What a great week we have been having. It has been full, full, full with excursions to see more of Palestine and Israel, making new friends and, of course, lots of hard work! On Wednesday, our host missionary, Rock, hired a bus to take the team out into the “non-tourist” parts of the West Bank. He really wants our team to see as much of Palestine as they can. He also wanted to deepen our understanding of what life is like for Palestinians being occupied and controlled by Israel. We saw villages (whose names I cannot pronounce or spell properly) with children playing in the streets, mothers preparing the evening meal while keeping a close eye on those kids and men gathered together in small groups fellowshipping together after a long, hard days work…while waiting for that evening meal to be ready! Sounds similar to what our families do in North America, eh? We were able to see the ongoing construction of the wall being built around Israel (on Palestinian soil) and it is like a scar on the land. Many Palestinian homes have been demolished or been given demolition papers to make way for the construction of the wall. We saw half completed homes that will never be completed due to their proximity to the wall and homes with families living in them that have been given the demolition papers. These families will have no choice. They will have to move. Although the wall is being erected by Israel as a security measure, it is very difficult to understand how it will ever open doors for peace between the two nations. The view on the ground is very different from what the media tells us from both sides. Our hearts cannot help but be affected by the plight of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people who both earnestly do long for peaceful resolutions to the conflict. Most want to be given the freedom to live their lives and provide for their families. Officials from both sides make this difficult. We are so glad to be serving here in the Holy Land as ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the ONLY One who will ever be able to bring the peace so desperately longed for. In one of the villages visited, we were able to see and touch an olive tree that is more than 3,500 years old!!! If you do the math, the tree was standing during ancient biblical times!!! So thought provoking to think of all the people who have sat under that very same tree before us. Some team mates took olives and twigs from it in hopes that they will be able to bring them home to show all of you. We will see what they look like in a few weeks…. Yesterday, our travels took us to the Holy City, Jerusalem. We spent a day there exploring ancient cites and, of course, shopping. The Dome of the Rock is located at the visual center of a platform known as the Temple Mount. It was constructed on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. To enter the Temple Mount, we were subject to strict screening, where our Bibles were temporarily confiscated from us since they are prohibited on the Mount. We were able to retrieve them after we were finished viewing the site. From the Temple Mount, we could see the Mt. of Olives and the old, Roman walls that shielded the Garden of Gethsemane from our eyes. There were plenty of good photo opportunities taken which I am sure you will all enjoy in a few weeks! At the foot of the western side of the Temple Mount, is the Western Wall (also know as the Wailing Wall). It is a remnant of the ancient wall that surrounded the Jewish Temple’s courtyard, and is arguably the most sacred site recognized by the Jewish faith outside of the Temple Mount itself. Throughout the ages, the Wall is where Jews have gathered to express gratitude to God or to pray for divine mercy. Small bits of paper with prayers inscribed on them fill each crack that can be reached by human hands. More than a million notes are placed each year, and this year, the notes of your sons and daughters will be among that huge count. Before visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we dined on some delicious Mediterranean food: felafel and schwarma. On the way to the church, we were discovered by a local merchant who knew of Hope School and of its involvement with Teen Missions very well. He welcomed us into his shop, where he gave each of us a cold beverage. He also gave us “good deals” on the wares he was selling. He was very friendly and helpful, something I imagine he has been to the many Teen Missions teams that have walked the streets of Jerusalem before us. He sent his son with us to guide us to the church, so that we would not get lost on those tight, close-knit streets. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is venerated as the Hill of Calvary (Golgotha), where Jesus was crucified, and has been a pilgrimage destination for many Christians since the 4th century since it is also the purported site of the resurrection of Jesus as well. Some regard the alternative, the Garden Tomb, located just outside the Old City, as the true place of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. This was our last stop of the day. Here, after a very well presented and Biblically supported tour, we had a time of worship together, where we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. It was such a perfect end to such a fun but tiring day. We were able to focus on Who is really important and why He makes these holy sites so important: Jesus was born, to die, so that we might live. What an awesome Savior we serve!!! After a full night’s rest, we are back to work today. The team is still working on completing the privacy wall surrounding the school’s soccer field as well as finishing the much needed paint job in the school’s many classrooms. I love it when they come to lunch speckled all over with little bits of paint…evidence of their hard work!