February 13: Our second full day in Israel began with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. As we approached the dock, it was clear to everyone that the waves were choppy with breakers and that wind was whipping around…but no one turned back. And the experience - like many we had as the day went on – helped us feel closer to the bible story in a way that ‘placed it’ right in front of us. We could literally feel the boat rocking and the waves splashing. We got to look over the edge and imagine stepping off at the calling of Jesus. It was easy to envision a storm brewing quickly on that 5 by 10 mile body of water, even one that could frighten the most seasoned fisherman in the group of disciples.
The boat ride set a good tone for the day, and we all felt invigorated - like conquering seafarers as we headed out to our next body of water: The River Jordan. This was a really special stop because three of our group publicly professed their faith in the Lord Jesus and got baptized. It was hard not to get choked up as each one of them discussed the importance of Christ in their lives. Another aspect to this stop that was special – brothers got baptized together, and watching their respective reactions to each other embracing Jesus - was a vulnerable and beautiful sight to behold.
From the Jordan, we headed further around the Sea of Galilee and made a visit to Capernaum, the home of Peter and headquarters of Jesus’s ministry. One of the historically powerful things at Capernaum is that we know for sure where Peter’s house was, because the early believers built an octagonal church above it. So to be able to look inside the dwelling where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and walk around the town where the apostles spent so much time with one another – well, it was a highlight of the past two days for many of us. There is also the ruin of a synagogue in Capernaum, and we learned a lot about the hierarchical makeup of the Jewish faith at the time of Christ. Yesterday was more of a broad stroke on the effects the Romans had on the region, and today we focused more on the culture of Jesus and his effect on those immersed in his culture.
From Capernaum we headed north to the Golan heights. From the bus we saw the border along Syria and Lebanon. We learned about the people stuck along the borders as various conflicts separate family and tribes. One of these people are the Druze, who live in this region and have always been very resourceful and creative when it comes to surviving international conflicts and shifting national boundaries. We stopped in the Druze town of Mas’Ade and had a really tasty lunch.
Finally, we got to the top portion of Israel, near Mount Hermon capped with snow, and made our way into Caesarea Philippi. It was in this area that Jesus posed the question to his disciples ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ (Matthew 16:13-20). We saw the ruined city of Caesarea Philippi, with its gaping hole in the side of the rockface that pagan worshipers called the Gates of Hades. The very region where Jesus promised his disciples that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against His church.
As if all that wasn’t enough – we pushed just a bit more into the wilderness to walk around the ancient city of Dan. (Where Abraham spent time…see Genesis 14:13), We saw the gates that were constructed roughly four thousand years ago, and it dawned on us that this place of Dan would have been as ancient to Jesus, as he is to us now. We learned about the King holding court at the courtyard gates of the city – and why the outside of cities are referred to using the female pronoun and why ‘beyond the city walls’ are referred to as the ‘outskirts.’ You’ll have to ask us when we come home what all of that means – but it provided some good laughter today.
On the way back to our lodgings we circled back around the Sea of Galilee as the sun was setting over the hills - refracting a golden glow off of the water. The sky was a brilliant gold orange, and many of us were taking turns at the bus window as we navigated the curvy road down to our lodgings. It has been a busy 48 hours, and many of us are feeling tired as we all battle to reverse our normal sleep and waking hours. Also, please pray for several of us who are battling lingering coughs and the general sickness caused by lack of sleep and a new environment. Pray for our safety and healthy bodies. We pray for everyone back home on almost every stop we make. This place is full of prayer and the Spirit of God. Until tomorrow.