It Is So Good

To Be Here

I am excited about today. We are to be presented with some terrific opportunities. I have waited for over four years to return to these places. They have come to mean a great deal to me. Let this day begin.

Our wake-up call is set for six o’clock. We are to have our luggage in the lobby by five minutes to seven.  We are to eat 

breakfast, make sure our luggage makes it on the bus and be ready to roll by eight o’clock.

As most days, I have had no need for the wake-up call. I am awake and packing before six o’clock. I thought about trying to get an entry done on the journal. I just couldn’t. I’d sit down to write something, and a feeling of anxiousness would come over me. Sitting still was not an option. I have the suitcase ready and down in the lobby with perfect timing. I venture down to see what’s for breakfast. I do not see much that is grabbing my attention. I do feel like our agenda is telling me to eat something anyway. I found a delicious cheese pastry and some kind of eggs over crushed tomatoes that seemed different enough I thought I’d try it. I ate a few pieces of fresh fruit. I have a glass of mystery juice and I am ready to go.

Yesterday was a buffer day that I guess I needed. Leaving Aboud was not easy. There seemed to be so much more I wanted to accomplish before leaving. There are people I want to know better. There are a couple of folks I am feeling drawn to offer encouragement and support. I hope I can do some of that even if not physically present there. Were we to have today’s schedule yesterday, I’m not sure I would have felt any better about leaving Aboud; or ready to receive what I am hoping for as I return to some significant places in my own experiences in the past. Yesterday did not go as planned. Yesterday evening brought it to a new level of God shining through. I needed that to be ready for today.

It is eight o’clock and the bus is pulling out of the parking lot. We are headed for St. George’s Monastery on the Wadi Qelt. I have gone through the Monastery a few times. I have led groups to walk the trail all the Wadi leading from the Monastery to Jericho several times. They say the trail is no longer walkable. That really is too bad. It has proven to be a favorite time for group members. It offers a quiet hike that winds its way through a beautiful setting. One can take all the time they want. It is a great place to reflect, observe, study the biblical stories that might apply to this surrounding and do some great group bonding.

St. George’s is one of the oldest still active Monasteries. It is prominently placed on the edge of the mountain side. There are small crevices and caves which have been claimed, so to speak, by those living in the Monastery. Tradition says that as some of the priests begin to age out, they are allowed to claim a cave. They spend the rest of their lives in their cave praying for the world while the younger priests continue to care for them as needed.  I have been telling folks for years that St. George’s Monastery is going to be my retirement home. When looking across the valley there is a spot to the right of the Monastery which has two small openings side by side joined together by an inlet on the rock-face. That is the spot I’ve claimed as my own.

Our group leaders and guide are unaware of the meaning this place has for me. I’m not sure why they wanted to come here. I know it was a God thing for me. I am almost giddy as I see this place, and my retirement home, still there waiting for me. The memories of going through the Monastery with its fragrance and dark interior bring joy to my soul. The double cave shows no signs of use by anyone and gives me a sense of hope and joy. Just being able to share my story and point out the caves to new friends and a very dear soul who is traveling with me in our group is enough to make me want to sign up right now.

That was just stop one. There is so much more that awaits us. We board the bus and move on down the road. We are headed for Bethlehem with a small detour through Bethany.  Bethany sits along the edge of Jerusalem. It is a significant spot in the life and ministry of Jesus. It is the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. There is a church that is a marker church honoring Mary and Martha. There is a steep descent into a hole that tradition says was the grave of Lazarus. The dark hole of Lazarus’ tomb is almost too much work for what you get out of it. The church of Mary and Martha is the last of many that has been built on this same site. So it is not the church that draws me close. It is the garden. You pull off a busy street and park by a rather low-key souvenir shop. You move beyond some street vendors and begin to climb a gentle rise path that leads up to the church. This path is lined with all sorts of foliage. It is simply elegance. There are a few places for sojourners to sit down and reflect. Crowds pass by. They do so rather quietly and reverently for the most part. It can be, and is often for me, breath-taking. Today was no different.

Again, we got back on the bus. We moved on to Bethlehem. This is Sunday morning. Baraka Church Worship begins at Ten-Thirty. We are expected to be there. We arrived on time. Baraka is a lovely church. The church leadership is comprised of several very nice people. The pastors’ families are delightful folks I have come to know and respect. I have long admired the way the church continually dreams and visions for a better worship, lifestyle, and world. We are greeted like old friends who have never been apart. Reality shows that it has once again been over four years since we have had the opportunity to see each other. Their beautiful children are all out of high school and growing up to be lovely young ladies.

Worship was terrific as always. It was good to hear from both pastors, who happen to be father and son. The music was inspiring, especially so since most of if was familiar to some of us and made it easy to sing along. After worship we were invited to join the congregation for a Potluck Dinner. Fantastic food and fellowship. They were generous with their time and resources. Just could not ask for anything more.

After lunch we took the bus down the road to the newly renovated guesthouse. We will be spending the remainder of our time in the country at this guesthouse. I am impressed with the work being done and the rooms are great. The guesthouse is part of the Bethlehem Bible College complex. It has gone through some nice upgrades from the last time I stayed here. It is still a work in progress. What has been done is stunning. I can’t wait to see it completed. We are given a chance to settle in and relax before doing a couple of outings later in the day.

Our first outing was to a small shop in Beit Sahour. It is part of a cooperative which handles all kinds of souvenirs. The primary focus is on Olivewood. Some of us are well acquainted with the family who runs the shop. We are eager to meet up with them. When we arrived, we found the whole family waiting for us. All but one, that is. Two of the three sons were there. Their daughter was also there. All working in the shop and helping our Team members find exactly what they wanted. We were told we could come back again later in the week. Some purchases were completed. Others were sat back so additional items could be added to the basket of goods before making the final sale.  The family is delightful. I love seeing them, visiting them, and hearing about what they are doing with their lives.

Finally, as evening approaches, we are taken to a restaurant for dinner. It was over the top. We are seated at a long table big enough for the whole group and some additional guests. There was no need to order our dinner as the menu had been pre-selected. We are presented with 10 salads and dips along with a large bowl of pita bread. That was just the appetizer. As we finished eating up the salads, dips, and bread, space is made on the table and the entrée is delivered. Kabobs are made of onion, tomato, lamb, chicken, and beef. To end the meal, we were given a baklava square and a cup of Turkish coffee. A terrific meal was had by all. Our dinner was special not only because of the menu, but also because it was a Team members birthday. We presented her with some gifts and sang Happy Birthday to her in English and in Arabic. One of the additional guests decided it was not enough and moved us on to another restaurant to enjoy a piece of Knafeh and another cup of coffee.  It was a delightful celebration.

The expectations of this day were well surpassed. Each stop just built on the other. To see sites that carry such strong memories and significance to me was indescribable. Seeing the friends and family was incredible. I especially enjoyed getting to catch up on the hopes and dreams of the fine young men and women I knew as small children. Our birthday girl was trying to keep it on the downlow, and we just could not let that happen. We had such fun. Today was a God-given gift to me on so many levels. Thank you, God, so much. This journey is way overdue.  A part of me felt like my expectations were so high that I had set myself up for failure. God is aware of what I need in my life if I am to remain faithful to God’s calling. This journey is something I need. It is so good to be here. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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