From HUGer Thomas:
From HUGer Shanielle:
We left Monday morning to head to the Piraeus Port in Athens to board our cruise ship. We checked in smoothly and quickly and were on the ship waiting in the lounge area in what seemed like no time. The crew worked hard to prepare the ship and our rooms for everyone. During our mandatory safety meeting we watched as the ship began to pull away from the port!
After lunch in the dining room most people took the opportunity to rest and explore the ship a bit before our arrival at the Greek island of Mykonos for the evening. We took tender boats to the island where we saw old windmills and shopped at Ionna's handmade linen clothes shop. Unfortunately we never ran into Petros, the pelican mascot for the island.
At dinner, four of us were seated with an older couple from Canada, Sharon and Raymond, who have traveled much of Europe. So we had a lovely conversation over dinner about their travels and ours, as well as some other topics.
Tomorrow morning we will be at Kusadasi, Turkey. Even though this is our last trip together and we have much to do before the end of the semester, I'm sure most of us will take this time to relax, reflect, and hang out with the people we have become so close to this summer.
Sending love as deep as the sea!
Dr. Clay Beason, CSCS
Director, Harding University in Greece
From HUGer Kaila:
I'm sitting on the plane, heading back "home" to Athens, trying to figure out a way to put the experiences and knowledge gained in the past nine days into words. We've done so much and had so much fun that it is really hard to summarize such an incredible experience. I never dreamed that I would be able to visit the Holy Land for a day, much less nine.
The concept of peace has been a significant theme during this trip. Justin spoke about peace in the chapel before we left. "Shalom," which means "peace," was the first word we learned in Hebrew. We walked in the footsteps of the Prince of Peace. We got to explore Jerusalem, which literally translates to City of Peace. We saw the word everywhere we went. It covered everything from t-shirts to graffiti and we were asked by many to pray for peace.
I saw both peace and a lack of peace during this journey. We went to the Church of Annunciation, whose size apparently caused street fights at one point in history when Muslims planned to build a mosque to tower over it and block it from view. Churches all over the world had donated great sums to decorate the walls surrounding the church's courtyard with mosaics of Mary. What speaks more of peace than the Church working together to make something beautiful? We stood in a corner of the courtyard and listened to our brilliant tourguide, Yossi, play Ave Maria on his flute. As he began to play, the church bells began to ring, which was supposed to symbolize communication between God and man and man and his fellow man. Yossi temporarily paused his song, but when it became clear that the bells were not going to cease any time soon, he began to try to play over them. The Jewish Shofar soon joined in, along with the Muslim gong, all attempting to overpower each other. All trying to win, but I wondered, what would "winning" accomplish? We often do this in conversations. We shout past each other because we know that the loudest person is the one that will win an argument. The noise becomes so loud that it deafens and closes the ears of all who hear. A peaceful and respectful conversation is much more likely to win people over, though.
Unfortunately, I also saw this lack of peace individually within the three main religions in Jerusalem. Jewish sects were divided, as clear seen, even in the way that they chose to dress and cut their hair to differentiate themselves from others. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was divided into Catholic, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox sections. One chapel within the church had been burned three times by another part of the Church that wanted to gain ownership of the chapel. Monks belonging to different parts of the Church walked in, one after another, swinging their incense in the same areas. It looked like they were trying to mark their territory. We did not have much of an interaction with Muslims on this trip, since we had already been to Turkey, but we heard a little about the division of Sunnis and Shiites.
Even still, we did experience great peace during this trip. We were welcomed into two prayer centers in Jerusalem that focused on worshipping JESUS and praying for peace among the Nations. Neither prayer center belonged to the same denomination that we belong to, but as the Church, we were able to come together and fellowship as brothers and sisters in CHRIST in a common hope that GOD's peace would overcome the world. I used to view peace as a light, almost weak feeling, but I have come to the conclusion that it is enormously powerful. Like Lydia's stream in Philippi, it looks serene and gentle, yet its current is enough to overcome you, emptying you yet filling you, leaving room for nothing except love for GOD and for mankind.
As you think about it, please pray for Israel and Greece. We love you!
P.S. Hi Mom and Dad!!!
Dr. Clay Beason, CSCS
Director, Harding University in Greece
From HUGer Christine:
Our HUG group has been in Israel for seven days now, a week in the holy land. I would try and avoid sounding cliche, but each day has genuinely been a unique experience. I believe I have learned more on this trip than I have in the other two months I have been studying abroad; mostly things about the Holy Land, but also about my faith, commercialism, conflict, and the other two main religions that exist in this small country.
Today has been so full. I sat in my hotel room for over an hour trying to process the places I have been and what they meant to the people visiting the sites and I still do not think I have the skill to write this reflection in a way that will enable you to understand what we have experienced and how we have changed.
We started out our day at the ripe time of 7AM, and sleepy eyed and fresh from our night’s sleep we headed out to the temple mount, the place in the Old City of Jerusalem where the Jewish temple once stood (it was destroyed 40 years after Jesus by the Romans). In this space, we can find Jews praying to the Wailing (Western) Wall, the only part of the temple left standing. This is considered the Holiest of Holys because to the Jews, God’s spirit remains in and around these walls. I stood a respectful distance from the wall and found myself moved to tears by the faith I saw in the people. The Jews are not allowed in the central part of the temple; the temple cannot even be rebuilt because Islam built a mosque (Dome of the Rock) right over where the holiest place in the temple would have been (Temple Mount). The place that was built by the Jews is not in their control, and I am filled with deep sadness as I watch them touch and pray over the outside of it. I also am filled with rage as I realize how deep commercialism has run in our world as a noisy family stands and poses for a picture in front of the women who are praying over their holiest place; posing with their two year old, holding up peace signs, and laughing and being loud because they are overjoyed that they are here and will now have a picture to impress people with. I am disgusted, and this is an unfortunate reoccuring theme I have seen everywhere this summer - posing in front of tombs, taking selfies of themselves in front of women kissing a stone and praying, and a general touristic attitude of “I need my picture WITH whatever it is I am looking at”. It’s disrespectful, it’s rude, and it’s far too common. I love touring, but I really have a distaste for the culture of tourists.
Anyways, from the Wailing Wall we followed our tour guide to the closest we could get to the Dome of the Rock (the door into the square), the third most holy place to Islam. As mentioned above, it is built right on the Temple Mount, the place where God existed in the Temple pre-Jesus. The Muslims built a mosque over this stone because here they believe that Mohammed rose to heaven to receive the Koran. It was closed today to anyone that wasn’t a Muslim because of peaceful protests organized by the Jews in the city to gain the right to coexist and pray in peace in the temple center. I have since done some research and have learned that many of the Rabiis are pushing for the Temple Mount to turn into a symbol of universal religious freedom, since this place is holy to all three of the major religions, something I feel like would be a beautiful symbol of peace among religion.
Before leaving the temple square, we visited some of the 14 stops in the Via Delorosa, which takes people on a Jesus journey, ending with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest place for most of Christianity. We then continued down the street to St. Anne’s church and sang in their building, but the more beautiful part was listening to the group of Italians sing before we did. I found myself in tears for the second time that day, and we hadn’t even had lunch. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I visited the holy place for all three major religions within the same square mile, within a matter of a few hours. There is truly no other place on earth like this.
Next, most of the group explored the tunnels of Hezekiah in the City of David, where David’ palace would have been, but I took the dry route because I do not like walking in water when it is dark (wouldn’t you agree, mom?). After lunch, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Latin for tomb to make things more complicated), the place where even archaeologists agree that Jesus was probably buried. This church is huge; it is meant to cover everything that would have taken place when Jesus was crucified. This church has been destroyed many times, and today it is in possession of the Greek Orthodox church, though the Catholics rent it out for a few hours a day so that it will remain Catholic. The politics of the church are confusing, our guide explaining it is occupied by Catholics, Coptics, Orthodox, Armenians, etc. and it made me wonder if Jesus would be proud of the large church Christians have built or disappointed in the large disunity among the believers sharing the building. The church was impressive, but incredibly overwhelming (loud sounds, artwork, expensive looking things, tourists taking selfies UGH) and I was more than ready when we left. I am incredibly grateful that the churches I attend focus less on impressing the people that come in with its beauty and are more concerned with the heart and soul of the visitor.
There is so much more to what we did today, but I am limiting my information overload to what I have already gone overboard with. I would encourage you to push your student to give you a call; we are all a little homesick, and many of us would love to talk about our time in Israel (we need to talk about it, honestly). I pray tonight a prayer of thanksgiving for my my family and friends, the opportunity to see the places where bible stories come to life, and I also pray in gratitude that Jesus changed the way we had relationship with God; we no longer have to go to the place where God dwells to worship and pray to Him, because we are the temple and He lives in us.
Lots of love,
From HUGer Danielle:
We began our final day in Jerusalem by walking through part of the Garden of Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives. Of the four places in Jerusalem walked by Jesus - those four places being the Herodian Temple, Mount Zion, Via Dolorosa Street, and the Mount of Olives - the Mount of Olives is where Jesus spent the most time according to the gospels. Jesus and his disciples stayed Thursday night of the Holy Week in this garden instead of walking the whole distance to Bethany.
Here Jesus became frustrated with the disciples because they were weak to the flesh and fell asleep instead of remaining in prayer and on watch even though their spirits were willing (Matthew 14:38). I was reminded of how often I am passive in prayer in times when I am tired, so if you are like me, I encourage you to strive also in fervently praying and seeking God as we wait for Jesus to return.
In the Church of Gethsemene, also known as the Church of All Nations and the Church of Agony, we saw an ancient oil press that would be used to produce olive oil, a necessity in the ancient culture.
We also visited the Garden Tomb which brought some interesting heritage of Jerusalem to our attention. When Hadrian was ruling in 153 AD everything in the New Testament was lost, so when Constantine rolled around and allowed Chrisitianity he wanted to find everything that used to be in the Holy Land. So, "everything" was found, meaning biblical sites were marked even if we cannot be sure of the accuracy of those locations.
As Christine talked about in yesterday's email, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre claims to be built above the point of crucifixion, but in 1840 archaeologists began looking around the area of the Garden Tomb site for Golgatha. They found a rock face that did look like a skull and since the tomb of a rich man (such as Joseph of Aramathea was) and a 2000 year old wine press were also found in close proximity, there is evidence to connect Jesus's crucifixion to this area instead. Also, this rich man's tomb is the only uncovered tomb that was designed such that, to see the body from the entrance, one would look to the right, as mentioned in the gospels. Most tombs were built to have the body on the left side. However, they do not claim that this was Jesus's tomb because there is no clear evidence.
Going back to the rock face, before speculation of this site as being Golgatha, a bus station was built below the rock where the crucifixion crosses may have stood. The crosses would have stood at eye level so that people could look upon the suffering criminals and hurl insults upon them as they passed. Just as people were going about their daily lives as Jesus was dying on the cross (for their sake), the bus station is symbolic of how nonchalantly many Insraeli residents carry on without thought to the significance of the land in which they dwell or knowledge of the salvation they can claim through Christ.
The Israeli Museum is home to the Shrine of the Book and holds innumerable artifacts, including the "House of David" inscription found at the Israeli Gate in Dan, the most ancient Biblical scripture from Solomon's Temple (Numbers 6:24-26 "The Lord bless you and protect you. The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you. The Lord bestow his favor upon you and grant you peace."), and the nail driven heel bone that is the only archaeological evidence of crucifixion in the world, just to name a few.
Our last site to visit with our tour guide Yossi was the Emmaus Monastery, which survived the Muslim destruction under Saladin and may have been one of the Emmauses that Jesus visited after his resurrection (Luke 24:13). Yossi pulled out his flute for a final time for our group and played an excerpt from Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" which was intended to portray the intense suffering and love of Christ. We have walked through many Catholic churches that portray the suffering of Christ, but I never felt the love He has for us in these places. I felt the peace of the Lord in the gardens and open spaces we walked. But where I felt His love most was at the Jerusalem Prayer Center, through the people. Through all this touring and sightseeing I can guarantee that monuments and large buildings are nothing in comparison to the warmth of meeting fellow followers of Christ in the Holy Land. Yossi reminded us to come back and share the love we bring after we sang "We Love You With the Love of the Lord" to him.
We are all worn out from this week but it has been a much appreciated and knowledge filled adventure. We are so blessed by your love for us and your support in sending us here. I hope I can represent the whole group when I say THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for all the sacrifices you made to help us get to explore Israel and specifically Jerusalem.
Back to Athens tomorrow!
From HUGer Alexis:
This morning we boarded the bus and took the 9 km drive to Bethlehem, unfortunately having to drop off Yossi (Israelis are not allowed in Palestinian territory) along the way. Our guide for the morning, Adel, hopped on board, and we started in the field of the Shepherds. The field was where the shepherds were standing, according to tradition, when the angel announced the birth of Jesus. A chapel was built on the location in the 4th century AD, but was destroyed in 614 AD by the Persians. A modern chapel is constructed as well on the site, where we sung “I am a sheep.” Afterwards, we traveled to the Church of the Nativity, where underneath the center of the church is the birthplace of Jesus, marked today by a silver star, and the manger where Mary laid him. Early Christians gathered in the area in secret, but Emperor Hadrian tried to have the memory erased by erecting a statue for worship until Emperor Constantine accepted Christianity in 324 AD, tearing down the statue and building a church. Seeing places that might have been the site of important Biblical events was exciting, but even more exciting was to realize how these events happened, and the proof of the event regardless of us being able to pinpoint with undeniable accuracy where they happened.
We had the opportunity to visit a souvenir store which aided the Christian ministry in Bethlehem. After making our purchases and having a bite of lunch, we bid our goodbyes to Adel and Bethlehem. We picked up Yossi again and visited a chapel on the side of the hill overlooking a graveyard containing Oskar Schindler's grave. We talked about Schindler who was a business owner that joined the Nazi party, to save Jewish children, around 1200 in all, who became known as the Schindler children. Since he rescued so many Jews, when he died he was brought to Jerusalem to be buried and honored.
Our next big stop was Zedekiah’s cave, where the stones of the temple were chiseled from. The large artificial cave was a quarry excavated by King Herold the Great to build the temple mount and Wailing Wall (which we’ll see tomorrow!). The cave got its name from having a spring that the people decided were the tears from King Zedekiah, the last king before Israel was invaded and the king’s eyes were gouged out.
Our last stop was the most impactful in my eyes. We visited the Prayer House, which is part of the remaining American Colony. Horatio Spafford, author of the song "It Is Well with My Soul," had a wife and four daughters. They were on their way to France from Chicago when he received an urgent telegram in New York City urging him to return home. He sent his wife and daughters on the liner to France and returned home, only to hear how their ship had been sunk and his daughters had drowned. As he went to France to reunite with his wife, the captain announced when they were close to the area of the sinking. Horatio went to his room, where he wrote "It Is Well with My Soul." They actually had a second family with two daughters and a son, but the son died of scarlet fever. The prayer house today was purchased by one of the daughters, where upstairs they have a prayer room where we spent time praying, drawing, writing, or reflecting with God.
From HUGer Holly:
We started our day a little later than yesterday so it was nice to go to bed super early and sleep in just a bit. Our first stop was to a Catholic Church. This church was special in the fact that it was dedicated to women of the New Testament. Mrs Loren pointed out to me that 8 of the pillars in the entrance had women's names on them except one. The one blank pillar symbolizes all the women that have lived in faith and all that they have done and all the women still working for the kingdom today. Just as a pillar supports a building, women too have been supporting of the church throughout history. Even though, sadly, y'all were not here with us to witness this special building, I'm sure you immediately think of a woman or multiple women in your life that have supported you and your faith walk. I thought of my mom and it made me miss her so much more. Next was a two hour ride to Dan's spring of Jordan River in the ancient city Dan. We saw a temple where Israelites worshipped and that was mentioned in the Old Testament. We also got to see Abraham's Gate where he was said to have come into the city of Dan and rescue Lot.
By the time it was lunch time, most of us were sweaty, tired, and had little energy, so lunch could not have come at a better time.. After eating and having a nice cold coke, I was ready to go see some more sites.
We went to a Greek Orthodox Church of Capernaum right by the Sea of Galilee. Right outside the Greek Orthodox Church were some donkeys. So of course we all took pictures. During one of the pictures the donkey grabbed onto my purse that was unzipped and would not let go. So I got to play tug of war with a donkey! Ha! We sat under the tree and sang songs of praise. Every summer spent out at Camp Tahkodah, we would sing in the outdoor gym and I loved watching the wind move the trees and grass. It was always my way of feeling God around me. While we were singing the wind was blowing hard all around us. I knew God was with us just as He was with His son.
So far I have loved being here. I have not loved the heat or the days where we have to wear long pants, but each day is a new experience and full of memories that I will carry for the rest of my life. It's bittersweet that two months has already passed us by.
To my family, I miss y'all very much and am beyond thankful for my opportunity to be here! Love y'all!
From HUGer Joshua:
We had an early start this morning. On the bus we learned a taste of Hebrew from an Israeli newspaper. Hebrew was almost a lost language but was revived by the Dominican monks. Hebrew is a language without vowels, read from right to left. Then we moved to Latin. We learned how mythology was used to name the different days of the week: a different god for each day. Then we reached Sunday - Dominicas or the day of the Lord.
We passed through the valley and town of Cana. The village, meaning "of the canes", derived it's name from a brook where canes grew. Here, nearly two millennia ago, Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.
We continued on into Nazareth, where we learned about the large Arab population. We climbed to the top of Mount Precipice with a beautiful view of the surrounding valleys, hills, and villages. Half of the Old Testament stories outside of Jerusalem and the desert happened in the areas we can see. This is the location where it is believed Luke 4:29 occurred, where the Nazarenes rejected Jesus and tried to throw him off the cliffs. This high mountain could also have been the site of the transfiguration. Our guide Yosi performed Ava Maria for us as we viewed the valley and the sun shining through the clouds.
We then traveled down into Nazareth and visited the Church of Annunciation, a large Catholic church built on the believed site of Mary's house, where the angel Gabriel may have visited her. We also saw the ritual bath where Jews in biblical times would purify themselves before entering the synagogue. The church bells rang as we left to head for our own church service.
We met with Maurice, the preacher, and the rest of the congregation at the Church of Christ in Nazareth. 20% of Israel is Arab, and the majority of Arabs in Israel are Muslim. The church here, mostly Arab, lives as a minority within a minority, yet they worshiped God with great fervor. We were blessed to have the opportunity to worship with them. We sang hymns in English and Arabic. Dr. Beason led part of the lesson in English, and Maurice led the other part in Arabic. After partaking of the Lord's Supper, we were offered pastries and Arabic coffee (it has a spicy kick to it).
Off again, we drove the long distance from the Galilee along the Jordan River to the Dead Sea. We passed from the green landscape of the upper Jordan, through the yellow-green middle area, down into the yellow-gray deserts of southern Israel. We stopped in Jericho, the city of palms. After eating felafels and other Israeli food, as well as a bit of shopping, we took cable cars up to the top of what is believed to be the mountain where Jesus was tempted. Together, we read the story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho, and the temptation of Jesus. As in Meteora, monks came to the tall mountain here and built a monastery to separate themselves from the world.
Coming down and continuing on, we made our way to the Dead Sea. This is the deepest point in the world, and it keeps getting deeper: the Dead Sea is losing about 1.5 feet each year. We swam in the waters, 1300 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea is 2/3rds water and 1/3rd minerals, 8 times saltier than the ocean. The Sea is very rejuvenating, and after swimming for 20 minutes we all felt amazing. Then after a good shower, we made it to our housing for the night: a kibbutz. These are housing communities that once followed communistic living. Everyone shared everything. This did not last long, however, and today most have been converted into makeshift hotels. We almost have our own little village area, complete with a mini-mart and common room. We've had a great trip so far, and are more than excited for the days ahead. We love you all!
From HUGer Joe:
Today was a day full of unexpected adventure and simply an amazing experience. We began our day with a short bus ride to the shore of the Sea of Galilee where we hopped on board a boat that would take us to our first historical site. Little did I know, the boat was a learning experience as well. First, our guide Yosi talked about the things that had happened on these very waters, such as Jesus walking on them. Next, Yosi played “Ave Maria” on his flute for us. About half way to our destination, the boat stopped for an ancient fishing lesson.
Our first official stop of the day was at the Jesus boat museum. Although we cannot know for sure who the boat belonged too, one thing was for sure, this was a boat from the time of Jesus. In the museum, we learned that this boat had been buried in the mud on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and was only discovered because a drought (in the 1980s) caused the water to recede enough for some passersby with metal detectors to stumble upon it. The mud had preserved the wood but they found out that they had to keep it wet or the wood would turn to dust. After we saw the boat, Yosi gave us a little VIP tour of the pottery restoration room where the museum was working on clay pots from Bethsaida that dated back to the time of Jesus. It was breath taking to be able to stand so close to these pieces. We were close enough that Yosi felt it necessary to remind us that “if you break it you buy it.”
From the museum, we climbed the Mount of Beatitudes…by bus of course. Once at the top, we started walking down a path towards the sea. Part of the way down, Yosi pointed out an unexcavated roman road that was most likely used by Jesus in his travels by foot around the Galilee region. I found it humorous that what looked like normal rocks to me were really a crucial part of the life of my Savior’s ministry. Just before the last drop, we stopped and read through Matthew 5 in the spot that Jesus probably gave his original sermon. After some time to read and reflect on our own, Yosi showed us a one of the few natural springs that feed the Sea of Galilee. When I saw this site, I couldn’t resist throwing on my trunks and getting a back message from the beautiful waterfall.
When we were all content and cooled off, we made our way to Capernaum. The first thing we saw on this site was the house of Peter. In the shade of the commemorative Catholic Church hovering over the house, Yosi really drove home the point of how important this place was in the life of Jesus. He spent so much time in this town and in this house that Capernaum became known as Jesus’ town. After touring the rest of the site, we took some time to talk about how in Hebrew the word for prayer garment and pure girl are the same. It was interesting to see the Hebrew influence in the Greek text of the gospels.
To think, we did this all before lunch! Even lunch was an experience. Some of us had the chance to eat a whole St. Peter’s Fish (Tilapia). When we had finished our food and competition to see who had the best remaining skeleton, we had another opportunity to swim in the sea.
On our way to see the famous Jordan River, we took a detour to Mount Bernice. From the top, Yosi pointed out where we had been today and the remains of Bernice’s Palace. He told us the story of her very “interesting” life. And finally we were at the river. It was not what I expected it to be. When we arrived the place was packed with all kinds of people. From people laying in tents and enjoying the live band, to people swimming and canoeing. An improvisation lead us to not only seeing the Jordan but also to canoeing in the Jordan. Although Clayton and I had a minor mishap (note to self: do not jump out, the boat will flip), we loved every second. What a way to end the day!
Once again I want to tell my family I love and miss them. I hope you are enjoying my adventures as much as I am.
|Harding University in Greece||
HUG summer 2015