Walking IN Water

Welcome to the LCM Holy Land blog – I’m Leif Bakken.

Sure, people talk about the Stations of the Cross and walking them, like we did, but what does it mean to really walk in his shoes? Sandals would maybe be a better word. Day six of the trip focused on Jesus’ life. We started the day with a longer bus ride to Nazareth to check out the childhood home of the Savior. First stop was the Church (or Basilica) of the Annunciation. This is where they believe the angel came to Mary to tell her about giving birth to the Savior. It had a beautiful altar and sanctuary. Across the walk way was St. Joseph’s Church. This church was dedicated to the father of Christ and built on top of the home of Joseph. This had one of many mikvahs (we’ll discuss that later) used in that time.

We left the town of Nazareth and headed toward my favorite spot in the Galilee region, the Mount of the Beatitudes. On the top of this mountain was a church dedicated to the scripture of Jesus preaching on that mountain. The opportunity to hear that story on location and take in the beautiful garden surrounding that point is indescribable, and has to be taken in by anyone who gets the opportunity to do so.

Our next destination was up the road at Capernaum, along the Sea of Galilee. The front gates read “Capharnaum, The Town of Jesus” right on them. This was also the hometown of Simon Peter, the ever so faithful disciple of Jesus. We were able to observe the many remains of buildings from the time Peter was living in the town, along with the new octagonal church built over the site.

We then went to a restaurant called St. Peter’s Restaurant, on the Sea of Galilee. It served the fish called St. Peter’s Fish, which is caught fresh everyday to serve to their customers. Who’d have thought? Such a clever name for an eatery serving the fish of St. Peter, near St. Peter’s home on the Sea of Galilee.

Another opportunity came up when we visited the Church of the Multiplication, not far from Peter’s place. This was the sight where Jesus fed the 5,000. The five loaves and two fish mosaic, along with many other fantastic mosaics, were in this church’s floor.

Not far from there was the Church of the Primacy of Peter. A small church sits on this spot over the rock that was believed Jesus told Peter he would be the rock of the church. This was, yes, another chance for the group to take in another church but also go to the Sea of Galilee. Many of us took off our socks and shoes, rolled up our pants, and walked in the water. One could say we walked in the water Jesus walked on.

The next stop was a Kibbutz. These are communities that used to put everything in a collective pot and everyone was equal in profits from everything done to sustain the community. Today the work and profits aren’t necessarily shared but there is a collective tax that goes together to take care of the community and help people who may need help from becoming sick. We met with two women from this community. Our hostess had her hands full with kids running around but she still gave us her time to tell us about what happens in a Kibbutz. The other woman was a Rabbi who ran the mikvah. Mikvahs are the spiritual cleansing bath as a last step in becoming Jewish or for anytime use to clean the spirit.

At each of these destinations we read from scripture, reflecting on what it meant and how real it was to all of us. The stories told throughout the Bible are amazing to think about, but when you stand on the ground where they happened, it’s an even more amazing thing to be part of.

Keep it tuned into the LCM blog post. For everyone on the Holy Land trip, I’m Leif Bakken and we’ll catch you next time.

– Leif Bakken

President Shirley Reflects…

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As I write this blog entry, I am squeezed in a middle seat on the long return flight from Tel Aviv back to the United States. I am leaving the students two days prior to their departure (scheduling changes related to the Christmas blizzard that hit Minot and disrupted everyone’s travel plans). In reflecting on an incredible journey to Israel and the West Bank, I was reminded how powerful the opportunity is to travel and study in another land. Earlier in my career I did work related to collegiate study abroad programming, and so it was wonderful to rekindle those roots and join our LCM students on this tour.

Throughout the week, our students participated in so many activities that a traditional tourist to this land would never get to see and do. Our students experienced the culture, history, religion, politics, architecture, geography, food, music, and so much more. Through it all they listened, learned, discussed, debated, and reflected among themselves and others. This is no small feat considering they were touring one of the most complicated places on the planet and contemplating some incredibly complex issues. Their evening reflection activities, this blog, their individual journaling, and their conversations throughout the trip (and the bus rides) added much to their learning and growth. Throughout the trip, we heard first-hand from Christians, Jews, and Muslims about their lives and experiences. I know it broadened my horizons and understanding of this complicated part of the world, and I am sure it had a similar impact for our students. These conversations and reflections are the very essence and power of a study tour such as this trip. These are experiences students could never get in the classroom, and they demonstrate the significance of experiential learning through studying abroad.

Our students represented themselves, Lutheran Campus Ministries, Minot State University, and the Minot community very well. I was honored and privileged to be part of this group, and come away from the trip feeling so good about our students at MSU. The schedule for this journey began each day around 7 am and typically went until 9 or 10 pm. They were full and lengthy days, but the students were ready to go each morning with a great commitment to growing and learning through the upcoming day’s itinerary. If you supported any of these students or this trip in any way, a most sincere word of Thanks. You can feel very good about your investment and the impact it has had on the participants. Please ask students to share their stories and photos upon their return, and ask them what they learned. I think you will be impressed with what you hear and see.

A big word of thanks to Christoph Schmidt for his leadership and coordination in ensuring a terrific experience for our students. He created intentional learning opportunities and made sure there was always time for reflecting and group dialogue throughout the journey. Trena Montgomery was a wonderful resource for this trip as well with all of her coordination and logistics planning to ensure everything went off without a hitch (no small task with close to 20 people roaming around a foreign land for 9 very long days!).

A favorite quote of mine is by St. Augustine who said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” That quote is as true today as it was when originally uttered some 16 centuries ago. This trip reminded me of the value in studying through travel; I would encourage any students interested in study abroad opportunities to please visit MSU’s International Programs Office in the Student Center. Traveling and studying abroad is one of the most powerful ways our college students have to enhance their education.

As I touched down in the US, I learned there was more violence overnight in Jerusalem (our students are all fine!). I come away from this journey with more questions than I had before the expedition began. The region is a metaphorical onion: the more peeling one does, the more layers that are discovered. I am now challenged to continue exploring and learning about the complexities of the Middle East. We met so many individuals throughout our journey who were hopeful for a peaceful future, and their hope is a powerful acknowledgment of what might be possible in the years ahead. Thanks again for reading this blog, and I look forward to seeing you back in Minot!

Thanks,

Steve Shirley

Finding Hope

 

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During the past few days, many of us have felt an increasing sense of despair; as almost no one we have visited thinks this conflict will ever see a peaceful resolution. But today was a turning point – at least slightly. Our discussions were guided by a sense of hope. All is not lost for either of these peoples – the Israelis or the Palestinians, or anyone who is striving to bring peace to the Holy Land. Hope can seem pointless in a struggle so lengthy as massive as this one – but we’re learning that the best thing any of us can do, really in any situation we face, is simply to have enough hope for tomorrow.

Today we started off our day with a tour at the Augusta Victoria Hospital and Church. Pastor Mark was our guide and provided much needed insight into how the Lutheran World Federation is involved in church and the hospital ministry. During our time in the church, we were able to view the architecture and a variety of mosaics that each featured Lutheran symbolism. He also covered the history of the hospital and church grounds. This included the influence of German Lutherans coming to Jerusalem to establish a sanctuary for medical care outside of the city; however, it is now in the heart of the city. Part of our tour of the church included the church’s bell tower, and as we ascend the seemingly endless staircase we came to the top and could view both East and West Jerusalem almost simultaneously. Viewing the two sides of the city from this perspective allowed us to be removed from the tensions and truly see the contrast from a new perspective.

What is important to note is that Augusta Victoria hospital is completely run by Palestinians and today specializes in oncology care. The hospital was built by the German Lutherans around 1910 as a general hospital; however, it has faced financial situations in recent years that have led to the switch to oncology. In 2005, the Hospital was doing mostly pain-management care and their survival rates for patients entering for treatments were at only 20%. Thankfully, today they are seeing an 80% survival rate because of advances in their cancer care treatments including much needed radiation machines. This facility is growing and becoming state of the art thanks to donations from Lutheran organizations that support LWF, donations from countries around the world, and even U.S. taxpayer dollars have all gone to help this hospital. Currently, they are in the midst of planning an edition to the hospital. Palestinians see this hospital as a symbol of hope showing the world their resilience in times of oppression, their strength and capabilities in being able to be independent, and their hope that one day there will be a nation where they can have freedom. This hospital represents hope to the Palestinians that have cancer, but also symbolizes the strength and future stability for all Palestinians.

After our visit and tour with Mark, we climbed aboard the bus once more and drove to Ramallah in Palestinian territory, experiencing military checkpoints and insane (but apparently normal?) traffic along the way. We went to the home of Pastor Imad, who serves at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope. He shared with us his story and the story of Hope Lutheran and how it came to be. It is a church of refugees – 99% of its members or their families have been refugees at one period or another. They worship in Arabic but have resources in English for visitors or those who have a need for them. We also learned about the school that is affiliated with the church and the programs they run in the community. We had shawarma for lunch – thinly sliced lamb with a combination of vegetables that was served in something comparable to a tortilla. Many of us with Scandinavian roots thought the outside looked and tasted like lefse!

After lunch, we continued our discussion with Imad. The group asked him many questions and he answered them honestly and in great detail. We discussed the role of the three major religions in the area and whether there is peace between the groups or not. We asked him about the role that religion plays in this conflict. He replied, “Religion is the problem, faith is the solution.” Many people on both sides use their religion as justification for prejudices and wrongdoings against members of the other group. Imad believes that only through our faith in God and love for our neighbor can peace ever be possible in the world.

He left us with a final quote in regards to living and ministering in an occupied area: “To live behind walls is dangerous, but to live with walls around your heart is even more dangerous.” We have to have the courage to open our hearts to our neighbors and love them in spite of our differences. We must love them like Jesus does.

We finished the day with a tour of the Taybeh Brewery. They are a Palestinian beer company that has been in business since 1994 and has been very successful in the Middle East and around the world. Taybeh will be available for the first time in the United States beginning in 2017. The company’s success has been an inspiration to many, especially in Palestinian communities. We were all happy to support them as we concluded our tour! J

Our experiences today served as a light for many of us. We came here for many different reasons and being challenged was among them, but it was refreshing to have a few hopeful and encouraging encounters as we continue our adventures in the Holy Land.

Experiences are Truths

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We began the day with a visit to a Jewish synagogue located in Efrat, which is an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. We had the opportunity to listen to Artie, a local Jewish-Israeli living in the neighborhood. Originally from Chicago, IL, Artie was very relatable to our western culture, as well as showed hospitality when he offered us to come back. Our time with Artie provided an Israeli perspective of the current complex situation between the two peoples. He explained the biblical context of Judea being the Promised Land for the Jewish people, as well as key points that have led to the current state of Israel. Artie shared with us his story of raising his children within this tense environment. Our session ended by Artie encouraging us to listen to every side and create our own viewpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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Mid-morning, we traveled south to Hebron while passing several olive groves and vineyards. Hebron is located in the southern part of the West Bank. After eating pitas, cheese, and hard-boiled eggs for lunch, we met our tour guide, Abdullah. After going through the checkpoint (an Israeli military presence to check identification), Abdullah led us to the Old City of Hebron. The checkpoints are a controversial aspect we continue to encounter on our trip. Their purpose is to protect the Jewish settlements within the Palestinian land, yet they make it extremely difficult and sometimes impossible for the local Palestinian residents to move around their own communities.

Within the Old City of Hebron, we witnessed the obvious difference between the homes of the Jewish settlements compared to those within the Palestinian neighborhoods. We had an awesome opportunity to experience the combination mosque/synagogue called Cave of the Patriarchs, which is a building divided for both groups to use. This building holds the ancient tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah. We had the opportunity to see and hear from storeowners, who talked about how their businesses had suffered since the checkpoints created the isolation. After walking through the market, we experienced how drastically things had changed. During the tour, we experienced blatant discrimination when our Palestinian guide, Abdullah, was forced to walk on a trash-filled, unpaved trail while we walked on the opposite, paved road. The fence between our group and Abdullah was a challenging and real visual for a lot of us.

We ended the day over conversation and a Palestinian stuffed-cabbage dish called malfouf. During our meal, we listened to a very interesting, intelligent man named Dr. Ray Dolphin, an UN-OCHA Senior Humanitarian Researcher. He enlightened us on the long history of the land and the UN official on the current situation. Explaining different definitions and providing facts, Dr. Dolphin helped paint a more educated picture about the worldview of the conflict.

All in all, today was a heavy day of information. We saw and heard several aspects that were difficult to grasp for anyone. With Jewish settlements within Palestine, walls, and military presence, we are learning that this issue is not easily explained or resolved. One of the most important things we took away from today is the validation of every human and their life. We are excited to continue our pilgrimage on these holy grounds, to listen to the peoples’ stories, and to seek God in the midst of it all.

With love,

Molly and Shelby

Upon These Living Stones

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The main things we did today were go to church, tour old city Jerusalem, and heard a report on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict from Mark Brown, the Regional Representative for Lutheran World Federation. We worshiped at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Christian quarter of the old city, but we also had the opportunity to take a look in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before worship. This opportunity was amazing because there were no tourists around, which allowed some of us to experience the place more personally. After the quick stop, we went to worship.

Redeemer Lutheran is a congregation composed of a few regular members as well as visitors to the area. During worship, Dominique and I were asked to give the readings for the service. I really enjoyed the opportunity to assist in a worship service happening in the homeland of our faith. Afterword, we had fellowship with those who attended that day. There were some from the United States, and some from other countries like Denmark. After drinking our tea, it was time for the tour.

We started right outside Redeemer Lutheran and worked our way through the old city. Our guide was full of information, but he was a bit of a fast talker, so some of the information went over our heads. He began with some information on how Redeemer Lutheran was connected to Wilhelm II of Germany. From this, we also learned that Augusta Victoria, where we are staying, was named after his wife.

Throughout the tour, we went through three of the different quarters to the old city. We started with the Jewish quarter. We passed by many shops and people interspersed with archeological dig sites. One of which was a section of the original wall of the first temple of Jerusalem. After some more walking we wound up at the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. We took some time to go down to the wall, however women had to go to a separate section from the men and were not allowed to enter into the synagogue that could be accessed from the men’s side.

We then proceeded to the Muslim Quarter. While there, we met with a representative of the African Muslim community to learn about how diverse the city is. After some lunch, we walked along part of the Via Dolorosa, which is the path Jesus walked to his crucificition. We finally ended back at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, taking the full tour with the guide. We ended the afternoon with a quick stop for Arabian coffee before going back to the guesthouse to meet with Mark Brown.

Mark talked to us about the history of Jerusalem and of the conflict, from the end of World War II to present day. It was a good starting point for what we will be covering over the course of the trip. Over all, today was a background day. I personally enjoyed the tour due to all of the history that was around each corner. Hopefully the rest of the trip will be as exciting as it was for me today!

Peace!

Adam

The Case for Human Rights

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Today, our itinerary consisted of three different major activities. First we had a 5 hour tour of the Wall and villages of East Jerusalem and West Bank with Rabbi Nava Hefetz. Who is apart of an organization called Rabbis for Human Rights. During this tour we got to see the history of the wall, the politics of its origin, the effects of annexation and star program settlements, and how it totally changed the out look and daily life of everyone involved. From dividing homes and separating families to further distancing the parties from easy and swift resolution. During this tour Rabbi Hefetz took us to a Palestinian shopkeeper living on the Palestinian side of the wall. He talked to us about hope and how the parties can make peace and freedom work.

After this tour, we spent the remainder of our afternoon at The National Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. This place emotionally consumed most, if not all who witnessed it. The museum brought a reality to what the Jewish people faced during the holocaust and pointedly expressed exactly why Jewish people feel the need for a home, a country, and security.

At the same time it clearly and pointedly expressed a deep hurt for oppression, persecution, and systematic hopelessness. These are traits that are transparently and inherently shared with the Palestinians and Jews. The Palestine situation draws far too many correlations and shared struggle between Palestine and the single darkest moment in human history. This makes for a complicated situation for both sides, knowing both feel at the deepest points of there fiber that these needs must be met and yet in order to do so means denying a kindred spirit, with shared pain, shared cost, and shared dreams that very same need.

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And finally, for dinner we had the opportunity to walk into West Jerusalem and have Supper at a Kosher American Style Restaurant. We had the opportunity to look and see a few streets of West Jerusalem that reminded us of any city back home with shops, restaurants, and an active nightlife. It brought contrast to the difference between east and west Jerusalem and the fact that life is so complicated and yet so simple. In this world, People seek many things and only find few, and many people seek things and only few find. The only way to understand this place is to feel. And the answers are elusive. But what is true and obtainable is that there are people here, and that they feel, and that they seek. Lets just pray they find what they need.

This day extracted many different emotions for all of us on this trip, for many, emotions of wonderment and confusion, and of sadness and anger. Today all of us felt that we learned compassion about the situation many people of Jerusalem and Palestinians are currently living in. We also learned and renewed much information about the Holocaust, and how much the human has been lost in this. It is safe to say that today was a day that created struggle in our hearts and minds for many different reasons. Loving Israel and Loving Palestine are not mutually exclusive. Love God and Love People…..LCM’s motto seams fitting.

Go in peace,

Jared & Mason

Amsterdam & New Year’s Eve!

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The first group had an extended layover in Amsterdam and decided to take advantage of it. For about five hours we traversed the city streets, ate at an awesome Dutch café with delicious meals and outstanding hot chocolate. From there we walked to a WWII monument that was across the street from the Royal Palace where we enjoyed the beautiful sounds of bagpipes and took a few selfies. We then walked past the Anne Frank House where we unfortunately didn’t get to go into due to a ridiculous line. After our adventure we made it back to the airport to continue our journey to Israel.

Once arriving in Israel we got about two hours of sleep before making our journeys up north. Once arriving North, we met up with two Israeli citizens, Ephraim and Rimona, who are friends of Zach’s aunt and uncle. There, we visited Zach’s grandmother, who had died in Israel while visiting 8 years ago and was blessed to have the opportunity to be buried in the Holy Land. We were able to have a small commemoration ceremony for Zach, who read Psalm 126, which was displayed on the gravestone.

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After our special trip we realized we had time to kill before picking up the others from the airport. So, we decided to head to the Mediterranean Sea near Caesarea. There we were able to see Roman aqueducts, play in the water and walk on the beach.

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We picked up the others from the airport and rested a few minutes before heading off to our New Years Eve Party. Mark Brown and Susanne Pederson Brown, who opened up their home and led us in celebration into the New Year, hosted our party. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner, played games and toasted the New Year as we watched the fireworks burst above Jerusalem.

After our eventful day we headed back to our rooms for a goodnights rest for our busy day ahead.