Monday, February 28, 2011

The Western Wall

February 27, 2011

Sunday, Day 7 (Friday, Saturday and Monday will follow as soon as I can write about them, but I just had to share this experience, which I wrote about right away.)

 By Belinda

We passed through a turnstile and metal detectors, while our cameras and bags were passed through an opening to our left. They were picked up and weighed manually by security personnel before being given back to us.

Waiting in line to go through the security check a young woman, also carrying a camera warned me, “Don’t take photos of the Jewish people. They will get angry and they’ll smash your camera.”

I thought back to a couple of days prior, when on our way out of the market in old Jerusalem, fascinated by the beauty of the people and children, I had pointed my camera lens in the direction of an elderly Arab couple, sitting cross legged on the ground against a wall; the man wearing a red keffiyeh; an Arab headdress; selling herbs. 

In the instant that I raised my camera, the old woman had reacted with vehement anger, yelling something that needed no translation for me to understand, and at the same time reaching for a shoe from beneath some folds of clothing. I had the feeling that the shoe came out whenever foreign tourists tried to photograph them. I instantly erased the photo of the threatening gesture from my camera, sorry that I had been invasive of their privacy. I determined to be more sensitive in future.

Now we were on our way to the Western Wall, known in the past as the Wailing Wall; the holiest site to the Jews, as the Western Wall is the closest to the temple site. It is also a place of worship for all Christian denominations, so certainly a place to be deeply respectful. (In fact, my experience with the elderly couple was not repeated and no one seemed to mind being photographed, although I did so carefully and sensitively, and no one even hinted that they wanted to smash my camera.)

Once through security, we entered a large open square surrounded by ancient walls, bathed in warm spring sunshine. Thousands of people milled around in groups: Orthodox Jews, adults and children, clearly identifiable by the black coats and hats of the men, the head coverings of the women and the prayer tassels on the hems of the boy’s shirts; young Israeli men and women in military uniform, there for part of their education in the military, in which they must serve for three years; Christians of all kinds—Eastern Orthodox; Catholic; evangelicals of all denominations and nations.

To our right a fair distance away was the Western Wall, at its base, people praying, hundreds of people praying. Men and women were separated by a fence, the men on the left and the women to the right so as not to distract the men from prayer, but side by side, Christians prayed with Jews.

We arranged a time and place to meet later and then each of us made our own way to the wall, and I am sure each had a deeply significant personal experience.

On the outer edges of the area close to the wall, conversations hushed to a murmur. I saw people writing on scraps of paper: names; needs; pouring out their hearts to God in written words which they folded into tiny pieces to press into the cracks where plaster meets stone on the wall.

There were women of all ages. I noticed three young women, one using the backpack of another to lean against to write.

Three older women, brightly dressed; their arms entwined around one another’s shoulders--an image that spoke of a bond of deep friendship.

I didn’t take any scraps of paper to press into the wall. I know that God’s ear is just as close as my lips, but I did want to get as close to the wall as I could; to touch it and to pray there.

A space opened up beside a young woman dressed in black, an obviously observant Jewess. She was pressed against the wall, as though she wanted her heart to be right next to it. I knew then that was what I wanted to do more than anything else. I touched the smooth, cool, sand coloured stones, thousands of years old; and I pressed in until my body was against the wall, my face turned to the right, the palms of both hands pressed against it...and the tears that had fallen twice already in Israel, streamed again as I prayed thanksgiving for knowing this God: God Almighty, and for the fact that I belonged to him; the One who was the fulfilment of all that the temple represented. It was an utterly holy moment.

We left our places at the wall as reverently as we had approached it, wiping away tears and walking slowly backwards, so as not to turn our backs on the wall, and as we did, our places were filled by other worshippers.

As we rejoined the throngs of people in the space a little distance away, the air was alive with conversations in many languages and one man in a Jewish hat called a yarmulke, stood alone, calling to the crowds in Hebrew, and then in English, “Call on Yeshuah, call on the Name of the Lord,” seeming to be both tolerated and ignored by the crowds walking in all directions around him.

As I passed him our eyes met and I said, “Amen.”

He answered, “Thank you.”

On the Mount of Olives

 By Belinda

Late on Thursday afternoon, before heading for our hotel, our last stop was the Mount of Olives.

Some of the trees that cover the mount are ancient.

This is the site of the Garden of Gethsamane and also of the Church of All Nations.

The Church of All Nations, also known as the Church or Basilica of the Agony, is a Roman Catholic church located next to the Garden of Gethsemane. It enshrines a section of bedrock where Jesus  is said to have prayed  before his arrest. 

As the sun began to sink on this day, I could hardly believe that I was really in Jerusalem and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Pastor Wayne Lucas of Alliston Pentecostal Assembly, one of the churches with several members on the trip, read to us the scripture describing Jesus' agony.

Mark 14:32-42 (New International Version, ©2010)
 32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba,[a] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38 Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. 40 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
 41 Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 42 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”


By Belinda

We dismounted our camels. Our guide Danny said the story goes that when God had created all of the animals, he had a pile of spare parts left over so he put them all together and made the camel. That would explain a lot! They sure did look and feel like an ungainly hodge-podgy creature, with the exception of their oddly long, glamorous eye lashes.

The Judean desert was left behind us as we drove towards the place we would be staying for the remainder of our time in Israel; the centre of strife throughout history; the scene of the most significant events in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and the place of our imaginations and dreams--Jerusalem.

As we drove towards it my anticipation grew. It felt like the ultimate in "Are we there yet?" moments. The bus grew quieter, I think we all felt the same deep emotions, but for each of us there were no words...

Pastor Dave stood up and announced that we were about to enter the tunnel that would lead us into the city. Music began to play; the song, The Holy City, famously sung by Harry Secomb.

My heart felt as though it would burst with the emotions that welled up. As Jesus did two thousand years ago as he looked down on the city, I wept as we entered Jersualem.

 The Mount of Olives facing towards the Eastern Wall of Jerusalem

 Graves facing the Eastern Wall through which Messiah is prophesied to enter. The stones are left on the graves each time they are visited by a loved one.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sometimes a Picture Says More than Words

 By Belinda

After leaving Scythopolis we travelled, (or schlepped,)  across the Judean desert to a place called Genesis Land  where we had an appointment with some camels.

We were greeted by Eliezer, Abraham's servant, and then Abraham himself, who was the epitomy of hospitality and welcomed us with tea and dried apricots, dates

This facial expression shows the mood that the camels were in. They had attitude!

Imagine getting on a camel and being on it as it raises itself to its feet. It is not for the faint of heart!

Vita will probably kill me for posting this photo, but it's easier to ask forgiveness...her facial expression was priceless! :)

Disembarking from a camel is even scarier than when it gets up from the ground!

And there is no elegant way to get off.

February 24, 2011 Schlepping to Scythopolis

By Belinda

Our guide, Danny, told us that we were going to “schlep” to the next place on our journey. “Schlep”—a Yiddish noun for a journey, especially a long and arduous one—or to carry something heavy. There you are friends—a word you can incorporate into your conversation today.

We started this day by schlepping to Scythopolis, pronounced Skitopolis (although it was not an especially arduous journey.) The city was named after the Scythians, an ancient people who moved into the area from what is now Iran in the second century B.C. but before that it was the site of the city of Beit Shean or Beth-Shan, the ancient Canaanite city, conquered by the Israelites, where the bodies of King Saul and his sons were hung on the walls by the Philistines, after they defeated the Israelites and King Saul committed suicide.

  The next day, when the Philistines came to rob the dead, they found Saul and his three sons dead on Mount Gilboa. They cut off Saul's head and stripped off his armor. Then they spread the good news all through Philistine country in the shrines of their idols and among the people. They displayed his armor in the shrine of the Ashtoreth. They nailed his corpse to the wall at Beth Shan.
  The people of Jabesh Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul. Their valiant men sprang into action. They traveled all night, took the corpses of Saul and his three sons from the wall at Beth Shan, and carried them back to Jabesh and burned off the flesh. They then buried the bones under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh and fasted in mourning for seven days. (1 Samuel 31:10-12, The Message)

Beit Shean lies buried beneath a large hill that rises above the city of Scythopolis, which was buried by an earthquake in the 8th century A.D  

It is now in the process of being excavated and we were able to walk around the city. There is a huge theatre (hippodrome)—and here is another word that I loved—the exits were called “vomitoriums,” because the people poured out of the doors after a performance. 

I was fascinated by the public latrines, which are excavated in all of their glory! The seats are missing from the tops of the stones, but apart from that you can see the row of side by side seats—not separate at all for men and women and no dividing walls for privacy.  Quite a social and intimate setting.

Before leaving I climbed the steep steps to the top of the mound covering Beit Shean. There was an amazing view from the top and I noticed that there was another way down. I figured that it would lead back to the place I started from. It turned out to be a wrong assumption. As I made my way down, the sound of voices grew further and further away. I had taken the proverbial "circuitous route," and by the time I found my way back to the rest of the group they were all on the bus and just about to send out a search party. We had an appointment with some camels and we were almost late, but that is for another post!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

February 23, 2011 Day 3!

By Belinda (who is behind, but doing her best!)

People in our group heard from family at home in Canada who they were texting, that snow was falling thick and fast over there, while we basked in the sunshine and felt alternately grateful and guilty.

We started Wednesday by driving to Banias, known in Jesus’ time as Caesarea Philippi. There, cliffs rose steeply from the ground; rugged stone of deep gray and salmon pink. The sound of cascading water came from gushing waterfalls known at The Gates of Hell. Suddenly Jesus’ words, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it,” came alive with a play on the name of this familiar landmark—all the energy and power of a gushing waterfall! Context made sense of the words in a way that people who heard them originally would have understood. And it was here at Banias that Peter made his confession of faith in Christ (Matthew 16:16.)

We next drove to Korazin, destroyed by an earthquake and still in the process of being excavated and wandered the ruins of the houses lived in at the time of Christ, in this village over which he prophesied, together with two other villages, “Woe to thee.”

Next stop was the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, (see Matthew 5.) We gathered together and listened to one of our group read the words we had heard or read so many times before, but we were hearing them as close as it was possible to be, to where he had spoken them. An impressive and beautiful church stands on the site and from inside and all around, we could hear worshipers singing or being led in scripture readings by their pastors and priests in many different languages. A sense of holiness and reverence hung in the air in that beautiful place and we all took time to think about what it meant to be there. Our guide, Danny, said that Jesus would likely have spoken from the base of the mount, to the crowds gathered above him, as there acoustics that way would have been much better, but it really didn’t matter to us. Jesus had been in this place.

We stopped to have lunch at the Ein Gev kibbutz which operates a restaurant and specializes in St. Peter’s fish—the fish in which Peter found the coin for the payment of taxes to Caesar. Many of us chose to try the fish—I did. It was amazing, although the eyes staring back at us were a bit disconcerting.

And then we went to Capernaum where Jesus lived. We saw the house of Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, where Jesus stayed and healed her when she was sick, and the ruined temple, where he spoke, was just short steps away. You know it felt unreal somehow, seeing the very house where Jesus stayed and Simon Peter’s mother-in-law lived. Our guide told us at the start of our tour about the Three P’s: It’s possible, probable, or possibly not; the site of whatever is claimed to have happened there. But this house of all the sites is believed to be truly authentic. This is because of ancient graffiti on the building that identifies it as such.

Was I really worried last week about traveling with 28 people, some of whom I didn’t know? My anxiety was completely unwarranted. We found that we could be as “together,” or not, as we wished, but there is something about sharing such meaningful experiences with people that draws you together.

We drove back to Tiberias tired, but with our heads full of a waterfall, fish and a house in Capernaum.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Second Day: Tuesday February 21—Searching for Jesus

By Belinda

In spite of the sounds of Tiberius--a city that is vibrantly alive long into the night--on our first night in Israel we sank into our beds and slept as only exhausted travelers can. It had been an eleven hour plane journey followed by a full day of touring. We looked down from our hotel window onto the streets, lit brightly with a rainbow of neon signs and busy with people and vehicles--admired the view—and went to sleep.

The next day, restored, we found one another in the dining room and with varying degrees of daring, sampled unfamiliar tastes and textures from the abundant buffet. There were salads, dates, cheeses, boiled eggs, omelettes, fruits and all kinds of cakes.

At 8 o’clock sharp, our guide, Danny Appelbaum, met us in the lobby and we boarded the bus to begin day 2 which started with a walk through an alley crowded with market stalls. Our senses were bombarded with vibrant colour, smells, sights and sounds. We had been warned by our guide Danny, to be prepared for aggressively persuasive street vendors and the different social norms of the Middle East, and we tried hard to maintain some semblance of togetherness in the crowded alley. 

We emerged onto the street and had time for coffee in a cafe and to browse a store or two before boarding the bus again for Nazareth--Nazareth!!

At Nazareth we wandered the Church of the Annunciation and gazed at the excavated ruins within the church, which are believed to be Mary’s house. The atmosphere was hushed and holy, and the church itself is a stunning mixture of ancient and modern beauty and art.

On the bus again we drove to the hill from which the people of Nazareth tried to throw Jesus from a precipice after he opened he scrolls in the synagogue and read from them, a situation that went downhill when he announced that the prophesy was being fulfilled at that moment. The hill is known as Mount Precipice. We climbed it and gazed at an amazing panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and plains below.

If this all begins to sound like a blur to read about, you are experiencing what we experienced. So much was packed into each day and at each stop we could have spent day. In England we used to have a stereotype of tourists who would come and talk about “doing England," seeing sights and absorbing history at a pace we found alarming. I was now one of those tourists, “doing Israel!”
From Nazareth we went to the Sea of Galilee and after stopping to have lunch and view a boat from the time of Jesus; which was recently raised from the depths of the Sea, at Kibbutz Gennosar, we went out on the Sea of Galilee on one of many boat filled with tourists (or pilgrims) from all over the world; but ours was a boat called Faith. The owner of the boat, Daniel Carmel, is a Jew who came to faith in Christ while on his boat. His testimony can be found on his website: for Daniel is also a singer.
It was on the Sea of Galilee, aboard Faith; from which the Canadian flag was fluttering proudly in our honour; that tears flowed for many of us, including me. The rapid pace had slowed, at least momentarily, and out on the water, looking back at the shore that Jesus would have looked at, on the body of water he was so familiar with; looking at the hills on the other side; the Gentile side where Jesus healed the man possessed with demons in the country of the Gadarenes, I felt his presence and his peace. All along I had been looking for him here, and now I had found him as we sang songs in Hebrew and English, led in worship by Daniel, a Jew who had found his Messiah in Christ.

We had one more stop to make that day though, at the River Jordan, where our two pastors were going to baptize anyone who wished to either take that step for the first time or take it symbolically as a proclamation of faith. There were seven in our group who did, and for four I believe it was for the first time.
Each group at the Jordan had a “site.” Some had come with a group and others came on their own and immersed themselves in the water. From various places songs of worship in many different languages drifted in the air. A large Spanish speaking group was across from us and they were so enthusiastic and passionate in their worship that we all wanted to know how we could join their church. They were singing and clapping and worshiping with abandon and deep emotion and as each one was baptised they applauded and praised God.
Our group was quieter, but for those who were baptized and who said a few words about their faith in Christ and what this moment meant to them; it was profoundly moving and significant—that was written all over their faces and the smiles which shone from them.

So ended the second day in Israel for the Alliston, Tottenham group of pilgrims.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

February 21st 2011--Day One

By Belinda
Friends, a very busy schedule, slow internet and exhaustion! These are my excuses for not posting yesterday. :) Thanks Susan, for posting the itinerary!
We are leaving Tiberias today for Jerusalem, but I am going back to day 1 and will try to not leave a day out as I record this journey. Wow, it is wonderful to be here.
The silver winged cylinder sliced through silent sky. It encapsulates life; a baby’s cry carries across the three parallel rows of seats on and I hear scraps of sentences as people share details of grandchildren.
“She’s five going on 10.”
“Yeah, mine too.”
And other details of family compared; strangers learning the landscape of one another’s lives.
Finally, lights are turned down, window shades lowered and all falls silent. We sleep; or try to.
Eleven hours into the flight a new day is starting in the Middle East, and we descend through layer upon layer of cloud, into Tel Aviv.
The airport is modern and beautiful. “Welcome to Israel,” a big sign proclaims. We are here, don’t quite believe it. After so much anticipation, can we really be here?
Our guide, Danny Apelbaum, is waiting for us at the doors to the airport. Our cases are loaded onto the comfortable air-conditioned bus that will be our home away from home for the next eight days and we run through chilly rain to climb on board. It is something like 8 a.m. and our first day of relentless touring is beginning.
That day passes in a blur.  From Tel Aviv we go to nearby old Joppa, where Peter was at the house of Simon the Tanner, who lived by the Mediterranean sea when he had the vision that broke the boundary of ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 9:43, 10:9-23.) We walk around the old town and the waves crash against the shore and it doesn’t seem real that Peter was here so close to the tall buildings of Tel Aviv.
Back on the bus we head to Caesarea Maritima, where Peter walked to in order to meet with Cornelius, a Roman centurion who had sent servants to fetch Peter. For Peter it was a day’s journey. As we drive I am amazed at the distance Peter had to walk.
We are saturated in ancient history in Caesarea—so much to absorb and learn. Pontius Pilate was stationed there and Herod the Great built a breakwater in the harbour. A Roman Theatre—the Hippodrome and then we are whisked off on the bus under now cloudy and rainy skies to Mount Carmel, where Elijah challenged the 400 false prophets of Baal. Through the rain and mist we see dimly the plain of Megiddo, where the final Battle of Armegeddon is prophesied.  But by then we are all so tired, cold and wet that the hotel is the most longed for sight.
At Joppa
The Sea of Galilee
It feels a little like a movie in fast forward this day. But we are here, and excited to be soaking in the sights, sounds, scents and flavours of a Middle Eastern culture. A soft bed awaits in the Leonardo Club Hotel. We are here..

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

While Waiting for News...

Posted by Susan...

If you are like me, you've been checking in to WHS numerous times a day to see if Belinda has been able to post anything more since her report on the beginning of the trip which went up here on the blog at the end of their first day in Israel on Monday.  She shared with me a little treasure after cell group last Thursday night.  Acopy of her itinerary.  Mind you, she thought I was a little crazy asking for it, but I didn't care.  I like to know where the people I care about are when they're not where they're "supposed" to be!  Especially when so far away from home.  I'm crazy enough that I even I looked up the time difference between here and Israel.  In Israel they are seven hours ahead of those of us who are in the Eastern Standard time zone -Toronto.  So I'm just thinking about going to bed in the next half hour or so, and Belinda is probably just about to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock in their hotel room somewhere near the Sea of Galilee.  

The one thing I did hear from her (besides that initial post on Monday evening) was that the internet is very expensive over there.  And perhaps it's not accessible as it is here.  The things we take for granted...

Anyway, it just dawned on me this evening that I could post the itnerary here on Whatever He Says and then you would know too where she is, and what we might be hearing about in the coming days.

And so, with no further ado...

Day  1  Sun Feb  20    Depart Canada
  • Depart Toronto to  Tel Aviv. Meals will be served on board.  
  • Overnight en route
Day  2  Mon  Feb  21   Tel Aviv – Sea of Galilee
  • Upon arrival at the Ben Gurion airport, you will be met by a Sunworld Tours representative.
  • Drive through Tel Aviv to visit  Jaffa (Joppa) where Peter stayed with Simon the Tanner. (Acts 9:43, 10:9-23)
  • Stroll through the picturesque port city of winding alleys, art galleries and crafts boutiques.
  • Continue along the ancient “Way of the Sea”, which linked Egypt and Babylon.
  • Stop at Caesarea the largest port in the Mediterranean built by King Herod the Great. Here Pontius Pilate had his seat; Cornelius lived and was baptized (Acts 10 ) and Philip preached (Acts 8:40).
  • Visit the Roman Theatre, the Hippodrome, and the Crusader City. Stop at the  visitors’ center to view the audio visual. 
  • Travel  to  Muhraka on  Mt. Carmel where the prophet Elijah challenged the 400 false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:30).
  • Drive along the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo one of King Solomon’s fortified city kingdoms (1 Kings
  • 9:15; 10:26), with impressive ruins of 20 levels of civilization.
  • From here the Books of Daniel and Revelation will come alive as you read about the final Battle of Armageddon, while viewing the fertile plains of the Jezreel.
  • Overnight by the Sea of Galilee
Day  3  Tue  Feb  22                  Nazareth – Sea of Galilee
  • Proceed to Nazareth, the boyhood town of Jesus and stop at the Church of the Annunciation.
  • Continue via Cana site of the first miracle changing water into wine.
  • End the day with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee to Kibbutz Ginnosar.
  • Visit the ancient boat from the time of Jesus that was discovered in the Sea of Galilee.
  • Stop at Yardenit the Baptism site  
  • Overnight by the Sea of Galilee
Day  4  Wed  Feb  23   Golan Heights 
  • Drive north to the Golan Heights.
  • Visit Banias, a source of the Jordan River, site of ancient “Caesarea Philipi” where Peter made the confession of faith in Christ (Matt; 16:16).
  • Continue to Korazin a village from Jesus’ time with ruins of a First Century Synagogue and one of three villages Jesus prophesied over “Woe to thee.” 
  • Continue to the Mt. of Beatitudes where Jesus delivered “The Sermon On The Mount” (Matt.5).
  • Walk down the mountain to Tabgha, visit the Church of the Primacy of Peter.
  • On to Capernaum centre of Jesus’ Ministry in the Galilee and the site of many of his miracles (Mark 2:4; Matt.8:5; 14-7; 9; 1-7; 17: 18). 
  • See the remains of St Peter’s house and the ancient synagogue where Jesus taught and worshipped (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31).  
  • Overnight by the Sea of Galilee
Day  5  Thu  Feb  24   Jerusalem
  • Travel south to Beit Shean where the body of King Saul and his sons were placed on the walls by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31:10) and capital of the Decapolis.
  • View the largest ongoing archaeological dig in the land of Israel.
  • Drive through the Jordan Valley, where the desert now blooms with flowers and vegetation of every description (Isaiah 35:1-2). 
  • Stop at Genesis Land where you will ride on a Camel and visit Abraham’s tent 4000 years later (Genesis 18:1-8).
  • Continue south along the shores of the Dead Sea to Qumran, home of the Cult of the Judean Desert, where a shepherd boy discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls (1947) in a nearby cave. 
  • Then ascend through the Judean Desert wilderness to the Holy City stopping on Mt Scopus to recite a Psalm of Ascent and enjoy the first view of Jerusalem.
  • Tour the Southern Wall Archaeological Park at the Davidson Centre to see the impressive excavations along the South Western Wall of the Temple Mount.
  • Continue to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest spot.
  • Overnight in Jerusalem 
Day 6  Fri  Feb  25   Jerusalem
  • Drive to the top of Mount of Olives, for a panoramic view of Jerusalem.
  • Tracing the footsteps of Jesus, stroll down the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations.
  • Continue along the Kidron, the Valley of Jehoshaphat, past the Tombs of Absalom, Zechariah and James. 
  • Drive to Mt Zion to visit the Upper Room (Room of the Last Super), and  King  David’s Tomb. 
  • Enter the Old City walking through Zion Gate and the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter.
  • Visit the Roman/Byzantine/Crusader Street called the “Cardo.”
  • Continue down the “Upper Hill” view the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque built on the Temple Mount. 
  • End the day at the Garden Tomb for communion before returning to your hotel. 
  • Overnight in Jerusalem 
Day 7  Sat  Feb  26   New Jerusalem
  • Start the day at Yad Vashem –Museum of the Holocaust.  Pay tribute to the six million victims of the Shoah during the Second World War.
  • Visit the new Museum, the Children’s Memorial and walk along the Avenue of the Righteous commemorating those who risked their own lives to save Jewish souls.
  • Continue to the Israel Museum to visit the Shrine of the Book housing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Model of ancient Jerusalem describing the city from the Second Temple Period, the time of Jesus. 
  • Visit King David’s City.
  • Proceed along the path of Palm Sunday via the Pools of Bethesda at St. Anne’s Church and through the “Suk” the colorful bazaars, alleyways and market places along the Stations of the Cross to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.   
  • Overnight in Jerusalem 
Day  8  Sun  Feb  27   Dead Sea
  • Drive through the Judean desert towards Jericho, the oldest town in the world which you will see from a distance to the lowest point on earth the Dead Sea (over 1300 feet below sea level). 
  • Continue south to Masada.
  • Ascend by cable car to the summit of King Herod and the last stronghold of the Jewish Zealots in the revolt against Rome(73 ace).
  • Travel north along the Dead Sea.  En route to Jerusalem stop at Mineral Beach to float on the Dead Sea the saltiest body of water in world.
  • Stop in Qumran, center of the Essenes who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls.
  • Overnight in Jerusalem 
Day  9  Mon  Feb  28   Jerusalem
  • Spend a day of leisure in this fascinating city.
  • Optional tour to Bethlehem to visit the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus.
  • Enjoy a farewell dinner at your hotel before transfer to Ben Gurion airport for your flight to Canada.
Day  10  Tue  Mar  1   Home
·       Arrive Canada
The itinerary is subject to change.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Journey Begins with Excitement

By Belinda

The morning of our departure dawned Canadian winter crisp and bright; the sky rosy pink and cloudless.

Joyce arrived first, dropped off by Fernando, then Pastor Dave and Esther arrived. The men managed to wrestle 5 people's luggage into the trunk of our Honda CRV and we were just preparing to get in ourselves, when Dave began checking his pockets with a look of perplexed disbelief. No passport.

He retraced his steps mentally, and could only think it was in the hallway back at home in Tottenham, so we followed their vehicle back there, only to find that it was in a red bag, safely stowed with the mountain of cases in the back of the CRV all along. No worries, we were now on our way.

At Lester B. Pearson airport the rest of our group of 28 began to gather. I sat down by a window to wait.

A young woman next two me made a call on a pink cell phone.

"Hello," she says, "I'm with (she names a company) and I missed my flight, can you help me?"

She explains that she thought her flight was at 1.30 p.m., but when she arrived to catch it, found that it was at 1.30 a.m.! And she had a connecting flight from Hong Kong to Sidney, Australia. Oh, my!

We were just waiting for one last person in our group, so began to make our way to the security check in when someone said they tracked him down with their cell phone--he was in church--in Alliston--he thought the flight was the next day! He quickly left the building.

I thought about someone calling at 11.00 a.m. yesterday and telling me that we were supposed to be at the airport. I couldn't imagine the stress . We would not have been ready; there were so many last minute things that we did that day. It would have been absolute panic. But somehow our very committed church attender made it to check in--four minutes before it closed, looking surprisingly unruffled!

Tonight I sat beside him at dinner, a young 20 year old man with Aspergers syndrome, and I got to ask him the questions I had been dying to know the answers to. What was it like to be called out of church and told your vacation was starting a day earlier than you expected? Had he started packing already?

His answer--"Stressful!" No kidding. :) And no, he hadn't started packing!

But, he said with a smile, "I threw in the essentials, and it saved me bringing a lot of clutter."

Well, if that had been me I would have probably left behind every essential item on my list.

Our flight, once we were all on it, was smooth. We hit the ground running after 11 hours in the air and even though some of us had a decidedly glazed expression in our eyes by then, we had a full day of touring before booking into our hotel in Tiberius by the Sea of Galilee tonight. I hope to post more soon.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Next Week in Jerusalem

By Belinda

Tonight I wrote to a friend in Israel with whom I'm hoping to connect during our trip, "We'll be staying in Jerusalem at...." and I gave the name of our hotel.

We'll also be staying in Tiberius. Jerusalem...Tiberius! Will we really, really be there?

This was the packing and preparing day. As I procrastinate on the most important things I have to do, this meant that I cleaned my oven!

But because I recently took a training on time management where the trainer advised us to Swallow the Frog (do the thing you don't want to do first), and am trying to put it into practice, I confined myself to the oven and didn't clean my fridge from top to bottom too.

I don't know why it seemed such a monumental task to get ready today, but what with laundry, ironing, packing, photocopying passports and credit cards in case they get lost, the day flew by.

It is so long since Paul and I have gone away together. I'm usually off to England on my own to visit Mum and Rob, or he is off to a First Nations Reserve, on a missions trip. It felt wonderful to be getting ready and knowing that we wouldn't be saying goodbye at the airport, but boarding a plane together.

Tomorrow morning at 8.30, Dave and Esther; our pastor and his wife; and Joyce, a long time friend and member of our church, will meet us here and drive down with us to the airport where we will meet up with the other 23 people on the trip.

I don't know when or if I will be able to post again but I will do my best! For sure I will be documenting the trip in words and photos one way or another. Stay tuned!


By Belinda
Cell group, and Tippy shares a home made birthday pumpkin pie with Barb whose birthday was last week. Both of them love pumpkin pie much more than birthday cake.

I hope that this almost 13 year old never stops looking forward to our Thursday night cell group dinners as much as she does right now. Each week I look around at the 11 or 12 people crowded in tightly, passing plates of food; such a diverse group of married and single people, male and female--and I feel happy--to be there at the table; listening to the conversations; enjoying the enjoying, glad I belong.

Last night, as I prepared the dinner after work, I was filled with personal insecurities as I pondered my week. I lead such an amazing team of people, and there are times when I feel inadequate--and inferior! I think, "They deserve better--in fact they are better--than me." This was one of those weeks--a week when I wondered if I had enough to give.

Susan arrived early. I had just finished mopping the floors and was putting things back where they belonged, so she started setting the table while I put dishes in the microwave to heat up.

As she put out white plates on the cranberry tablecloth, she talked about her day and a difficult situation she had been working through. An organization with which our agency interfaces in the support of someone, had missed some key components that someone needed to succeed and during a long discussion with them that had been evident and they had apologized.

Susan said then, "You know what I said to them? This is something you taught me." (At that point I was curious, thinking, 'I taught you something?')

She went on, "I said to them what you would have said, 'We're all just doing our best.'"

You know, I don't remember saying that, but it made me think of what I wrote in my post earlier this week, Debate Matters, when I said that often we have no idea when we are influencing someone else, and it is rarely the great speeches or the things we would expect to be remembered, that "stick."

Susan's words fell on me like a benediction, a gift. I said to her, "I needed to hear that tonight."

She looked at me curiously, and said, "You did?"

"Yes, I did. I needed to know that I had made a difference somehow, but I also needed those words for me."

"We're All Just Doing Our Best."

God's means of encouragement amaze me.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Welcome to My World

Fridays with Susan...

Belinda and I talked after cell group last night.  She grabbed a second cup of coffee and sank into the lazyboy next to me in the Gathering Room (as I call their large back room - I guess it's actually the family room).  If I had wanted more coffee, I would have got up and filled up my cup too, or asked her to, but it really didn't seem worth the effort.  It had been a long week so far.

During the course of our conversation, she mentioned having been in Lala-land for a brief period of time while something was going on that escaped her circle of awareness.  I said, "Don't you mean Belinda-land?"

She said, "No, Lala Land," and went on to describe how this event in her life unfolded in plain view, but she had essentially missed it because she wasn't paying attention.

She calls that "Lala Land?"  She has no idea.

My cell phone rang in my lap while we were talking.  I could see it was daughter Beth.  I wondered why she was calling so late and then I pressed "Ignore", thinking that I was leaving soon anyway and I would call her back on the way home.  It buzzed a few more times over the next ten minutes, but I just kept pressing "Ignore".  I was leaving in "just a minute", after all.  Finally, as we were saying goodbye and God-speed at the door (it's the last time I would be seeing her before The Israel Trip) her house phone jangled loudly and startled both of us.  I had a feeling it was Beth and stood there on tenterhooks, a little mad at myself for likely having disturbed Paul who had to get up for a very early morning meeting.

It was Beth all right.  Belinda handed me the phone and I was summarily reminded that I was supposed to be babysitting by now so that Beth could go to work.  Mike was away with Mikey for a few days, having taken a few days vacation to accompany Mikey on a class trip.  I should have been there at 10:30.  It was now 10:45 and I was 20 minutes from home.  15 if I drove like a speed demon.  I took the latter option and arrived at 11:00.  Beth, also known as Miss Conscientious, was 15 minutes late for work.

Beth and I had talked about her babysitting dilemma just the day before.  She had decided to take a day of vacation in order to make her schedule work.  I urged her not to.  "Save that day for when you can do something with your family," I said.  "I'll sleep over and then get the boys off to school in the morning as usual."

And then I promptly forgot.  It had been a wild and woolly day, starting with a trip to the Provincial Courthouse in Barrie and ending with an hour long intense phone call regarding a very concerning situation at work.  My promise to babysit had gone completely out of my mind, and my "second up of coffee on Thursday nights" ritualized behaviour took over.


That phone call, reminding me of where I was supposed to be took me from completely relaxed, and enjoying life from the slow lane, to instant panic and a boatload of guilt.  I had caused my dear daughter to be stressed out of her mind, I had made a promise and inadvertently broken it, I had caused the person who was waiting to leave at her place of work to be late going home, My adrenaline levels went from zero to sixty in about 2 seconds flat.  And suddenly I was tearing home across the back roads driving as fast as I safely could, wishing all the while I could run stop signs and find some here-to-fore hidden (and completely non existent ) short cut which would shave a few minutes and get me home even a few minutes earlier.  Sublime to panic.  Confident to embarrassed.  Sane to crazy.  In a flash of time.

This kind of stuff happens to me ALL the time.  Or perhaps I should say, "This stuff happens to the people in my life all the time."  It's all part of life in the fast lane with someone who has an attention deficit.  I don't mean to forget these things but I do.  It's probably the thing I like least about myself.  And it's what I get teased about the most.  Arghhh again.

There are ways to compensate, like always making sure that my agenda is current and updated, or setting the alarm on my cell phone, and lots of times those safeguards I have in place (when I remember to use them) kick in.  But not tonight.

No wonder I have anxiety issues!  I'm always looking back over my shoulder, wondering what I've forgotten this time.  It's just a matter of time before the next embarrassment surfaces...

It's not that I use ADD as an excuse.  No way.  I am responsible for my behaviour -whether I meant to do it or not.  In this case, for instance, I should have realized I needed some way to be reminded.  I should have set the alarm on my cell phone.  Or asked Beth to call me the day of to remind me.  But I didn't.  It's not an excuse, but it is a reality. It's part of my physiology.  I can't change it, but I can find ways to compensate for it.

Another weakness is impulsivity.  I can't tell you how many times words have popped out of my mouth which I have immediately regretted - and which have surprised even me.

Yet another disadvantage is misunderstanding.  People judge when sometimes they just don't have a clue.

It's not all bad.  There are advantages.  Even when I look relaxed and like I'm vegging out, my mind is constantly going.  I have only two speeds - crazy and sleep.  When I'm awake I am flipping through the files in my brain, one after another at lightning speed.  It allows me to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions to problems.

I used to beat myself up about it - royally.  And sometimes I still do.  But for the most part now, I've learned to realize that it's one of those weaknesses built in to me where God can show himself strong.  I can't tell you how many times he has rescued me by jogging my memory in some inexplicable way - like having someone call and see, "I'll see you later!"


"At the meeting."  Oh yeah.

It certainly increases my need for dependence on his grace and goodness.  It causes me to be grateful each time I get it right.  When I miss things, it's usually an indication that I'm not listening to him and brings me right back to the cross.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me..."
2 Cor 12:8,9


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

We Have Shekels!

By Belinda

There are two open suitcases on our bedroom floor and we have shekels. I guess that means we really, really are going to the Holy Land!

Four days from now (Sunday) we will be in the air and almost there.

I have read the contents of the large white envelope containing our itinerary and other important information several times and as you can see, I will be wearing a name tag that says "Lyne Burston" for the duration of our vacation. I'm adjusting to the name change. :)

(This is because Paul calls me "Lynne"--short for Belinda--and it lost a letter in the booking process.)

On Saturday I bought a bathing suit because we'll be visiting the Dead Sea. I explained to our four Burston grandchildren who were visiting that day that the water is so salty that you cannot sink. Their eyes grew wide with interest and the littlest one said, "Then you don't need water wings?"

I am feeling a little nervous. This is so out of my comfort zone--introvert me, travelling in a group of 28 people, most of whom I don't know, and yet it is all so exciting.

Today I checked out two of the hotels where we'll be staying, on-line, and found that they have wireless internet so I will do my very best to take readers here along on this journey with us, checking in as often as possible.

Between now and then I may be frantically busy--and just plain frantic, so I may be a little sporadic in posting. I would like to spend some time before going, calming down and just preparing emotionally and spiritually for the impact of this trip, but I have a feeling that I'll be too full of nervous energy to sit still for long. I deal with stress by keeping moving--and it drives Paul crazy because he deals with stress by sitting down and trying to relax.

Stay tuned--and if you have a moment, pray for us. :)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mothers and Daughters

It was early one February morning, almost 13 years ago, that Paul and I drove to Markham-Stouffville hospital while trying to comprehend the fact that our baby girl was about to deliver a baby of her own. It was a planned C Section and she was so brave, delivering one liners to all and sundry in her inimitable way of dealing with nervous tension and emotion--keep it light--keep on laughing.

That day we wondered where the years had gone. It seemed only a blink of an eye since the day she was born, and I could bring back every emotion of that day as if it were just yesterday. I had so much gratitude for the gift of Brenda; a sister for Peter, two years old when she arrived, and a gift which we would unwrap one day at a time for years to come.

God gave us Miss Sociability; an instant connector with people--just like my mum; her Omie. She is hyper-punctual; a little obsessive; an overachiever at whatever she tackle--just like her dad. We are very different, and that is a good thing because I admire and love her for who she is.
And now here we are celebrating the 13th birthday of the baby she bore that February day and I think again, "Where did the years go?"

God gave us Tippy that day long ago: a dreamer; musical; emotional; always quick to perceive and develop catastrophe, and an artist. She has a heart that is terrifying in its tenderness and vulnerability. I pray that God watches over it. I am grateful that we can entrust that heart to him.

She chose the Rainforest Cafe for her special celebration, one week early, because we will be in Israel next week. It was the perfect venue for a party for a girl who still can be found outside howling to coyotes or calling turkeys.

And Tori, the sister who arrived just 13 months after she was born, and who is her closest friend and companion, was there too of course. They look like two peas in a pod and grew up used to being asked, "Are you twins?", and used too, to emphatically stating, "No!"

Tori may look startlingly like Tippy, but they are completely different personalities. Tori is bookish, passionate, and a lover of animals. Her anger and laughter, quick wit and sarcasm all lie close to the surface.

Three generations of mothers and daughters, all of us different but carrying in us the genes of previous mothers and daughters; of family.