Israel and Egypt Trip
After an eight hour flight to Rome, Italy, a couple hours in the Rome airport and then another three hour flight, we landed in Tel Aviv, Israel - weary but ready for a great adventure. After an hour and a half bus ride through Tel Aviv and Jaffa, we arrived at our hotel in Netanya on the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean Sea, just in time to watch the sunset. Everyone shared a meal together and then it was off to bed for our first night of rest in the Holy Land.
Today we rose early, 6:30 am to be exact, had breakfast and then boarded our bus to begin our Holy Land adventure. First stop, Caesarea, Herod’s great port city. We walked the ruins, stood in the re-constructed theatre and visited the site of Herod’s palace, the place where the apostle Paul made his forceful appeal and defended the gospel. We viewed the spectacular hippodrome and then made our way back to the bus once more.
Next stop, Haifa. We wound our way north up the Mediterranean coast drinking in the breathtaking views. But none compared to the view as we crested out on the top of the hill in the city of Haifa. This spectacular centre for hi-tech sits right on the coast and is a key port city. The first large office towers we saw sported names like Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Intel - all research and development facilities. Then we began to climb into the city toward the crest of the highest hill. As we looked down over the railing at the Ba’hai Gardens, the first thing to catch our eye was the beautiful harbour, dotted with huge tankers and other watercraft. Modern buildings reached into the sky, but in the centre of it all, was a large cylindrical building that is the Ba’hai shrine. We weren’t here though, because of any interest in the Ba’hai religion, but because of the awesome beauty of the gardens here.
We then made our way to Mt. Carmel. After a hearty lunch of falafel, we travelled the rest of the way to the site where it is believed that Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal. The visibility today was incredible. We could see for miles and listened intently as our guide pointed out Jordan, and where the city of Nazareth was, and the mountains of the Galilee, the Golan and further north, Lebanon. Then, standing very possibly in the place where it happened, we read from the ancient text the story of Elijah taunting the prophets of Baal until they danced around in a frenzy and began cutting themselves to try and get their god to answer. And we read how Elijah ordered a trench to be dug around the sacrifice and then for it to be soaked with water before he prayed. And when Elijah prayed, the One True God answered by fire and consumed the sacrifice, even licking up the water that had collected in the trench. Below us was the Valley of Kishon where the prophets of Baal were slaughtered. And stretched out to the other side, the Valley of Armageddon where someday it all will end. It was the third time I have experienced this and I get chills every time.
Now it was time for a natural wonder. We travelled still further north, to the grotto’s at Rosh Hanikra on the Israeli Lebanese border. This is a beautiful wonder of nature, where sea and rock have continually met over the years and gradually formed a series of underground waterways and tunnels. A cable car ride down, a video presentation and lots of picture taking as we explored the caves and then it was on to the city of Acco.
In Acco we visited a former British prison, under which a huge Crusader Castle was found. The magnitude of this complex was simply overwhelming. Literally hundreds, maybe even thousands of truckloads of soil and rock and antiquities had to be removed to empty the cavernous halls and uncover this ancient structure - all one archaeologist’s can at a time.
The sun had set as we filed back onto the bus for our one and a half hour journey to a new hotel in Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. It was a quiet ride, except for the sound of the occasional soft snore.
We didn’t have to rise quite so early today. We would be staying in the same hotel tonight, so no packing and putting out of luggage was necessary. Breakfast behind us, we loaded up and headed out into the region of the Galilee.
We wended our way through Tiberias to the other side of the city to Ginosar, where a 2000 year old boat is on display, discovered by local fisherman a number of years ago. Some of our group raided the gift shop and then we boarded out boat for a quiet sail out on the Sea of Galilee. Once on the water, Cal sang us his rendition of ‘The Holy City’ before we read from the text the story of Jesus walking to the disciples on the water in the midst of a violent storm. It was a wonderful reminder that no matter what we face in life, and no matter how weak our faith might be at times, Jesus is always with us to calm the storm and to lift us out of the waves.
Back on shore, we climbed back onto our bus and made our way up and up into the Golan heights. Again, like in Haifa, we enjoyed the incredible views, this time of the Sea of Galilee as we climbed to our destination. The Golan Heights Olive Oil Factory staff showed us a brief presentation and then we filled the store to make our purchases of one of the amazing products of the region.
Lunch was St. Peter’s fish on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and many of our group enjoyed this local fare.
After lunch, we were off to Kursi, the site where Jesus cast the demons out of the man from the tombs and then sent them into a herd of swine. On this site, the ruins of a Byzantine church stand just below a memorial where they believed the cave to be that this troubled man inhabited. When he asked Jesus to go with him, he was instructed to go and tell his friends and family the story of what Jesus had done for him and we were all reminded that each of us has a story to tell.
We made our way from Kursi to the Mount of the Beatitudes. Looking down over the hillside toward the Sea, we could easily picture that Jesus may well have stood lower down the hill and spoke up towards the crowd seated on the hillside as he shared with them the Sermon on the Mount. Pastor Doug read from Matthew 5.
From there, to Tabgha, the site of the multiplication of the loaves and fish. Our last stop of the day was at Capernaum, where Peter was from and where Jesus taught in the synagogue, and then it was back again to our hotel for the rest of the evening.
Today we were up a little earlier again, as luggage had to be put outside the door by 7:30am in order for the bus to be loaded. We will be staying in Jerusalem tonight, the first of four nights there.
After breakfast we loaded up and made our way to a local date farm in Kinneret where we learned how dates came to Israel, and how they are grown and harvested. I think everyone parted with some of their money and bought lots of goodies from the store before we returned to the bus.
At the Yardenit baptismal site, it was our pleasure to be able to baptize ten individuals from our group - eight who were renewing their baptismal vow in the Jordan River and two for the very first time. The presence of the Lord was very real as each person went down into the water.
From Yardenit, we began our ascent into Jerusalem. It is about an hour and a half drive from Yardenit, and on the way we would pass through 3 different micro-climates. We left Yardenit, a land of green vegetation and rivers near the Sea of Galilee and made our way all the way down into the desert before climbing toward Jerusalem, 7500 feet above sea level. We ended our day with a sobering visit to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. Even though it was my third visit to this amazing memorial, it was equally if not more sobering than the first time I was there. It is one of the quietest places in Jerusalem. And every time I go, I am always overwhelmed at the great hall of remembrance because each time there have been hundreds if not thousands more names added to the record who were victims of the holocaust.
A short ride to the hotel, and day 4 is in the books. We enjoyed a late dinner and called it a night, all eagerly awaiting our first day in the Holy City.