Not What Was, But Rather What Is

We asked for a 7:30 AM wake up call; and, it came promptly at 6:50 AM.  We are ready to go.  We are greeted with a rather large breakfast buffet.  There are breads and Jellies and jams and sauces almost too many to comprehend before having our glass of morning Tang.  There is a modest salad bar, which is pretty common over here.  There were also the standard breakfast fare of eggs, meat and cheese.  The two items of interest appear to be the Chocolate Sauce and what I think I will serve our Wednesday morning breakfast crew…wait for it….wait for it…Tuna and Corn with the slightest bit of Olive Oil to hold it all together. Yes, I tried it and much to my pleasure found it enjoyable.

We are going to begin this part of the journey, as it should be no surprise by now, not looking at historical, but rather taking a look at what is happening in Bethlehem today.  We board the bus and head directly to The Wall. Even more so, we go through a short experience of the morning traffic and what those living in Bethlehem experience everyday as they try to get out of town and into their places of work. There is a long line of cars waiting to get through the small check point that is checking out each person and car going out , through the Wall.

We go around the line and take a closer look at the 8 meter high wall that surrounds Bethlehem today. We also investigate some of the images and messages being shared by others who have been to see the wall.

We move on to our first stop, Camp Aida, also known as the place of The Key. There still exists today in and about Bethlehem refugee camps of which those who were exiled or fled were gathered into what was then tents to live in. The tents are gone, but the struggle and memories remain. The significance to the Key is that when these folks left their homes, it was with the hope they would someday be allowed to return. They took with them personal papers and the keys to their homes. Even today you may find these keys hanging near the front doors or even around the necks of those still living in the Camps.

We move on from there and see the Bethlehem Bible College. This is a great institution training students to be the best they can be with a college degree. Many of these graduates move on to be in full time ministry. What started with one small building a dream has become a formidable institution of learning and a force to be reckoned with it comes to quality of leaders it is producing throughout the region.

While we are there we begin sharing our gifts by leaving there an envelope of encouragement and support for yet another struggling family and farm just outside of Jerusalem. I leave that story for another day.

We regroup and make our way to Beit Sahour and to a ministry that holds a special place in my heart. The Baraka Nursery. You cannot help but get excited at the work going on there when you see these wonderful children and their big smiles. We tour the building and see the great progress being made to make it an even better place for the children. They are completing an expansion project in the lower level of the facility. They have also added a covered section to their outdoor play area for greater use of the space.

I love seeing the children, the place, and sitting down and visiting with the Awad family that runs the nursery as a part of the Church ministry, Today we are greeted by Rev. George and Danny Awad, the pastors of the church and key leaders in this ministry. Pastor Danny’s brother and sister-in-law are the directors of the Nursery and were they with the children today. They have six additional staff representing six families that live in the Bethlehem area are able to support themselves through their jobs at the nursery. Children come from all places and background to be loved and encouraged by these terrific people.

We leave with them most of what we have collected in the way of school supplies and toys for the kids. The missing suitcase also holds some items for them, so we hope it will show up before we leave.  We also have some items for the church of which we are holding on to them and will share with at Church when we worship with them on Sunday.

Now, we move on to Jerusalem to see some of the sites and sounds of the Old City.  We are made aware very quickly that the mood there is not at its best. You sense a tension in the air. As one of our group put it, “They just seem grumpy, don’t they.” One example of this was to watch the level of security and the high standard of respect they were requiring from everyone. What would have on most days of being there seems appropriate attire, was not. Many of our group were asked to wear cover up garments in order to fall in line with what we were being asked to do, Even as we approached the Mosques, we were cautioned to stay back a great deal of distance in order to allow those in prayers an opportunity to do so without interruption. 

We moved our way through the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem and garnered a whole new understanding of ways of life with many outdoor markets lining the streets. Food and candies, uncovered sitting in large displays. A shopper placed her purse on top some of the candy while she reached in and grabbed a handful of some other candy to buy. Lots and lots of people are present in the streets and all around.

We climbed the steps of the old city until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was jammed with hundreds, if not thousands of Christian Pilgrims wanting to experience this holy site. It is a place claimed through tradition to be the Place of the Skull and Tomb of Christ.  It was difficult to make this a holy moment. It was late in the afternoon, so many other people and noises, Still we moved around. We found a few places where the crowd was thinner and we could take a moment to pause and reflect. Najeeb, our guide, has a lot to tells and take every minute he can do so.

Finally, move make our way out the Jaffa Gate and back on the bus. We finish our day with experiencing the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. It  turns out to be a great way to end this portion of our day. We entered the Garden and the roses and other flowers are in full bloom. Just simply spectacular to see. A place to remember the agony of which at that point Jesus was experiencing. We pause to give thanks. As we move into the Church we find there a worship service in progress. Most folks are respectful and attentive. I am still disappointed when I see others who just do not get it, that what we were experiencing was God at work in the lives of those of us all in worship. They are talking and milling around with the flash photos. I just wanted to take them by ear, out the door and ask them how they would feel  if a bunch of people came into their place of worship, during a service and just starting talking and taking pictures. A good thought I hope we all remember, when going into the places of worship and holy sites, asks yourself if this were your place of worship, how would you want other to act, and then, do the same.

Still, those few bad apples were not going to ruin my experience with God there. I was taken in by the Priest as he prepared to serve the holy sacrament. I was in awe of the response and full participation and traditions and actions of those in the service with him. It was sacred. It was holy. I was honored to be there in the midst of God acting in the lives of His children who were seeking, and finding his love there in that moment. I quietly moved out the door, thanking God for that gift of grace I encountered with them.

It has been a long day. Very few complaints heard by the group. I am loving how we are all interacting. Even though many of us did not really know much about some of the others. We have been pretty quick to becoming one family. We are caring for each other, looking after each other, giving each other as much grief as we possibly can without making the other person cry. If that is not a family, I do just do not know what your family must be like.

I read a scripture calling us to not just act like listeners, but to truly be one that then goes out and does what we are led to do. We listened to the Song, “We Can Change the World” by Hawk Nelson. We offered up special moments of the day. We talked about what is yet to come in tomorrow’s itinerary. It is around 8:30 our time and most folks are showing signs of much fatigue. We offer up a prayer for the great day and what is yet to come.   Amen.

I know it has taken me while to get started with the journal. Thank you for your inquires and patience. I hope you are able to find God somewhere in it as you read through my rambling.     

Shalom, my friends