1:00 AM Middle Eastern time on Saturday, May 25, and headed into a long, long, long, day (31 hours long, recouping the 7 hours we had “lost” on the trip east!) filled with airport passages, lots of waiting, and thousands of miles of air travel.  Thank God our flights were very safe.  We arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport late afternoon on Saturday.  And those of us returning to the Shenandoah Valley arrived back here several hours later, on Saturday evening.

Our experience was a rich one.  But it was not necessarily an easy experience.  There is much for us to ponder as we return to our homes, our congregations, and our everyday worlds.  We have, in many ways, returned as different people from the ones who left on Thursday, May 2.  Our collective and personal experiences along our journey have shaped us in significant, perhaps even profound, ways.  We have laughed together.  We have cried together.  We have shared and sung and prayed together.  We have learned much about the 1st-century world of Jesus.  We have learned much about the 21st-century world of Israel/Palestine.  And, by the same token, we have learned much about ourselves and our own calling into ministry.

We thank God for all of these experiences that we have shared together.  And we make ourselves available to share our stories with you, as opportunities present themselves.  Thanks again for your long-distance participation in our journey through your interest and your prayers!

Blessings to you all!


Dorothy Jean (for the group)      

Rivers, Falls, Borders and Destructions

May 23rd, 2013

The morning began by the Jordan River, close to a place where Jesus was baptized , Two women, Furst and LaDawn were baptized as a renewal and remembrance of their first baptism. Kevin officiated with the immersion, and we sang hymns as they were each dunked three times in the Jordon River. .  It became a touching symbol of nearing the end of our pilgrimage to Israel.

We are touring Kings Highway from Syria to Jordan. This is the area called the Golan Heights. Lush fields of bananas, melons and other fruits are filling the fields. Miles and miles of netting are used to protect the crop from birds , disease and insects. We are on our way to Kursi National Park. The story of the man wearing shackles and chains, howling and bruising himself was told. The swine received his demons and the man was cured of his madness while the swine drowned. Many witnessed this miracle and begged Jesus to go home because he was in Gentile territory. He asked the people to share how much the Lord has done for them.

ruins of a Byzantine Church We visited the ruins of a Byzantine Church. The cistern, cemetery, baptism font,,,, steps down to the crypt, mosaic floors were all viewed. Above, on the hillside was a demonic cave with a burial site to be viewed.

We saw many ruins from villages that were destroyed in the July 1967 six day war. One hundred fifty nine villages were bombed and distroyed. Today there are forty one Israeli settlements. We passed by Mt. Hermon, 9,232 feet high with snow capping the top. We stopped at a mosque that was destroyed.

We heard of Bash an, land of the giants from Tony with many references in the Biblical texts about it being a city of refugee.

A windmill is dotting the landscape, reservoirs are kept for the many fruit trees and produce in this area. We are heading into occupied Syrian territory. There is to be no picture taking from the right hand side of the bus because we are under surveillance. The UN offices are on the hill. Eighty thousand people Observing the border with Syria (lake) were killed in a site we stopped and viewed. We could take no pictures in one direction. A very strange feeling being told NOT to take pictures because it could get us into trouble.

We stopped at a Druze market and observed the cherries, special bread and fruit sold by the people who take care of agriculture in this area. On Thursdays the woman of the village gather for worship. Their religion is a combination of many different sects with numerology and other practices thrown in. They are almost Amish looking in their dark dresses for the woman and white scarves to cover their head and sometimes, faces. Mustaches are worn by most of the men.

We journeyed on to the Temple of Pan, a Pagan Temple and a cliff wall cave. There were niches in the cave wall for their many Gods There were three distinct explosions as we were coming down from the Temple. We were told at the snack shop the military was setting off unexploded land mines that were a The Temple of Pan danger in the area for safety reasons. The youth that were in the wading pool reacted a bit, not a huge scream but a surprise nevertheless. I could not help think it was a sound that was common not that many years ago. Some of the group walked down to the falls and experienced a refreshing temperature from the ruins they had just climbed and viewed,.

An interesting day for observing landscape, farm practices, cattle and listening to the many comments along the way.


Donna Baum (for the group)


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Encountering Jesus’ story

May 22nd, 2013


The birds began singing their melodies very early this morning as the sun rose from behind the mountains and shined on the Sea of Galilee. We could tell early on that it would be a very hot day. We enjoyed breakfast together on the outdoor dining area overlooking the sea.

We boarded the bus and made our way to the Mount of Beatitudes. It was beautiful there with the Church of the Beatitudes manicured lawns and colorful flowers. Many of us wondered how it looked when Jesus sat there teaching the crowds who gathered to see and hear him. We hiked down the mount to our next
destination. Even walking downhill was exhausting in the heat. We wilted as the temperature exceeded 90 degrees.

Our next stop was the Tabgha/Heptapegon (Church of the Multiplication) commemorating Jesus’ miracle of feeding the multitude with five loaves and two fishes offered by a generous child. Next, on to the Primacy of Peter where we reflected on Jesus’ question to Peter, ‘Do you love me?’ We had the opportunity to wade in the sea and reflect on how we might answer this question after asking for forgiveness and releasing those things that might hinder our response to Christ.

Next, we enjoyed a picnic lunch at Chorazin, a Jewish town first mentioned in first or second century CESynagogue ruins at Capernaum before visiting some of its ruins. Our last stop of the day was in Capernaum where we visited the site of Peter’s home. Of course, it had a church built over it! Many of us made our way back toward the bus early because of the heat. We stopped at the concession to purchase the coldest items available. We all appreciated an early arrival to our lodging this afternoon to rest or cool off with a swim before evening prayers.

Please continue to pray for the final days of our journey as we continue to find Christ in this Holy Land.

With Grace, Peace, and Hope,
Darlene Wilkins (for the group)



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Nazareth, Zippori & Galilee

May 21st, 2013

 It seemed our visit to Nazareth ended so quickly as we boarded the bus this morning. We drove past many beautiful progressive Israeli farms with rolling high hills and green valleys to our first stop at Zippori National Park, in Western lower Galilee. 

Here we viewed the remains of the ancient city ( 103 BC) of Zippori. When the Roman army conquered the city ( 63 BC) it was renamed Diocaesarea and during the crusades it was changed to Sepphoris. Archeological excavations were begun in 1931 and they continue. Some of the interesting sites were the 1st BC Roman aqueduct with a massive reservoir for the city’s water supply and a mansion of GrecoRoman style. This possibly was the home of Mary’s parents.

Visiting the Lavi Kibbutz The Lavi Kibbutz was our next stop where we were given a guided tour by Mordechai. This Kibbutz was founded in 1949 and has 170 families living cooperatively. We learned about the daily life of this community and had a most abundant lunch in their guest dining room.

The sun was blazing hot as we traveled to the Cliffs of Arbel, 3500 feet above sea level. We slowly plodded up the path until we viewed the cliffs, the village below and the first panoramic view of the Sea of Galilee. After some time for reflection here we returned to our bus for a ride into Sailing the Sea of Galilee Tiberias and ended our day with a boat ride on the Sea. While the boat rocked in the waves, the story of Jesus and his disciples fishing was read to us. We were directed to the other side of the sea where Jesus walked and worked. Our imaginations are ignited by being in this place this evening, in a YMCA hotel at the seaside.


Janet Gerber (for the group)


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Encountering Nazareth

May 20th, 2013

Greetings everybody!

Have you ever said “Warm water! Yummy!” Well, some of us have found ourselves saying this quite a bit in the past few weeks. To quote Dorothy Jean “water is water” and when you’re under a hot burning sun and you’ve walked a lot you don’t care if the water you’re carrying has gone warm or not: you just want water. And we’re not even working under the hot sun like many other local folks are!! Today we experienced a bit of this thirst as we did a walking tour in Nazareth.

Mary's well at the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation We started by visiting the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. Tony walked us through the history and introduced to us Mary’s well. One of the places celebrated as the site where Mary received news from the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus. There aren’t many images of Mary in this site, but the few found were immensely beautiful. Some of us found ourselves getting lost in meditation in this place!

Next we walked along the streets of Nazareth, encountering markets, busy streets, cars, people greetingBasilica of the Annunciation each other and many houses. The spices could not be smelled yet as it was still early for lunch. We reached the Basilica of the Annunciation which is a spectacular church. Really huge, exceedingly beautiful and filled with meaningful symbols and icons that begged to be encountered. This is another place where Mary could have encountered Gabriel. It’s a two-story building that has a dome on the top that is 55 meters high. The first floor is celebrated as Mary’s home (where the grotto is) and the second floor holds a very large worship space decorated with mosaics of Mary donated by communities from around the world. The Church itself is also surrounded by gorgeous mosaics from around the world that depict Mary under the colorful lights of many different cultures from around the world.

Today we were given a good number of hours to visit this church as well as the Church of St Joseph (that was nearby) and then the city itself. We all went our separate ways looking for places to eat, places to purchase gifts, and just all the different ways we could experience Nazareth.

Nazareth Village In the afternoon we visited Nazareth Village, an open air museum that recreates life in first century Nazareth. We were led through a tour of the village that was comprised of houses, fields, olive presses, wine presses, a synagogue and much more. As we visited these different corners of Nazareth Village we encountered people dressed in 1st  century clothes that taught us about life in this place and era. It was quite extraordinary to see this and picture Jesus walking around in places like these. Nazareth Village really does a marvelous job at bringing the 1st century to the 21st century. We ended our afternoon with an early supper at Nazareth Village and then headed home for our regular Evening Prayers meeting and then some well-deserved rest.

We encourage you to keep praying for us as we leave Nazareth tomorrow and slowly make our way back home. We miss you and are looking forward to seeing you soon!

Peace be with you!


Anita Laura Fonseca (for the group)


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May 19th, 2013

Greetings Everybody!

View of Nazareth from the rooftop of our guesthouse Today was another marvelous day filled with new things to see, new smells, new sounds, new learning, heat, disorientation, reorientation, questions and many, many more things. We started the day by worshiping at the Greek Catholic Nazareth Church, which according to the tradition is the place where Jesus preached Luke 4:16. Although none of us completely grasped everything that was said during the service (we heard Greek, French and Arabic!) we were all spiritually fed and observing their liturgy was very enriching.

We had lunch in downtown Nazareth, and some of us tried shawarma for the first time and others tried falafels and kefta kebobs for the first time. After lunch we all felt like we could’ve taken a long nap, but we’re glad we didn’t because we headed to Mount Tabor which is celebrated as the Mount of Mount of Transfiguration Franciscan Church Transfiguration where Jesus underwent transfiguration. The Franciscan church that is on the mountain-top was spectacular and begged to be explored. We gathered for a time of historical conversations, scripture reading (Luke 9:28-36) and then we were invited to a time of meditation around the question “What does Jesus want us to listen to?” Lost in time, mediation and prayer we weren’t able to take many pictures, so we apologize for not uploading as many as you’d like to see.

We continue to pray for you all. Please pray for us as we deal with trying to make sense of everything we’ve seen, as we try to understand what our part is in all of this, and as we start to prepare to head back.

Peace be with you.

Anita Fonseca (for the group)


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Saturday, May 18

May 19th, 2013

We began this Shabbat morning with what has now become our normal breakfast … freshly-baked pita bread, golden-green olive oil puddled in the center of a plate of hummus, cheese, sliced meat, hard-boiled egg, olives/jam/coffee/tea/orange drink, a goodly feast to see us off well fortified for the day. Our departure from St. Mark’s Lutheran Guesthbouse was slightly delayed because St. Mark’s is in old town Jerusalem, not far from the souk, and the motorized cart which hauled our heavy luggage out to the bus was forbidden. Eventually two very stalwart young men arrived and loaded our luggage “mile-high” on a small cart, tied it securely with ropes, and dragged it with manpower alone down the narrow cobbley streets to our bus.

Finally aboard the bus, we 14 headed to Ramallah, about 20 km from Jerusalem and 930 meters above sea level, near the highest mountain in the West Bank (Tel Asur). The city is ancient and is mentioned in the Old Testament as Ofra (Joshua, Judges 1, I Samuel). It is mentioned as Ephraim in John 11:54, Kevin and Jean Zaru at the Quaker International Center where Jesus stayed with his disciples. It is a happenin’ place and is the headquarters city of the Palestinian government We visited the Friends International Center in Ramallah, where we heard
from Jean Zaru, Palestinian authoress (book name, Occupied with Nonviolence) and advocate. We were also treated to refreshing mint tea and cookies.

At the city of Taybeh we visited with Abuna Ra’ed, the parish priest at the Latin Catholic Church and visited the Parable House. The Parable House was built about 300 years ago and was lived in as a family home. It is built in authentic style, with a cave area/basement for the animals, living area, storage wall, guest chamber, and appropriate tools for daily living. Objects in the house can be used to illustrate various of Jesus’ parables. Just outside the front door is a large olive press. We were unable to tour the peace lamp factory due to Shabbat, but we did see the lovely peace lamps, shaped and glazed like white doves.

We also visited the ruins of the ancient church of St. George. In front of the threshold of the church was a large patch of animal blood and bloody handprints beside the door. Our guide explained that the local
folk celebrate significant events by killing an animal there and making the handprints from its blood. However, he said that it was not a sacrifice.

Jacob's well in Nabkus Moving on to Nablus, we had the significant joy of visiting the authentic Jacob’s Well in the lower area of a church. The water is still sweet, 120 meters down, and cold. We drew a bucket of fresh water and dipped our hands in its refreshing coolness. Our guide, Tony, reminded us that Rebecca would have had to lower … and crank up … the bucket 200 times in order to water the camels in the caravan that arrived there on Jacob’s behalf, looking for a wife. For her to draw water for all the animals was
a significant act.

Finally arriving at Nazareth, we drove to the top of the steep mountain and checked in to our rooms at St. Margaret’s Guesthouse. Dinner was delicious and featured fresh salads, pita bread, potatoes, and chicken breast pounded thinly, breaded, and fried. It was delicious. Dessert featured wonderful fresh dates! St. Margaret’s had a wonderful old-world look and feel, with a cool and inviting walled courtyard. Many, but not all, of our rooms open onto this space.

The end of a busy day found us retreating to our various rooms for a well-earned rest.


Linda Matheny (for the group)

Last Night in Bethlehem

May 15th, 2013

Greetings from Bethlehem,

This is our last night in Bethlehem. Each day here has been significant and today was no different. We are left with impressions on our minds and spirits which will never allow us to be quite the same as we were when we arrived here.

It never rains in Israel-Palestine in May; or so they say. We left the guest house this morning with a drop or two falling and before we went very far; it was raining steadily. Fortunately, it didn’t last very long. As we journeyed south the sun came out and a beautiful day was in store for us. As we made the journey, the crowded towns were left behind and the road sides were covered with wheat fields, orchards of grapes and olives, and other agricultural products. Our destination at Tel Beersheba was Abraham’s Well. We were the first group to arrive which gave us the opportunity to reflect quietly at the site. As we explored the ancient ruins around the location we tried to imagine a bit of what life may have been like for the people who lived there; especially for the women as they gathered around the well to draw water for their family’s use.

Walking up Masada Next, we traveled to see Masada and toured the mountaintop site where the Zealots made their last stand against the Romans. The strongest among us made it up the mountain in eight minutes! You can guess who it was. All who attempted the hike made it back successfully. We retraced our route through the Negev Desert and stopped for a camel ride and lunch in a Bedouin tent. The camel ride was fun; but, hard on the anatomy! The camel behind me was quite friendly. I kept finding her head at my elbow. We learned a bit about the Bedouin culture as we were served tea and coffee. Then we enjoyed our meal seated on cushions around a low table.Bedouins teaching us about their culture

We made the trip back to Bethlehem and enjoyed our last dinner together for a couple of nights. Our last activity of the day was an inspiring presentation by Salim Munayer about Musalaha (Reconciliation in Arabic) and Camel Treks. He spoke to us about Obstacles to Reconciliation and the challenges faced in the reconciliation process. His work is fascinating and touched our hearts. It is late and time to pack and rest for the day ahead. Please continue to pray for us as we journey through this Holy Land. Come to us, abide with us; our Lord Immanuel.

With Peace, Grace, and Hope,


Darlene Wilkins (for the group)


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May 14th, 2013

Today we were off to Kiriatharba or Hebron where Sarah, wife of Abraham, died.  But first we made two stops.  The first stop is at an Israeli Settlement in the West Bank, which Israelis call neighborhoods.  Our guide was an Israeli woman who grew up in California.  Her father was a Palestinian Jew that did not return.  She married a doctor and migrated to Israel with her family, eventually building their home in a settlement near Bethlehem.  She told us why she believed that the people of Israel have a right to build their homes on land set aside for Palestinians.
At AL T Wani village: being showed the lands taken by settlements Our second stop was a Palestinian village of goat herders a few miles before we reached Hebron.  The countryside is breath taking and beautiful with wide open spaces like the Shenandoah Valley.  This is the first time we saw open land for miles since we landed in Tel Aviv.  There was only an occasional farm.  Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to Bethlehem is heavily populated.  Other areas have been mountainous and barren, but going to Hebron was rolling hills with acres of fields.  This village is next door to another settlement which is predominantly Zionists Jews who are gradually fencing of and taking their grazing land.  Our host’s wife had a store that sold beautiful dresses and handbags made by the local women.  There was other agricultural activity as well and they had a school for the surrounding villages.  At times the settlers would harass the Palestinian children and Christian Peacemaker Teams had to walk them to school.

Next, we were on to Hebron where we walked through the oldest part of Hebron where the original Kiriatharba stood when Father Abraham first entered the town with his wife Sarah.  We had lunch at the headquarters of the Christian Peacemaker Team.  Our speaker said, “we are here because of Genesis 23.”  It is the story of how Abraham, Sarah and later Jacob and Leah were buried in Hebron.  After lunch, we visited a mosque and a synagogue that were attached like a duplex, but we had to walk out of the mosque, down and around the corner to get to the synagogue.  We had to get through an Israeli check point to walk from the mosque to the synagogue and the guard didn’t want to let us through because we were Christians until he was told we were Americans. (Interesting!)  The mosque was over the cave where Abraham buried Now it was the men's turn to wear something different Sarah which also claimed to have Adam’s footprint and the synagogue was over the tomb of Jacob and Leah.  The women had to cover up to go in the mosques so when we entered the synagogue they were amused when we men had to put on skull caps.
We returned to Bethlehem and dinner at the Lutheran Center.  Afterwards the church hosted the first showing of the story of Christians in Palestine which will soon be found at  It featured many local Christians including the Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb.
Ed Wilkins with help from friend Bill Baum
for the group

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May 12th, 2013

I awoke this morning here in Jerusalem an hour later than normal because it was Sunday.  After our packed full schedule this past week of going nonstop with learning, sightseeing, and cultural experiences I really appreciated the extra hour of sleep and the relaxed day.

We all shared in a special worship service at The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church here in Bethlehem.  What made it so special is that our friend, Dr. Reverend Mitri Raheb that we met earlier in the week is the pastor.  The worship service was in Arabic with an English translation bulletin so that we could worship together.  I loved how the service was in both languages and appreciated how welcomed and at home they made us feel.  Our very own, Dorothy Jean Weaver, was asked to participate in the worship service by reading from Ephesians 4:14-21.  Also in attendance for this service were groups from Norway and Finland.  After the service we were invited to join the congregation for fellowship and coffee in the parish hall.

After worship service we were on our own with free time.  Some went out for lunch, some went shopping, while others reflected, meditated, read or rested.  We are now refreshed and ready for the activities before us this week anticipating what God will reveal to us in our continued journey together as fellow travelers!


LaDawn Knicely (for the group)


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