March 8 (Sunday)

We began our exploration of Jerusalem this morning with a view of theisrael8-003a Old City from the Mount of Olives. We walked down the Mount along the traditional route of Jesus on israel8-093Palm Sunday, past numerous churches and cemeteries, to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations.

After crossing the Kidron Valley and entering the walled city through Saint Stephen’s gate, we visited the ruins of Bethesda and the Crusader Church of St. Anne, the mother of Mary.


From Saint Anne’s we followed the traditional route of Jesus’ last hours, the Via Dolorosa, to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (impossible to capture in pictures!), where some of the pastors touched the traditional rock of Calvary.csc_1143



March 7 (Saturday)

We left the Galilee on Saturday morning and drove to Jerusalem.israel7-021 Along the way we stopped to view the archaeological ruins of Megiddo, a fortified city from before 3000 until after 400 BCE and the site of the future battle of Armageddon (Rev 16:16). We explored the ruins and climbed through the city’s ancient water system. We then visited the stunning Roman remains at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, where Fred worked as an archaeologist for many years. Herod the Great built Caesarea Maritima as a Roman city, complete with aqueduct, theater, hippodrome (for horse racing), and other luxuries.  It is a beautiful site.israel7-085

Before dinner at the Notre Dame in Jerusalem, israel7-121we walked to the Western (Wailing) Wall in the Old City, where Hasidic Jews were celebrating the end of the Sabbath with prayers, singing, and dancing.

As you can imagine, we’ve been very busy experiencing sites that are hard to describe!  We have had joyous times, wonderful community, and many sobering moments in this conflicted land.  In summary, the pastors are all very well and very happy, although we do miss our loved ones, churches, and families.  More details, descriptions, and pictures will follow in the next day or so.  Until then, continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem

Entrepreneurial Ideas

laurie-picThe group has voted to submit this photo of Laurie, taken by Tiffany, to National Geographic as a portrait of a Bedouin woman. We hope to finance a reunion pilgrimage with the proceeds.

March 6 (Friday)

israel6-014Today is our rest day in the Galilee, israel6-007prior to our transfer to Jerusalem on Saturday. Many of us relaxed in the sunshine on the grounds of the Scots Hotel, while the more energetic of us took hikes in the Valley of Doves or returned to sites such as Capernaum   and the Mount of Beatitudes.  It is a beautiful, sunny day with highs in the 70s.

Our gifted pastors continue to surprise each other with their talents, insights, and creativity. They are a remarkable group of leaders who are also great friends and companions on the journey.  Our gatherings for prayers and worship continue to be joyful experiences, as do our late night conversations.israel6-003a

Thoughts from David

israel4-057During our boat ride this week, David saw a large flock of White Storks migrating north from Africa. They were circling on the updrafts over the Galilee hills. Here are some short excerpts from his essay on the experience:

As I watched these storks being lifted effortlessly higher and higher spinning on the updrafts over the hills of Galilee, and then watch them eventually break free from the currents that carried them upward and head out of sight to the north, I felt a kinship with their pilgrimage.  And for a brief moment… I felt like I was a pilgrim too.  I felt like I knew why I had come to this place….

These birds have made their pilgrimage for thousands and thousands of years.  They have been programmed and pulled by this landscape…. For thousands and thousands of years they have returned to the same thermals rising from the north shore of the Sea of Galilee and paused there to rest on their northward journey.

… These magnificent birds make their journey not by choice but by necessity, driven by impulses they cannot control or contain.  I on the other hand, am a pilgrim by choice, standing below them, looking up in search of meaning and purpose for my journey.  The purpose of their journey is hardwired into them. Their meaning is the impulse to live.  The meaning and purpose of my journey all too often eludes me, and I wish at times there were no need for a self conscious awareness of the “why,” but rather a simple comfortable embrace of the “going” that would lift me up and move me toward a destination I can trust.

…As I paused watching them, I realized I am not a bystander.  I am one of them.  I too need to pause on the restful thermals – not for myself alone, but for the very survival of something sacred I carry within, and feel compelled to pass along to the next generation.  Playing in thermals is not a distraction from the journey at hand, it is essential to sustain the stamina needed to carry on with the propagation of life, the story, and the faith.  And if the Story can live beyond me, then maybe… the quest for the meaning that alludes me at times will also continue, and maybe… somewhere in the future one of the pilgrims who will follow in my footsteps… will find the answers and the meaning that have eluded me.  And maybe… unbeknownst to me at some point in time that person will find some way of passing along the answers and the meaning back through the unbroken stream of this journey to me and all those like me who have made this journey not from the strength of solid conviction, but for the necessity of hope.  And then maybe I’ll rest in the answers too.

March 5 (Thursday)

Our morning excursion took us north to Banias, or Caesarea Philippi, in the Golan Heights. The bus ride wandered through historic parts of the area, with views of snow-capped Mount Herman, Nimrud’s Castle, Hazor, and the surrounding mountainous landscape of the Upper Jordan River Valley.israel5-045 We went for a leisurely hike in the Banias nature preserve and enjoyed the spectacle of its roaring waterfall, energized by the recent israel5-079rains. We also explored the nearby ruins of a Herodian cave sanctuary to the Greek god Pan at one of the origins of the Jordan River.israel5-098 It is among these numerous shrines to Roman deities that Peter declared his faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20). All in all, we spent a restful day enjoying the “land flowing with milk and honey,” diminished only by the looming political realities of this part of the Holy Land.israel5-118

March 4 (Wednesday)

The weather cleared today for our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.israel4-044 After a quick visit to the new museum of the first-century fishing boat recovered from the Sea in Ginosar, we enjoyed a relaxing ride across the Sea with bird watching, scripture readings, and song. (Check the “Gallery” section of this blog for more pictures of our nautical pastors.) israel4-120

We arrived on the eastern shore at En Gev, an Israeli kibbutz, where we had lunch. We then drove to one of the traditional sites of Jesus’ baptism on the Jordan River, Yardenit, where some of the pastors could not keep out of the water.israel4-222

Although their collegiality was clear from the very beginning, this group of pilgrims continues to demonstrate a wonderful spirit of friendship, encouragement, and good humor. The group is very grateful for this opportunity for retreat and spiritual reflection among their peers in ministry. Many of them have marveled at the refreshment offered by a spiritual retreat. (This theme may appear in more than a few sermons once the group returns to the States.) The ecumenical diversity of the group also offers nice surprises and chances for new songs and worship experiences (including Mennonite, Mexican, and Quaker leadership).