Russia Trip – Day 6

What you see in the morning on a walk...
What you see in the morning on a walk…

Our morning started off a little bit slower than normal.  We didn’t have any obligations until 1pm.  I went on my morning walk and came back to see if I could get the internet working at our end, and then met Drew and Nadia for breakfast in the hotel dining room.  I’m going to miss those breakfasts.  There are just way too many delicious things to choose from.


IMG_0703Since we had the morning off, we did a little site seeing in Kirovochepetsk.  I hadn’t been down to the big Russian Orthodox church by the river, so Drew and Nadia led the way.  It was actually quite a beautiful place.  And quite busy for a Saturday morning.  In one room they were baptizing babies, and just before we walked out, they walked in two open coffins for two older ladies who had died.  Quite fascinating to watch.

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We walked on to see the WWII memorial (every city in Russia has one – they lost millions and millions of soldiers in that war).

IMG_0726Then it was off to do a little more shopping.  Then we made our way to the big field where we had another baseball game set up.  Drew and I took turns pitching to the kids and giving them instructions as best we could.  You know what?  Baseball has an amazing amount of rules that can seem quite confusing to people who have never seen the game.  The difference between a forced out and tagging a runner, whether or not to run if the ball is hit in the air, balls and strikes, it can all seem quite confusing.  I imagine the kids might have thought Drew and I were just making up new rules as we went along.  But the kids did seem to love to play baseball.  After the game we headed back to the hotel to clean up a bit, then headed off to a quick lunch/dinner at the café next door.

IMG_0770We took a taxi to the Baptist center and Alexi and his crew had set up their music equipment outside and a small crowd was gathering.  Alexi and Laurin Harrison took turns playing songs and I got up for a few minutes in the middle to speak.  I shared briefly the parable that Jesus told in Luke 12 of the rich man who spent his life building bigger barns instead of building his life to live for God.  I told the audience about our experience with the coffins in the church earlier in the morning and reminded them that we will all die one day.  Are we ready to tell your maker what you’ve done with your life?  Alexi and Lauren did a few more songs and then we hung out with the crowd for awhile to talk and connect.  It was a good night.

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Yes, somebody found me some ice-cream!
Yes, somebody found me some ice-cream!

We’re now back at the hotel and are beginning to pack because tomorrow we start the long journey home.

This will probably be my last update until we actually get home.  Here’s what’s up for the next two days:  Early tomorrow (7am) we get picked up and will be taken to the city of Kirov (we’re currently in Kirovochepetsk).  Alexi and Natasha live in Kirov and there is a small church that meets in their home.  Alexi has asked everyone to come to a special church service at 8am so we can meet with the church, teach, and share communion.  Then Alexi will get us to the train station where our train leaves at 11am.  For some reason this will be an extra long train ride back to Moscow (3 hours longer than the usual train), but it’s so we can arrive in Moscow on Monday morning at 4am.  That will give us enough time to take another train to the airport, get checked in, and our flight leaves at 10am.  The first leg of the air journey goes to Amsterdam, where we have a 4 hour layover, then on to Milwaukee with another 3 hour layover, and then on to L.A. where we ought to arrive a little before midnight on Monday.

If you could keep Nadia in your prayers – she’s starting to feel a little feverish – there’s been a virus going around here – and we’ve got two solid days of travel ahead.

Russia Trip – Day 5

IMG_0640Sorry for the late post … been having some internet connection problems at my end … here’s what happened yesterday …

When I got up this morning, I checked my email and noticed that the church Ustream webcast was broadcasting, so I started my day off getting to see my son David teach the Thursday night study in Fullerton while I’m on the other side of the planet.  Wow.  After my morning walk, (I didn’t get lost this time) I met Drew and Nadia for breakfast in the hotel dining room.  They had the best spread yet for their buffet.  I thought that with today’s update, I’d include a little more about the food, so there’s a picture down there somewhere of my breakfast.  Double yum.  Alexi met us Around 10:00 and we sat together and talked for a couple of hours about pastoring and discipleship.

IMG_0644Then we walked over to the open air market to do some shopping.  I have found out this trip that Nadia likes to shop.  I’m thinking of suggesting a new cable TV show called “Shopping with Nadia”.  She’s the best.  Alexi’s son Illya found some Spiderman pajamas … go figure.  Alexi left us to work on getting set up for the evening while Drew, Nadia, Laurah Ward and myself had lunch at a small cafeteria.

IMG_0649My entre was a chicken thing covered with a cheese coating, and it was delicious.  I even had an orange Fanta in honor of our good friend and mentor George Bryson (who likes to drink Fanta in Russia, but don’t tell his wife Debi).  We had a bit of a break in the afternoon, and I took a two hour nap.  I think I was more tire than I realized.


Olesya loves Minnie Mouse
A few of the kids that came to the coffee house night

About 6pm we headed off to the Baptist family center where the evening had been set up for a “coffee house” night.  There were about twenty kids that showed up.  Alexi had an evening planned with games, music, and food.  We got to see some old friends that we hadn’t seen in a couple of years (like Vika and Jenya) and were surprised to hear stories from some of the young men and women that we’ve met over the past few years and how they had been impacted by our ministry here.  You never know what will happen with the seeds you plant.  It was quite amazing to hear what God has been doing.  After the meeting ended, we went back to the hotel by taxi only to find that the restaurants were no longer open, and we hadn’t had dinner yet.  It seems that most of Kirovochepetsk closes down by 8:00pm, and it was close to 9.  We found a market that was open late, bought some great Russian bread, meat, and cheese, and headed back to our hotel to make sandwiches.  It’s now off to bed – tomorrow is going to be a packed day with more baseball, another coffee house night, and a chance to share Christ with some of the new kids.  We sure appreciate your prayers…


Old Friends
Old Friends


Russia Trip Day 4

I think it’s Thursday, and that means this must be our fourth day.  Had a great sleep last night – nice bed, quiet room, no airplane noise and no bouncing from the train on its tracks.  Got up early this morning and even went on a morning walk, first time in four days.  Now some of you know how easy it is for me to get lost in a strange place, but I went out on my own to walk the streets of Kirov.  I even made it all the way down to the river (see picture).  When I started on my way back, I thought I had memorized all the turns and while I was still waiting to make my last right turn, I ended up back at the hotel.  I don’t know if you could say I got lost or not.  I actually didn’t know where I was, but I ended up right where I was supposed to be.  I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I think I’m a little too tired to figure it out.  After getting back to the hotel and a quick shower, I met Drew and Nadia in the hotel dining room and we had a great breakfast.  I had some cottage cheese pancake thingys, a blintz filled with yummy stuff, yogurt, pastry, pasta, and a sausage that looked more like a hotdog.  It was a great breakfast.  We met up with Alexi at 10:00 and headed over to the cafe next door to sip coffee and talk about pastor-kinds-of-things.  I am so proud of Alexi and and quite excited about what could be up ahead for him and his church.  We stayed at the cafe for lunch, and then went back to the hotel to get ready for the afternoon event – a baseball outreach.  Alexi and Laurin Harrison had already begun to work with a group of teenagers, starting them on the basics of American baseball.  The kids were kind of amazing.  I was thinking we’d need to have them hitting off of a tee, but instead they were hitting pitches over the back wall.  I think the Angels should send a scout or two to Kirovochepetsk.  Even Alexi’s little son Illya was crushing the ball.  Somebody send Mike Scoscia a note.  Laurin Harrison is an American missionary working in St. Petersburg, and he is amazing with the kids.  We spent a couple of hours playing ball, giving catching tips, hitting tips, and reviewing rules like when to run on a hit and when to stay on your base.  After the game we had a chance to let the kids know why we had come from America to play baseball with them – because we have seen God change our lives, and we wanted to share God’s love with them.

After going back to the hotel to freshen up a bit, we headed back to the Baptist family center where we had a chance to meet with some of the folks from Alexi’s church.  I taught on 1Corinthians 13, and the importance of learning how to love others – in fact Jesus told us that if we would learn how to love each other like He loves us, the world would know that we are HIS disciples.  By about 8:00pm Drew, Nadia, and I were getting a bit hungry, so we headed back to the cafe next to the hotel where we had a great dinner.  I had this chicken and mushroom Americanski dish thing, while Drew and Nadia had shalishkivi (sp?) kind of like shish-kabob. All very yummy.

Our plans for tomorrow include more time with Alexi, a picnic, and maybe some kind of an outreach concert.  I’ll let you know what we actually do tomorrow…

Keep us in your prayers!  Here are some of the pictures from today…

Spiderman is the key to getting Illya to smile …
Down by the old river in Kirovochepetsk
Down by the old river in Kirovochepetsk
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Laurin pitches to Nikita
Some of the kids who came to play baseball.
Some of the kids who came to play baseball.


Drew shows Illya how to catch with a mit.
Drew shows Illya how to catch with a mit.






Russia Trip Days 1-3

Well, we have made it to our destination – Kirovochepetsk, Russia.  It took three plane flights (LA to Cincinnati to Paris to Moscow) and an overnight train (Moscow to Kirov) but we have made it.  Our airplane flights went well – we even stretched our legs out on our transatlantic leg since the cabin wasn’t very full and were able to get an hour or two of rest.  We have a few hours to burn in Moscow, and met up with some dear friends of Drew and Nadia for dinner.  After dinner we had to dodge some raindrops and puddles when we were surprised by a sudden downpour.  We were all so exhausted from our airplane flights that we slept fairly soundly last night in our Orient-Express style sleeper cabin on the train.  We were met at the train station by a smiling Alexi.  It’s great to see old friends.  This afternoon we spent some time in the city of Kirov doing some souvenir shopping and had lunch in a downtown cafe.  Then we were shuttled to Kirovochepetsk (about ten miles east of Kirov) where we checked into our hotel rooms and I had my first shower in two days.  By 5:00 Alexi and his team arrived at our hotel and we walked over to a building that Alexi has been renting space in, a family fitness center owned by the Baptists.  We had our first meeting with Alexi and his team – I taught a few minutes from Acts 2:42, and then we spent a good hour or so finding out about the state of things in Kirov and Kirovochepetsk.  It was a very profitable time – you can find out so much more in person in an hour with translators than you can with years on Skype.  I am looking forward to what’s ahead for the week.  I’ll be spending my mornings with Alexi – getting some much needed one-on-one time with our beloved Russian pastor.  We’ve got a baseball outreach planned for the afternoon, and then another church meeting/fellowship/Bible Study with the church in the evening … but I’ll tell you about all that tomorrow.  Here’s some pictures from the last couple of days …











Israel Trip – Day 11 – November 16 – Wednesday

This day is not only our last touring day, but it’s also the same day we head home.

We started the morning with a rare event.  Bethlehem.  Over the last decade or so, things have not been so good between the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority that runs the West Bank and Gaza.  One of the results of those tensions has been the elimination of the tourist industry in Bethlehem.  It hasn’t been impossible to visit Israel, but it has been rare.  Over the last year a new program has been started where 50 Israeli tour guides were licensed to bring tour groups into Bethlehem, and our guide Miriam is one of those tour guides.  We drove the bus up to the Palestinian check point and had to get off the bus, walk through the checkpoint, and hop on a Palestinian bus with a Palestinian driver.  I imagine it was a little like crossing into eastern Europe in the days of the Cold War.  Huge walls, barbed wire, armed guards.  Quite a trip.  Bethlehem is the place where Jesus was born, the place where King David was born, and the place where Ruth met and married Boaz.  We visited a site that had a big church as well as caves in the hillside, the kind of caves that Jesus would have been born in (a “manger” in those days wasn’t a barn, but a cave).  We then drove to the famous Church of the Nativity where the world watches by TV every Christmas.  The place was packed with visitors.  One of the things that the pilgrims do there is to stand in line to kiss the silver star that is supposedly the place where Jesus was born.  There must have been two thousand people in line, and I imagine they would be standing there all day. We never felt unsafe in Bethlehem, but when it was all over and we were back on Israeli soil, we did breathe a collective sigh of relief.

While driving from Bethlehem back to Jerusalem (about six miles), we pulled off the road and Miriam had us get off the bus to show us a treat.  A few years ago while working to expand the highway, workers uncovered the remains of a famous Byzantine church that had been lost in history.  There were various references to the place by ancient historians, but nobody knew where it was.  It supposedly was built to commemorate a supposed place where Joseph and Mary stopped on their way to Bethlehem.  The site hasn’t been excavated, there are just some rocks poking through the surface and if you look close you can see remnants of the ancient tile flooring.

Our next stop was lunch.  We stopped at a kibbutz near Jerusalem and had a buffet lunch.  By the time we finished lunch, it was starting to rain again.

Our next stop was Mount Zion.  We visited the St. Peter Gallicantu church – built to memorialize the time when Peter denied Jesus three times and the rooster crowed (“Galliicantu”).  The church is pretty impressive –it’s one of those buildings that stands out when you look at Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  But even better than the church, there are structures beneath the church that scholars think might be the location of Caiphas’ house – where Jesus stood on trial before Caiaphas.  In particular, there is a room like a dungeon, thought to be where Jesus waited before His trial.

The next stop was the “Upper Room” and the tomb of David.  It’s a strange coincidence that they are in the same building.  The “Upper Room” is on the second floor.  This is not the actual Upper Room where Jesus had the Last Supper (it dates much later than Jesus’ day), but it certainly gives you an idea of what the room might have looked like.  The tomb of David is a special place for Jews, they go there to pray.

Our next objective was to get to the Garden Tomb on the other side of the city.  The traffic was really bad.  It was raining.  We were running late.  But it is the highlight of every trip to Israel to visit this place that is one of the possible locations of the empty tomb of Jesus.  Discovered in the 19th century, this location has some things in its favor over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  But I’m not sure anyone can definitely say which is the correct location.  All we know is that the tomb is empty.  Jesus rose from the dead.  The Garden Tomb is a beautiful location.  Instead of a church being built on the site, its kept as a beautiful garden.  We had a short message by Terry followed by communion.  Oh, and it was pouring rain.  Pouring.

Our last stop before heading for the airport was a restaurant where we had dinner.  Mediterranean food – pita bread, falafel, and skewers of roast chicken.

We got to the airport about three hours before we left, but I think we could have used a little more time.  Israeli security is extremely thorough.  There are profilers working their way through the line asking various people questions about their stay.  Your check-in luggage is run through a security scanner, and if they see something they don’t like, you have to open it for them and they go through your stuff in front of you. About half of the people had their luggage searched.  But despite the hastle, you know you are flying safe, and we made it to our flight just in time.

It’s twelve hours to Philadelphia, then a two hour layover where you have to get through Passport control, customs, recheck your luggage, and get to your connecting flight.  We actually made it through with time to spare.  I’m typing this as we are on our final leg, six hours from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where we are greatly looking forward to seeing our loved ones and sleeping in our own beds.

It’s been a great trip.  We’ve made some great friends from the churches at Anaheim, Fremont, and Eugene.  Again we have been reminded that you don’t get closer to God by going to Israel.  You are just as close in Fullerton.  But in Israel the Bible comes alive.  I’m sure that more than a few of my fellow travelers will never read their Bibles the same again.

Israel Trip – Day 10 – November 15 – Tuesday

This was the day that had been set aside as our “free day”.  Basically that means that you could do whatever you wanted to do for the entire day, as long as you let someone know what you were doing.  Some went off to explore Jerusalem, others to do some shopping.  A group of us wanted to do the famous “Hezekiah’s Tunnel”, a tunnel constructed at the direction of King Hezekiah about 2700 years ago through 1500 feet of solid rock.  It was an ancient feat of engineering skill.  The tunnel connects the Gihon Spring with the Pool of Siloam, and the intent was to bring water into the city of Jerusalem and keep it out of the Assyrian hands when they came to besiege Jerusalem.  It’s a forty-five minute walk through a totally dark tunnel (you carry flashlights with you) that has water running through it.  A few times the water got up to our thighs, but most of the time the water was about halfway up your calf.  David and I had prepared by bringing tennis shoes that would dry quickly.  Others brought water shoes or flip-flops.  At times the ceiling gets kind of low and if you’re not careful you will scrape your head on the top (I wore my Angels’ cap).  There are also times when you are walking bent over because the ceiling is low.  And it’s also fairly warm and humid in the tunnel, despite the cool water running over your feet.  Once we got to the pool of Siloam, we hiked back up towards the Temple Mount, stopping to take a peek at the ruins of King David’s palace complex.

When we got to the Temple Mount, some of us went into the area known as the Southern Excavation Park.  A lot has been uncovered since I was here three years ago.  The area covers the southwest corner of the Temple Mount and around to the southern side of the Temple Mount.  All kinds of cisterns, miqvaot (ritual bathing pools), and storehouses have been uncovered.  Also a wall dating back to the time of David has been uncovered as well (the Ophel).  David and I explored, climbed, and took lots of pictures.  We also took a stroll along the top of a section of the wall around Jerusalem.  From there we headed off to explore Jerusalem.  We visited the Wohl Museum – some homes of wealthy people, the ruins of which date back to the time Christ.  We had pizza.  We drank coffee.  We walked through just about every inch of the huge Jerusalem bazaar.  At 5:00pm we met up with Terry and his son John-Mark and Tim in order to have a special dinner.  We had been invited to the home of our wonderful tour guide Miriam and her husband Arik.  Miriam cooked a wonderful Hungarian meal for us and we all talked and laughed.  A wonderful evening.  We’re now back at the hotel and getting ready for tomorrow’s journey.  We have one more day of touring left, including a surprise trip to the city of Bethlehem.  Not many tours get into Bethlehem, but our guide Miriam is one of the few guides who is licensed to take tours into this Palestinian city.  We are all on pins and needles about the prospect.  Tomorrow’s adventure will end at the airport with our flight leaving just before midnight and arriving at home sometime on Thursday.  I’ll try and get one more update out tomorrow, but don’t hold your breath – it all depends on how much time I get and whether or not I have an internet connection.  We certainly are going to be taking back a lifetime of memories.

Israel Trip – Day 09 – November 14 – Monday

We’re beginning to see the end of our trip in sight.  One of the ways of knowing this is to see the diminishing number of clean clothes available to wear.  What seemed like a huge number of shirts to choose from each morning is now getting down to the last couple of shirts.  We’ve got today, tomorrow, and then Wednesday  before we head home late Wednesday night (flying all night and arriving on Thursday).

We got to have a “normal” start day, meaning we had breakfast at 6:30am and
meet on the bus by 8:00.  Our bus driver  Gabby drove us up to the top of the Mount of Olives where we could see the  classic view of Jerusalem.  And there  were a LOT of busses there.  We are  amazed at Gabby’s driving skills.  He is  a man with great skill.  A huge bus  navigating tiny narrow streets with cars and busses who don’t seem intimidated  by the size of our bus.  We all gave  Gabby our thanks as he let us off at the Mount of Olives.

The view of Jerusalem from the Mount
of Olives
is spectacular.  Immediately in front of you are the thousands of Jewish graves, then the  Kidron Valley, and across the small valley is the Temple Mount. From the Mount  of Olives you are standing just about even with the Dome of the Rock.  You can see most of the other major landmarks  in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives as well – the Church of the Holy  Sepulcher, Caiphas’ House, the ancient city of David, and the Valley of Hinnom (also known as Gehenna).  After taking  our pictures we began our walk down the “Palm Sunday Road”, which is just a narrow alley lined with 12 foot stone  walls on either side.  The road is downhill, and very steep.  There’s a brief stopping point halfway down where there’s a church to commemorate Jesus weeping over the city of Jerusalem.  There is also a small building where you can see some of the ancient ossuaries (“bone boxes”) that date back to the time of Jesus.  At the bottom of the hill is the Garden of Gethsemane.

The Garden of Gethsemane  has some pretty huge and ancient olive trees, still growing, and some perhaps dating back to the time of Jesus.  There’s a famous church at the Garden known as the “Church of the Nations”.  One of my favorite signs is outside that church, “No Explanations Inside the Church”. It’s kind of an odd thing to have on a church.  I think a church ought to be a place where
you find explanations (though to be fair, it’s simply to remind the various tour guides not to go inside the church and talk).  We also went down the street a bit to the Grotto of Gethsemane, where
there are two more churches – one a Catholic church located in a cave, and the
other an ancient Crusader church that’s in another larger cave.

After Gethsemane, we made the hike up the other side of the Kidron Valley to the Lion’s Gate (also known as the “Sheep Gate” and “Stephen’s Gate”) where we entered into the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem, including the various stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa.
Our first stop was at the Pools of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man who was lame. We know the location of the pools, but they are a pile of ruins from
Byzantine and Crusader times.  Terry gave
a Bible Study at the site, talking about the man who was healed at Bethesda.  His point was that even though the man didn’t receive the healing he longed for in the way he expected, he did meet Jesus and Jesus healed him.  Sometimes we believers think that God can’t work in certain ways, or at certain churches, but we may be surprised to know the Jesus shows up at some of those locations and Jesus meets us there.  After looking at the ruins, we made our way into the Crusader church,  St. Anne’s, and sang some songs.  St. Anne’s is famous for its acoustics that can make any music sound beautiful.  It was here that we caught our first little sprinkles.

We continued along the Via Dolorosa and stopped at the Sisters of Zion convent.  In the basement are some stones that date back to the time of Christ.
When the stones were discovered, it was originally thought that this spot was the same as the Antonio Fortress (or, “Praetorium”).  One of the stones even has etchings in it of a common Roman game that soldiers played.  Kind of like a Monopoly board carved in stone.  We now know that those stones are of the time of Christ, but the spot is actually located just outside of Antonio Fortress.  The Sisters were close, but “missed it by that much”.

We then continued back on the Via
.  We walked through the
various market streets of Jerusalem.  And
boy were those streets crowded!  Shoulder
to shoulder sometimes making our way down the street on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  This is one of the oldest and most famous churches in Christianity.  The traditional view is that this building houses not only the place where Jesus was crucified, but the tomb as well.  It’s a huge structure and is looked over (or fought over) by six different Christian churches.  One of the things we saw was a little room off to the side where there are other first century tombs that had
been discovered at the same location.

Our next stop was lunch.  We all squeezed into a little restaurant that had been reserved for us.  The choice was chicken shwarma or falafel.  David and I had the shwarma.  Messy but yummy.  Our next adventure was to navigate the shop streets back out the Jaffa Gate to meet the bus.  As we passed through the gate, the heavens
broke loose and the rain began to pour.  Some of us had brought our umbrellas, but even those of who were prepared got a bit wet before we could deploy the umbrellas.  Within two minutes we were on  the bus and drying off.

Our next stop was the Israeli Museum and the Shrine of the Book.  There is a magnificent model of Jerusalem, picturing the city in the year 44AD.  It’s a great tool to get the lay of the land in Jesus’ day.  I often like to show pictures of this very model when I’m teaching about Jesus being in Jerusalem.  It’s almost like getting a helicopter shot of the city.  And it’s pretty big, built to a 1/50 scale.  The
Shrine of the Book is a museum dedicated to the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There is the story of the Qumran community as well as fragments of scrolls, and the entire scroll of the book of Isaiah.  It’s a pretty impressive tribute to the Bible.  Before heading back to the bus, we stumbled on a snack bar and scored some cappuccinos to warm us up.

At dinner we sat with Terry and his son John-Mark.  I’ll let you guess what John-Mark thought of the pink mystery dessert he tried.  We’re now getting ready for bed while the wind is howling outside our 12th story window.  It’s quite a storm brewing up tonight, but supposedly it will stop by
tomorrow.  Tomorrow is our “free day” where we are hoping to walk through the famous “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” and beyond that …  who knows???

Israel Trip – Day 08 – November 13 – Sunday

We had another early start day today.  Breakfast was back to a regular full Israeli breakfast (as compared to the Shabbat breakfast).  I had an egg dish that had a spicy tomato sauce (at least I can say I tried it), along with scrambled eggs, yogurt, pancakes, and … well I took more than I actually ate – there’s so much good looking food on buffet line that it takes discipline to not take one of everything … a discipline I’m working on.

We got on the bus by 7:15am to get a head start on getting onto the Temple Mount.  There is a security line you have to stand in to get onto the Temple Mount, and it takes time.  We were in line for probably forty-five minutes before making onto the Temple Mount.  Our guide Miriam did a great job explaining the various buildings and practices that go on at the Temple Mount.  There’s the huge Al Aksa mosque, the Dome of the Rock, and lots of little domes all over the place.  There were open air Koran classes going on while we were there.  Islam has a different take on most things – instead of Abraham sacrificing Isaac on Mount Moriah (which is the Temple Mount), they say that it was Ishmael.  The Dome of the Rock was built over a large rock that was supposedly the place of the attempted sacrifice.  The majority view in Judaism is that this is also the location of the Jewish Temple, and the “rock” is also the location of the Holy of Holies.  One of the little shrines is called the Dome of the Spirits, and some say that there is a possibility that it is the location of the Jewish Holy of Holies, partly because of the ancient bedrock that still shows at the bottom of the shrine, as well as it’s location being in a direct line with the Eastern Gate, whereas the Dome of the Rock is not correctly aligned.

We exited the Temple Mount through a gate that led down a Muslim quarter shop street and made our way around the bottom of the Temple Mount and then to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall.  Once this was the only part of the Second Temple that was visible, and is held as a holy place for the Jews.  People pray at the Wall, some even put printed prayer requests into the cracks.  When Israel recaptured the entire city of Jerusalem in the 1967 war, they cleared out a section of the area and turned it into a big open air synagogue.  It’s a beautiful place.  It’s also fascinating to watch people pray at the Wall.

Next we got back on the bus for a quick trip up the hill to the Jewish Quarter where we got a peek at the “Broad Wall”, a wall that dates back to the time of King Hezekiah as he fortified the city’s defenses against the Assyrian threat.  Then we walked to a shop called “Shorashim”, run by two orthodox Jewish brothers.  The fascinating thing about the shop is not just the things you can buy there, but that these fellows love to talk to Christians and dialog about our two faiths.  It was really quite a fascinating time, listening to an Orthodox Jewish perspective on God.

For lunch, we scattered throughout the Jewish Quarter.  David and I settled for the schwarma – don’t ask me what it is, but it is good.  Some kind of roasted meat along with potatoes, falafel, “salad” (veggies), all wrapped up in a large piece of pita bread – kind of like a double sized burrito from Chipotle.  Really, really good.

Our next stop is known as the “Burnt House”.  It’s actually located under some existing buildings.  The excavation places the house back in the first century to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem.  The artifacts discovered tell us that the family living there were priests in the Temple.  There is even a twenty minute video drama presentation of what it must have been like in that house on the day that the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.

Next stop was a peek at the “Cardo”, the downtown shopping district of ancient Jerusalem.  The area was lined with shops in ancient days, and today the city of Jerusalem has rebuilt part of the shop area and filled it with modern shops.

Then we headed back to the area of the Western Wall where we entered what is known as the “Rabbi’s Tunnel”.  It’s a peek at the excavation that has gone on around the Temple Mount, and specifically opening up a tunnel that runs along the base of the Temple Mount, kind of extending the idea of the Western Wall under an area of the city that has all kinds of buildings covering it.  I’ve been in the Rabbi’s tunnel before, but only went half way before turning around.  This time we went the full length of the tunnel, all the way up to where the Antonio Fortress was in ancient days.  One of the places you pass in the tunnel is considered the closest place to where the ancient Holy of Holies was in the days of the Temple.

Our last stop of the day was to head to the other side of town and visit Yad Vashem, the world famous Holocaust memorial.  We only had an hour and a half to walk through the museum, a place you could spend days in.  It traces the rise of Hitler and the ensuing catastrophe that descended upon the Jewish people in Europe.  It’s filled with eye-witness testimony – survivors telling the stories of what happened to their families as the Jews were rounded up and sent to the various death camps.  Pictures, video, articles of clothing.  It’s an incredibly moving experience.  I saw people at the end in tears as the enormity of the evil of Naziism begins to dawn on them.  It makes the miracle of the existence of the nation of modern Israel an even greater miracle when you see what the Jewish people have survived.  If you visit Israel, you must see this place.

Next we headed back to our bus, back to the hotel, and then dinner.  David spotted a corner of the room that had a burger set up.  All is good.

Tomorrow we plan on visiting the Christian quarter of Jerusalem.  And it looks like we’ve got some rain in our forecast.  See you tomorrow.

Israel Trip – Day 07 – November 12 – Saturday

Today started just a tad early as we wanted to get on our way to the Dead Sea.  It’s still the Sabbath (“Shabbat”), so breakfast looked a little different.  You aren’t supposed to light any fires on the Sabbath, so any hot dishes are prepared the night before, and the rest is cold food.  David called it a “continental” breakfast.  I had a boiled egg, a brownish square pastry thingy that was quite good and just enough sweet, a croissant stuffed with cream cheese, yogurt, and a roll with strawberry jam.

Our bus took us to Qumran first.  Qumran is the place where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.  And yes, it is located on the northwest coast of the Dead Sea.  We saw a short film describing the life of the people who lived in Qumran, the “yekha” people, sometimes referred to as the Essenes.  Most think they were almost like a monastery, devoted to worshipping God and copying the Scriptures.  Some think that John the Baptist might have been a part of their community for a time.  The most awesome thing about this community was the fact that they preserved the Scriptures so well.  Their community was destroyed by the Romans in the first century, but the copies they made of the Scriptures lasted for two thousand years.  And best of all, it shows us that the Old Testament in our modern Bibles is pretty darn accurate.  You can trust the Bible.

Our next stop was further south along the Dead Sea, the great fortress called Masada.  Built by Herod the Great as both an escape and vacation spot, it is located on an isolated 1500 foot tall plateau.  You get to the top by way of a cable car.  Herod built a magnificent complex with two palaces that is quite phenomenal.  The southern palace was built right on the side of the cliff in three levels cascading down the cliff.  How they did it is beyond me.  I wonder how many slaves died in the building of that place.  You might remember that movie from a few years ago (“Masada”) about the place.  After Herod’s death, the place had been abandoned until around 70AD when the Jewish rebels against the Roman Empire fled and hid out there.  Almost a thousand lived on top of this plateau, surviving off the giant stores of food that Herod had left there.  In order for the Romans to conquer the place, they built a huge earthen ramp up the backside, then brought up their giant siege weapons to breech the wall.  But when they finally succeeded in entering the compound, all the Jews had killed themselves.  They would rather die than face slavery at the hands of the Romans.  Quite a statement.  Today the modern Israeli army uses the Masada story to be their motivation that they would never again be in a situation that required such dire measures.  After touring the complex, we had lunch at the bottom and spent a few minutes in the souvenir shop.

Our next stop was En Gedi (or “Ein Gedi”).  This was the place where David hid while he was being pursued by King Saul.  Located north of Masada along the Dead Sea, En Gedi is a sort of oasis.  Its name means “spring of the young goat” after the spring that feeds a streams and waterfalls that work their way down a canyon toward the Dead Sea.  The canyon is a beautiful place to hike and contains all sorts of treats – amazing greenery that contrasts to the drab desert that surrounds the Dead Sea.  Animal life includes the little “coney” (looks kind of like a big hamster) and the ibex, a type of mountain goat that lives in the area.  Before hiking up the canyon, David led us in worship with his guitar and I taught a little from the story of David hiding in a cave from Saul.  En Gedi was a place where David had to learn how to deal with his enemies – by putting his messy situation into God’s hands.  It’s about a forty five minute hike up the canyon to the “David Waterfall”, a gorgeous location.  But then you also have to hike back out of the canyon to get to the bus.

After En Gedi, we made a quick stop at a county beach along the Dead Sea.  Some of the folks on the tour had wanted to float in the Dead Sea, and they got their chance.  It is quite a kick as you sit in down in the water and find that you can’t sink.  The water of the Dead Sea is supposed to be good for your skin, but not for your eyes (ouch!).  It also leaves you with a bit of a slimy feel, so it’s good that they supply showers to rinse off afterwards.

It’s about an hour to get back to the hotel in Jerusalem, where we had a great dinner and are not getting ready to settle in for the night.  Tomorrow is another extra early start – we’re going to go on the Temple Mount and walk through Old Jerusalem tomorrow.  Ought to be an awesome time.  More tomorrow!!

Israel Trip – Day 06 – November 11 – Friday

Before I get started about today’s activities, let me say a few words about last night.  We boarded the bus at 7:00pm and Gabby our bus driver drove us into the city of Tiberias, just south of us along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Awaiting us at the docks was one of the Israeli Galilee Tour boat.  We got into the boat and headed out into the lake.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it yet, but the “Sea” of Galilee is what you and I would call a large lake.  In Hebrew, there is not much difference in the words used to describe a body of water that is salt water, fresh water, big, or large.  It’s all called a “sea”.  But for us English folks, it’s really just a big lake.  At night, besides a few scattered lights along the bank, the majority of lights that you see come from the city of Tiberias.  It looks like a beautiful gem sparkling in the night.  We had really nice weather.  It was warm enough to go without a jacket if you wanted to.  We motored about twenty minutes off shore and the captain cut the engines.  Pastor Tim Brown led us in a time of worship while Pastor Terry Dawson gave us some directions through the evening in regards to prayer and communion.  Not too different from what we do on Sunday nights.  After a beautiful time with the Lord, the captain fired up the engines and took us back to Tiberias.  It was a sweet time.  I have to tell you that Terry has so much experience and wisdom in travelling in Israel that this trip is turning out to be not only unique in the sites we’ve been visiting, but pretty there’s been some good thought and prayer put into the organization of the trip.  I for one have been learning a lot.

Now, back to Friday morning.  We got up a tad earlier since we were going to be packing up and leaving the Galilee and heading up north to Jerusalem.  An early breakfast, bags loaded on the bus, and made a quick stop at Yardenit, a traditional baptism site at the Jordan River here the river first leaves the Sea of Galilee.  We’ve done baptisms there before, and it’s a beautiful site – lots of water, green trees, even little otter like creatures swimming in the water.  We let the folks make a quick stop at a gift shop, but we weren’t going to do any baptizing there this day.  That would come later.

Next it was off to Beit Shean.  If you’ve ever been to Israel, you know that Beit Shean is the jewel of the archaeological sites.  It’s one of those “wow” places.  They run things a little differently than in the past and you have to park a bit away from the park and they shuttle you to and from the parking area in a cool little tram. As far as the “wow” – when we pulled up and walked through the gate, you could see it in the faces of all the first timers.  Beit Shean is huge.  You could spend days there and probably never see it all.  We had about an hour and a half.  The ancient part of the city, up on the “tel”, dates back to the time of King Saul.  When King Saul died in battle on Mount Gilboa, the Philistines hung his body on the walls of Beit Shean.  But the treasures that have been dug up involve the Roman city of Jesus’ day, located at the bottom of the hill.  Beit Shean was destroyed by an earthquake around 700AD, and the way it was destroyed pretty much preserved the overall city.  There’s a large downtown street lined with columns and shops.  There’s a huge Roman community bath house, a temple to Dionysus, reflecting pool, public lavatory, and an outdoor theater the size of Caesarea.  Some of the more adventurous and hardy men of our group hiked up to the top of the hill while the rest of us followed Miriam our guide through the rest of the city.  Amazing stuff.  I’ve got some pictures here, but it doesn’t do it justice.

From Beit Shean we made our way down the valley between hills of Gilboa and Moreh to Ein Harod, the spring where Gideon chose his army to fight the Midianites.  Read Judges 6-8 to get a picture of the place we had our lunch.  Our lunch was a box lunch provided by our kibbutz back at Nof Ginosaur.  Corned beef, grape leaf wrapped thingies, fresh fruit, cucumber, tomato, fresh water, and a candy bar.  A lot to fit in a tiny box.  Back to Ein Harod – the story of Gideon comes alive a bit more when you’ve been at the place and can see how close the Midianites were at the time.  While the group ate lunch I had the privilege of teaching a Bible Study – teaching from 2Corinthians 4 and tying in the ideas there with the story of Gideon – both passages talk about glory, light, and clay pots.  It’s how God allows others to see the light of the gospel through our brokenness.

After lunch we got back on the bus and made our way south along the Jordan River valley.  The further south you travel, the less green things are.  It’s not long before you realize just how much of Israel is a desert.  Terry is an adventurous guy, and we were privileged to get into the southern baptism site that has just opened up near Jericho.  It is right on the border between Israel and Jordan, and I mean RIGHT AT THE BORDER.  We crossed the Israeli checkpoint and headed into the buffer zone between the two countries.  The river is the border.  This new site has just been opened up in a new agreement between the two countries.  The facilities seem pretty new, and not quite as fancy and developed as Yardenit.  In fact the Jordan River isn’t as pretty as it is up in Galilee.  The water is pretty muddy looking.  There are flies buzzing everywhere.  But it is the very area where John the Baptist was baptizing people.  It’s in the area where Jesus Himself was baptized by John.  It’s the real deal.  We had David lead in worship while Tim Brown and myself had the privilege of baptizing some of the folks in our group.  I got to go first and baptize the whole Mays family (Derrell, Mary, Derrell Jr., Denise), Heather Waxham, and some of our new friends from Calvary Anaheim – Lynne, Priscilla, Perfecto, Cheyenne, and Gloria.  It was pretty hot outside – remember that it’s out in the desert – but the water was … FREEZING!!!  I thought I was going to die the deeper I got into the river!!  Woohoo!!!  Freezing but GOOD.  Actually, the longer I was out in the water, the better it got, though I wonder if that was just my body getting numb!  What an honor to be a part of a special moment in the lives of some pretty cool people.  Pastor Tim had the honor of baptizing Andy and Christine as well.  Very moving stuff.

After getting back on the bus, we made our way up to Jerusalem.  Since the area of Jericho is at the lowest place on the planet, and since Jerusalem sits at about 2700 feet, you are going “up”.  There’s a tunnel the main highway goes through to get to the city, and you could hear a collective “wow” on the bus as we emerged from the tunnel on Mount Scopus with a view of Jerusalem.  We stopped at an outlook and took lots of pictures – but we’re going to see a lot more of Jerusalem in the coming days.

We’re now checked in to our hotel, the Ramada.  David and I are up on the 13th floor, and we’ve got dinner in about a half hour.  One more interesting note, “Shabbat” has begun – Friday at sundown things work differently in Jerusalem.  The Sabbath rules come into play and we’re going to get an experience of a real “Shabbat”.  I wonder what’s for dinner…

Tomorrow is a Dead Sea adventure day – Qumran, Masada, and Ein Gedi.  See you tomorrow!