So far, traveling in the Holy Land has been an eye-opening and breathtaking experience. Others have described it as the Bible coming to life. I’ve sort have seen it as getting a reintroduction to my Introduction to the New and Old Testament courses in seminary. Every day you feel like you are gaining something new and, as well, a deeper appreciation for the history, culture, and challenges that plague the area.
Today was no different. Every moment of the day were filled with experiences that, in time, will affect how I preach and interact with others. More so than any other day we’ve spent here it will be hard to put into words to describe all that we did and encountered.
One of the highlights of the day centered on expressions of touch. Twice we had the opportunity to touch places of our faith that have a deep connection to Jesus’ life here on earth. We visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and touched the place where Jesus was born and saw the manger he was placed in. This moment of touch will change my preaching come Christmas, because you have the opportunity to see all the details of the cave Mary and Joseph were in with the animals on the day of Jesus’ birth.
The second experience of touch came in the Garden of Gethsemane. We were able to touch the rock where it is believed Jesus knelt and prayed on the night of his betrayal and arrest. Not only did we get to touch it, but we also spent time praying at the rock. It was an emotional moment of deep spiritual connection to be at the rock and praying.
The third experience of touch came as we visited with several people of the Bethlehem Christian community. Several of us took the opportunity, tonight, to have dinner with a Christian family living in Bethlehem. My specific group met with a family that told us of the challenges that they face and what it is like to live so close to Jerusalem and not being able to visit. Those who live in Palestinian areas, like Bethlehem, need a permit to visit a city that is only a 15 minute drive from their home. A place that we were able to visit freely as tourists, this family could not visit simply because of their cultural heritage as Arabs. We also have the opportunity to visit with Chris Nissan of the Nissan Brothers shop in Bethlehem. They make some of the finest olive wood products you’ll ever see. Chris told us how the Christian population is declining in Bethlehem, because families want to go to places where they have more freedom. They see it as their contribution to the community to employ Christians from Bethlehem, so that they can provide for their families and the greater community.
Honestly, there were other moments that stood out today. Those were the ones that I still find myself, this evening, reflecting upon. I can imagine that I will for some time now.
Our journey, tomorrow, will take us into the Old City of Jerusalem. We will go to the Western Wall and there we will place the prayer cards that several members at Claylick provided to offer prayers to God at the wall. I’m looking forward to praying for those requests while at the Wall tomorrow.