Imagine walking on Old Jerusalem’s stone, city walls. Less than 50 years ago, they were occupied by soldiers given the job of protecting the city. Today, for a minimal fee, tourists are allowed to walk those very walls where, for centuries before, men have fought and died to defend the Holy City. Single file, due to lack of walking space, the Bethlehem Bible College team walked these walls yesterday. The view from above was awe-inspiring. The Temple Mount, set apart by its golden dome, was out of place amongst a sea of tin-roofed shanties; streets of shops with eager merchants ready to “give you a good deal”; and old, historic churches where key events, “according to tradition”, took place. We sojourned into the The Holy Sepulcher, a church dedicated to preserving the supposed location of Jesus’ crucifixion and where his body was laid afterward. Throngs of visitors, eager to kiss the holy monuments, flock to the church daily. The queue to see the place where Jesus hung on the cross, was packed with people. People were ready and willing to wait for hours. During our shopping time, we discovered that our team is made up of many savvy shoppers, who refuse to get anything but the best price possible. One team mate bartered a seller down from over 200 shekels to 50 shekels. Very impressive. One of the biggest hits among the girls, are what we have affectionately termed “poofy pants”. They are a cross between M.C Hammer pants and genie pants with a bit of ethnic flare. I think just about every girl bought at least one pair…some bought multiples, myself included. Merchants were also willing to come down even more on the prices when we bought in bulk. We also clambered down Zedekiah’s Cave, the alleged quarry used by King Solomon himself to build the Temple. It is called Zedekiah’s Cave because he supposedly had it build to escape from his enemies…which, it turns out, didn’t go according to plan because he was captured. There is a pool of water within the cave that legend tells is made up of the tears Zedekiah shed when captured. To gross the team out, Mike told the team it was sewer water from above. Of course he waited until a few of them had put their hands into the water first. Funny, funny! What made the cave even more fascinating, was that it is literally located beneath the Old City. Experiencing what most Palestinians experience on a daily basis was also important to us. Therefore, we entered Israel on foot through a guarded checkpoint where passports and bag inspections are required. Palestinians are not allowed in Israel without a permit and those are difficult to come by. The wall separating Palestine from Israel is covered in graffiti displaying people’s hopes and dreams for freedom and unity between the two countries. Being American and Canadian citizens, we were ushered through with absolutely no problems. Once through the check point, we hopped on a city bus (also a cultural experience) and drove to Jerusalem.
Imagine also being able to touch the very place of Jesus’s birth, according to tradition of course. The team was able to do this on our venture to Bethlehem. The church of the Nativity was also packed with pilgrims desperate to lay hands on and kiss the star marking the spot where Christ was born. One door into the church is called the Door of Humility because you have to bend down to fit through. This church, like most other ancient, holy monuments, is divided in parts controlled by either the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox or the Armenians. The great divide between them all was very evident and sad to see. Each is more concerned with rituals and tradition than they are about pointing people to Jesus Himself. There was absolutely no emphasis placed on evangelism. We are planning on doing presentations there in hopes of keeping the Christ in Christmas alive in the very town where He was born. The team dined on fallafal sandwiches, a cultural food for this part of the world. Of course, they shopped and shopped and are coming home with some very nice gifts for family and friends.
After two days of sightseeing, today the team is back to work. The project is going well. They make good progress everyday. They work hard…we know this based on the amount of food that they eat.:) Thank you again for all the thoughts and prayers…they are definitely felt!!!!!