March 30, 2010

Great Adventures

Sarah Demeree, Janelle Freed, and Becca Stouffer and I went on our free travel week together from March 7th to the 14th. Our first planning for the week started back in February and unfortunately not everything was set until an hour before we needed to leave. As you can imagine we were scrambling around trying to pack and leave without knowing where we were going or where we were going to stay for the night. We knew that our first four days would be spent in the Galilee area at a cabin overlooking the Sea and the last threeish days would be spent down in Eilat at a Christian hostel. We also found out that it's difficult to have to depend on other people to find a place for us to stay.

After our first time on a settlement in the West Bank a number of us talked to the person who did our lecture about possibly coming for a couple of days during a break. He was initially very helpful and said he would said contact information when he'd found some families to host us. We ended up waiting close to a month for this information and finally received it at about 5 pm the evening before we needed to leave which just so happened to be Shabbat (Sabbath) which means no one answers their phones until after 6:30pm. Eventually everything got figured out and we had an excellent time staying at a settlement called Ephrat. The four of us split up between two families though we spent most of the first afternoon with Sarah and Becca's host mom and 4 of their 6 boys! Everyone always says how intelligent the Jewish people are but it wasn't until we stayed with them that I found out how true that really is. Yael (the other girls' host mom) was having a conversation about the conflict with her six year old son as if she was talking to an adult and he understood exactly what she was saying and responded as such!  My host family also had a lot of kids but most are grown so while we were there we mostly hung out with our host mom Lynda and played dutch blitz, drank tea, and ate cake. It was really good though to get their perspective on the situation though and learn a completely new way of life. (Did you know that settlers play Settlers.... ;) Our host family said it's a regular occurrence for Shabbat. We only stayed at Ephrat one night but it was really a great experience.

From there we had great plans (and reservations) to rent a car for the first part of the week since we'd need to drive to various hiking places in the Galilee. We got to Jerusalem just when we planned to and though we were doing well by buying our bus tickets for Eilat right away. We got to Budget to pick up our car and they told us we couldn't pay without having certain IDs that we were told we wouldn't here and that they would charge us cause we weren't 23. However their policy online said there was no charge for an under aged driver only for having more than one driver. Well that wanted to charge us almost double what we originally thought they would charge us so we decided to check Hertz. That failed since it wasn't even possible for us to rent a car through them and then we went to Avis which also failed. Budget ended up being our only option but it worked for the time being. We were charged the amount that they wanted to plus a ridiculous amount extra in case anything happened. It finally got to the point that we didn't care, we just wanted to get there; so two hours later we had our car and were on our way. Sarah was our driver and might I add the drivers around here are CRAZY!!! I can't believe there aren't more people killed around here but I guess they are all just used to it.

Anyway we drove up the Rift Valley right next to the Jordan border all the way to our cabin. Now our cabin was a bit expensive but it seemed worth it cause it was right on the water and the place had a jacuzzi and a sauna and a pool and a lounge area and we were just so excited! We got there when it was dark so it was hard to judge the place but at least from what we could see then it was not exactly what we were expecting. Anyway, we went and got stuff to make spaghetti and had dinner by candlelight. Then went to bed early and slept in like 4 hours past what we normally do! 9am.... it was great!!! It turns out that the pool was tiny and covered over a bit with a tarp, the sauna was also tiny, and the jacuzzi was a bathtub, and let's face it Arbel Homes is on top of a cliff about 15 minutes from any water.

We weren't terribly excited about staying there so after we got up and after some debate decided to check at another place we knew about in the area to see if we could stay there so by the time we had all of that figured out and had checked out of Arbel it was noon. We were a bit steamed up and frustrated with our situation by the time we got to our hiking destination only to find out that we weren't allowed to hike the way we wanted to cause it was too late in the day. So we only hiked about an hour both ways but our goal was a waterfall with a pool to swim in. Going there made our morning less frustrating. It was so hot out by the time we got there (about 90F) that we were tempted to jump right in but we walked back and forth trying to decide what we were going to do cause there was a bunch of Jewish guys there staring straight at us.... As usual but it was weirder since we were less modestly clad. We just bit the bullet and went in. It was freezing!!!! but worth it.

We moved to the other place right on the water and pretty much hung out near the water or in the dining room since meals were included or played cards. I haven't played that much euchre in a week as we did that week. We started giving out points to the winners for every game we won not that we ever did anything with it but it was fun anyway. The next couple days we just did all of the above, went to bed early, and woke up late. The day we planned to leave for Eilat turned out once again not as we were expecting.... but this post is long enough for now so you'll just have to be in suspense for a bit.

March 6, 2010

Wandering the Holy Land

We are soon off on our next adventure this time a smaller group of people as we head out on free travel however the experiences of the last two weeks will not easily be forgotten. While studying at Jerusalem University College we traveled throughout Israel and in and out of the West Bank studying various Biblical places at those various sites. Only a few afternoons and mornings were actually spent in class, learning the basics of the geography; the majority of the time was spent doing "field studies." It was very much a hands on look at the land God gave the Israelites and seeing the regions that many of the prophets as well as Jesus did their ministries.

The City of David, The Temple Mount, The Wailing Wall, The Garden of Gethsemane, The Holy Sepulcher (Calvary), The Mount of Olives, The Dead Sea, Masada, The Sea of Galilee and the surrounding area, Capernaum

All of these places and so many others it would take me more time than I currently have to try to explain everything. Pictures can only show the physical part of what these places present but knowing that you are in the fishing village where Jesus stayed with Peter during His ministry or sitting on the steps of the Temple knowing that Jesus came here during His pilgrimage to Jerusalem and condemned the religious leaders. I have inwardly experienced so much but no matter where we go or what we do I realize more and more that it is an incredible experience being here and I wouldn't trade it for anything but it has not affected the strength of my already present faith in Jesus. I'm not sure what I was expecting in that regard but I think I sort of hoped that seeing these places and studying them in relation to Scripture would somehow reinforce what I currently believe of Jesus but in fact it hasn't at all. I think in some ways it has made me question many things like where God's relationship with His people went post the New Testament and how this area can be in such turmoil and disarray and yet God made Himself known in the place before any other. I don't think I doubt so much as challenge myself to see Jesus in different ways.

I have learned though that it is better to not have any expectations before entering a trip like this because more often than not they will not be met it will either just be different or better than first imagined. I must say that I have had one disappointment when it comes to being in significant Biblical places. Everyone talked about going to Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus was crucified and buried and was resurrected. I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting the place to be like but it was much much different that what I wanted to see. So many of the Holy Places we have been to are now churches constructed over the top of the traditional site. So it was nothing unusual to see a massive church built around the hillside and tomb where the Crucifixion happened but as soon as I stepped inside what presented itself immediately rubbed me the wrong way. "Calvary" had been dug out of the mountain rock and was only a fashioned block of rock with icons and incense burners all around saying that this rock represents the place where Jesus died. And the tomb is a large gaudy free standing box similar to those I'd seen in Cairo that King Tut had been buried in with a tomb inside where Jesus was buried. Again the place was laden with icons and incense burners. These religious items are very common in the Middle East but it just a very materialistic setting.

I realized as I walked around the church that this might be the place where Jesus died for all people but it really doesn't matter that much. What matters is that He died and why, not the place it happened so much. God is within us not in the land and I think that is a huge reason why this land has been fought over for centuries. People want to control the place where God is but it is not in places where God dwells, it is in us. Something our teacher from JUC touched on, that was encouraging as we have learned about the history and modern issues of this area, was that God is present even when at present things don't seem to be going the way they should be. He will always be at work here and everywhere so don't give up on Him. This was our message from the top of Mt Carmel where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal and God revealed Himself to them but their response to Elijah made him run in fear.

I must continue challenging myself to look into Scripture to find the answers and not expect answers and reinforcement to come from the land.

March 5, 2010

JUC Adventures Began!

I have so much to talk about that I'm going to have to split this one up into a couple different posts even though it will be a couple days after I've done everything... if you catch my drift. 

And so the stories begin...

I started my class at JUC two weeks ago. At first I was a bit nervous and had no idea what to expect cause so many had said it's a really strenuous schedule and completely exhausting. However, I found it no more exhausting than the previous parts of our trip. In fact, I found it somewhat relaxing at times even though we were up and at it from 5:30 in the morning until between 4:30 and 6 in the evening. Most days I just came back, ate dinner, journaled, maybe used the computer and went to bed. There were some evenings in there that I went into the Old City of Jerusalem which I might add is a lot larger than I thought it was! It is absolute chaos as soon as you walk into the gate. There are shops and people all squished into tiny streets that wind up and down and all around.

(I'm not sure what happened to the rest of this post, sorry)