Jericho, Mesada, & the Dead Sea

Early this morning we headed to Wadi Qelt in the Jordanian desert, where we shared our first word and looked across the amazing rocky terrain and the beautiful mount of Temptation Monastery.

Mahmoud, our tour guide, then took us to Jericho where we stood next to a sycamore tree and shared Luke 19:1 -10 about Zacchaeus.

Our next stop was the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. We then were able to witness the baptism of one of our group members.

Our next stop was Masada we all packed into a cable car and rode 450 meters to reach the fortress. After our Masada adventure we headed to the Dead Sea for some fun in the sun. After our fun in the sun we boarded the bus and headed back to Jerusalem to be present during a Shabbat in a synagogue.

IMG_7894.JPG

To end the night we listened to Sahar Vardi, who spoke to us about several of the situations regarding a militarized society and how the broad effects of the military are felt within the society.

While in Israel each one of us has had their own share of personal experience this journey we have taken together will forever be in our memories.

– Shelby & Michael

Bethlehem

Throughout this trip we have met a lot of people who talked about the conflict in Israel and Palestine, however, today we experienced it. We started off the morning walking through the checkpoint to get to Bethlehem. After passing through the checkpoint we walked along the wall that separates this part of the West Bank from Israel. The wall was filled with graffiti, much of which had a very hopeful message but not all. There were also posters of how this wall has effected the lives of those who it now blocks from their livelihood, and jobs. Eventually this walk led us to Aida Refugee Camp.

At Aida, we took a cooking class from NOOR Women’s Empowerment Group. The income they receive from this cooking class, as well as the cookbooks they sell goes towards families who have children with disabilities within this refugee camp. Something as simple as a cooking class quickly turned into a life changing experience for us. The cooking class got everyone involved in making a traditional Palestinian dish, and really emphasized that while we learned to cook Maklluba. After the meal was finished, we spent time eating with Islam and her daughter Rua; she told us about how her family was told they had to temporarily evacuate their homes, but have never been given the opportunity to return. They do not have the proper ID to get through all the checkpoints to get to their hometown. Regardless of this, I never heard them give up hope.

For me (Nicole) this was super powerful and humbling. I was born into so much privilege. In moments like this I struggle, but am reminded to thank God for all that I have. I can go places that Palestinians can’t; I can walk through pretty much any checkpoint without question because I am American. I have running water, electricity, and heat; even cable and internet. I have an abundance of electronics, and things to make my life so much more convenient. Yet, I envy these women. Their ability to make someone feel like they are at home in an unfamiliar place is unlike any other I’ve seen. I was told that I was part of their family now, that they would love to see me more, and if I’m ever back in Palestine that I have a home with them. This felt like the most genuine hospitality that could possibly exist. I have learned so much from them in these interactions.

After a quick tour of Aida Refugee camp we attempted to visit the Church of the Nativity. However, who knew there were multiple Christmases… January 7th marks the date of the Orthodox Christmas (P.S. the Armenian Christmas hasn’t happened yet either!) Since it was super busy since from the Christmas celebrations, we decided to come in a couple days, and headed to meet with Angie. She spent time talking about things that have happened in the Bethlehem community, but keeping it light and hopeful, as well as adding her own humor to it.

While in the area we also visited the Shepherd’s Church, as well as a “cave area” that would have been much like a shelter shepherds would have used for themselves and their animals on a chilly night. We also ended our day at a restaurant in Beit Sahour. We visited with Palestinian university students, as well as people who are in Palestine with Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM). This dinner was a great opportunity to meet with people our age, to hear the stories of Palestinians that our age, and the experiences of the YAGM volunteers serving here.

Nicole & Karen

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…

img_7879

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

 

img_7704

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

img_7692

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.

img_7657

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

fullsizerender-2

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