Excuse my lack of writing. The itinerary for this team is unreal. Every day we are doing things that is the stuff of dreams. We have little free time and when there is some I want to be out exploring and soaking it all in. This is a country like no other. Everything is so rich and diverse and wonderful.
Israel is like God- the more I learn about it the less I understand.
My head is fried trying to process it all but here goes.
Day 3 and 4
Our first project at a Hadassah Neurim Youth Village on the Mediterranean Coast. It's a village where many young people from Israel, Ethiopia, Ghana and and Arab nations live together. The common factor is that they come from abusive or poverty-stricken backgrounds.
I spent two days on the garden team swinging the hoe in temperatures over 35 degrees C! Nothing in Africa compared me for the fatigue of this. However, at night it felt amazing to sit by pool or a fire, cleaned bucked, just hanging out with folk. The team are amazing.
One of those rare days that you experience in life that will live with you forever. Left the coast for the Dead Sea. This is the lowest point on earth with temperatures hitting 40 degrees C. Swimming in the Dead Sea is an incredibly surreal experience. The 'sand' is just a layer of salt. It's packed thick with salt and minerals. You couldn't sink even if you wanted to. You feel the stinging of cuts in places that you didn't know you had places!
Left the Dead Sea for the Judean Desert and spent the night sleeping in tents with the Bedouin. This was sweet for me cos I been teaching my kids about them this year. Bedoiun means 'Desert People'. They're also known as nomads.
It was my first chance to experience Arab hospitality and it was fascinating. They welcome friend and enemy to their tent because they say 'one day visitor, another day host'. They give the visitor 3 little cups of coffee;
1 to show respect
2 to offer protection
3 for fun!
If a criminal or known thief comes to visit they give them a full cup of coffee. This means that the criminal should leave without losing face. If the criminal; drinks the coffee the host is still obligated to feed and water the criminal. In this way they show respect to all and avoid ego giving way to conflict.
Ate an amazing Bedouin meal, went for a camel ride into the sunset, and stayed up most of the night staring at the stars. There are no obstructions in the desert, just stars all around, like a planetarium. I've rarely felt more insignificant and so in awe of God in one moment.
Today was mainly travel to Jerusalem and lectures. Have just arrived in a pretty plush hotel after sleeping on the ground the last few nights. I'm bursting to get out and explore the city.
Will chat write later about lectures because everything is blurry.
Woke up this morning and thought, 'My God, I'm in the centre of the universe'. We went into the Old City of Jerusalem this morning through the Jaffa Gate. We walked around the walls of the city in prayer and wonder. Pictures don't do it justice. All around tou are looking at; David's City, the Mount of Olives, Mount Zion, Gehenna, and all these places that you have heard about Jesus walking and doing miracles.
We spent the day doing clean-up in the Arabic quarter of the Old City. It is full of narrow bustling streets, people of all shapes and creeds, shops, noise, colour, the smell of spices and leather. It is a place like no other.
In the afternoon we did a kid's club for some arabic kids which was pretty much like kids clubs in N.I. or Africa. Kid's are the same wherever. It's when they grow up that shit happens in the world. Right beside where we did the club these were houses were young men were being indoctrined and trained as terrorists.
In the evening we had a bbq beside Mount Zion (where Jesus will return someday). Later a few of us went back into the Old City to soak it up. We got lost in the maze of streets and eventually made our way to the Western/Wailing Wall. I think we can us the word 'epiphany' too easily but this was definately a moment of emotion and wonder. At night it is beautifully lit with hundreds of Jews worshipping with their body and soul. I said some prayers for friends at home.
Like I have said this trip is incedibly diverse. They told us about the flood of Sudanese refugees that have been flooding into Israel from Darfur and from the south of Sudan. They are escaping the government sponsored genocide there. Thousands of Christians and non-Arabs (black moslims) have been killed and millions displaced by the Sudanese government. They are flooding into Egypt and surrounding areas and often being persecuted there too. Hundreds have ended up in Israel and the Christian Embassy (which is what I am here with) are trying to look after them.
Anyways I persuaded a couple of people to take me to see a family that they are looking after. It is a Muslim family that walked barefoot through the Sinai Desert, through Egypt and into Israel. The wife was pregnant and just gave birth yesterday. I spent this morning talking brokenly with the father and playing with their beautiful kids.
This afternoon we went into the city of David and walked around walls that where built by David, Nehemiah and Hezekiah. We went underground into Hezekiah's Tunnels. This is a incredible maze of tunnels built by Hezekiah 1000 odd years BC to supply Jerusalem with water. It is a 45 minute claustopbobic walk through knee deep water by torch light....awesome!
Well that's me up to date. So much more has happened but I have to head off again now. I think I'm having the time of my life.
Israel/Palestine thoughts at present
My head is offically completely fried trying to get around the situation here. In my small group I kicked off a debate by saying the lectures we were going to were one-sided and not showing the full picture. Since then people keep giving me stuff to read and trying to get me to their way off thinking. The team are amazing though and do it with a heart of compassion for Israel and the Jews. And to be honest they are gettng through. One of the lads just said to me I'm the voice for the Palestinians on this tour. This is stupid cos I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, I just want to find some truth.
The more I listen to people the more I appreciate the plight of the Jews. From the time when Christians were murdering millions of them in the name of God while singing hymns, through the Spanish Inquisition, to the Holocaust where the church was only conspicuous by it's abscence in speaking out.
The Jews and have a victim mentality but then most of the time they seem to be the victims so they have a right. We have heard much about the nuclear threat of Iran and the surrounding Arab nations. As much as I have asked for balance the truth is that fanatical groups and governments of surrounding muslim countries have openly said that they want to wipe Israel off the map. Some of them refuse to give aid to Palestine or accept Palestinian refugees because they want to 'use Palestine as a baseball bat against the Arab nations'.
I came out here thinking that the media coverage at home was biased in favour of Israel and now and I'm not so sure. We are told constantly here that the world is against Israel, and some of the reasons they give ring true. The Israelis live in constant fear of terrorist attacks from home or abroad, and especially of a nuclear strike from Iran which is building the capabilities to strike a holocaust with one bomb. One of the lecturers said that world opinion has never been more against the Jews since the the time of the Holocaust and I find this hard to disagee with.
I haven't admitted this here and still find myself arguing for the Arabs but....
....as much as the Israelis have screwed up I find it hard to argue that they are a threat the leaders of some of the surrounding Arab countries.
I have so much more written down but no time to write it here.
It's clear to me that geographically (it borders Europe, Asia and Africa), religiously and politically, Israel is the centre of the world. I feel like a tit for thinking I had any idea about the Israelis and their role in this conflict before I came here.
Either way, as I walk the streets that Yeshua walked, I am sure that this is a Holy land.
Pics on flickr. Click on link right.