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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Israel: Trip of a Lifetime

Last fall my husband was approached by someone asking if we would be interested in joining a group from a local christian high school traveling to Israel and, yes! I remember him calling me as I was leaving the kids dentist having yet another front tooth rebuilt after being broken off {3 times so far with 2 different kids!~apparently together my husband and I don't genetically make strong teeth!} He asked if I was sitting down. I was. But I recall thinking that I can't really handle more bad news. 
When he told me about this idea it didn't register, I was waiting for the punch line, the bad news. It never came! :)

What followed was several months of  planning, {we do have 4 kids we left behind}, packing, working out {its a hiking trip}, and getting a passport. I had never been outside of the USA before {unless you count Canada, but living in Michigan you are bound to go through Canada a few times in your life}. So this was the hugest deal ever!

We are so grateful for the chance to visit these countries! 
This trip was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity! As a believer in Jesus Christ, this trip added dimension to my faith which is a gift you can't put a price on!

We went with a group from a local Christian High School that also included a few others from around the U.S. that wanted to come. The trip was led by the Bible teacher from the high school and a Jordanian and Israeli guide. At each site we heard about the cultural and historical background by the guide then the Bible teacher talked about the Biblical significance.

I anticipated that this trip would have a big spiritual impact on me, and it did. What I didn't expect is where that impact would come from. I thought that the places that are of most biblical significance would have the most spiritual impact, but that wasn't the case. In fact the opposite was true. Let me explain this. At the sites where Christ was born and at the place of his death, homage has been paid to these sites in the building of large churches gilded in every way possible. The aura is far from the humble beginning and ending that Christ had.

I was struck anew by the life of the Israelites. Those poor souls! I totally get them now! After climbing my first mountain in the dessert and sucking the life out of my camelback, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I would have probably been the chief complainer on their exodus. God was so gracious to them {and me}! That region is so dry and rocky. You can't look up when you walk or you will fall. The ground is so uneven and full of rocks! After eating my same granola bars day after day for only 12 days I wondered what it would be like to eat Manna for years as the Israelites did. Yikes. Yep, chief complainer, right here!

{This is a view of the Red Sea, looking from Jordan across to Israel}

There is something so funny to me about a camel. I can't even explain it, but I totally got the giggles as we rode! Something about being on the other side of the world riding a lumpy camel just put me over the edge! :)
I suppose I should also admit that the other time I got the giggles was when crossing from Jordan into Israel. We were standing in line and one of the high school kids was getting the third degree about what he was writing in his journal {we think they thought he was casing out the joint!} Let me tell you that if you laugh, you may or may not get interrogated by 3 guards for a period of time. Just sayin!
{Let me interject that for a country hated by most of the world you have to take your security seriously. Its just that the edginess of the situation sometimes does me in! :) }

See, aren't they cute in a goofy sort of way?

I must admit that I was totally unprepared for the physical aspect of this trip. {If you are considering a trip of your own just know that there are plenty of total bus trips. This was not one of them!} We hiked 6 mountains, and I'm sure I discovered several more muscle groups I didn't know I had. Hiking really helps you to understand the land and the life in Bible times, as well as your threshold for perspiration! ;)

This is one of my favorite pictures. This is of Mt. Arbel where Christ spent time teaching his disciples. Its is along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

What is so striking to me about the Sea of Galilee is that this is their only fresh water source besides the Jordan River. Water is scarce here! Living in Michigan I so take water for granted being surrounded by it, but in the middle east it is a precious resource. This is a great visual example of Jesus being the living water, and as Christians what we need to be to the world around us.
The Sea of Galilee is also known as the abyss. People in Biblical times were afraid to go out across the sea. In order to do their fishing they would stay close to shore as much as possible. 

One of the things I love about the Israeli people is their sense of community, then and now. In ancient times when you got married you built onto your parents house so that the communities were made up of these ever expanding homes and everyone lived and worked together. Now many people live in a Kubbutz. This is like a commune where they have their own farmland, animals, professional services and more to meet the needs of the people living there. All the money is pooled together and shared with those based on need. You can even apply to join a Kubbutz. You can live there free of charge  in exchange for working for a period of time to see if its where you want to live. I love that! This has challenged me to better understand the need for community and to make sure I'm doing my part in the communities I'm involved in {ie. neighborhood, church group, extended family, work, etc.}

We spent several days in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is an amazing, sad, but glorious example of the clash of religions, the depth of history {the U.S. feels so young to me now}, and the richness of a culture. It is the place that the three main world religions claim as one of their holy places. {Judaism, Islam & Christianity}. That fact alone is astounding to me!
It is also home to the most tense place in all of the world; the temple mount, where the Dome of the Rock sits. Beneath this mount is Mt. Moriah where Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac. {Abraham is the father of Judaism, his son Ishmael the father of Islam, and forefather to Jesus Christ}. It is controlled by the Jews but the Islamic temple sits at the top, hence the tension.

This place is also a testament to the amount of power and influence of Herod {along with several other palaces. Seriously, how many palaces does one king need?} If you need more proof, here are a few of the places he built:

1. A multi-level palace on Masada
2. Ok, not a palace but cool anyways. These are the aquaducts just north of Cesarea
3. His port city of Cesarea {probably my favorite stop}
4. In Cesarea where the chariots would race
5. The Herodium. A whole mountain he built with a palace on top. {Don't ever tell a narcissist they can't do something, they will have to prove it!}
6. A fresh water pool he had that juts out into the salty Mediterranean Sea
7. The temple mount. He had this built on top of Mt. Moriah
8. The palace on top of the Herodium

There is so much more I could share, but I want to leave some things for you to see when you go yourself. 

If you decide you want to go to Israel here are a few tips:

  • Go with a tour group! Israel is a country with a lot of rules {what you can wear at each place for example} and it is so much easier to have someone do all the work of planning so you can just follow along and enjoy the sights. Plus there's a major advantage to having someone explain things as you go.
  • Know your itinerary, so that if and when you get detained at customs or border crossings you don't look like an idiot. {This may or may not be personal experience} Oh, you may want a plan for if you get the giggles in the wrong places, like a prepared sobering thought. 
  • Whether you are hiking or not, wear good shoes! The ground is really uneven every wear you go and having some hiking boots or sturdy shoes will save the day!
  • Bring snacks! Food is expensive there. To buy an ice cream bar or a coke at various places was between $3-$5.00, and you do a lot of walking! Granola bars, nuts and dried fruit are all good options.
  • Take notes along the way. I thought I would have time to really digest the information and we saw so much it just wasn't possible. Having notes really helps you to process at trip like this and remember even small details {like all the speed bumps in Jordan!}
  • Its hot. Wear breathable materials and bring layers. Its cool in the morning but gets hot as the day progresses.

Thanks for allowing this digression from my more regular type of posts! I hope you enjoyed the overview, and if you ever get such an offer to go, do it! Israel is a beautiful country, filled with beautiful people!

Thanks for stopping by!

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