Post "Journey" reflections from our Team of Eighteen
Bill and Suzanne Bowman
The worship experience, the music, the opportunities for children and adult Biblical education and the outreach and missional activities are all important elements of belonging to a church or faith community. But, in our view, the Christian fellowship that one finds in a church community is of even greater importance. Jesus calls us, His followers, to be His church and to live in love and fellowship with one another, and we have certainly experienced fellowship in Christ for the past two weeks. It has been
so special for us to spend time with our dear friends, Caroline and Craig Lazzara. We extend a special thank you to Lynda for the endless hours of work that you put in to ensure that our trip went off perfectly. Thank you, Dan, for leading us, for providing us with spiritual guidance and especially for the many Bible readings you shared throughout the trip. We thank you, our fellow Holy Land Travelers, for allowing us to be in community with you on this journey, and by extension, for being a part of the entire
Round Hill Community Church family. We felt welcomed and loved from the get-go, the same way that we would no doubt feel if we showed up for worship some Sunday morning at Round Hill Church. And above all, we are grateful to our good and gracious God for the opportunity to visit the land where His Son, Jesus Christ lived, walked, spoke, healed, and showed us how to love one another.
When someone asks me about the trip, I try to think of what aspect the listener might most appreciate about the trip and tailor my response accordingly – describing the Biblical stories becoming more real by seeing the landscape, stones, and buildings, or understanding the context of history – the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Crusades, and the British Empire, or even the current political reality in these complicated countries with an approaching election, and West Bank Palestinians feeling imprisoned behind high mural-painted walls with barbed wire and armed guards at the borders. I will remember most of all the synagogue at Nazareth, reconstructed to give you the idea of what it was like to be a listener in Jesus’s day, with open windows to allow rooftop overflow audiences to hear what was being said below. It made me think about my experience teaching Sunday School using the Good Shepherd Montessori teaching program and setting up the lesson by telling the kids, "Once there was a man who said and did such amazing things that people began to follow him." I felt so privileged – to have the luxury of time to visit these sites and the ability to do it with a well-informed guide and a group of wonderful fellow travelers. We had great weather, excellent planning, delicious food, and were able to cover so much of interest in a jam-packed itinerary. I’m left with a few souvenirs, many photos, and great memories!
When I plan my vacations, I always expect to be exposed to culture, arts, new and exciting locations, and good conversation with friends. This trip was definitely all of the above, plus a surprise for me, with the way I was effected by the spiritual experience. Each day at a new location, Dan would read some scripture that was important to the site. This really brought the Bible to life, both Old and New Testament. I do not consider myself super religious or spiritual, even though I attend church every Sunday, but there was something about planting one’s feet in the Holy Land and walking the walk that really struck a deep emotional chord. Each reading planted a powerful vision of the message. Walking from the beautiful garden of Gethsemane, down the donkey trail, into Jerusalem through the Joffa gate, up the via Dolorosa and ending at the site of the trial and crucifixion. These images will be forever implanted in my memory for deeper contemplation. Jerusalem is an amazing city, with so much to see and feel. My grandmother’s words have always been in the back of my mind, “Oh, I always wanted to go to the Holy Lands.” Well Grandma, we did it together.
We saw so many wonderful historic places from both the Old and New Testament. We traveled throughout most of the State of Israel-from Tel Aviv, to Haifa, to Nazareth, to
the Sea of Galilee, to Capernaum, to the River Jordan, to Masada (the last massacre of the Jews by the Romans), to the Dead Sea, to Bethlehem and the West Bank, to
Jerusalem (with all it’s incredible sites) including the Way of the Cross, and finally to Jordan and Petra ( a World Heritage site-1 st century BC, known as the Rose City)-a
world and town carved out of red cliffs and rocks- a temple, treasury, and aqueduct. Our visits to all these places were augmented by Rev. Dan’s readings of both the Old and New Testament. The readings helped us reflect on the past and cemented our experiences in the present as we visited each historical site. We also learned so much about modern Israel with all its political conflicts and complexity. I think a great part of this trip was spending some time in the West Bank where we experienced first hand what the difference was in the quality of life for the Palestinians (many of whom we met were Christians) who were basically living a third world country life versus those in Israel- a first world country. I read all the articles about Israel in the New York Times with great interest, And finally I want to say thank you to all my fellow travelers who were so supportive, generous and loving. They will be family forever!
Holyland Trip Reflection
As we near the end of our trip there are so many things to think about and reflect on. Most important is the fact that we feel so privileged and grateful to be here on it. As we leave, so many of us have said we have a new appreciation of the Bible — both Old and New Testament. The Bible came alive as we visited so many places with Dan reading biblical passages associated with each place. We will probably never hear those passages without visualizing a place, moment, and time. Read more
Holyland Trip Reflection
I waded into the water. It was cold and wet, as of course a river should be, but this river was special. Pastor Dan and I held hands as we walked into the River Jordan — the authentic River Jordan. Unlike the Pearly Gates or other mythical references in the Bible, we were in the actual waters in which John the Baptist baptized Jesus. Others around us, dressed in white baptismal robes prayed, sang, or chanted as they plunged into the water. We had discovered the physical world of Jesus. Read more
Having been asked to reflect on our recent trip to The Holy Land, I am reminded of the reputed response Zhou Enlai made when he was asked to comment on the impact of the French Revolution: "Too soon to say."
This trip was a profound experience, which I believe will have a lasting impact on my life going forward, but I am not yet sure how this will manifest itself. First and foremost, I want to thank our Shepherd, Rev. Dan. A man of infinite goodness, a positive attitude and an unfailing sense of humor, who cared for us sometimes wayward sheep. Read more
My Personal Reflections on our Holy Land Tour
Just one week ago, “the team,” as Rev. Dan calls our group, took a 3 ½ hour bus ride from Amman, Jordan, toward Petra, the amazing city that the Nabataeans had carved into the sandstone mountains of what is now southern Jordan, well over 2000 years ago. We all have been aware of Petra, much has been written about it since its discovery, we have read what makes it so interesting and unique as a tourist destination and we have paid close attention to reports from family and friends who had visited the site, but nothing came even close to the experience (and suspense!) of actually following the rocky path that leads through the winding canyon and eventually to the stunning opening plaza dominated by the famous façade of the Treasury! Read more
Our team of 18 all made it safely from the U.S. to Israel. After a long day of traveling, fatigue was high, but so was morale and enthusiasm for what awaits on our Journey to Jerusalem. Read more
Day 1 – Nazareth
An hour’s drive from Tel Aviv brought our hardy group to Nazareth — a large modern Israeli city. But within the city, we discovered the village of first-century Nazareth, the land and life of Jesus and his family. The Nazareth Village is an exquisite resurrection of the village of two thousand years ago. Our guide had come from a Mennonite church in Indiana to volunteer with her husband. We were treated to an authentic Israeli luncheon of pita pieces baked over an open fire that we dipped into hummus, za’atr of roasted sesame seed, olive oil, thyme, and sumac spice. We sipped lentil soup and then indulged on chicken legs fresh out of the fire.
Day 2 – Caesarea National Park and Haifa
Christine Boies, Caroline Adkins and Suzy Simpson
Being in Israel feels like being subjected to time-travel several times a day in cultures very different from our own: Israeli-Jewish, Israeli-Arab, Arab-Christian, and other Christian of varying denominations.
Our day began in Tel Aviv in drizzling rain. A modern city overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and yet, we were woken by roosters at 5:22 a.m. — our room faced modern skyscrapers in the distance but also a very simple pre- and primary school and a miniature urban chicken farm!
Our first visit was to Caesarea National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its Roman ruins, which included the amphitheatre, Herod’s Palace by the sea, a hippodrome where chariot races had been held 2000 years ago, an aqueduct that supplied water from sources in the nearby hills, and the harbor, which is now submerged. A large stone was found during the excavations that was engraved with the name Pontius Pilate, which confirmed that he very likely resided in the city and went to Jerusalem for government work and special celebrations.
Day 3 – Magdala, Capernum
The morning . . .
Each day is a blur of images and imagination-packed kaleidoscope of information spanning the 1st century up until present day. Today we visited a site that was discovered only in the last few years — the city of Magdala — where Mary Magdalene is believed to have come from, where a synagogue was unearthed, preserved by rising seas and discovered by archeologists working with a hotel builder. This 1st-century synagogue was being used today by a 12-year-old boy celebrating his bar mitzvah while our group was given a lecture on the carved table stone replica in the center of the synagogue. Given the location and carbon-dating, it is likely this is where Jesus would have spoken and taught. It is easy to imagine Jesus up there reading the scrolls and telling parables in front of a rapt audience.
Day 3 – Sea of Galilee, Golan Heights
The boat ride on the Sea of Galilee was an amazing experience today, the breeze was heavenly and the lights dancing on the water warmed my heart. Thinking that Jesus was in that same place felt very emotional. Afterward, we went driving to the Golan Heights. The landscape reminded me very much of Lebanon: it is very similar in terms of narrow valleys and steep slopes with green meadows even the same wild flowers, red poppies and yellow mustard. It is strange to think that a few miles further from that serene and peaceful landscape there is war and death.
Day 3 – Capernaum
Caroline Adkins, Mary Ann Hoberman and Christine Boies
This afternoon, we went to Capernaum, the place where Jesus lived after leaving Nazareth and after having been baptized in the Jordan River. He was probably about 30 years old when he began his active ministry. From Capernaum, he travelled all over Galilee, preaching and performing many miracles. One of those miracles involved a servant of a pagan Roman Centurion who was paralyzed and dying. The Centurion’s last resort was to ask Jesus, who had developed a reputation for performing miracles, to help. It was a unique experience to be in the same beautiful landscape where Jesus probably walked. We all felt that the Bible came alive in these beautiful hills of the Galilee. The extensive excavations at Capernaum on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee included an early synagogue, which looked like a Greco-Roman temple, and the original house of Peter. Capernaum, in biblical times, is known to have had approximately 4,000 inhabitants, compared to Nazareth which was a village of around 400.
Day 3 – By the Sea of Galilee
While on the sea of Galilee, Dan did not walk on water, but he did keep the water and skies calm enough for our cruise. The boat could be described as a small ark, with open space in the center for us to do some Israeli dancing in classic circle fashion. Dan read scripture passages applicable to our time on the water, as we floated along gazing at the surrounding shoreline and hills. It was easy to imagine Jesus going from point to point to teach at various locations on the hillside.
Day 4 – The River Jordan
Inspiration from Joshua 3, Mark 1, Matthew 3 and Genesis 13
And the group rose early in the morning and set out from Galilee. As we traversed southward, the countryside was not as Lot had “lifted his eyes and saw that it was well watered.” Instead the lands of the West Bank were dry and desolate, occasional crags rising above us.
We reached the River Jordan where it seemed that all the country was being baptized. Throngs, dressed in white robes purchased from the local authorities, bathed in the river to receive blessings and baptisms.
And lo, Pastor Dan appeared before me. He took me by the hand and led me into the waters of the River Jordan. The currents swirled around us, and we were cleansed.
And in the evening we encamped at the Oasis (Hotel), a splendid hostelry where we indulged on the fish and meats and fruits of the land.
Day 5 – Masada
We drove today along the Dead Sea on our way to Masada. The morning light caressing the sea and the hills behind it was divine but I couldn’t bring myself to ask the driver to stop so I can take some pictures. I can never forget that view.
Masada is a cliff in the middle of the desert overlooking the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built his lavish winter palace and retreat on top and after his death it was abandoned and sometimes the Essenes, who were one of the three philosophical Jewish sects, retreated there as well as in Qumran. Read more
Day 5 - The Dead Sea
Today we visited the Dead Sea, and it was the perfect metaphor for life. We spent the first part of our trip anticipating our trip to the sea. Very much as we did in our preteen years yearning for the time of adulthood when we could do as we please, or so we thought. We talked on the bus expectantly about our nearing trip to the Dead Sea. No one in our group had been before. We acted like high schoolers who were getting ready for our driving test. What if we fail, what if our friends succeeded and we did not? Would we need sandals, shall we change on the bus or at the bathhouse? Our guide, Hanna (Arabic for John), like our parents, told us not to worry, many others throughout the millennia had gone before us! But that would not ensure our success. "When you get there, you’ll know what to do," he told us. Help each other, hold hands, don’t fall. We went to the bathhouse, men to theirs, women to theirs. Don’t worry you’ll meet again at the water’s edge. There were confident bathers in their speedos. Perhaps they had been here before, like your older cousins who “knew” what was up.
Day 6 - Bethlehem
Years ago I read a book about world geography called The Power of Place, and visiting the Holy Land gives you a sense of the power of topography in understanding the Bible’s birth narratives. The land here is tremendously hilly, and the hills are pockmarked by caves, and caves, in a time when building was difficult and expensive, were a cheap and readily available form of shelter for the majority of the population.
Last week we visited the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, marking the traditional spot of the Virgin Mary’s home — in a cave-like grotto. Yesterday we saw the landscape around Ein Gedi, where the young David encountered a jealous King Saul — in a cave. Today we began with a visit to the (Franciscan) church that marks the traditional birthplace of John the Baptist — in a cave. We were blessed to be there early in the morning and so could explore at our leisure. I was particularly impressed to see a Latin engraving declaring that “Here was born the precursor of the Lord.”
Day 6 - A Reflection
Mary Ann Hoberman
Before I came on this trip, and when I was growing up, I always took the Bible as a series of legends. Though raised Jewish, I did not grow up in a very religious way and therefore, the stories of the Bible did not seem real to me. I heard and approached them similar to fairy tales. When I got to college I began reading Sigmund Freud, Joseph Campbell, Karl Jung, and I saw how many of these religious “myths” were connected, and people around the world had similar stories. These all seemed to be created from people’s collective unconscious, and so naturally in my perspective, each society was making up similar stories. That narrative and framework did me just fine my entire adult life . . . until I came on this trip.
But very quickly everything turned upside down. Because now, when we were going around visiting various sites where there was historical evidence that specific people lived there and certain events had taken place on these sites, these became true stories.
As a person of Jewish faith and practice, I still don’t believe in the miracles of Jesus and continue to view them more as metaphors and parables, but the person of Jesus and his followers have become real to me. Here in the Holy Land, the Bible is coming to life for me.
Now, I want to go home and read the Bible for myself and will do so in an entirely different way. And I look forward to it!
Day 6 - Mount of Olives
A wise man told me years ago that in Irish folklore there were so-called “thin places,” where the boundary between heaven and earth was almost permeable. The Mount of Olives, and especially the Garden of Gethsemane at its base, were extraordinarily thin places for me. To walk and pray in the very places where the Passion narrative took place brings the story more fully to life. It is a very thin place indeed.
Day 6 - Palestine
These reflections are not on any religious or historical sites but on our experiences with daily life in Israel and Palestine. These are only my perceptions and others on the trip may have different ones.
The first part of our trip through Tel Aviv, Galatia, Haffa,Nazareth, and Tiberius were characterized by orderly cities, and in some cases beautiful green landscapes. As we moved south to visit Jericho we moved across a checkpoint from Israel to the West Bank. In Jerricho we were confronted with a very different place and feeling — most of all we said how dirty it was, how poor it was — we saw wonderful ruins there but our stay in the hotel, while comfortable, reflected a sparse life, with few guests, a swimming pool with no activity, and nothing in the surrounding area.
Day 7 - A Reflection
Whether you are a skeptic or a believer, the magnificence of the land which is supposed to be holy leaves you with a sense of awe and wonder. On the sprawling green hills and valleys live Semitic people of different faiths and traditions. Most of us knew the story of the birth of Jesus, his death and resurrection for our salvation, but little did we know of the deep-rooted political controversies that explain the many check points guarded with young soldiers clad with their army fatigues and weapons. In spite this reality, we felt a sense of calm and hospitality, especially when some of us spoke the language of the locals which helped us bargain and get added discounts on our purchases in stores that was run by what looked like well-to-do merchants. Bargaining is very typical of Middle East culture! Whereas, typical of our good hearted church crew, tips were very generous in struggling services that could use extra help. What struck me personally more than the many interpretations of the holy scriptures and the holy sites, is the multitude of the different nationalities walking side by side…Christians touching the Wailing Wall and getting emotional, Moslems giving a helping hand to a Christian going down the steps in the Church of the Nativity, Jews visiting churches. So different from any in-depth emotion I experienced in my travels. It is a trip of a lifetime. Do I still have faith? Yes! Do I still have hope in peace in the middle East? Maybe.
We just wish you were with us to experience it all. Love is the only answer!
DAY 8 - Garden Reflections
We started the day hearing the Muslim prayer call at 4:43 am in Bethlehem. Yesterday, we walked through the Garden of Gethsemene, which while beautiful, was crowded and stark in its landscape. This afternoon we visited the Garden of the Tomb, its plantings lush and it too was crowded however there was an incredible peacefulness in our surroundings. We finished our visit having communion in one of the chapels in the Garden, which I found to be extremely moving. Many, more scholarly than I, debate which Garden is the “real” place but in the end does it really matter?
Day 10 - Our “Free” Day in Jerusalem
Saturday was decreed to be our “Free Day,” a day we could do as we wished on our final day in Israel. The challenge was that Saturday is Shabbat in this Jewish country, meaning that almost everything was closed. Unlike the US where a variety of stores and museums are open on our holy day of Sunday, this city was virtually shutdown.
In answer to my question as to possible excursions, the hotel desk clerk suggested that our group use the day to sleep. Perhaps too many 6:30 AM wake-up calls from Dan had resulted in deep bags beneath my eyes. But, hey, on our last day in Israel, we couldn’t let a day go to waste.
When preparing for a trip, I like to check out the guide books to minimize surprises. For this trip I did make notes and copies of the various areas on the itinerary, but it did not prepare me for the topography and the emotions that I felt as we traveled through the country. Read more
Day 11 – Jerasa
Although our group greatly misses Hadi and Mirella who bypassed the trip into Jordan, onward we ventured to a new country where we visited a tremendous archaeological site that predates Jesus’ lifetime and illustrates the Roman empire. Jerasa was one of ten cities started in Israel, Jordan, and Syria by Alexander the Great, and taken over by Rome, and by far is one of the best preserved.
Day 12 - Petra, Jordan
Bill & Suzanne Bowman
Petra is one of the most famous and impressive archaeological sites in the world. It lies in a basin among the mountains which form the eastern flank of the Arabah valley that runs from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqaba. There has been human settlement here since prehistoric times, but the city began to prosper as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the 1st century BC, when it grew rich through trade in frankincense, myrrh, and spices. Petra was later annexed to the Roman Empire. An earthquake in 363 AD destroyed much of the city. The earthquake, combined with changes in trade routes, eventually led to the downfall of the city. By the middle of the 7th century, Petra appears to have been lost to all except local Bedouin from the area. In 1812 a Swiss explorer named Johannes Burckhardt set out to “rediscover” Petra. He dressed up as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to take him to the lost city. After this, Petra became increasingly known in the West as the magnificent, ingenious, fascinating and beautiful ancient city that indeed it is!