Today it is 66, sunny, & absolutely beautiful here in Jerusalem. Let’s say this bit of sunshine is a blessing after a week of rain and cold. It’s amazing how much sun can do for your mood, and motivation! My favorite place to do homework is outside in the garden where I can listen to worship music, soak in the sun and enjoy my reading. I’ve had a lot of time to spend alone with God lately, and I’ve enjoyed the quietness of those times. My relationship with God is being shaped and molded in new ways, and I have gained a hunger for the Bible like I never have before. Going to these places that we read about just brings the Bible to life. It’s not just words on a page anymore, it’s a place and a memory that I have stored in my brain. The Psalms are especially becoming special to me because there is so much in them about the land of Israel, and to read them and understand the context of the author’s writing. I think the biggest thing that’s changed since I left is just my desire to be intentional about my relationship with Jesus.
|All ready to go!|
This weekend was one of the best weekends I’ve had here so far. We decided on Thursday that since Friday was a free day we should go do something, and Dr. Wright gave us the idea of hiking the Wadi Sorek, which is a Wadi West of Jerusalem. Friday morning we went out to the Old City and bought fresh pita, peanut butter, fresh fruit and dried fruit and we packed up and took a bus to the new train station. From there we walked on a dirt path until we found a horse trail that led us beside the railroad tracks. After a mile or so we were able to walk a path by a stream bed and we followed that for the next 5 or so miles until we decided to set up camp. The only unfortunate aspect of the trip was that it down poured for 20 minutes before we set up, so by the time we got into the tent our bags (including our warm clothes for the night) were soaked through, and a few of us with borrowed sleeping bags spent the night shivering. However, the next day was absolutely beautiful and we were able to hike several more miles in the sunshine and enjoy the scenery.
|View of the east side of the Wadi|
The area that we were hiking did not feel like Israel at all. The whole time I felt like I was hiking New England, or maybe evenNorthern Michigan. It was green, wooded, and full of orchards and fields that were strewn along the bottom of the Wadi. We got to see shepherds out with their flocks and little villages along the way. The best part of it was just being amidst the nature and having all day to experience and take in our surroundings. It felt great to get out of the city and just revel in the beauty of the Hill Country and spend some quality time with friends. This was my first time rustic camping, along with backpacking (I carried about35 lbs on my back), and it turned out to be a great first time experience. I’m still not a huge fan of peeing in the woods, but you gotta do what you gotta do.J We ended up hiking 16 miles, and I was exhausted when we got back on Saturday. A warm shower and getting off my feet worked wonders, and I was ready to go by the next morning for our field study to Samaria.
I woke up bright and early on Sunday to make it to the bus by 7. I was a bit more tired than usual and less talkative (even more unusual), but nonetheless I was excited because field studies are always my favorite time of the week. We first stopped at a lookout near Shiloh and learned a bit about the Biblical examples of what had happened in Ephraim and Manasseh, most importantly the conquest of Joshua and the portioning of the lands to the tribes. One of the interesting parts of our talk was how the Samaritans in the land believe that they are God’s chosen people, not the Jews. They go by the Samaritan Pentateuch, and believe they are God’s chosen people because of Deut. 11 and 27, which talk about the place of blessing to be at Mt. Gerazim, part of Samaria. The modern Samaritans do not call themselves Jews, but Samaritans, and still live only by their Samaritan Pentateuch and their traditions. Next we visited Shechem, more specifically the church on top of Jacob’s Well. This is the setting of the story in John 4 of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well. We got to go explore the church, and we even were allowed to pull up water from the well and drink it.
After that we went on to the Tel of Shechem, which was my favorite part of the day. This place has a fantastic view of Mt.Ebal and Mt. Gerazim, I find the city fascinating, especially because it has been called the uncrowned queen of the North. This place has everything: resources, access to trade routes, springs, good soil, yet it was never as important as Jerusalemand was only the capital of Israel under Jeroboam for a short amount of time. The major reason that it didn’t stay the capital was because it was hard to defend, but I still find it hard to understand why such a well placed city was not more important or talked about in the Bible as Shechem. It’s history even goes back to Abraham, who planted roots there, which in Joshua’s time helped out the Israelites. The site itself was remarkable because there was a sliding door gate system – which was already there in the Middle Bronze Age! It always amazes me to see the advanced fortifications that they had even back then. Imagine having to slide a stone door back and forth!
After Shechem we went to Samaria (or Sabastia, as Herod had renamed it). This site had a heavy Roman footprint (but it goes back to Bible times), and we were able to see the Roman city wall, a Roman theatre, and the Roman basilica. Walking through the site and seeing the columns and the Roman architecture amazed me! I just kept thinking about how old these pieces of stone were, and how much I wish I could see what it had looked like in its prime. My favorite part of the site was the Roman theatre, mostly because it was still intact and well preserved. We spent a lot of time talking about King Omri and his son Ahab, because Ahab had built this palace after Samaria had become the capital of Israel. A lot of our learning thus far has come from the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, and I’m starting to gain more of an understanding of those books (which before have been quite unfamiliar to me) as a result.
Our last stop of the day was to Shiloh, the place where the Ark of the Covenant was until it was moved on toJerusalem. There are many Biblical stories about Shiloh, including the story about Eli the High Priest and his two sons and the story of Hannah going to Shiloh and Eli blessing her after her prayer for children. We got to talk about different theories of where the tabernacle might have been because there are 3 different theories. I’m finding that a lot of things here in Israel are not for certain (like the places of Biblical stories), but it’s always good to be able to look at some theories and make your own opinion about them.
That night after the field study I was exhausted from my weekend, and a group of us ended up watching Gladiator (on VHS, no less) to finish up the day. That movie was made greater by the fact that I had seen Roman ruins earlier in the day, and I could put an image of Roman life into my memories of the site. I think I will start watching more movies like that because I can have some point of reference to go off of now.
The past week has been fantastic. I’ve gotten to visit the Citadel of David Museum (has models of Jerusalem throughout history) and do the Rampart’s Walk. I’ve had time to do homework and hangout with friends. I’ve also made time to spend quiet moments with God each day, spending time in the Bible reading a chapter of 1 Corinthians a day and listening to worship music for about a half hour. I find my faith to get stronger each day, and it still amazes me how being in this place can have such an affect on my spiritual life. I’m just thankful for all of the changes and I keep praying each and every day that God will draw me closer to Him during this experience and open my eyes, heart and ears to what He has to teach me.
I started soccer practice this last Tuesday, and it went great. We have 21 girls who want to play (which is out of a school of 75!) and all of the girls were enthusiastic and just grateful that we are taking the time out of our weeks to come coach them. I have a guy named Ross with me who is helping me coach, and we now have practices on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m struggling a bit with only being a few years older than these girls (they are in high school), but this is a great opportunity to practice my leadership skills and develop confidence in my skills. I’m so appreciative for the girls and their motivation, and I look forward to pushing them in the days to come.
Classes are going well. I’m getting a bit frustrated with the European style of teaching (only getting graded on a midterm and an exam) because I have no idea how my grades are going to end up, but I’m trying to just plug away at the readings and try to wrap my head around everything that I am learning. I’m starting to enjoy my lectures and actually am really getting into one of the books I am reading about the Orthodox Church. Midterms are next week, and since we have a 3 day field study this weekend to Judah/Philistia/the Negev, it’s going to be an insane next week and a half. I’m devoting this week to homework and studying and then after that it’s my birthday, and the group from my church will be here! So I just need to push through until March 7th! I am pumped for my church group to come. My friends are getting tired of me talking about it, but it will be so nice to see some familiar faces, especially when I have things to show them here. And side note: this is going to be the first birthday that I turn a year older before Jenni! I’m pretty sure this will be the best birthday yet! J I finally get to be the elder twin…take that Jenni!
Israel really is a magnificent place. I love the people here, the culture, the history, the geography…EVERYTHING. There’s so much to do and to learn, and I find myself fascinated by all that I am taking in. There’s a reason why God chose this place, and I’m so glad that I have the opportunity to explore it and therefore find out more about God in the process. There’s things that I miss about home, but going back home is going to be a big adjustment. I think I have forgotten how to drive a car! I know that I will appreciate things like hot water and consistent internet when I get home, but I am sure going to miss the beauty of this place.
I’ve spent a lot of time here reflecting about my past and my future, and I am finding out a lot about myself that I didn’t know. One thing is that I love to be calm. No matter how much my natural tendency is to rush through everything, my whole being is so much happier when I can be calm and collected and let life come to me, not try to control it. I know that it is a completely different situation here, and easier to relax and let myself be more patient. However, this is a change I want to keep when I go back because I feel like I can actually enjoy life and not try to rush through it.
I have fallen in love with Psalm 63 this past week. It was our floor’s verse this past semester, but it has completely new meaning now that I’m here in Israel. I’m working on memorizing it, and I find myself running through it in my mind when I look out into the city of Jerusalem. I also really like Psalm 65 because it is about what we are learning in our Physical Settings of the Bible class, and it’s really awesome to see that God created limestone and hill country, and that there are reasons to why we study it.
PS – my internet is terrible and I don’t have enough of a connection to upload photos. If you check back in a few days I might have time to go to a coffee shop and upload pictures to this blog. If not, just check out my Facebook!