Today was largely a travel day here in Israel. We left the Sea of Galilee and started to head south towards the Dead Sea, where we’re staying tonight. As we left today, it was still raining pretty hard, which seemed to be the theme of our time in the Galilee. Our first stop on our way south was at a kibbutz called Kibbutz Gesher on the Jordan River. A kibbutz is a collective community in Israel that is usually surrounded around agriculture. Jewish German immigrants founded this kibbutz in 1939. In their time as an active kibbutz, they often found themselves at the front lines of many of the wars fought in the country across the 20th century. In each of those cases, it was the civilians who lived in the kibbutz left to fight against the well-trained armies of Jordan and Iraq. The kibbutz is named (gesher means “bridge”) for the three distinct and prominent bridges on the property. Here are a few pictures:
Our next stop was (another) synagogue at Beit Alpha. This synagogue had a nearly intact mosaic floor. We learned that in the fifth and sixth centuries it was fashionable to decorate synagogues with animals and even pagan gods and zodiac symbols. If you find this confusing and troubling, you would not be alone. Jewish law forbids having “graven images” in the synagogue. Despite the content of the mosaic, and the rudimentary skill level, it was really fascinating to see such a large piece on display:
Then we spent a few hours in the bus on our way to Qumran. There, we had lunch and got to do a little shopping for Dead Sea minerals. After lunch, we toured Qumran. This is the site where some shepherds in the 1940s accidentally came across what are now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. We had a teaching on the Essenes, who were a Jewish sect who copied down scripture and hid them in caves near the Dead Sea. In doing this, they preserved these manuscripts for nearly 2000 years. Here are a few shots from Qumran:
Throughout our journey today, many made comments about the change in topography from the north of the country to the southern desert. Some said that this is what they thought Israel would look like everywhere, but in the north, we had lush greens and rolling hills.
Finally, we arrived in the Dead Sea, and many of us did a very cold float in the Dead Sea:
But here we all are! Had a great time! Tomorrow we get to SLEEP IN (not leaving until 9:30am!!!). We'll hit Masada, Ein Gedi, and Bethany on our way to Jerusalem.
Prayer requests: David had his phone stolen here at the hotel in the Dead Sea (we think). Either way, it appears to be gone. Please pray that it turns up before we leave tomorrow. Also please pray for Pat Anderson's knee, which she hurt today, and that it would be fine and she would be able to experience all in Jerusalem.
Saturday, February 14 – Fifth Day of Touring: Traveling through the desert to Masada, Ein Gedi, and Bethany on our way to Jerusalem – Pray for safe and timely travel and “Shabbat rest” as we visit sites that encourage us to explore and hike. Please also pray for our transition to city life as we move to Jerusalem for the remainder of the trip; finally, pray for Betty Fuqua, celebrating her birthday today.
Today was a very adventurous day around the Sea of Galilee. The theme of everyone's comments about today was that so much of it was unexpected. We woke up this morning to what we all thought was fog. Little did we know that it was actually "widespread dust." The prevailing winds are normally from the west here in Israel, but today, they were from the south, and they were STRONG. This caused dust from the desert in the south to come and coat us all and fill the whole sky. Here are two pictures to show you what the air looked like today:
After a time of devotions and breakfast, our first stop was to an old 1st century town in Galilee called Chorazin (ref. Luke 10). Sahar taught on the synagogue and what that would have looked like in Jesus's time. We also learned about the Pharisees and their role in the Jewish nation. One interesting takeaway fact was that in Jesus's time Here are a few other pictures:
Next, we traveled to the Mount of Beatitudes. This is the traditional site of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. We read from Matthew and Luke's account of the Sermon on the Mount, and then had free time to spend time with the Lord in prayer and exploration of the church. Many found this time particularly meaningful:
The next place we visited was the Church of Multiplication. This church commemorates Jesus's miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes. We were treated to a spontaneous song from a German tour group who was also there at the church. This ended up being a powerful experience for some in the group:
Then we traveled to Capernaum, the site of much of Jesus's ministry. This is also where Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow Him. We had a teaching from Sahar while in the "white synagogue," so named for the white marble that it's made of. This is also the location of Peter's house, and the house church started there:
At this point in the day, we went to a restaurant to have "St. Peter's Fish," a whole tilapia! Some were less adventurous and went for a fish filet or chicken breast. Here our some of our brave eaters and their fish:
We pushed up our boat tour on the Sea of Galilee to try to beat the forecasted rain this afternoon. We got out on the boat and were having a great time, raised the flags up the line had some worship music going, and were just enjoying finally getting to see the water today (the dust storm obstructed the view all day). It started to rain a bit, but we were still having a good time. Then, the boat operator got out some bread to start feeding the seagulls:
(Video to come)
And then we learned a traditional Hebrew dance...
And at the exact moment that we finished dancing, was when we experienced one of those storms on the Sea of Galilee that we see recorded in scripture so often (and we had just read about this as we set off from the dock). The boat even tipped a bit, and if you can see from the video above how big of a boat this is, you would know that it was some mighty strong winds and waves. Our boat operators got us quickly and safely back to shore, and while a little wet, we were no worse for the wear. Our guide Sahar said that he had never experienced one of those boat rides with as much wind and rain as we had, but also commented that we were very good sports about the whole thing. We all found the whole experience to be rather exhilarating!
We finished the day by visiting the museum on the property of our hotel where a first century wooden fishing boat was found and preserved. It's truly amazing to see:
Prayer Requests: Praise the Lord for the return of one of the Kortokraxes' bags! The second one *should* be here tomorrow. Please pray that the last suitcase would arrive intact! Please also pray for David, who is feeling under the weather, that he would be healed and that Gracen would be protected from the illness. In addition:
Thursday, February 12 – Third Day of Touring: Northern Israel – Golan Heights, Mount Hermon, Syrian border, OT city of Dan, Lebanon border, and headwaters of the Jordan River – For safety as we enter disputed territory where there has been recent unrest and that we might learn more fully the meaning of “living water” as we see the beginning of the Jordan River. Pray also for Griffin Waldhauser and John Zeigenfuse, celebrating birthdays today. (Overnight in Sea of Galilee.)
Today was a cold and rainy day here in the Galilee. Thankfully, our group rallied and the damp weather didn’t put a damper on our activities today. We did as much as we could from our itinerary despite the weather challenges. We started the day in Katzrin, a reconstructed first-century village in the Golan Heights. We began our time there by watching a video and getting some teaching from Sahar about the Oral Law (the Mishna and the Talmud).
We then went out to see the reconstructed village in the rain to see a house that resembles the “inn” that Mary and Joseph would have been visiting in Bethlehem. We also learned that the “inn” was actually probably a family member’s home. It was likely that they had many other family members staying with them too, and thus, there was “no room” for them. We also learned that instead of a stable, as we’re used to seeing in Christmas pageants, but a utility or storage room attached to the house that they used to bring the animals into at night. Here’s a picture of Gracen and the reconstructed village:
Our next stop of the day was the Golan Heights Winery. It was great to actually have this site on our itinerary because we were able to see the cask rooms and the bottling lines:
After that, we moved on to the tasting. Don’t worry, the kids had grape juice (made with local grapes!). We tasted a Gamla Riesling, Yarden Merlot, and Mt. Hermon Moscato. Some of us bought a bottle (or four) to drink here or to take home.
We then went to lunch at a Lebanese restaurant in the Golan Heights. Today was John and Griffin’s birthdays, and we had birthday baklava and sang to them:
After lunch, we made a quick stop at Caesarea Philippi, and the Bainass, a rock formation that was used as a place of pagan worship to the god Pan. Jesus used this place to ask His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" (Matthew 16:13-20):
Our last official stop of the day was the city of Dan. We had to walk the short trail due to the rain and mud, but were still able to see the headwaters of the Jordan River:
We next went and saw the ruins from the city from the Israelite period. We paid special attention to the city gate. Here are Kari, Gracen, Liam, and Caitie standing on the gate:
Then, some of us walked around to the city gate from the Canaanite period, called “Abraham’s gate” because it dates back about 4000 years to the time of Abraham, and it’s Jewish tradition that he actually entered the city through this gate (it has recently been filled in to preserve the gate):
Finally, the most adventurous of the group took a little longer walk to go see the area along the Lebanese border that also was the site of the temple made by Rehoboam to keep the people in his kingdom from going down to Jerusalem in Judah to worship, and this is also where the golden calves were set up and worshipped. Here’s a picture of the border with Lebanon:
As we made our way back to our hotel, we stopped at a local mall, and a few of us got to walk around and experience a very normal part of daily life for those in Israel. And finally, as we made our final approach to the hotel, the Sea of Galilee was FINALLY visible, after all the dust storms and rain we’ve had, this was really our first time seeing the sea. We got back to the hotel and immediately went out to take some pictures before losing the last of the daylight.
One other note about today was that the second and final Kortokrax suitcase made it back! Thank you all for praying and thanks be to God:
We ended the day with David feeling much better and feeling great about our time in Galilee. We’re off tomorrow to start heading south to the Dead Sea, while making a bunch of stops along the way.
Prayer Requests: Please continue to pray for everyone’s health and that our weather would be more pleasant for the rest of the trip. Friday, February 13 – Fourth Day of Touring: Travel Day from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea – Pray specifically for safety today, as we spend most of our day driving through land that belongs to the Palestinian Authority. Pray also for no “snags” at any border crossings. And finally, pray for a fun time floating in the Dead Sea that evening. (Overnight in the Dead Sea)