Geoff and I were blessed with an incredible three week trip to the land of the Bible and were able to explore many areas of Israel and Jordan. Though Egypt was on our original itinerary, we were unable to go there due to the political unrest in the area. Though disappointed about that, it did allow more time than expected in Israel - never a bad thing!
While there, we recorded a couple of videos for Geoff to send back to the church. He and another man are taking turns each Sunday reciting portions of Mark. Our goal was to get his recorded and sent back so they could be played even in his absence. Alas, the internet connection in Galilee was insufficient to say the least and we couldn't get them uploaded in time - but we have the videos anyway and I encourage you to watch them. He did a great job, and they are at two cool sites!
Things were peaceful when we arrived in Israel, security stops were borderline friendly (not a common experience), and we decided to travel immediately into the more historically unstable regions while we could safely do so. You never know when tensions will rise, so when things are calm, you take advantage of it. The first days in Israel we spent going to significant sites located in or around Hebron, Ramallah, and Nablus in the West Bank areas. These areas were perfectly calm, and know one without being educated on the region would have cause to fear any unrest. The people were hospitable, grateful that we came to the sites located near their homes bringing tourism to their area.
Very few groups travel to many, if any, of the sites we visited in our first few days, which is unfortunate due to the historical significance, and strength of tradition and age of these major sites. Some of the sites we saw include Jacob's Well, located in modern day Nablus, and one of my all time favorite sites and stories of Jesus. We also visited the Tombs of the Patriarchs when in Hebron, which is where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah, and Jacob and Leah were buried, and traveled through Samaria and many other sites "off the beaten track."
We were working with a great group, half of whom had traveled through Israel before and were back to see more, so it was important to incorporate some of the "less seen" sites in the trip and those included many I had not visited before - which was very exciting! Neither Geoff or I had been to Jordan before, and this was very fun. We loved all of the sites we were able to visit there, and were honored by the hospitality of the Jordanian people we encountered. Geoff loved being able to identify the landmarks in Israel from the other side of the Dead Sea, seeing the mountain ranges and sites from a different angle than he had before.
After the main group left, we remained for a few days with our mentor, Dr. James D. Martin, learning roads, meeting contacts, and discussing future possibilities. It is easy to start feeling at home over there, with the simple lifestyle, the pursuit of learning and love, and the lack of luxury to worry about things that just really don't matter. People over there are sacrificing their luxuries, comforts, and sometimes lives for what they believe in. There is no passive faith available for those who claim religion, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew. For this reason we have learned to meet the hostilities that rise up over there with a great deal of grace - knowing that these acts are not often senseless acts of violence, but responses to what they feel truly convicted to be necessary to defend their faith. Muslim's and Jew's alike have a theology of the land that leads them to believe whole heartedly that GOD wants them to fight for it. They are doing what they think God wants them to do. No matter how wrong these conclusions may be, I urge you to pray for the Christian, Jew, and Muslim alike in this region of the world. Hostilities increased while we were over there, with a family being murdered, and retaliation beginning a new wave of harm. A bomb exploded in Jerusalem yesterday, the first of it's kind since 2004. Tensions remain so tight in that area of the world.
Pray for the people seeking Truth, that they will find HIM. Pray for those who are angry and no longer seeking anything but retaliation that they will find Peace in HIM. In name of Jesus.