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Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category

For many people a visit to the Holy Land becomes a sort of “fifth gospel”. For me, it became a lens though which to read the pages of the written Gospels and I am stunned at how much clearer they have become. I am now leading a 10 day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land leaving from Aberdeen, Scotland 16th-25th March 2011.

I feel that, if at all possible, people should take the chance to visit if they can; there is so much to see, hear, learn, experience and share. Blogs, books, photos and presentations can certainly peak our attention, but nothing beats the personal experience. A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is more than pious tourism and few, but the cynical, would see it as a “Christian Disneyland”. Indeed I found it to give me an awareness not only of the past, but also the present.

I became aware that the Holy Land was an amazing experience of spirituality, education, and culture.

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Visits will include Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea and Qumran, as well as allowing free time for relaxation and private exploration. We will walk along the Via Dolorosa, sail on the Sea of Galilee, float on the Dead Sea and ascend the Mount of Masada by cable car.

If you’re interested in joining this adventure then please get in touch.

For more information see the attached brochure. Holy Land Pilgrimage 2011

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This week is Holy Week. During this week the Church remembers the final week of Jesus’ life, from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday through to his resurrection on Easter.

Below is a map, adapted and published back in 2008 by the English Standard Version Bible Society www.esv.org  that marries the locations and events of Holy Week.

Click on the image below to go to the Google Map, then click on each flag to see a summary of the events at a particular location on that day.

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I had an operation on my wrist last week, and find that the restricted movement that has been imposed upon me for the next 10 days means I’m looking for things I can do without causing too much pain. I decided video editing was a safe thing to do – use one hand, point and click. Okay there have been a few moments when I’ve forgotten and tried to hold a button down, but the sharp pain up my arm reminds me it’s not the thing to do! Anyway, I’ve put together a short video of my trip to Israel and include it here to give you a flavour not only of the trip, but also of the sights and sounds of land.

 

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For many people a visit to the Holy Land becomes a sort of “fifth gospel”.   For me, it became a lens though which to read the pages of the written Gospels and I am stunned at how much clearer they have become.    I am now in the process of making inquiries about organising and leading a 10 day Pilgrimage to the Holy Land in October 2010.   I feel that, if at all possible, people should take the chance to visit if they can;  there is so much to see, hear, learn, experience and share.

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Model of Jerusalem on eve of destruction 70 AD

Blogs, books, photos and presentations can certainly peak our attention, but nothing beats the personal experience.   A pilgrimage to the Holy Land is more than pious tourism and few, but the cynical, would see it as a “Christian Disneyland”.  Indeed I found it to give me an awareness not only of the past, but also the present.  

I became aware that the Holy Land was an amazing experience of spirituality, education, and culture.

I became aware that forgiveness and compassion are desperately needed not only between individuals, but also countries. 

I became aware of the awesome responsibility that we carry and the fact that as Christians walk this earth, peace ought to follow.

I became aware that the Holy Land was a place where the scriptures came alive.

So if anyone is interested in joining me on this adventure then please get in touch.      

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Over the past weeks I have tried to encapsulate my thoughts and experiences of the remarkable six days I spent in the Holy Land.

It has to be said – Israel is an exceptional place. The country is modern and efficient, geared for tourists with excellent roads, facilities and hotels, and lying comfortably alongside the modern, is the historical. 

The biggest change and challenge to my thinking is the fact that the  21st century Israeli and the 21st century Britain are not very similar – either in their culture, their way of life, or indeed their outlook on life.   The Israeli in their understanding and practice of religion, seem to have an underlying possessiveness and aggressiveness.  The people seem to have a siege mentality, (perhaps with good reason), but the sight of young men and women, everywhere, even in casual dress, carrying a gun equally casually, was somewhat sad and disconcerting.    As someone on the tour remarked “It’s a nervous country”.   And yet at no time did anyone feel uncomfortable or threatened, a strange contradiction.

Streets of the Old City

Streets of the Old City

Israel has an incredible biblical history and the country is dedicated to excavating and preserving it – probably its greatest achievement.  The department of antiquity must always be consulted when a new building project is proposed and no one can dig without their permission.    It wasn’t uncommon to see archaeological digs set up just yards ahead of a railway line being laid, or a building site ready to lay foundations once the area had been checked.  (Even the land for an extension to an already existing home has to be checked and cleared first).   Yet what they have done and continue to do, is to the benefit of the entire world.   But sitting alongside the fact that they are so careful to protect the past and will not let anyone dig without proper permission and prior excavation, is the fact that they have not been averse to building a wall of separation wherever they like.   This wall is effectively cutting off Bethlehem and also cutting off access for Palestinians to homes, places of work, property and land – the ruling being: if anything is unattended or not lived in, or land not work on for seven years, it becomes the property of the State.  For a people who were walled up in Ghettos in European countries during the last war I see some kind of paradox here; and cannot understand why they would do something to another people that they condemned being done to them. 

The Palestinian territories are so interwoven with Israel, that I cannot see in my mind how these can be separate countries. To a great extent, we have the impression that the Palestinians and the Arabs (Jordanians) hate the Israelis. I do not know how true that is.   I think it is not so much a religious difference, as a territorial issue – “they have stolen our land”.   And yet some also say they would be content to live side by side if it meant they could live without fear and have basic human rights and freedoms.   We had an Arab Christian guide and an Arab Muslim bus driver, and one of the Anglican ministers told us that his mother’s family were Jewish and many had died in Auschwitz;  all spoke of their wish for peace and for acceptance in this divided land.

For the country to be appreciated and enjoyed some judgment has to be suspended and faith must be dominant – not difficult to do, since there are so many things that connect us to our Christian past in this country and to our Jewish roots too.

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem

Has this trip affected my relationship with God.   I’m not sure – it has certainly in no way undermined it.  But it has given me a better connection to my Christian heritage.   It has made me focus and read Scripture in a different way; being in the land and the areas where Christ walked and where the events of his ministry and life unfolded was an amazing experience.    So perhaps, in time this will go some way to deepening not only my understanding, but also my relationship with God as a follower of Christ.  

We saw a lot, but barely scraped the surface, and I would go back in a heartbeat   

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Rebuilding

The next visit was to BASR (Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation) which began in an old house in Bethlehem in 1960.  Over the years it has grown and by 1990 the present hospital was constructed.   BASR is a non-profit, non- government organisation, recognised nationally for the medical and rehabilitation services it offers irrespective of gender, age, religion or social class.   Intensive residential treatment and care is given, usually over a 3-6 month period, to those with serious injuries or disabilities – people whether they have been shot, tortured, in accidents or born with disabilities are taken in and their belief that “Every Patient is First and Foremost a Human Being” is evident from the mix of people we encountered.   Their stories cover the walls of some of the meeting rooms – “I was shot in the arms, legs and back and am paralysed …” “I was tortured by soldiers and my back was broken …” “I had a stroke …” “I was in an accident …”

It also has an amazing ward for the rehabilitation of children. The children have neurological problems as the result of cerebral palsy, road traffic accidents, congenital and, unfortunately, also inflicted trauma. The focus is on short term rehabilitation with physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy. It also continues the rehabilitation in the community where physiotherapists do home visits and try and teach the parents and families how to continue therapies. Many staff are themselves disabled and a witness to the children and mothers that disability need not mean a lifetime of dependence.

 When I say this is a non-profit organization, I mean just that, it depends on funding and is currently struggling to make its budgets.   They have to get their medicines and supplies through agents from Israel and are paying well over the odds.   Some staff are currently having to work without pay.   What this area would do without this facility doesn’t bear thinking about.   It’s here at the moment, but it is not always easily accessible even though it is well established and recognised, nor is it able to offer the kind of care we would expect as routine – if someone needs a blood transfusion, then a relative will need to drive to Hebron (through checkpoints) which on a good day is about 30 minutes away and on a bad day can be more than 3 hours of waiting at a check point to get to Hebron and then to bring the blood back.  

Oh, and that Wall gets closer!

BASR’s mission is simply humanitarian and aims at promoting reconciliation, love and peace among people of different religions and backgrounds.   All good as far as I can see.  No ulterior motive.  So why is it penalised and why can’t it be recognised for what it is – a hospital helping people?

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Building and …

Herod the Great ruled the ancient kingdom of Judea from around 37 BC to 4 BC.  He built lavish palaces, seaports, aqueducts, and temples, including the magnificent Temple Mount in Jerusalem; the massive stones of the outer wall of the Temple Mount still stand today in the Old City of Jerusalem, where they are known as the Western Wall.   We had already visited the Western Wall, today it would be Herod’s desert palace fortress at Herodion, built in the years 23-20BC  

This amazing volcano-shaped desert palace fortress 5 miles southeast of Bethlehem, with a series of underground tunnels hewn out of a mountain and topped with a magnificent palace complete with bathhouses and guest quarters, is regarded as one of the most astonishing engineering feats of the ancient world.   We stood in the lower city and saw the excavations of the gardens, pool (large enough to sail boats in) and living accommodation at the foot of what looks like a hill with a winding road to take you to the top.   But this is an artificial mound, and when I got to the top I was not prepared for what we saw.  

Herod's Desert Palace Fortress at Herodion

Herod's Desert Palace Fortress at Herodion

Initially the palace was built with walls that stood high above the natural hill. Later the external walls were hidden behind a land fill that covered the walls from all sides. The earth was dug out from a nearby hill and moved to create this new hill.  Our guide spoke of that “faith that could move mountains” suggesting that it could perhaps be an allusion to this, as the feat would still have been something that was known and spoken about in the area.   So as we stood at the top and looked down into the hill what we saw were the remains of courtyards, rooms and bath houses, towers, columns and stairs.  And it was the stairs that would hold the next surprise; the water to the lower city was supplied to the lake by an aqueduct from the area of Bethlehem, but the water for the upper city was supplied by cisterns and fed from rainfall.  And it was down into the tunnels and cisterns that we next went, where there is another story of the people of Israel during the times of the revolts against the Romans.    

All in all a site well worth the visit.

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