From my wife, HUGer Mrs. Loren:
It's our last trip of the semester together, and it's been a special start. During an introduction to Israel, we heard some of the rich history of this country tied to its modern culture and the more western cities. The country of Israel is a complicated place, having traditions that have long outlived the places with which we're most familiar in our own land.
We learned of the geography of this country - coastal lines, mountain regions, and the valleys - and the climate of Israel and its neighbors. This important discussion helped us to grasp the historical relationship amongst the people of these lands, their wars and conquests, their peace and trade, and their plans for the future.
Caesarea Maritime was our first tourist site of the day. This was a Roman ruled place and was ruled by Herod. We walked through the hippodrome and the harbor - one of the largest in the ancient world - using Roman engineering, of course. We then walked to the Acropolis of Caesarea. Throughout the years, the population was pagan, Jewish, and Christian. Caesarea was where the first non-Jew, Cornelius, was converted to Christianity, which opened up the idea for the followers to share the gospel with people who were not the chosen people - the turning point of the separation of the two groups. On these grounds was a Roman temple, later replaced by an octagonal church in the Byzantine period, and later replaced by a mosque. Later the crusaders overtook the land, and eventually were defeated and razed by the Muslim army. Edward Rothschild bought the land here and developed the ideas to dig here and revive the ruins.
Coach Beason read Acts 6 to us on the grounds at Caesarea. We were introduced to Saul, who was a persecutor of Christians (chapter 7 and 8). Then we read of Philip, Cornelius, Saul's/Paul's conversion. Then we read in Acts of Luke and Paul's farewell to the brothers at Ephesus, on their way to Jerusalem. Acts 21:7 tells of their stopping at Caesarea to stay at Philip's house. Caesarea was a very central place, so there's no doubt that Paul walked the roads we walked today. Coach Beason wondered at the conversations that Philip (witness to Stephen's stoning) and Paul (former persecutor) must have had at the supper table that night. Coach Beason tied together the time Paul spent here with Philip to Paul's journey to Rome a bit later, when he was escorted by 470 men from Jerusalem.
Gelato topped off the first site of our first day. Not a bad start for our tourist site in Israel!
The bus ride took us past avocado trees and banana trees, oleander and rosemary, the Mediterranean and the mountains, and even an ancient aqueduct that brought water into Caesarea from the springs miles away.
Traditionally, the Arab roofs are flat. When the son gets married, he builds his house on top of his parents' house. Also, one can use the roof for an outdoor gathering space, for an herb garden, whatever. Traditionally, the Israeli roofs are pitched. Many Jews came from Europe, bringing the architectural style with them. Today, some Arabs build pitched roofs and some Israelis build flat roofs because that makes a lot more sense here - it doesn't snow, so there is no weight issue. It's interesting how two very distinct cultures are learning from each other.
Driving past Mt. Carmel, Coach Beason set the stage from I Kings 16, about 100 years after King David's reign and gave summaries from chapter 17. Coach Beason's interpretation and application: the Lord is not dependent on people, but people are dependent on the Lord - Elijah fed by ravens, the widow' oil and flour do not run dry, Elijah raises the widow's son. Chapter 18 takes us to the stories of Elijah's presentation to Ahab, Jezebel, Obadiah. We then read beginning at verse 17 of chapter 18 where Elijah tells the people of Israel that it's time to decide who to follow - God or Baal. My thoughts now: most of the time we need to be gentle, patient, and understanding. But there are certainly occasional times where it's time to make the tough call - who will follow God, who will stand strong, who will make the call, who will say the hard thing, who will tell the truth even if it's hard for some to hear. Courage. Action. Truth. Strong roots of faith allow us to do this. We can have courage at the same time that we're gentle. We can take action at the same time that we're patient. We can state truth at the same time that we're understanding. It's best if we can combine these characteristics. The Spirit allows us to do so. Actually, that means that it's not really US doing so - it's all Him, if we can figure out how to get out of the way and to let the Fruits of the Spirit bloom in us.
We're growing this semester. We've tried to be healthy physically, socially, emotionally, academically, and spiritually. We've changed and matured and will continue to reflect on Day 1 of this trip - long after we're back on our home soil.
From HUGer Connie:
Today was our first full day in Israel. To start it off we went to Magdala, the place where Mary Magdalene was from. Even though the town is still being excavated there is an atrium dedicated to women of the faith. The central pillars have women that are mentioned in the New Testament and there is one left blank for the women who are influential in our spiritual lives. The females in the group were invited to "write," with our finger, our own names on the column, since we are women of faith. The sanctuary at the front of the church was almost all glass and the pulpit was behind a replica of a ship like Jesus would have used. They purposefully made it to be a reminder of how Jesus taught from the boat.
After Magdala we had a short drive to where the "Jesus Boat" is. We sailed on the Sea of Galilee and Coach Beason read to us from John 6 of Jesus walking on water and how the people in the area went in search for Jesus when they realized he was gone. The sailors did a casting of the nets demonstration for us but we did not catch anything. And yes, we tried casting on the other side. We also sang the song "Sea of Galilee" with its many verses and hand motions!
The "Jesus Boat" was found in the mud in the 1980's and was successfully excavated from the mud and brought to a safe place. The carbon dating dates it to the exact time of Jesus. Many question if Jesus actually used this boat and our guide, Yariv, said based on the population there would have been around 50-75 boats on the sea, so there is a very good chance he did. One thing Yariv emphasized was how the entire region came to listen to Jesus teach and when it says 5000 men plus women and children, that is about the population of the Galilee region. For lunch many of us ate Saint Peter's fish, or better known as a whole fish: bones, head and all.
On our way to Nazareth we stopped at Mount Arbel where Yariv gave us a history lesson on how Herod the Great defeated the Zealots by inventing the pulley system to let them over the cliff edge to smoke the Zealots out of the caves. Another famous battle that happened was between the Crusaders and the Muslims, which was won by the Muslims because they know how to fight in mid-summer heat.
In Nazareth our first stop was Mount Precipice where the Nazarenes drove Jesus to the cliff edge after teaching in the synagogue but he walked right through the crowd. From there we went to the Church of Annunciation which is built around the home of Mary and Joseph. The church was built with money given from all over the world, and to commemorate that there are mosaics from each country. Walking around and looking at them is a reminder of how cultural and world wide Christianity is. There are Asian Marys, African Marys, European Marys, and South American Marys. To reinforce worldwide notion we ended the day at the Church of Christ in Nazareth. We sang with them as they sang in Aramaic and it was beautiful. Their song books open the opposite way of ours and there is Aramaic on the right hand page with English on the left. Afterwards they served us coffee and dessert and we were able to talk to them a little. It was a good time of fellowship to end the day.
Thank you for making the dream of coming to Israel a reality!
With much love,
From HUGer Connor:
Our second day in Israel started off wonderfully in that we went first to the Mt. Of Beatitudes. On the mountain (more of a hill) we saw the church that was made in honor of Jesus giving his sermon on the beatitudes to the multitudes. Outside of the church we gathered outside under a shaded area with a view of the Galilee Sea and read through the beatitudes from Matthew 5. After reading, a few of us shared our thoughts on our favorite beatitudes.
After the Mt. Of Beatitudes we headed to Capernaum, the town of Jesus and the home of Peter. Entering into ancient Capernaum you could see the walls that surrounded it and grasp just how small this city was during the time of Jesus. The first place we visited was the 4th century synagogue. Here you could see the style of synagogues created at the end of the Roman era. The most exciting part of the synagogue was how it was built on top of an ancient church which has been dated as early as 2nd century but could be old enough to where Jesus could've taught. The main attraction however was the finding of an ancient house that had 100 writings and inscriptions with the words lord, Jesus and Peter inside the house. These writing were dated to early 1st century and led people to believe that this is where Peter lived. This is amazing to see because Jesus stayed with Peter multiple times and also is where he healed Peter's mother in law. Lastly in Capernaum we went down to the sea and stuck our feet in the water and relaxed before heading for lunch to try falafel which is a fried patty made from ground chickpeas.
To end our day on a strong note we headed to the Jordan river to go kayaking. There most of us got into pairs of 2 with a few larger groups going together and all dropped into the water. Once on the water some folks sped down the river where as some meandered along the river soaking in the views of the river. While cruising along the river you could just image Jesus, his disciples and his followers down by the river and think that you were where this could've happened was special to think of.
Overall this day was full of many spiritual highs in all the places we saw from the Mt. Of Beatitudes to Capernaum to the Jordan river. Traveling to these amazing and beautiful places has really made the bible come to life.
P.S. I'd like to thank all the parents for giving us this opportunity to come here and visit all these amazing historical and biblical sites. I personally want to thank my parents and my aunt for giving me this opportunity to come here and visit Israel for my self just like you have previously. It's amazing to visit places you have visited but even more amazing that Jesus was at these sites.
From HUGer Briana:
We started our day with an aerial view of Tiberias and the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. The sun, reflecting off the water, made the city sparkle. We then went to Bet She'an National Park, where we saw a Roman theater and a bath house. After that, we drove to the ancient city of Jericho, the City of Palms. This is one of the oldest cities. Here, we found the oldest map of Jerusalem and the surrounding area. This city was so important because it was the only oasis in the desert. From Jericho, we could see Mt. Temptation where Jesus was first tempted by Satan.
It was a surreal feeling standing in the same area that Jesus was in, and seeing the same landscape. I know that the earth is constantly shifting and changing, but I imagined Jesus standing where I was and admiring God's creation. The striking difference between the oasis in Jericho and the desert was breathtakingly beautiful.
From there, we went to Masada, where Herod the Great built his winter home. This is also where the Jewish rebels took refuge from the Roman army in 73AD. Walking through this massive fort made me appreciate the innovation and imagination that went into planning and flawlessly executing such a project.
We ended our day at the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, not to mention the saltiest. We had the opportunity to swim (more like float) in the sea. We took the mud at the bottom (more like clay) and slathered it all over our bodies. Full of salt and minerals, this "miracle" clay, coupled with the salt water, left our bodies feeling baby soft and silky smooth. It was a lovely day.
I want to thank all the parents and family members who have supported and encouraged us on this journey. Words cannot express our gratitude.
From HUGer Adam:
We started off the day at 8:00 am by driving half a mile to venture a cave of Qumran. As we scampered up the side of a mountain, we stopped at cave #11. We were informed by Yosi that they found the oldest version of Isaiah in this specific cave, and it's 99.99% accurate with what we read. He then wooed us with his talented flute playing capabilities, and then we headed back to the bus, eager to ride camels. But before the camels, we thought it would be cool to stop by a store that sells lotions with minerals from the Dead Sea for our family (Ahava factory). When we arrived to the gas station, we were ready to ride these two camels. Some of us can now say we rode camels in the parking lot of a gas station in Israel. After this, we then headed towards Jerusalem. The altitude had increased as high as our expectations, and it did not disappoint us. We started off on the mount of olives. With a quick group picture in front of this ancient city, we then proceeded to stroll down the big hill into the garden of gethsemene (which means olive press in Hebrew). After this we headed down to the church of all nations, which was built by 12 different countries... Including Canada. Next to this church has supposedly the oldest tree in all of Israel, only 1,200 years old. Once we observed this building, we got back on the bus, dropped off Yosi, and headed to Bethlehem for lunch. We had an Israeli bbq for lunch, chicken and beef, and it was great! Issa, our Bethlehem tour guide, then took us to the shepherds field, where we got to sit in a small cave, then go to a small chapel and sing two songs: "I am the sheep and the Lord is my shepherd" and "when you pass through the waters". When we finished singing, we headed to go shopping for our families. And for the finale, we got back on the bus, and headed towards the nativity church. Here, we got to see one of the oldest churches around, and it was separated for Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic. We then headed to our hotel, and are now in for the day.
From HUGer Rebecca:
Dearest HUG parents and loved ones,
What a day. Yossi, our guide, sure knows how to keep us on our toes. He can even squeeze in lessons on Roman roads during our shopping session.
Today began on a somber note, but an important one. We visited the Holocaust museum. There, we saw monuments and memorials commemorating different groups who played a hand in fighting for Jewish freedom and those who died at the hands of the Nazis.
We then made our way to the Israeli museum where a gigantic scale replica of ancient Jerusalem greeted us. Thanks to writers like Josephus, we know what the old holy city looked like and today we got to walk around the model of it! We then saw the shrine of the Dead Sea scroll. The largest, the scroll of the entirety of Isaiah, was not there due to some pesky Russians plotting to steal it a few years ago.
After lunch and a bit of "economic interaction with the locals" (shopping) we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Inside this massive stone structure lies the last five stations of the Via Dolorosa. Not only was Jesus supposedly buried and resurrected in this area, but Joseph of Arimathea, who offered his tomb for Jesus, was also buried nearby and we got to see his tomb, too.
A short bus ride away was Solomon's Quarry. This was where Solomon got the stones to build the temple. The inside is massive and has a tremendous echo. So of course, Yossi played us some more Israeli music, this time inspired by Christ's passion, and we sang. It, like all the moments when we sing together, was stunning.
Our last stop was my favorite. We got to visit the Jerusalem Prayer Center. An international prayer center where all are welcome to seek God through prayer. They even give lessons to those who do not know how to pray, such as Jews still suffering the scars of the Holocaust. The building itself was special too. The center is housed in the former home of Bertha Spafford, a daughter of Horatio Spafford, the writer of my favorite hymn, "It Is Well". Accompanied by our guide Yossi on the flute, we sang all four verses of the classic hymn. It was a powerful moment.
We topped off the night eating cake to celebrate Olivia's birthday.
Thank you, parents and loved ones, for making this journey possible. Thank you for your patience and love throughout this whole experience. Also, thank you for your money. We are forever grateful!
Peace and blessings,
From my wife, HUGer Mrs. Loren:
The city of Jerusalem, that Jews share with Muslims and a very small population of Christians, is an incredibly complex place where emotions of tradition and hope from all its people collide (presently colliding in a mainly peaceful atmosphere - that is, the day-to-day lives of the city's inhabitants are typically peaceful - not necessarily the political leaders nor their ideas - and we hope for continued peace here for the citizens). "Complex" might be an understatement; words fail me here because I am aware of my lack of understanding, even after my study and exposure because of HUG, due to my own background in America and in a Christian home. Please don't read any ungrateful feelings in that sentence. I'm incredibly thankful for the family and church who molded me. I'm simply stating that I'm aware that I view things through a Christian lens, and I think that this acknowledgement is important to recognize.
We began our day with a visit to the Temple Mount. This place that is holy for Muslims is also holy for Jews, even though Jews typically are not welcome the Temple Mount. Its gold dome and blue tile facade dominate the Jerusalem skyline, from a bird's eye viewpoint. There were small groups of tourists and small groups of devout Muslims praying on the Temple Mount. It was a peaceful beginning for our day.
At the Western Wall, we saw devout Jews offering their prayers, written on small slips of paper and left in the wall's cracks. As they backed away from the wall when they finished their prayers, not turning their backs on their special place, a few students and I discussed our respect for others' viewpoints and devotion. We're becoming less judgmental, which doesn't mean less devoted to our own beliefs but only more understanding of others' backgrounds and beliefs and thoughts. Perhaps our hearts are softening toward people. This is a good thing.
We then walked through the tunnels of the Western Wall. There we saw a three-dimensional model while Yossi explained the change in the construction of the buildings (Temple, Dome of the Rock) through the years. In the tunnels, we saw several Jewish ladies saying their prayers because that location is technically the closest to the Holy of Holies when the Temple was on the mount.
We saw more stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa, stopping at the pool of Bethesda and then Queen Anne's Church where we sang two special songs - Amazing Grace ("grace" coming from the word "bethesda") and a prayer called Father God.
A picnic lunch of falafel or shawarma "sandwiches" was in the shadow of the Garden of Gethsemane on one side, overlooking the Jewish Cemetery and the Absalom Pillar, while hearing the church bells and the call to prayer both taking up sound space, making up sort of an acoustic war. Tea at Hezekiah's Tomb topped off the time.
The lunch gave us energy for exploring Hezekiah's Tunnels at the City of David. These tunnels are the passageways that are mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20. Some students explored the dry tunnels, and some explored the wet tunnels. The activity added a physical adventure to the day.
We then stopped at a French Quarter's church where Yossi played a version of Mary's Song on his flute. Music is a universal language - perhaps the most universal. I got chills. Our bodies respond to music. The musician's body produces music; the listener's body responds to music. Beautiful.
The Garden Tomb was our last stop of the day. We sat at what looks to be the Place of the Skull, overlooking a current-day bus station, fitting since the Romans horrifically crucified criminals in a public place. We saw a tomb, perhaps the one owned by Joseph of Arimathea, and even had the opportunity to walk inside of it. We sang together and had free time to read and pray individually. This spot is a favorite of mine and a fitting place to end our Israel tour. It has been a visit during which we have grown and reflected. We'll think about this time for years to come because I'm certain that our time here has shaped us in ways we may not have yet processed. Learning, thinking, reflecting, and stretching are deepening activities, and we are so grateful to have been given this opportunity to share together.