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!