Friday, October 14, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 8 of 10

Next morning, breakfast at The Rimonim Hotel was something I will always remember. At the table where Errol and I sat we were privileged to watch the sun rise across the Sea of Galilee.

The fresh, early morning breeze and the rays of the sunrise reflecting on the water and shimmering through the trees were like dancing jewels, and produced a peaceful effect. I wondered: Was it a morning as beautiful as this when Jesus prepared “bread and fish” for His disciples? Did the sunrise reflect on the water just the same and shimmer through the trees just the same when He welcomed his disciples on the beach to “come and dine…?”
Was the water just as peaceful and calm?

After breakfast, Doron took us on a boat trip on the Sea of Galilee. This was something I will always remember. We enjoyed beautiful sunshine, a soft breeze and the knowledge that this was a place Jesus often visited during His lifetime on earth. And at one point, in the middle of the sea, Pastor Peter called for a time of worship and asked the captain of the boat to make a stop. The boat came to a stop and we enjoyed a time of choruses and prayer. But to tell you the truth, I was nervous. In my mind, I was wondering whether the captain, Pastor Peter, the crew and everyone else knew what they were doing.

Remember, I mentioned before that I am afraid of large bodies of water, and as beautiful as the Sea of Galilee is, I would not have liked to go down into it. Besides that, with Jesus not being around physically to help me walk on water as He did with Peter (Matt. 14:29), I knew I would never more be in the land of the living! However, I managed to survive the time of worship even though the boat was rocking from side to side.

We read much about Jesus and the Galilee. And if there was any place I felt His presence it was at the Jordan River and in the region of the Sea of Galilee. To walk in the places where Jesus walked and sail on the sea where Jesus sailed gave me a feeling of awe and humility. Hearing about the Sea of Galilee is one thing, reading about it is another, and actually being there is yet another thing.

I tell you, if ever you visit Israel, and I hope that you will, please make it a must to sail on the Sea of Galilee and visit the Jordan River.

Next, Doron took us to Kibbutz Ginossar where we viewed an ancient boat that dates back to the 1st century AD. This boat was discovered in 1986 on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and experts claimed that this was the type of boat used by people in first century times not only for fishing but also for transport from one side of the lake to the other. A big question is: “Could Jesus have sailed in that boat?” Who knows? We can only speculate, yet it was helpful to us to look closely at an object dating to the time Jesus walked in Galilee and might have used.

Doron, our guide, jokingly warned us not ever to leave the region without eating St. Peter’s fish. He said our trip to the Galilee would be incomplete without tasting that delicious fish and took us to the Ein Gev Fish Restaurant for a sumptuous meal of St. Peter’s fish, chips, and vegetables, complete with Israeli fixings. My goodness, what a spread of food! I tell you, Israel is a vegetarian’s and fish eater’s paradise.

Doron’s insistence about St. Peter’s fish reminded me of a saying in Trinidad about a local fish called “the cascadura” that goes this way: “Those who eat the cascadura will, a native legend says, wheresoever they may wander, end in Trinidad their days.” I wondered if it is the same with St. Peter’s fish and I wondered: Will I end my days in Galilee?

From Galilee we drove to Capernaum, a place that Jesus visited often and saw an ancient synagogue, and the site of the house of Peter. Then we visited the Mount of Beatitudes, the place where Jesus gave His Sermon on the Mount, and drove up the Golan Heights to Caesarea Phillipi.

There is something about the Holy Land that does a work on you, yet one visit is like the seeing the tip of an iceberg. There is s-o-o-o much to see and do. I hope you will make the trip soon.

It was a full day of activities and we were more than happy to be back at our hotel and look forward to dinner and a well-deserved rest for the night. Next day, we visited Mount Carmel where the prophet Elijah defeated the worshippers of Baal.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 7 of 10

In a massive restoration project for the land of Israel, since 1902 more than 280 million trees have been planted, and to help this project, in connection with the government of Israel, Pastor Peter Youngren has launched the Grace Biblical Forest.
Pastor Peter upholds that the planting of the Grace Biblical Forest “is a unique opportunity to be part of a deeply meaningful, prophetic fulfillment” (Isaiah 32), and he is planting 100,000 trees, many of which are fruit-bearing. To this end, Errol and I grasped the opportunity to leave a tree planted in Israel in our names. So we have a tree, basking in the sunshine of Israel and serving a worthwhile purpose in that land which means much to us.

We drove through the Jordan (Rift) Valley to Beit She’an, an ancient city that has existed since the time of King Saul and visited the remains of a Roman theatre (circa 1 AD) that has been excavated there. On that day it was blazing hot, and as usual, at every place we visited, I looked for two things: a cool, shady spot and a place to sit, but this time I did not find either of that, so I just had to deal with the heat as I admired the view.

I could just imagine the grandeur of Beit She’an and the Roman theatre in its hey day 6,000 years ago. The theatre boasted a semi-circular design cut into the hillside and seated 7,000 people in rows of limestone seats. In my imagination I could see the crowds and sporting events, and other entertainment of the day. In that place in particular, we were so close to ancient history, we could almost touch it.

There are still ongoing excavations taking place in Beit She’an. You can see the remains of the theatre in one of today’s pictures….who knows what else will be unearthed! If ever you go to Israel, Beit She’an should be a must-visit place on your list.

Another must-visit place on your list should be Nazareth Village, which is very interesting! This is a village scene created in Nazareth that shows the way the community looked in Jesus’ early years. It is a live scenario that really gave us the feel of first century living, with a show-and-tell atmosphere. Visit their website here

It is not as hectic Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Church of the Nativity or even the Via Dolorosa, but it is a quiet, rural setting with shepherds and grazing sheep. However, there was much uphill climbing on rocky, rough terrain.

Imagine how it was in those days…no supermarkets, no refrigeration for food, no fast foods, and all work was manual with home-made equipment and carpentry tools, and every meal was prepared from scratch.

At Nazareth Village, men and women wore traditional first-century garb, moving around gracefully as they demonstrated how chores were done in those early days. They showed us how wool was spun, dyed and woven to make clothing. The cloths were dyed with onion skins for brown colours, and specific fruits for other colours.

They showed how garments were made, how wine was made, how grain was ground, how olives were pressed to extract oil, and how sheep were raised. It was a step into the past to catch a glimpse of how life was in Jesus’ boyhood days.

Another interesting stop on that day was at Cana of Galilee where Jesus did His first miracle of turning water into wine at a wedding. Frankly, I always wonder why Jesus bothered to turn water into wine for the guests at the wedding. He could have easily told them to go home because the wine had run out…

We saw Mary’s Well where tradition says that Mary, while fetching water from the well, received the announcement from the angel Gabriel that she would bring forth Jesus, our Saviour. The well is fed from a spring called Mary’s Spring. And though the place of the annunciation is not recorded in the Bible, the traditional account is very ancient.

Then there was baptism in the Jordan River. One can never imagine the feeling of being at the very river where Jesus was baptized and the Spirit descending like a dove upon Him. We might not know the exact spot of Jesus’ baptism, but we know it was the Jordan River, and knowing this does something to the believer’s soul. I lost count of how many were baptized by Pastor Peter Youngren in the Jordan on that day, but I know there were many. In some places the Jordan is just a mere stream but at the place for baptism it is a mighty river.

We spent that night at the Rimonim Hotel and were in time for the May 14th celebration of Israel’s 63 years as a nation. It was great to be in time for celebrating Israel’s national birthday with her. As I reflected on the occasion, I realized that Errol and I chose the right time to visit Israel: just at her national birthday. At a park near our hotel there was a lot of celebration going on. Partygoers had a great time in the park all night having fun, fireworks, singing and dancing.

That evening, after dinner, we had another dynamic teaching by Pastor Peter and eagerly looked forward to the next day when we would be going on a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 6 of 10

Day 6, Sunday, was our free day. We were not taken to visit sites anywhere and were told we could spend the day in any way we chose. I planned on reading, relaxing and catching up on my journalling and emails to home.

Our guide, Doron, had encouraged us to visit Ben Yehuda Street and do some shopping. He also told us how to get there by bus or taxi. He said some of the most expensive and beautiful merchandise in Jerusalem can be found on Ben Yehuda Street.

However, Errol and I did not go to Ben Yehuda Street, but later, when I heard from three women about beautiful fabrics they bought there, I wished I had made the effort to go shopping on Ben Yehuda Street. Carla, Sherry and Karen talked about the store owner knowing a lot about fabrics and accessories and they asked him how he knew so much about fabrics. He told them it was because his wife used to sew a lot and this is how he learned about it. She is no longer in the land of the living but left him a legacy of knowledge about the merchandise he sells.

I have an addiction for beautiful fabrics, and though I have a ton of fabrics at home in every design, colour and texture, a couple pieces more, especially from Israel, would not have hurt my inventory. Oh, how I wish I had gone to shop at Ben Yehuda Street!

Anyway, Ben Yehuda Street is on my list for my next visit to Israel, which I hope will be soon.

Errol and I were not the only ones who did not go to Ben Yehuda Street. We met with others and chatted with them about our past week and shared about what our pilgrimage to the Holy Land meant to us. As for me, it was the living reality of a long-time dream about 20 years in the making. I have always been attracted to the culture and language of Israel and it felt good to be in the land related to the Patriarchs and Prophets of old and where Jesus walked, taught and did His many healings and miracles.

We talked also about the Jerusalem Syndrome, which Pastor Peter Youngren told us about quite early in our pilgrimage, and had laughingly warned us not to catch the “disease.” The Jerusalem Syndrome is some sort of psychotic disorder, which many pilgrims experience on their visit to Israel. They imagine weird ideas about themselves relating to biblical characters and historical places, maybe it is because of being in the environment where so much biblical history took place. This does a spin in the human psyche of most individuals, weaving a fantasy in their minds causing them to think in an inadvertent way. For example, we heard of one man on Mount Carmel who thought he was Elijah re-visiting the area. This is just one small incident.

Jerusalem is a charismatic place, and I use the term “charismatic” in a loving way. As a pilgrim, being in that city takes a hold on you. It grows on you. Maybe it is because of one’s biblical knowledge and it gives the reality of being close to places God performed His mighty works, especially in Old Covenant times.

The pursuit of tracking events in ancient Jerusalem is a magnificent obsession and many pilgrims, including myself, can never seem to get enough of it. However, I did not catch the Jerusalem Syndrome but caught a cold because of not being dressed warmly enough early one morning.

Remember in my first post there is a photo of a man with a camel and he is carrying a stick? He was soliciting patrons to take a picture either standing next to the camel or sitting on it for a fee of $20.00. The thing is, in order to climb on the camel it had to kneel. The poor animal’s knees were sore from kneeling on asphalt and stone and I could not see how anyone would be a party in putting the animal through that distress. For this reason, even though it meant “bread and butter” for his owner’s table, I did not take a picture with the camel.

More about our pilgrimage next week...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 5 of 10

This was our day to visit three of the most distinctive sites in Israel: Qumran, Masada and the Dead Sea. So right after breakfast we boarded our bus and headed to our destination, which meant driving through the Judean desert. Parts of the area are barren with much sand and rocks, yet other parts are irrigated with water and boast beautiful date palms and other lush greenery.

At last, we got to Qumran and our guide pointed out to us the exact cave where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered by a Bedouin lad in 1947. The area is mountainous and bleak and said to be the place where the ancient Essenes lived. The Essenes were a strict Jewish sect of religious people that existed during the time of Christ. They practiced a simple lifestyle and celibacy was a part of it, and isolated themselves in the area where we stood.

Many scholars claim that the Essenes were the ones who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.

One person from our bus was delighted to find a piece of pottery about the size of a loonie and vowed he would keep it as a souvenir. That set some of us on a search for broken pieces of pottery, but alas we found none, and soon it was time for us to leave that area.

After Qumran, we headed for Masada and the Dead Sea. Somehow I do not like the name “Dead Sea.” Couldn’t they have called it something else?

En route to Masada, we visited a gift shop that sold cosmetics made from black mud and other vital minerals from the Dead Sea. I might have bought something if I could have been assured it would take 20 years off my looks but could not be convinced, and did not buy any of the cosmetics but resorted to other gifts.

On that day, it was hot. I do not remember how many degrees the temperature was, but it was h-o-t, and being on top of a mountain, it seemed like we were closer to the sun and hotter than usual. Masada is a plateau atop a high mountain of stone and we ascended to its summit by cable cars, and though all around us were mountains and caves, bleak and quiet, yet it was b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l. I tell you, Israel is a beautiful place.

Doron, our guide, told us the history of Masada and the account of the 960 Jews who perished in self-inflicted mass murder/suicide rather than succumb to the Romans. I was much impressed by the way Doron told the story, bringing it to life. One could almost see the tragedy taking place and feel the emotions of the people in that place.

Doron is well-gifted with the magic of story-telling and kept us spell-bound as we listened. I had learnt about the tragedy of Masada at Bible college and never dreamt I would be standing there on Masada one day, hearing the story again in a detailed, picturesque manner and seeing the ruins of Herod’s palaces, bath houses, swimming pool, even a synagogue. It was truly a moving story and a magnificent sight. The history of Masada and the way Doron told it have left an indelible mark in my mind

Now, on to the Dead Sea. Years ago, whenever I heard of the Dead Sea, I often wondered why a sea should be called dead, but I’ve come to understand the reason. That sea is called dead because of the high content of salt in its water that prevents any fish or other aquatic creatures to live there. Those who know about seas and their levels tell us that the Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, as a matter of fact its elevation is 417 feet below sea level.

Doron, our guide, told us that King David once hid from Saul in the area of the Dead Sea, called Ein Gedi, and in my analytical mind I began wondering, in every area my sight would focus: was it in this area that David hid? Or was it in that area where there are a lot of trees? Or could it be in that cave nearby, or behind the rocks?

A multitude of people trekked to the Dead Sea, some seeking to be more youthful, some to be more healthy and I am sure, some for the mere experience of floating in the water.
However, when they came out, I looked to see if any of them were more youthful but they all seemed the same as before they went into the water, nevertheless, I heard some individuals say they felt invigorated and that was good.

Somehow I was not impressed to go into the water but appreciated the stunning view from afar. But then again, I had my reasons: I am not a water buff, I am afraid of large bodies of water and besides that, I did not want to get my feet wet, so I did not go into the Dead Sea. Call me chicken if you want, I'll take that!

I understand the Dead Sea is shrinking. Maybe it would not be in existence in the next hundred years, so who knows, if you want to experience its legendary therapeutic waters, and float in a sea where you can never sink, you should hurry on to Israel and take some baths in Israel’s Dead Sea.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 4 of 10

After a sumptuous breakfast at our hotel, we boarded our bus and our first visit was to Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial museum to the six million Jews who perished in the Nazi holocaust that begun in 1933. This place is an impressive collection of thousands of artifacts that relate to the times the Jews sojourned in Europe, for example, photographs, carrying cases and a host of memorabilia, also an eternal flame burning in memory of those who perished.

In memory of the tragedy of the holocaust, the museum has been given a name biblically which is Yad Vashem, derived from Isaiah 56:5.

In a trip to Israel, Yad Vashem is a distinctive place to visit. However, though some people, including myself were enthused with all the information given, yet for others it was too painful to withstand, and they walked away.

Yad Vashem is a sure testimony of Israel never to forget the Nazi holocaust and to pass that information to their future generations, just as they have done with the account of their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land in Old Testament times.

Then on we went to the Israel Museum in which there is a vast collection of arts, archaelogy and ancient scrolls and fragments of other writings. The museum has dedicated an entire wing called the Shrine of the Book to the housing of the Dead Sea scrolls found at Qumran in 1947 by a young Bedouin shepherd. To witness those ancient treasures somehow gave me the feeling of being present when they were created.

At the Israel Museum there is an outdoor scale model of the city of Jerusalem, showing houses, buildings and the Temple of Jerusalem as far back as AD 66. These models provide an accurate view of how Jerusalem looked in those times. Our tour guide mentioned that should there be any bit of new information coming in, the model is adjusted, but so far it is up to date and accurate with all information and traditions received. This work of art and skill is truly something to be seen.

I stand amazed to see how much Israel has accomplished in the mere 63 years the country has become a state. When I consider the Judean desert with its flourishing greenery in parts of it, aided by its intricate irrigation system and a museum filled with historical writings, massive excavations and the rebuilding of ancient structures, I have to agree with the Bible that Israel is truly blessed of the Almighty.

Then off we went to the Church of the Nativity (the place where tradition tells us that Jesus was born). However, before going there, our guide took us to a pastoral setting where there are caves, and we were told it was most likely such a place that Jesus was born. This was done so that we would get an idea of what the nativity cave looked like in those days.

The Church of the Nativity is a 6th century building which is said to be built over a cave.

This is a huge building, part of which is the church and part is a souvenir shop, selling holy oils, candles, religious pictures, olive wood carvings, etc. and to enter the part that is the church, pilgrims have to stoop low to walk through a doorway only 1.2 meters high that is cut in a stone wall. And as ususal, there was a noisy crowd of people, with flashing cameras and a lot of pushing and shoving to enter the church through the low doorway.

As one enters the church through the low doorway there is a grotto (cave) with a large silver star on its marble floor, marking the spot where Jesus is said to have been born. On the floor of the grotto there are the words “Hic de virgine Maria Jesus Christus natus est” meaning in Latin, “Here Jesus Christ was born to the Virgin Mary.”

As pilgrims entered the church, many could be seen, stooping low to kiss the star that marks the spot where Jesus was said to be born. In my mind’s eye, I imagined the cave as I had seen it at the previous pastoral setting and mentally placed it at that spot.

And as usual, with any Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox church, the d├ęcor at the Church of the Nativity is very ornate, with beautiful hanging lamps, lighted candles and biblical pictures which all serve their purpose in creating a religious atmosphere. All this made me think “this would be a beautiful place to sit and meditate on the birth and life of Christ…if only there was time and opportunity to be quiet…” It would have been so much more meaningful and satisfying.

At the hotel, we ended the day with a great dinner and a wonderful teaching by Pastor Peter Youngren

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 3 of 10

This was our day to walk the Via Dolorosa -- the way that Jesus walked to His crucifixion, and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For years I had heard of this road of suffering and imagined it to be a tree-lined street of some kind but the Via Dolorosa turned out to be very different. This is a bustling, dusty, narrow, brick-paved alleyway, lined with colourful bazaars and market places, and teeming with shoppers for merchandise of every sort. However, we trudged along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

And along the way we could see marked places that commemorate important accounts of Jesus’ journey to His crucifixion, which are the Stations of the Cross, well known to the Roman Catholic tradition.

Here we were, a bunch of pilgrims, hustling with our tour guide to see the place where the Roman Catholic tradition says Jesus’ was crucified and his body laid to rest. As usual, there were throngs of noisy people at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and we had to strive to hear every bit of information that Doron gave.

This is a busy place. People filled the courtyard and the church, pushing and shoving to see this place where it is said that Jesus was buried. Some could be seen kissing a rectangular slab of stone on the ground that is said to cover the place where Jesus’ body was laid. Some were sombre-faced and in tears as they contemplated Jesus’ death.

And in the midst of all that commotion, robed monks were making procession inside the building and chanting liturgies in Latin. As I listened, trying to catch some of the words they were singing, it brought back cherished memories of my Roman Catholic convent school days when we often had to chant various liturgies in Latin. The inside of the building is filled with beautiful paintings of biblical scenes of angels and Jesus crucifixion.

The ornate beauty of the building and the Latin liturgies, complete with a myriad of lighted candles, provide a religious ambiance to the place and is not to be easily forgotten.

And I thought: “if only the place was not so noisy, and with crowds going to and fro, it would make a wonderful place for meditation on the Passion of Christ. It would have been more meaningful if we were allowed to take our time walking the Via Dolorosa and to have moments of peace and quiet upon entering the church rather than hurrying along, and having to cope with noisy crowds." However, that is how it was and time was of the essence.

What are my thoughts about the two major sites where it is said that Jesus is buried? I am torn between the Garden Tomb at Gordon’s Calvary and this place, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is evidence both “for” and “against” both locations but I have come to the conclusion that the important thing for us is to recognize the reality with the crucifixion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and not be hung up on exact locations of same.

However, I can now envision the 14 Stations of the Cross as a help and means of meditation on the Passion of Christ rather than the actual journey of Christ to His crucifixion.

After a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre we headed for the Wailing Wall, otherwise known as the Western Wall, which is Judaism’s most holy site. Tradition tells us that this wall is the only remaining portion of the Temple that was destroyed in the first century and it has become a belief that prayers offered up to the LORD in that place will be answered by Him.

I thought to myself: “Israel is an interesting place to visit. In the midst of the chanting of prayers in Latin at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre one could hear the Muslims not far away, blaring out the afternoon call to prayer while at the same time, at the Western Wall, Jewish men, most of them with prayer shawls, were rocking their bodies in rhythmic motion as they did their prayers and devotions to the LORD.”

Our next visit was to Hezekiah’s Tunnel, which is a 1,750 feet tunnel carved through solid rock to divert a watercourse from one side of the city of Jerusalem to the other (2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:30). We walked through that tunnel, which is an intricate water system and a maze of dark pathways and stairs built by the Israelites in the year 700 B.C. under King Hezekiah in an effort to ensure safety and an adequate water supply in a time of siege from the Assyrians.

In the route that we were led we could hear sounds of water but did not wade through it. We took the landlubbers’ route, walking on a dry path. In some areas the place is so narrow that we could only walk in single file. This gives it a “closed-in” feeling and is not recommended for people with claustrophobia.

Trudging through Hezekiah’s Tunnel has taught me lessons of faith and determination. In my analytical thinking, the Israelites’chiselling through solid rock to form a pathway to safety and security reminded me of the times in our lives when we cut through stony, everyday experiences.

It reminded me of walking through those stony times…those times that seem to have no end. It has taught me that in those tough times our main focus should be just to keep on trudging through those paths till we come out at the other end. Friends, if you can walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel and emerge from it with a smile on your face, you can walk through any hard place or experience to a desired end (Jeremiah 29:11).

Hezekiah’s Tunnel is definitely one of the places to visit on a tour of Jerusalem. This place is an astounding, engineering feat and gives a sense of awe to witness the skill and strength of the ancient Israelites in their time of need. The tunnel stands today as a monument of determination, strength and skill and is one of the highlights of a tour of Jerusalem.

With such a heavy trek for the day, dinner at the hotel and a good night rest were more than welcome.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 2 of 10

All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we boarded our bus right after breakfast and our first stop was Gordon’s Calvary, which is a place that tradition tells us was known for executions of offenders in ancient Israel. The reason this place is called Gordon’s Calvary is because it was discovered by a British military leader named General Charles Gordon in the 19th century and named after him.

Gordon’s Calvary is a rocky cliff with an over-hang in the shape of a skull with two holes that resemble eye sockets. The entire area comprises a rocky cliff at the edge of an ancient cemetery, a well-tended garden below with beautiful flowers and trees, and a tomb that is hewn out of a rock. Tradition tells us that Gordon was convinced that this was the place where Jesus was crucified and that his body was placed in the nearby tomb, as mentioned at Mark 15:43-46. That tomb is now called the Garden Tomb and is the focus of thousands of visitors each year.

The garden is peaceful and is ideal for meditation and prayer, and our group participated in a communion service there given by our host, Pastor Peter Youngren.

Something of note is that Gordon’s Calvary is in direct controversy with the Church of Holy Sepulchre, which is built on a spot where the Roman Catholic tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried. There will be more about this place later on.

Next we visited the Upper Room, sometimes called the Room of the Last Supper, or the Cenacle (the word “cenacle” is derived from the Latin word “cena”meaning “dinner”). This second-storey room is a large hall and for most of the day it is filled with people going to and fro to see this place where we are told that Jesus ate His last Passover meal with His disciples, and this meal turned out to be the beginning of the Lord’s Supper for followers of Jesus.

The Upper Room is supported by three huge pillars and boasts an arched design in the ceiling -- definitely Gothic in style of architecture. The ceiling is ornate and is a masterpiece. Gazing in awe at this room brought my mind to another masterpiece: that famous painting of the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci that has inspired thousands of people all over the world.

This place, situated on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem is also the location that tradition says was the site of three other major occurrences in the life of Jesus: this is where Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, also where He made an appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, and the place where the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ disciples (Acts 1:13, 2:1-4), and making the beginning of the New Testament church.

While we were there we witnessed another group of tourists, some of them in an emotional frenzy and could hardly stand. They were shouting, singing, praying and being slain in the Spirit. I was excited to be touching on biblical history in a real way and expected a rushing wind and tongues of fire resting on those worshippers as it happened in the Book of Acts, however no such thing took place.

Next we visited King David’s Museum, which is in the same building on a lower level. In this museum there is a large sarcophagus covered in red velvet and adorned with the Star of David upon it; there is also a sign saying “King David’s Tomb” and there were separate entrances for men and women to view the tomb. As can be expected, there was a crowd there as well.
We wandered around the various rooms, trying to keep in touch with Doron, our tour guide, while making our way around a lot of Jewish people who were saying prayers.

Carpenters were busy doing renovation work in various parts of the building and their constant hammering were in competition with the voice of our tour guide and this did not make it easy for us to follow what he was saying. However, all in all, just being in the presence of King David’s tomb was enough for most of us.

As I stood at the tomb, two of my favourite psalms came to mind; they were Psalm 23 and Psalm 91, which tradition tells us were written by King David. I thought also about the hero stories of that “man who was after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), his conquest of Goliath, his issues with Saul, and other biblical accounts, then I began to wonder “Am I standing at the place where King David’s bones lie? Or is it merely a place built in memory of that great king?”

I did not have to think long. A man from another group made the remark that he did not think the remains of King David were in that sarcophagus but were somewhere else and this sarcophagus was just a structure erected in memory of him…well, so much for that!

As usual, in the courtyard, vendors did a brisk business, selling everything from postcards to hats, and you know, I bought a hat, something very necessary to beat the heat in Israel.
Next stop was a visit to the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. It is a beautiful, modern structure on Mount Zion in Jerusalem, which tradition tells us has been built on the ruins of the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest to whom Jesus was brought for trial. In Israel, it is common to see buildings that were built on top of other old structures and the amazing thing is that the builders made a great job of doing that.

I am always amazed at the structures of the ancient world, how great buildings were created without the use of modern equipment. We have to say those builders were even more talented than those of today because of their lack of the sophisticated equipment we now have at our disposal.

If my knowledge of Latin serves me right the word "Gallicantu" means “singing or crowing rooster” and while on tour of the building something funny happened. As Doron, our tour guide was recalling the story to us about Peter’s denial of Christ and how the cock crowed three times, a cock crowed somewhere in the vicinity. And before long there was a lot of cock crowing taking place. Seems like there has always been a lot of chicken-rearing in Jerusalem.

At this church we were shown a pit below the building, which tradition says had served as a holding place for Jesus before He was taken to Pilate.

Back at our hotel, the Crowne Plaza, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner and before retiring for the night we had another great teaching by Pastor Peter Youngren.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reflections on My Trip to Israel - Day 1 of 10

Day One -- At Last, A Visit to the Holy Land

At last, I was on my way to visit the Holy Land. For years I dreamed of it, but somehow always kept on procrastinating about the trip. However, I have always been attracted to the culture of Israel, and fascinated by the Hebrew language, so much so that at Bible College I did a couple courses in the Hebrew language and some studies in Israelology. And I thank God for having done them.

Last year the trip nearly happened but did not, and this year it nearly did not happen. But it did. It happened when I heard of the Grace TV Israel Tour with Pastor Peter Youngren as host of the tour, and since I know of Pastor Peter’s church which is the Toronto International Celebration Church, I decided this was the time and seized the opportunity.

I went on this trip with a lot of expectation. I had been thinking “at last I will walk in places where Jesus walked, and see places where He healed the sick and did His miracles.” After a three-hour wait on arrival at the airport to check in, at last my husband, Errol and I boarded an El Al aircraft on May 3rd bound for Tel Aviv on a nonstop flight. And as I settled myself in my seat and buckled up, deep in my heart I said: “Oh Israel, here I come…”

I was told the flight would be 11 to 12 hours long and wondered how I would endure sitting in one position for that long, then I remembered that when I went to England some years ago the trip was 8 hours, so what if it is only 4 hours more! Anyway, I managed. The drone of the engines seemed like it would never end. And all we could do was just wait and wait for the touch-down.

Eventually we arrived at the Ben Gurion Airport at 7:05 a.m. next day to a crisp morning, slightly cool, and with beautiful sunshine. It felt great to stand on terra firma once again and our 10-day bus tour started immediately.

There we were met by our bus drivers and tour guides. Our company of tourists filled three buses and my husband and I were assigned to Bus #3. From the beginning we felt we were in the hands of two competent helpers. Our bus driver was Obadiah (Ovad), who did an excellent job in manoeuvring steep hills and deep curves, and our tour guide was Doron Hoffman who is passionate about his work He did an excellent job in showing us around and narrating the information we came to Israel to hear. Also, he was not short on filling our ears with humour all along the way, which made our trip a memorable one.

Thank God, the buses were comfortable and airconditioned. Our first stop was the Mount of Olives. We began with a sweeping view of the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding area, and a visit to the Mount of Olives and Garden of Gethsemane. Here, Doron, our tour guide gave us a picturesque, historical overview of the Old City and surrounding area.

I had heard that a visit to Israel involved a lot of walking and that we should wear comfortable shoes, but to say that the tour involves a lot of walking is an understatement. Jerusalem is a city of hills, walls, stones and more stones, large and small, and it really does involve more that a lot of walking. It is an experience of climbing hills and walking on rough terrain, and I found it to be quite a challenge for the first two days. However, I did much better than I expected for the rest of the tour.

I was determined to master the trip and by the grace of God, I did. However, in the process, I have discovered the secret to being able to do long bouts of walking, and it is this: just keep on

I am not one for much walking and when our tour guide explained that the walk to the Garden of Gethsemane was a very steep and challenging one from where we were, and that those who felt they could not walk would be taken there by the bus that was music to my ears.

However, the bus drove the few of us who stayed on it to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent his last few hours on earth in agony and prayer to His Father in heaven (Matthew 26:36-56) and there we caught up with those who walked.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, we walked and walked through pathways in the garden, absorbing the beauty of every tree, shrub and flower while trying to catch every word and hold on to every description of what we saw, as given by Doron, our guide.

The garden is filled with gnarled, old olive trees, most of them hundreds of years old, though most likely none of the trees were as old as before the time of Jesus’ death, because we are told that during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Romans destroyed all the trees in the area for use as fire wood and for the purpose of the siege itself.

As I looked at those olive trees, I thought to myself “if only those trees could talk, they would have much to say.” And as I reflected on the beauty and calmness of the garden, I was reminded me of the words of that popular, spiritual song: “I came to the Garden alone, while the dew was still on the roses” and thought of how it might have been in the time of Jesus’day.Was the garden just as beautiful, peaceful and calm?

I wondered: “What did Jesus contemplate during His last few hours?” Did He think of you and me? Did He look beyond the cross He knew He would have to endure to the glories of heaven? But then again, I remembered that we have only to look to the Book of John, chapters 16 and 17 for the answer.

Another place of interest to the tourist is the Church of the Agony, also named The Church of All Nations (so named because it was built with financial support from 12 different countries) which stands next to the Garden of Gethsemane and is a beauty to behold.

Then off we were to a fabulous lunch of Israeli cuisine and then to the Crowne Plaza Hotel to relax for the rest of the day. After dinner that evening, we enjoyed a dynamic teaching by Pastor Peter Youngren before retiring for the night in anticipation for the next day.