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!