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Daily updates from Mile Two in Israel
2016-02-29
 
The Providence-based Mile Two Discipleship School is currently undertaking what Assistant Director Angelle Arinobu describes as a “five-sense experience of scripture.”
 
Over the next 10 days Mile Two will be travelling throughout Israel, where they’ll visit numerous sites of biblical importance, connect with people from various communities in the region, and further their understanding of the pursuit of peace in a special, complicated place.
 
We’ll be updating this space daily, posting highlights from the trip—in both word and image—until the contingent’s March 9 return.
 
These are Angelle’s dispatches.
 
 
March 9, 2016
 
I find myself sitting in the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, surrounded by jittery but happy students. We spent 10 days together in the Holy Land and we are healthy and we are happy.
 
We started the day early with a full docket of places to visit. It was full enough that we dropped one of the items on our list, but I don't think the students noticed as there were plenty of other things to fill our time.
 
We walked the Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross) in mostly quiet contemplation while the streets were empty of tourists. By the time we made it to the Holy Sepulchre, the church had only a handful of other worshippers and we were able to walk almost right away into the traditional site of Jesus' tomb.
 
As I walked up the steps toward Golgotha, I noticed how worn the steps were from the billions of pilgrims that had gone before us. Many of the students recognized and began to appreciate the sacred space we had entered, and though it was difficult to really connect with physical space being spiritual, many students' eyes were opened to seeing our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When we all met up again, we headed to The Pool of Bethesda and sang a couple hymns in the cavernous Church of St. Anne, right beside. We ended our touring time at The Garden Tomb. This is an alternative site to the Holy Sepulchre, and after a recitation of the scripture surrounding the Crucifixion, we partook in communion together. We were then able to each take time in the serene garden, to reflect on what God had been speaking to us on this trip.
 
Our final event of the day was a celebration dinner with our tour hosts. We enjoyed a beautiful feast in the Armenian Quarter with our guide and bus driver. After such a long day we were ready for bed but we did one final debrief, in which the students shared some highlights from the trip as well as some takeaways.
 
Most of the students mentioned Galilee as their highlight, as well as our guide, Sa'id. They also expressed excitement about returning to their Bibles, with new eyes. One student mentioned, "reading in green," (reading in the context of the physical world) and many students said they will read parables differently as they are only beginning to understand the cultural context of the Middle East.
 
In that same vein, one of the students described her experience of hearing stories from different sides of the conflict as having the blinds lifted, but the glass still being frosted. There were a handful of students that are keen on learning more about the conflict and even more that will be dedicated in praying for peace for the land.
 
Please join us in praying for peace in the Holy Land. The lines are not so clear and it could be easy to play some sort of a blame game but the issues are not as clear as I wish they were, and of all the people we met and talked to, none of them were able to present a solution that they saw. However, they all asked us to pray for them and to pray for peace on their people and land.
 
Thank you for joining us on this journey via the blog. This was a great way for me to personally process all that we took in each day and I hope that you felt like you were a little closer to us in this way. I know that we felt your prayers and thoughts near us each and every day.
 
 
March 8, 2016
 
Tomorrow morning we bid farewell to this beautiful land that we've been in for nine days.
 
Looking around the room during this evening's debrief, I can see the weary looks that everyone is wearing. I think all the students would agree that they are ready to return home. We have quite an early start to our morning and a late end to the day. I would like to take some proper time to gather together the reflections the students shared from our day and the trip, so I will save the final Israel blog update until tomorrow, while we wait in the airport.
 
But for now, I'll leave you with a couple pictures from the day.
 
 
March 7, 2016
 
Our day started at the Western Wall in the Old City. We were there early enough in the morning that it was empty enough for us to walk right up to the wall. A couple of students shared a conversation they had near the wall where they had reflected on the significance of it.
 
"That's so cool that God used to dwell right on the other side of this wall...and then I remembered, hey, God dwells in us now and that's so much better!" 
 
The theme of walls has come up often as we've been in and out of Jerusalem. We've seen the walls from different temple periods around the Old City and we've seen the role they played in the lives of the people back in the time of Jesus and the role they play now. When we drove to the West Bank today we got a close-up of the wall that separates the West Bank and Israel as we passed the checkpoint at Bethlehem.
 
We headed straight for the Dheisheh Palestinian Refugee Camp where we met our guide, Hamza. Hamza works with teenagers as a social worker in Hebron, but he also leads educational tours around the camp. He was born in the camp and when asked why he remains there, he says, "I love it. Actually, I hate the camp, but I love the people here. I love the community; it has unity."
 
As he shared about his people and their experience of being in the camp, he told a story full of hope, of dreams not yet realized.
 
There is a tribute to the artist, Banksy, on one of the walls that runs through the camp and beside it is this quote: "The walls took from me the land, but gave me the dream." When I met Hamza last year, he had shared this quote with us but had followed it with, "but sometimes...sometimes we are not allowed to dream."
 
This year, the despair was gone, and Hamza described how education "raises their souls" and provides light "at the end of the tunnel". In the room where we met with Hamza hangs an embroidered picture of a registration card with the title, "Until When". This is the question that hung in the air as we headed away from Dheisheh and as we met two more hosts that day.
 
Our host for our next stop is the pastor of Immanuel Evangelical Church in Bethlehem.
 
Nihad explained his experience as an Arab Christian living in Bethlehem. Although many Christians are looking for a way out from the high unemployment rates and unrest, Nihad felt it was important for him to stay as salt and light. "We are small (Christians in Palestine); we are little, but we make a different taste.  We make a difference.” Please join us in praying for Nihad that the Lord will give wisdom what to do in such a situation (the unrest), strength to continue, and protection to keep doing what they're doing (as their hearts get heavy).
 
We took a break from the lectures and headed to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus. The church has been under a lot of reconstruction for a long time, so we headed straight for the Grotto of the Nativity, the traditional site of the manger. Miracle of miracles, we were able to walk right in, to an empty grotto—virtually impossible on an afternoon in March.
 
Our final stop was at Effrat, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. There we met Ardie, an American Jew who made Aliyah several decades ago. Hearing from Ardie was an entirely different experience from our previous lecturers and he graciously made space for us to ask questions based on those previous lectures.
 
As Ardie shared about his personal journey to Effrat, I was struck by the beauty of belonging. Ardie was agnostic until university, when he met others claiming an identity in Judaism. He decided then that he belonged not to a religion but to a peoplehood, and his move to the land of Judea put a nuance and a colour into his identity with this people group. It was easy to hear the passion in his voice as he shared about his love for Shabbat and for his people.
 
We heard many personal stories today and it was a struggle to make sense of all that we heard. Even as we debriefed this evening there was still a lot of confusion as to how to hold these stories and how to explain the conflict that we heard about.
 
One of the students reminded me of one thing Hamza had said, when asked how we can help. He said not to send money, but told our students to be ambassadors—to go back home and talk about what they have seen.
 
As our students return to their homes, my hope is that they will be able to share their many stories and opinions of all they've seen and heard on this trip
 
 
March 6, 2016
 
Today ended up being quite a bit more reflective than other days we've had here. This morning was a break from our routine touring as we were able to join Arabic worshipers at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Jerusalem’s Old City. It was a close walk from our hotel and a new experience for most students as not only was it in the Arabic language, but it was also a liturgical service. We were able to enjoy tea with members of both the Arabic and English congregations afterwards.
 
After a couple of quick stops in the Old City, first at The Upper Room and then King David's Tomb, we hopped on our bus to Yad Vashem.
 
Our visit to Yad Vashem has been the most sobering part of the tour so far. Our guide told us it would be a difficult journey through the Holocaust Memorial but encouraged us to stick with it, even though it would be painful. It is difficult to describe the experience and the students will have a lot to chew on in the next few days.
 
A more personal reflection from me: The name "Yad Vashem" is taken from Isaiah 56:5, "Even unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off." Yad Vashem translates into "memorial" and “name”.
 
As we approached the memorial our guide mentioned that giving people numbers instead of names stripped them of their humanity. At the end of the main building at the memorial there is a circular room called the Hall of Names. The walls are lined with books that contain 2.2 million pages of testimony and in the middle hangs 600 photographs of Holocaust victims. One thought I've been chewing on is how Yad Vashem is a step towards undoing a small part of this tragedy and this beautiful way of giving people back their names.It was difficult switching gears after this and I think many students spent the remainder of the day "in their heads". However, we had one more stop at The Shrine of the Book. We started our tour looking at an enormous model of the Old City during the time of Jesus. Then we wandered through the museum at our own pace, looking at artifacts, and finally pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls that we learned about yesterday in Qumran.
 
 
March 5, 2016
Our debrief this evening was thoughtful, especially as students reflected on some of the stories they had experienced at Yad Vashem. Tomorrow promises to be another day full of personal stories as we head to the West Bank to hear from a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim.
 
It was another early start to the day as we left the cool morning of Jerusalem for the warm desert air.
 
We started with a gondola ride up to the ancient fortress, Masada. The most fascinating part of this site was just pondering the mystery of Masada. Is the story of the Jewish sect under siege in this ancient fortress true? Is it just a legend? A few of our imaginations ran a little wild, picturing the 10,000 Roman soldiers plus slaves building up the rampart and the men drawing lots at top to see who would die last. We all agreed that we would like to watch the Masada (1981) movie when we get back to Canada.
 
Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovery, was our next stop and it was special to be so close to Cave no. 4, where the Isaiah scroll was discovered within the last century. Tomorrow we will find ourselves at Shrine of the Book where a full reproduction of the Isaiah scroll is on display. This is definitely a bonus for our future archaeologist, Caedda!
 
Our final stop in the desert was the Dead Sea! We all had a blast covering ourselves in mud and floating around on our backs. As we packed it in for the day, one of the students reflected on her time at the beach saying, "I never thought of the Dead Sea being this real place that I could go to. When I get home I'm going to share about this experience with my youth group so they can start thinking about this as an option earlier than I did."
On our way back to Jerusalem we finished our day at a lookout overlooking the St. John in the Desert Monastery. The monastery sits on the side of valley that is the valley referred to in Psalm 23 as the "valley of the shadow of death." Only three more days left before we head back to Canada!
 
 
March 4, 2016
 
We left Ein Gev early this morning and started our day at Bet She'an. It was delightful to hear the gasps of the students when they realized we had the run of the ruins of an ancient city almost all to ourselves. Bet She'an is a historical site that has very few areas that we were not allowed to enter. That meant climbing over toppled columns, running up hills, walls, and a well-preserved theatre.
 
We next headed into the West Bank and briefly stopped at the traditional baptismal site of Jesus. We dipped our feet into the cool water and sang, "To the River". We listened as Jeff read about the baptism of Jesus and His temptation in the desert.
 
Next stop was a Jericho observation point where we all had a chance to ride a camel! We were then treated to a traditional Palestinian meal that included a most fragrant rice and chicken dish called "Upside Down". (We have been eating like kings since we arrived.)
 
Finally we have landed in Jerusalem.
 
We drove up the Mount of Olives to the lookout and slowly made our way down on foot. We stopped at the Pater Noster (Church of Our Father), where the Lord's Prayer is written in dozens of different languages on the walls. We made a brief stop at Dominus Flevit (Chapel of Tears) before arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations.
 
While Gina read to us about Jesus' time in the Garden, we were challenged to spend some time being honest with God, as Jesus honestly wrestled with the cup that had been given Him.
 
As we sat in the sanctuary we overheard a Russian mass being held and I was reminded of Revelation 5:9, "And they sang a new song, saying: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.'"
 
Everywhere we go we get asked, "Where are you from?" It is very special to be among the millions of believers who make this pilgrimage from all the corners of the earth and to know that we are all worshipping this same God, regardless of our nationality, ethnicity, or language.
 
 
March 3, 2016
 
Today we soaked.
 
We awoke this morning to a land that had been freshly washed with rain. The day was cooler than the other days so we were unsure what to expect. We took over an hour to drive through the Golan Heights to our first destination. We stopped on the side of the mountain to look over the Syrian countryside and then made another pit stop in a Druze village.
 
When we arrived at Caesarea Philippi, the sun was out and we briefly considered Pan's Temple and Jesus' question, "Who do you say I am?" before heading out on an hour hike to Banias Falls. As we hiked through the lush green forest, images of Jesus ambling around the countryside became clearer once again. As a group we paused to soak in all that we were seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. How I wish we could have bottled up the fragrance that comes after a spring rain!
 
On our way back to the Sea we were able to view Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and no-man's land all at once. When we got back to Galilee we visited three traditional sites: Tabgha, Mensa Christi, and Mount of Beatitudes. At Tabgha we briefly stopped at the Church of Multiplication and listened to a reading of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Mensa Christi, is the site of the Primacy of Peter where Jesus forgives Peter and asks him, "Do you love me? Then feed my sheep," three times. We were able to spend time alone, sitting on the seashore, in reflection, considering our failings and God's continuous forgiveness. The Mount of Beatitudes is the site of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The grounds there are neatly manicured and the view is stunning. It is there where we were able to take time alone, strolling the area, reading through the Sermon on the Mount and simply soaking in Jesus' words.
 
As the students reflected this evening on their experience at this halfway point, they repeated over and over their amazement at the topography. As one student said, "I've always found the red letters to be the most important, but when I read through the book of Matthew today, the black letters became so much more interesting!"
 
 
March 2, 2016
 
We hit our first set of "hiccups" today when we woke up to some strong winds and a white-capping Sea of Galilee. We pushed off our boat ride on the Sea until the afternoon, to see if the weather would improve.
 
Our first stop of the day was Nazareth and by the end of the winding drive a few of us were quite motion sick! We pushed on through and walked around the Basilica of the Annunciation, where tradition tells us the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to give birth to a son, named Jesus. This church had many depictions of Mary, from countries all over the world. We walked over to St. Joseph's Church next, which is built over what is traditionally believed to be Joseph's workshop.
 
Our next stop was a fun one with a tour of Nazareth Village—a recreation of a 1st Century Galilean village. One student said it was helpful to stop there early in the trip as it improved on her imagined recreations of the biblical text. It was delightful to watch Hannah weave sheep's wool she had dyed herself and to see how an olive press would have operated in Jesus' time.
 
After lunch we headed to Capernaum. The students took some time to reflect by the seashore as we waited for the Franciscan mass to end. It was here that our guide said he is 100 per cent sure that Jesus had been at the very spot where they found remains of Peter's house.
 
One student was able to voice a thought that I'm sure others have felt: "This is interesting, but it's not building up my faith." These students are taking in so many interesting sights and sounds in Israel, but these "things" are not what they want to build their faith on, and these will not deepen their faith as much as the time they spend in community, in service, and in Scripture.
 
After a very quick stop at Kursi, where tradition has Jesus casting demons out of Legion into a bunch of pigs that throw themselves off a cliff, we made it to what will be a major highlight of the trip. We climbed aboard a wooden ship and motored around the Sea of Galilee. The wind had died down enough that we enjoyed a full trip across the lake and back.
 
When we met just before supper most of the students looked weary from the adventures of the day, and I suspect they'll all sleep well tonight.
 
 
March 1, 2015
 
“It felt like we had just the right amount of time everywhere we went.”
 
“That verse about a city on a hill makes so much sense now.”
 
“I could actually imagine the fire of God coming down from the sky and feel like I was there!”
 
“I'm finding a balance between resting in the moment and being aware of what God is saying in the moment."
 
These were some of the quotes from today’s evening debrief. We left the bustling city of Tel Aviv this morning and headed north to the Galilee.
 
Our first stop was Megiddo, the traditional site of the Last Battle or Armageddon. We learned today the difference between “traditional” and “historical” in that even though “tradition” says this or that happened here it might not mean that it is historical fact.
 
Megiddo was a great first site to visit, as we enjoyed walking up the side of the mountain that overlooks the Jezreel valley. Archeologists have uncovered 25 layers of ruins at Megiddo, and we got a pretty good idea of the careful work that is done to uncover these layers. We then made our way through an underground water system and ended up on the other side of the mountain.
 
Our next stop was Mount Carmel where the students listened to a reading from 1 Kings, where Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a bit of a showdown. To get the students into the story, I had them close their eyes for a moment so they could picture and feel the frenzy as the priests poured sweat and blood into calling their god. They soaked in the story, standing on that mountain top, immersing themselves fully into the experience.
 
Our final stop for the day was Sepphoris. Even though Sepphoris is not named in the Bible, tradition tells us that Mary’s parents were born there.
 
At one point a student exclaimed: “My feet could be touching the ground where Jesus’s feet touched!” It was here that we saw a great number of beautiful mosaics and took in another stunning view of the surrounding area.
 
We’re now relaxing at the Ein Gev kibbutz. Our porches overlook the Sea of Galilee and on the other side of us is the Golan Heights. Across on the other side of the Sea are the twinkling lights of Tiberias. It’s peaceful here.
 
 
 
February 29, 2015
 
It's 8:30 p.m. and we're in Tel Aviv.
 
I'm sitting at the hotel with the balcony door thrown wide open after an unseasonably warm day. The streets are still bustling with traffic and our hotel is right beside a soccer stadium, so the air is alive with cheering, whistling, and those catchy soccer chants and cheers.
 
I've a feeling we're not in Otterburne anymore.
 
The flights went as well as they could have and we experienced no hiccups as we entered Israel. As soon as we cleared customs, we were introduced to Sayid ,our tour guide for the trip. Then we boarded a bus and headed off for Caesarea Maritima (or Caesarea by the Sea). Later on, one of the students commented how remarkable it was to be at this place where Paul had been imprisoned.
 
I think the realness of being in Israel began to sink in as the students stood in the Mediterranean Sea, letting their feet slowly sink into the sand.
 
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