I am hastily typing a blog this morning because last night I decided getting some sleep was more important. Currently I am sitting out on a small balcony overlooking some of the ancient walls surrounding the Old City. Rusty Brock is sharing the other half of the table doing pretty much the same thing – blogging to his church family (in between checking NFL scores). The morning is beautiful complete with crisp air that betrays the heat I am hearing about in Georgia. In just a few minutes I will make my way downstairs to enjoy a breakfast. Though there will be plenty of fresh fruits and whole grains, I will focus on whatever is fried or covered in honey or both. My attending doctors are happy to note that our dinners are quite sensible. Usually the main dish is fish of some sort, lentils and sweet potatoes as sides and a fresh green salad. Oh, and then we are served a molten lava cake (we cannot be all good all the time, even in the Holy Land).
Thankfully I had a great night’s rest and so I was more than ready for the wake up call at 6am to begin another great day for our Holy Land wanderings. Outside our hotel windows we share lovely views of the city including glowing sunrises.
We boarded our bus driven by our capable driver Moddi who has taken loving care getting us from one place to another while driving through narrow streets and harrowing curves. I have watched him make u-turns and parallel park – amazing! Following a prayer where we remembered First Baptist that would soon be in worship, we began our touring by visiting the Temple Mound area, which is such an extraordinary and grand place to visit. The gold dome of the Dome of the Rock was shimmering along with its many tiles. This Dome was built in the seventh century on top of the rock where Muslims believe Abraham attempted to sacrifice Ishmael (not Isaac, as Jews and Christians believe.) The Temple Mound is also the location of Solomon’s Temple and Herod’s Temple.
It was just a bit of a walk from there to go to the famous and highly visited Western Wall of the Temple Mound. It is the only structure remaining from Herod’s Temple that stood during the days of Jesus. Out of tradition prayers are written on slips of paper and then inserted in the tiny cracks and seams of the stone blocks. As I was praying at the wall there were many orthodox Jews bowing and moving as they recited prayers from the Torah. Each day nations all over the world are represented alongside this wall. It is the wall that Jesus passed many times on the way to worship at a Temple where he reminded all that this was a house of prayer for all nations. This visit was a highlight for many in our group. Next we visited the City of David and viewed ruins dating back to the 12th century BC, during the era of King David. Truly this is an ancient place.
We returned to our bus to take a short ride across to the Mount of Olives. Across the Valley of Ghenna and half way up we stopped to take pictures of the city of Jerusalem on the side of the eastern wall. There was also a kind group of me who owned a camel. Apparently it has been the lifelong dream of many in our group to ride a camel, and so for the next ten minutes grown adults were giggling and hooting as one by one they climbed upon or were hoisted on the protruding hump of that old camel. Riding a camel would be much too undignified for a pastor (although Rusty was the first to get in line), but when the camel owner (or maybe it is operator), found out that I was the group leader he insisted that I take a ride too – “free of charge” he said, as if that was a way of sealing the deal. I had no choice but to take that dromedary for a spin around the parking lot, pretending that I was Lawrence of Arabia.
It has been such a personal blessing for me not only experience this great land again but to do so with dear members and friends of our church. The best thing we will take back with us will be our memories.
A short bus ride later we entered the Church of Agony, or the Church of All Nations, which has had a presence in the Gethsemane gardens since 390 AD. The current church was built in 1919 which incorporated striking architecture, shimmering mosaics, and alabaster glass, recalling the night sky. The olive trees in the garden boast one that is 1500 years old.
We spent our lunch break at – surprise, surprise – a place that has an extensive shop. Much of the store’s merchandise included antiquities. I fear that some of our member’s discretionary income that may have gone to retire our capital debt has been spent in stores in the Holy Land!
We concluded our afternoon by visiting the Shrine of the Book museum, built to house the collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls, found near Masada. Outside the museum is a remarkable model of Jerusalem as it looked when Jesus walked the earth. It is a helpful tool in visualizing the Biblical city and the entire group was greatly impressed.
Following dinner, although I had intentions of going to bed earlier, I went on a brief stroll with several members to take in the night scene alongside the Old City. It is a vibrant, ancient and complex place. We only have two more scheduled tour days, plus one free day and then it will be time to go home. I do miss my church, my family and especially my wife.
Please keep up with the sites and sounds of our pilgrimage by clicking on this link to view video footage: https://vimeo.com/57348693.
God’s peace be with you and yours,