Here's a link to her website.
|Harding University in Greece||
HUG summer 2016
|Harding University in Greece||
HUG summer 2016
See this link for a HUGer Becca's dad's reflections on his daughter's semester at HUG. Hearing from a HUG parent is meaningful to us because we're parents, and we know how much they miss their students when they entrust them to our care. We are honored to serve in their stead when parents loan us their precious ones for a semester. We count it a privilege to be involved in students' lives.
Photo by Marley Cole
This summer we had a student-photographer named Marley Cole with us. She has incredible talent and documented her semester in a photography journal that she's shared with the world via the internet. We're proud of her gift, and we're proud to know her. She's really something special.
Here's a link to her website.
Dressed as modestly as we know how, we attempt to blend in and approach the Temple Mount, where sits the Dome of the Rock. It's one of the most holy places for Muslims and we are respectful of them, so we wear sleeves, head scarves, and long skirts. The Dome of the Rock sits atop Mount Moriah. The Mount's peace is controlled by armed Israelis. We appreciate the calm. I think about what my own country is dealing with presently. Sadly, Dallas is in chaos. The only chaos we experience is extending our elbows so we are not skipped in line. Lines here are not long; they're wide. Instead of staying annoyed, we conform but hold our spot. We bring scarves for our heads, but apparently they are alright with our hair. It's the ladies' arms with which the wardrobe-checkers are concerned. Once inside the security gates, we hear and feel quiet and calm. We are reminded to contain our laughter, as to avoid getting kicked out of this place. Shade helps us settle for a bit. We hear about the history of this site, as it pertains to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The Jews below, at the Wailing Wall, might pray for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock. They cannot enter this place. The Western Wall is as close as they are allowed to their holiest place. Our guide refers to the Temple Mount as a place of gunpowder. The gold of the Dome is fading. In another one hundred years, it will look gray. But we don't know what will be here in one hundred years. The blue tiles are beautiful, and I hope they're safe, no matter what political events occur. Maybe the Dome will remain; maybe it will not. We will see.
A thirty second walk steers us around to the Western Wall. People are wearing yamakas and talithas and are swaying to words that they know from memory. Once finished, they walk backwards from the wall, as to respect their holy place. People are generally silent or softly moaning. People pray for different things - their families, their countries, their futures, their sorrows, their friends...the list is lengthy.
Everything is close in Jerusalem. Another short minute walk gets us to the City of David and Hezekiah's Tunnels, where King Hezekiah of Judah constructed a tunnel system under the City of David into the mountain to protect the water in a siege, mentioned in 2 Kings 20:20. The students change into water clothes, and they're off.
We make our way to the Church of Remission, which houses the traditional place of the last supper - the Passover meal - in the upper room. Crossed arches and a mosque's niche indicate that this building was built later, but there are stones brought here from 2,000 years ago, used to mark this spot. The Passover meal took place somewhere around here. We will participate in a Passover meal together near the end of our semester. We will learn and remember being here when that takes place, and perhaps communion on Sundays from now on will be better understood and will take on a clearer meaning. But that's later, back at our HUG home. Outside we meet an acoustic guitar player; Yossi pulls out his flute and joins him. Music crosses every barrier, no matter the culture, and has the ability to help us fly together. It's a lovely moment for us all.
Wandering above the city upon the flat rooftops through the meeting point of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim quarters, we see things that most tourists don't get to see from a very high level. We quickly snake down steps through the Jewish ghetto, witnessing the men praying and practicing their scriptures. We weave our way through the old city, passing colorful market shops. Invited inside a special shop, we see beautiful materials that the locals purchase to sew dresses. Some material has silver or golden thread and costs 4,000 shekels per meter - out of my price range, to say the least.
We enter the first Protestant church in Jerusalem. A representative there is Jewish by birth. His family is secular and put no religious pressure on him. He tells us that four years ago, a believer gave him a Bible which he read. He talked with that friend, and he realized that religious people weren't without answers nor without hope. He became a believer. There are around 1,500 Messianic Jews in the area. These are the chosen people. It's who they are. Their faith is their faith. The Orthodox Jews think that Messianic Jews aren't Jews anymore, but this young man can't separate that. He's a believer, and he remains a Jew, living in this culture, and loving these traditions and people. He has a friend who is a new believer whose family are religious Jews. The rabbis told his friend's mother that she had to mourn him as if he died when he came to faith in Jesus. There's family pressure here which most of us haven't been forced to face. The building is a beautiful place of worship for Christians and Jews. It's a mixture of a church and a synagogue and is used for both purposes. I feel at home in this beautiful place of creamy walls and gothic arches; a Bible is open on the podium, and a menorah is on the alter in the front. It's a mixture of culture and religion that seems to be welcoming to all. So my husband suggests that we have part of our Sunday worship service here. He teaches from Matthew 28 and Isaiah 61. Luke 4 is also read. Afterwards, we want to sing here. A visitor thinks we're a choir. We appreciate the generous acoustics.
The Hidden Garden Tomb is our last stop of the day. Grooves and a huge stone are here. No imagination is needed. We sit on the ground in the shade viewing what is known as David's Tower, a minaret, in front of us. Dr. Ron reads to us from Luke 22. We have our communion service under the olives in the dappled shade on our Sunday in Israel. Then we sing and sing. This time, we're outdoors, but we don't even need the acoustics to sound like a choir. There is love in the air. Yossi said to us, "Human's poetry is poetry, but God's poetry is humanity. There are no words. That was beautiful." Music speaks to Yossi, perhaps in a way that no other language can do. It speaks to us, too.
What a day it's been. Fully processing this week will take at least a year. It's been rich and precious. We've grown in ways that we don't even understand yet. But one day we will. We'll carry Israel in our hearts and read the Bible differently from now on and are so thankful for this opportunity to have made this journey together. Shalom, complete peace to you and yours.
Damascus Gate, the most beautiful of the gates of city, looks like a castle opening up the road to Damascus. The edge of Mount Moriah sits right in the middle of the city and rolls right up to the Golden Dome. Hebrew University is to our left. Bethany is down the road to our right where Jesus performed the raising of Lazarus on the Sabbath day. Every town that we read about is close to Jerusalem. We hear about a few of the seventy-two names for this city. People are scurrying about, already beginning their days. Heads are covered from head to toe. We look very western.
We take a group picture as we're atop the Mount of Olives. Then we take a short walk to a part of the Garden of Gethsemane to which I have never been. It's more authentic than the manicured sidewalks that have been added for the tourists. We read Jesus's prayer and pray in a few minutes of silence. It is a sobering time to read of Jesus's sweating tears in the same place that it happened. Intense isn't an adequate word.
Zedekiah's Cave is the next destination, which is the stone quarry King Solomon used when building the temple. Yossi played on his flute a classical version of the Magnificat, and we sang our a cappella version of the same song and Create in Me a Clean Heart. The acoustics help us sound like a choir.
On our way to the Israel Museum, we note that Jerusalem is certainly not laid out in a geometric grid. The streets twist and wind wherever the land takes them. The people are busy. Vehicles are numerous. And amidst the people dressed in what we see in our Bible movies, on our bus we learn about the meaning of the word Jehovah (Is, Was, Will). We also see yamaka on men in pants and shirts and other men with black suits, white shirts, and black wide-brimmed hats. None of the women show legs, arms, or hair on their heads. The Muslims blend with the Orthodox Jews on the streets; everybody minds his own business and appears to live in harmony for the most part. America is erupting this week with other countries declaring travel warnings about us. The world in which we exist is upside down as we think we know it.
Outside the museum we see a replica of the ancient city and discuss the walls, the Temple, the Dome of the Rock, and the changes to Jerusalem in the past two thousand years. The Dead Sea scrolls are displayed in a room that is designed to look like the inside of a clay pot. It's very clever. We see little icons from the Iron Age and the Bronze Age. We see a column capital from King David's time. A copper piece of material is found on which the priestly blessing from Numbers is written. We see nails from the time of the crucifixion. We see many interesting items that are special for this land. The museum is full, and so are our brains.
Bethlehem lies ahead of us. Our Israeli guide is not allowed in this Palestinian territory, so we drop him off and pick up a local guide from Bethlehem for the afternoon. Lunch is served in a place that's preparing for a wedding tonight. Pink flowers are everywhere. Afterwards we shop next door and pick up trinkets such as jewelry, ornaments, ceramic bowls, and other various souvenirs. We learn that Bethlehem means "house of bread."
We make our way to the Church of Nativity which is built over the traditional spot of the birth of Jesus and the place of the manger. People are pushy, it's hot, and it's crowded. Oh, the humanity... In our discussions last night, it was pointed out that some groups like to stand in line to see something important, and that act is meaningful to them; but we Protestants like the tranquility of a place that connects to nature and the calming peace we receive from reflection and meditation time. I'm not sure how I feel about being categorized, but I very much agree with the observation. The pushing crowds are off-putting to me and hinder my concentration on the magnitude of that which I am attempting to experience.
Shepherds' Field is where tradition says the Angels appears to the shepherds announcing Jesus's birth and where Ruth and Naomi picked grain. We read Luke 2 together, a special time. There is a nearby cave that we wander into before entering the chapel on site. The songs I Am a Sheep, Away in a Manger, and Joy to the World sound beautiful.
It's been a full day in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Another meeting and processing time together is requested, and we'll discuss the day's activities together after our meal tonight. Israel is educational and overwhelming. We're stretching, we're directing, and we're all growing. I'm so thankful to be a part of the journey.
Back on the road, we notice donkeys among the date palm trees. Every drop of water in the desert is important and the farmers do not want shrubbery pulling any water from the date trees. Instead of using pesticides to kill the unwanted brush as in the recent past, farmers are beginning to use donkeys to eat away at the shrubs. This way, the date fruit is organic, the donkeys are well fed and full, and farmers receive a stipend for every donkey owned. Their pocketbooks and the animal rights people are happy. Everybody wins, even the date fruit consumer.
The key to understanding Jerusalem is the desert, we are told. There are four people groups living in the desert - past and/or present. Arabs (the word itself means desert) live here, as the mosque in the distance proves. Desert hermit monks live here. Zionists (Zion means "desert city") live here. Bedouins (meaning nomad of the desert) also live here. Marrying among themselves (cousins or half-siblings) and having the belief in Allah but preserving pagan rituals, their lifestyles are closer to the Israelites of the Bible than are the lifestyles of the modern day, working-in-high-tech Israeli citizen.
We pass a wall dividing the West Bank from Israel territory. We drive through a tunnel, and we are miraculously transported from the desert to the compact city of Jerusalem. The Temple Mount shines with its gold dome among the white and gray city buildings.
Jerusalem is hectic and full and meaningful, all at the same time. We pass by the Jaffa (Joppa) Gate. We enter the Church of the Holy Seplecur, and wish that it didn't seem so chaotic, rushed, and indoors; this is the traditional location where Jesus was crucified, after all. The church itself is owned/operated by seven different groups of religious people. It seems to be a business, and somehow, although I'm thankful to be present here, I am disappointed that the location itself isn't outdoors and serene. We walk the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, stopping at a few points to discuss what Jesus went through.Jerusalem is hectic and full and meaningful, all at the same time. We pass by the Jaffa (Joppa) Gate. We enter the Church of the Holy Seplecur, and wish that it didn't seem so chaotic, rushed, and indoors; this is the traditional location where Jesus was crucified, after all. The church itself is owned/operated by seven different groups of religious people. It seems to be a business, and somehow, although I'm thankful to be present here, I am disappointed that the location itself isn't outdoors and serene. We walk the Via Dolorosa in the Old City, stopping at a few points to discuss what Jesus went through.
The Pool of Bethesda, discussed in John 5, is the place where the waters were believed to have healing powers, so we heard about this miracle right at the site. The Pool is right outside St. Anne's Church, built by the Crusaders, has the best acoustics I've heard, and we sing and praise our Creator for His grace given to us. The American Colony is our next stop - the house was owned by Horatio Spafford's daughter; he is the writer of the hymn It Is Well With My Soul, so we sing that song in the same room where the family likely practiced their music. Upstairs in that house is an interactive prayer center for people of all faiths. The whole experience is intimate, personal, and touching for most of us, and we appreciate the hospitality shown to us by these Americans that run this place of refuge.
The Garden Tomb is our last site of the day. The protestants that volunteer there say that this may be the site of the crucifixion and the burial of Jesus, while we are told that the church we visited earlier today is the actual site. We feel conflicted. This place is outdoors and pleasant, and people are polite and friendly. We want the events to have occurred here. After our tour, we sing together and share communion. We love each other, and God was definitely present. We then have some time to read from our Bibles alone or in small groups. Reflection is important, and time is needed.
After we check into our Jerusalem hotel and eat supper, we meet in the evening to debrief from the day. We're in information-overload gear, so we need to review and discuss and process all that we've experienced in one full day. We need to be together. We share our appreciations and our disappointments, our likes and dislikes, what we think we have grip on and what we don't understand - about ourselves and about others' beliefs. There are many different people groups in the world, and we're trying to discover how to live at peace among them and how to introduce them to Jesus through our love for them. The world and its situations are not simple. People are not simple. We in the same room are quite complicated, and we're homogenous. There's a big world out there full of people who need Jesus, and we are His witnesses. We don't claim to have all the answers, but we do claim His love. While still now individually processing our first day in Jerusalem, we continue to count our blessings.
Yesterday we saw places visited by Jesus - Nazareth, Cana, Bethsaida, Capernaum. Mount Precipice stands in the distance for today's beginning. Luke 4 tells us that Mount Precipice is the location where Jesus was almost pushed off "the brow of the hill." We pass by Mount Tabor, where the transfiguration took place, and Mount Gilboa, where Saul fought against the Philistines. Jericho is our goal. We will leave the green of the Galilee region. Melon fields are to our right. Olive groves, date trees, and a few cypress trees are in our view for now. The landscape will brown in an hour.
Standing beside Gideon's Spring, we discuss the story of the test of the Israelite army men when only three hundred knelt to drink instead of lapping up the water, leaving themselves vulnerable to might-be attackers.
Driving south down the west bank of the Jordan River, we see the east bank to our left. Hearing the modern-day history of Israel's borders and territories and political leaders' names and ideas, I realize that I need notes and Google to straighten out all that I hear. It's always been complicated here. Conflict is not new. After thirty minutes, I see date palms on both sides of the road, but, otherwise, the ground and mountain caves are rocky brown with a few green shrubs. This land is dryer than the Galilee; the sandy mountains have dramatically changed our colors that we see. We enter Palestinian territory and see Mount of Temptation to our right.
Jericho, the oldest city in the world, sits in front of us. Excavations are still taking place. Camel rides await, so the students perk up. Lunch, camels, and the old walls make Jericho a worthwhile mid-day stop. Jericho means "moon city," and at the top of each mosque, there is a moon. The moon guides the desert's nomads and is still an important symbol for people in this part of the world.
The Dead Sea is just a twenty minute ride away. The pale dusty blue of the sky, the dark green of the date palm, and the sandy ground scattered with shrubbery are in front of me. The turquoise of the water and the Ahava signs appear, promising eternal youth. Students take mud baths at the edge of the water. Bobbing as corks, everyone leans back as if on a gentle chair. There's no splashing around in the Dead Sea.
En Gedi is on our journey. I Samuel 24 tells the story of David's hiding and being pursued by Saul and then David's cutting off a piece of Saul's garment here. There is a wadi in the middle of the desert here, and our students like the water, so we're stopping to cool off again. Since it's fresh water, we feel free to splash.
Along the way to the hotel, the Dead Sea water gets an almost pink cast. Perhaps it's high thirty-three percent salt content. Or perhaps it's the reflection of the mountains that surround the water, which themselves are on the border of brown-turning-pink. The sky is hazy, the mountains fade, and the dusty beaches all melt into the background of the brilliant turquoise and pink water. What a gift to my eyes! Do I need to say that I don't even know where a filter is on my iPhone? I'm sure I could ask my daughter; she's downloaded an app for me that I don't yet know how to use. These were shot out of the window on a moving bus. I'm no photographer, but just imagine if I knew my way around a camera! These views are pretty spectacular, even with my simple iPhone.
As the sun sets, from my hotel room window the water of the Dead Sea looks even more deep turquoise than it did earlier today. How is that possible? The wind is hot but dry. Air conditioned sleep will be nice tonight. The students take a hike up Mount Sodom and return saying that the chalky climb and descent is a beautiful part of their day, and they are excited to share their photos with me at suppertime. I know I can't replace you moms who are reading this, but I do feel like an awfully lucky aunt. They are all precious in their own individual ways, and I love knowing each of these students. It's been a very good day in southern Israel. More tomorrow...
We drive through a kibbutz as we start the day. A kibbutz is a place where people take as much as they need and give as much as they can; it's a system of living that works as long as there are successful salaries continuing to contribute. But when the givers feel that they've been taken advantage of, they get understandingly discouraged, leave the kibbutz, and this system of living doesn't work anymore. The number of families in kibbutz communities in Israel is shrinking.
We arrive at a museum to see an ancient boat from two thousand years ago that was found in 1986. The process to move the boat from its finding spot to conserve it and to put it on display was painstaking, and we watched a quick video to help us learn about this special find. Seeing this boat makes us better picture, in our own mind's eye, the boat from which Jesus might have taught when the crowds on the shores got too thick. Displayed atop aqua glass stones, I can imagine water rippling out like His words from the boat to the shore for the listeners.
The Sea of Galilee (which is really a big fresh water lake) sparkles this morning. Shimmering, it looks inviting. The boat gives us a ride on the Sea. We cast our net (and even attempt a catch on the other side after we were unsuccessful in the first cast). Lunch fish will have to be purchased today. We sang on the boat, had a bit of individual contemplation time, and enjoyed the ride together.
St. Peter's Primacy Church with stained glass windows sitting at the spot where Jesus told His disciples to cast their nets in the other side after His resurrection. Just outside the church grounds is the glittering water, calling to us. Our tour guide states that it's semi-illegal for us to swim in this water because the beaches are privately owned. But when in Israel...so we wade in anyway. The students enjoy the hydromassage from the water cascade and come out if the water refreshed on this hot day.
Lunch is St. Peter's fish - tilapia. It's delicious, and we enjoy eating the different traditional foods served with the fish. Orange carrots, purple cabbage, green cucumbers, healthy hummus, and fish eyeballs look up at us from our plates. Local dates and coffee caps us off.
On our way to the lower Jordan River, we drive through the Valley of Bethsaida. The upper Jordan River begins in this place. We discuss the miracle in which Jesus took the demons from the man and put them into swines. We are corrected. We learn that these were wild boars, making it not so difficult to imagine their wild and aggressive behavior, especially after the addition of the demons. The lower Jordan holds deeper water than the upper river, so we move south to kayak. The students' faces light up, and they appreciate the temperature and the entertainment that the Jordan provides.
Next stop for the day is Capernaum. On the way, we try to spot the green bananas, finally shouting "Nike!" when we spot the neon green camouflaged fruit on the trees (Victory!). Upon arrival to Capernaum, we remember that this is the most mentioned town in the gospels; it's Peter's hometown. An octagonal church is built on the grounds in Capernaum. We visit Peter's mother-in-law's house and read together from Luke 7 about the synagogue right before our eyes. Orthodox Jews call this the "small temple." We walk past a millstone, discussed in Mark 9:42, making me ponder on the fact that some of us were dealt ideal earthly fathers, but some of us were not so fortunate. The responsibility that God the Father puts on earthly men is tremendous and quite beautifully trusting because He knows His children can live up to His expectations.
Under a sycamore tree, we sit to hear Mark 5:21. Our guide explains the story and Hebrew word that has to do with a prayer shawl, or talitha, which is what the bleeding woman touched, knowing that she would be healed if she simply touched the fringe of His garment. We continue to read the story of the little girl whom he calls talitha (Aramaic spelling), a pure young girl, like the prayer shawl, who Jesus heals. The words wrap together. The significance that the girl was twelve, the age of a bar mitzvah before her first cycle, and the woman was bleeding for twelve years, making her impure, is that Jesus says that the focus is not about physical impurity but spiritual impurity, bringing our conversation around to the Holy Spirit. Then we discuss Peter's staying at Simon the tanner's house. Simon deals with unclean animals, so Peter's acceptance of staying with Simon is a bigger deal than we quickly read. This clean/unclean focus-on-the-rules is different from what Jesus is teaching. It's radical. Being in this land, beside the Sea of Galilee and at the ancient ruins of Capernaum with a guide who knows Hebrew, helps us make connections. I believe that our individual faiths are maturing. I love what Harding's international programs give to students. And I'm so very thankful to be a part of it.
Magdala is our last site of the day. The modern church is dedicated to women of the Bible and women of today who play a role in the development of faith. It makes me thankful for my mother and grandmothers, and it makes me miss my daughter who goes to summer camp soon. Words are inadequate to describe what the women in my life mean to me. I saw our female faculty hugging her daughter, one of our HUGers this semester, in the octagonal foyer, making me miss my girl all the more. Sweet moments are treasured. The design here is purposeful - it's peach and aqua colors are used because of the mosaics found in the synagogue ruins nearby, and the green and white marble (water of the sea) of the stage anchors the podium designed as a boat with the Sea of Galilee right behind the window. We appreciate the beautiful view. In a side chapel, we sing Mary's Magnificat and The Greatest Command, and we hear Yossi play a song written about women's compassion. It's a lovely time.
After supper, a group walks to the water front to shop. Another gathers in the hallway to pick up good wifi for a movie. These students want to be together. Living and eating and learning with such a small group would be intense even if we never left campus. But traveling and growing spiritually together bonds a group more quickly and deeply than even "normal" HU life. They truly enjoy being with each other. And that's another purposeful goal that we have at HUG - becoming a special family. It's a privilege to witness this group become lifelong friends. We love each other, and are so thankful to experience this Israeli adventure together.
The Holy Land. Israel. Our homeland. Christians belong to Jesus, and he was born here. We Gentiles are adopted into His family, so we are welcomed "home," in a sense, today as we arrive in this special land to begin our pinnacle field trip of the semester.
Our first stop of our Israeli adventure is at Caesarea Maritime. The Lord's church was scattered after the stoning of Stephen. Acts 21:8 is a short verse in the Bible that states that Paul was hosted at Philip's (one of the "seven" along with Stephen) house at Caesarea, many years later. Coach Beason reads to us and reminds us of the power of forgiveness, making us contemplate the conversations that must have occurred around the supper table at Philip's house, now that Philip and Paul are on the same team. We see the archeological remains of the hippodrome, theater, harbor, and Harod's palace, of course, but it's the table conversation between Philip and Paul that had to have happened that makes my heart pound the most.
Mount Carmel, meaning God's vineyard, is always green and fertile, even in the hot Israeli summer sun. The majority of the surrounding land is brown and beautiful in its own way. As we drive by this place today, we are thoughtful of Elijah's struggle with the prophets of Baal. Even the not-so-beautiful places are important in Israel.
I see road signs for Nazareth, our next destination in this compact country. They are written in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The majority of citizens in this land feel safe living together. Of course, there are extremists in all parts of the world, but like most people in our US, the citizens here live in harmony. As I contemplate what it must mean to live in a land of such vastly different religions, I ponder just how religiously different many people groups in my own country have become in recent years. What does this mean, and where will it take us? Where will it take my daughter and her children? Will they feel as safe as we like to think ourselves to be? As I age, time is passing quicker in my mind, and things are changing rapidly. What will we witness? What will we fight for? What will we fight against? What we will accept without argument? My mother has always quoted, "There is nothing constant but change," and I know that the world has seen more changes than I can comprehend in these 2,000 years on which I let my mind settle as I'm here in Israel. Change and how we react to it certainly shapes us. In Israel, our minds are working and our thoughts are challenged, so our HUG goal of expanding our world view is taking shape already on Day 1.
These days, Nazareth is the biggest Muslim city of the country. Founded around 1,000 BC, Nazareth was small for thousands of years until the Crusaders conquered the land and paved the roads, opening up the path for tourism, which has changed the city drastically. The mountain village in my imagination is not what is front of my eyes. There is no other place on earth where Jesus spent more time, making Nazareth a pilgrimage for many. The Church of Annunciation is our first stop. The beautiful artwork, given to this place by different countries, is on display. Portugal's blue and white tile interpretation of the annunciation is my favorite. Ireland's blue and green mosaic swirls reminds me of the sky in the Starry Night. Of course, the Vatican's interpretation includes the Pope. The Korean Mary and Baby look Korean. The Ethiopian contribution has a very dark-skinned Mary and Baby. Every country's artwork looks as I would guess. I love the comparisons. Inside the church, the area where legend says the annunciation took place is behind bars wide enough through which to snap a photograph. Back outside, we see an old Nazarene house much like the one Mary and Joseph would have asked to lodge upon arrival in Bethlehem.
Energy is required for the afternoon, so we stop for our first traditional snack. Syrupy shredded wheat over a sweet creamy goat's milk inside is the best way to describe the food. I've been trying to be especially healthy lately, but when I see the syrupy sweets, I determine that I can be totally healthy tomorrow.
We cross through the village of Cana, the location of Jesus's first recorded miracle, mentioned in John's gospel. The Cana Wedding Wine Souvenir Shop we ride past on the bus makes our tour guide begin a monologue about tourist traps, reassuring us that he will try to help us avoid the salesmen.
Goat herders with their animals are along our path on the side of the road. Banana trees line the road in some spots. Olive groves glistening silver in the wind now dot the landscape on both sides of us. Haystacks with horse riders going through the fields are on the right. Dark green cypress trees shoot straight up. Mango trees are on the left. The land and temperature is a mixture of Mediterranean and tropical. The combination of heat plus fresh water around the Sea of Galilee has a zone of tropical climate. Around the Sea, the land is surprisingly green. The Kelly green of the citrus trees wakes up the dusty blue sky. Eucalyptus trees obscure a bit of the view at points at the tops of the hills in the distance. And the dark sapphire of the Sea on the horizon is inviting and peaceful. We pass by red, purple, and pink bougainvillea; it looks neon against the green, brown, and blue. This is the prettiest view of the day.
Mount of Beatitudes is next on our agenda. We cross the Galilee region to climb the mountain in the bus. Descending, the sandy trail on foot makes us understand the necessity of foot washing a little better. These Roman roads were used to carry people and teachings; God uses people and places as He sees fit throughout time. After finding a shady spot, we stand to read the Mount of Beatitudes scriptures aloud together overlooking the Sea. We share thoughts and special verses with each other, forming even stronger bonds together.
It's been a full day. After checking into the hotel, we barely make the dinner hour and rush in the dining room at 8:30. We are now tired, full, and happy - full in many ways. Yes, we've tried new food today, but - more than that - we've shared new, meaningful experiences. I'm excited to see what Day 2 has in store for this HUG summer group!
This is the view from my balcony, looking out at the back of Harding's campus in Greece. My eyes take in beauty and fun, and my heart enjoys the HUGers' laughter that carries up through the sliding door at the living room of my Greek home. The Scholars Abroad students arrived today and were welcomed in no less than a tunnel through the front door accompanied by cheers and shouts (think of the Rhodes Field House on Harding's campus when the cheerleaders invite the basketball players onto the court). If these recent high-school graduates were sleepy from their overseas flight, they were wide awake upon arrival to our campus! Most of these folks will be college freshmen at Harding this fall, and seeing familiar HUG faces will probably be a welcome sight for them as they make the Searcy campus their new home in August. They are our guests for a while, so we have fun activities and events planned to entertain them (and to entertain their faculty, sponsors, and us). I hope that the Scholars Abroad students feel welcome and comfortable here and can make our campus their "home-away-from-home" like our HUGers already have this summer. After a traditional Greek lunch by Natasa, the students went on a walk around town to learn of their dwelling place. They have had orientation, time for the beach and sea, prep for classes beginning tomorrow and for day-trips that are planned. Tonight they'll settle in at HUG for a bit and make it their own. Meanwhile, the current HUGers are providing a wonderful example of practicing hospitality.
Hospitality is done well by Thud and Emily Hill and their family, and they've influenced many. When I hear the word hospitality, I think of them and their work at Timothy Hill Children's Ranch on Long Island. When you have a moment or two, investigate the life-changing work going on up north with the Lord as their focus. We love the Ranch and are inspired by all of the people there. That's a lesson - we're not with Thud and Emily daily, but the Ranch's focus on giving hospitality stays with my own family. We've purposefully "improved our serve" in this area and are hoping the current HUGers feel the same way. Their actions prove that they do. I'm proud of them already, and I've only known them for a month. I can't wait to see how we all continue to stretch and grow this summer together as we look to Him as our guide.
The students are consistent at posting pictures of themselves and their activities for their friends and family to see. They're also each assigned one daily summary and one video daily summary so that we can email our HUG parents to inform them of what we've done each day on our trips away from our campus. However, the landscape is often left out of these informative reports. I'm not an adventurer, nor would I count myself among outdoorsmen. If you know me well, you might have just snorted. But I am a nature-appreciator. I like to think of nature's beauty as a gift of God to us - if we can get out of ourselves enough to focus on what's outside, we will be rewarded.
We visited a place called Meteora on Tuesday. The word means "hanging from the sky" and gives us words such as meteorite. "Huge" isn't big enough to describe the stalagmites that jut into the sky. Sitting atop them are monasteries that were somehow constructed for groups of monks or nuns to live away from sin, dedicating themselves to the Lord. Today, some of the monasteries are open to the public, and we were able to tour one in which we saw incredible paintings and icons from the 1500s. We also saw the original crank used to turn the wheel that would raise up people and supplies in nets alongside the cliffs into these buildings. Thank goodness men have constructed stairs for today's use! This landscape with massive rocks and hillside villages is bold and unlike any other I've ever seen.
Heading further north, tan fields of wheat, white fields of cotton, pink and white oleander lining the roads, and fluffy green trees make me think of Mississippi and Arkansas. I love that sometimes Greece sends me home in my heart. Then groves of silvery green olive trees (my new favorite tree) and neon green vineyards with grapes beginning to form (both of which will be harvested this fall), kiwi plants that look like grapevines, kelly green citrus trees, full-bodied peach trees, forrest green Cyprus trees interrupting the easiness and patterns of the fields, brilliant red poppies scattered about, the occasional sapphire blue lake, kandylakia along the roads (very small white boxes in the shape of a tiny church on legs set up as shrine and sometimes holding candles, perhaps commemorating a death or a place of prayer), and white snow-capped mountains in the far distance remind me that I'm in the Mediterranean region of the world. The Athens area is rocky, brown, tough, impressive, strong, and rugged. Northern Greece is greener, giving me a special gift. These views from my seat on our charter bus make me very thankful that I can call Greece my new home now, also. I need green, and God is generously providing plenty for me this week.
Often we hear the phrase, "If walls could talk..." Today, as we hear the history of this region, I tweak that phrase to become, "If trees could be witnesses." We hear the stories, but the trees have seen the action of the battles and the discoveries of this land. And the stories throughout the generations are plentiful. As we approach the man-made mound of earth that covers Philip II's tomb, I wonder how many different ways and different times man has changed God's creation and if these changes meet His approval.
The modern day city of Thessaloniki greets us like sugar cubes on the hillside in the distance. This three-university town has apartment after apartment, all white blocks in row after row. Upon closer inspection, most of the white sugar cubes are six to nine stories high. It's a busy city, boasting of the best food and music in the country. The average age of people here appears to be twenty or so, if the sidewalks tell the true tale.
The next morning, Mt. Olympus dominates the sky, and we drove an hour up the mountain. We hiked another 3-4 hours (depending on one's age) to the mountain for lunch. Afterwards, most of the group hiked up another three hours to peak the mountain (I heard word of a snowball fight) and two hours back to the hostel. We breakfasted while watching the sun rise over the tree-covered mountains. Being at the highest point in Greece is certainly an accomplishment, and our hips, knees, and ankles will pay. The bus was a welcome sight as we made the final turn of our decent down the mountain. I'm thankful to appreciate the mountains presently from my seat on the bus instead of from on my feet atop rocks that made our hike quite challenging! A well-deserved relaxing day is scheduled for Saturday. Mountains today, beach tomorrow...at the beach we'll be sitting, lying down, and resting the lower limbs!
Greece is full of different sights of nature to fill the eye - rural rolling hills and fields, spotty patches of flower color here and there, rugged and snow-capped mountain peaks, and islands we've yet to explore with this group of students. The diverse landscape forces me to recognize God's creativity when he formed the earth. He's the master mathematician, historian, scientist, and creator. It's meaningful to recognize His brilliance and contemplate this special gift of nature to all of us. How generous is He!