Merry Christmas everyone…Today is Christmas celebrated by the Greek Orthodox Community here in Jerusalem. On the 18th of Jan the Armenian christians celebrate their Christmas and lastly the Roman Catholics have the 25th of December. Christmas celebrated 3 times here in the Holy Land.
I arrived here safe and sound on the morning of the 4th…tired but not worse for wear. Checked in, unpacked and then went for a stroll to the German colony outside the old city and as I was walking couldn’t help repeating to myself…’Lord…i cant believe I’m in Jerusalem… the land where you lived, taught, died and rose again’. The hotel is about 15 minutes from the German Colony and the street is full of cafes and stylish people….reminded me of scenes not unlike Toorak in Melbourne.
Funny thing was that when I came out of the airport people started speaking to me in Hebrew and that happened in the German colony too as I bought a six pack of bottled water from the corner store. Found a mobile phone shop and bought a sim card so I could ring out but for the life of me couldn’t understand the Hebrew being spoken at the other end. Went back today and got it all sorted out before the shops closed at around 2 for the Shabbat.
Here’s view from my hotel of the new city…
Met up with 2 other teachers in the lobby of the hotel and in the afternoon we visited the old city….It was strange because to get there you had to walk through this modern mall and once you reached the end of the mall you’re suddenly confronted with 3000 years of history. A land of contrasts.
Moving along you arrive at steep staircase and when you reach the top you see the Jaffa Gate…entry into the old city.
Within the walls of the old city you tread on cobbled stones worn down by thousands upon thousands of sandalled feet over countless generations. Moving further in you come across shops owned by Jews and Arabs selling all sorts of trinkets, icons, crosses, menorahs, and if you would believe some Palestinian shopkeepers, part of the very cross of Jesus itself…500 shekels please.
Traditionally, the Via Dolorossa is the route that Jesus walked carrying the beam that would be later made into the cross…but it is more likely that the Lord would have come out of the Jaffa gate to be crucified outside the city. The Via Dolorossa was mapped out by Queen Helena mother of Constantine…
7th Station of the cross
Station of the cross
Nothing much has changed except for the clothes...bread being sold in the old city
Moving further in and down past narrow cobbled streets, senses assailed constantly with noise, smells and throngs of people…you head towards the Damascus gate….the very gate the Apostle Paul would have walked through to get to the Damascus Road where the Lord met him on his way to persecute Christians.
On the road to Damascus
Okay…you’re probably getting bored of my travels but this city is rich with history and as a Christian and a history buff I cant not share the significance of this trip for me personally and spiritually. The Lord has been a constant source of strength and peace and reading scripture now opens up a whole new dimension of truth. To read the word ‘Jerusalem’ now takes on a new meaning when you are actually in the city. And by the way this is just my first day in…the day ends when we meet the only Christian shopkeeper in the muslim quarter….Here’s a pic of his table. I ordered turkish coffee for 10 shekels and it comes with a glass of cold water because the coffee is strong and sweet.
They take their symbols seriously here....
The next day we hire a Palestinian Christian by the name of Charlie who could sell sand to an Arab…he turned out to be an excellent guide and I was somewhat jealous that he trumped me on his knowledge of scripture and and history. Example…Charlie: what is the name of Lot’s wife?, If you can answer me the trip is free…
Me: Mrs Lot….
Charlie: Ah..that’s funny but her name is not mentioned in scripture…the trip is not free….
Charlie…takes us the long route to Bethlehem bypassing the border checkpoints since its Christmas eve on the 6th of December for the Greek orthodox and the border crossing would take at least 2 hrs to get through. We see the reality of life behind the wall where Christians number just 2 percent of the population and it is such a stark contrast to the prosperity of the New City in Jerusalem. There are people within the walls who have not seen Jerusalem even though they are only 20 mins away as they cannot get through the border crossing. Life is tough for the Palestinians whether muslim or christian.
Once in Bethlehem we meet up with our guide hop into another van with Palestinian plates because if we go in too far in with Israeli plates trouble could ensue. We reach the Church of the Nativity the supposed site of the birth of our Lord and fortunate enough to see the Greek and Syrian Patriarchs make a visit amidst tight security with all the pomp and pageantry one expects. Security here is handled by the Palestinian police. I was getting a few stares as i realised that my colour of my bag resembles a satchel charge. Note to self: next time bring in a nondescript bag.
Inside the church rebuilt by Justinian a Byzantine emperor after the original built by Constantine was burned down…its anyones guess who actually runs the place. The areas are clearly demarcated between the Greek orthodox, the Armenians and the Roman Catholics…it is forbidden that one group cross into the area of another. Historically and to this day it is the Muslims who keep the peace between the different Christian orders as they are considered a neutral force. A sad indictment on Christianity practiced . Guess they haven’t figured out the Lord’s words that the world would know we are his by the love that we have for one another.
Just outside the church there is a big poster which says…Welcome to Bethlehem (place/house of bread), we welcome you just as we welcomed Jesus 2 thousand years ago. I saw everyone take photos of this…didn’t feel like reminding anyone that the Lord wasn’t welcomed in Bethlehem 2000 years ago since there was no room at the inn. Got the feeling that Historical accuracy wasn’t that important over here.
Finished Bethlehem and the other two ladies in our trio (God Bless Them) wanted to go back to the Jaffa gate to do more shopping…I politely excused myself to their bemused questions as to why i wouldn’t want to continue shopping with them. I opted to go to Jericho against their advice…I just could not pass up the chance. After dropping them off…Charlie and I speed on down to Jericho (Keith Greens song..the road to Jericho started to play in my head) and we stopped by a Bedouin with a camel who offered me a ride for 20 shekels. Never been on a camel before and never will again…it’s higher than I expected and I felt like I was slipping off even when the camel was still.
Lawrence of Geelong
Just as we reached the entrance to Jericho manned by armed Palestinian Soldiers, the fan belt of the taxi busts and the car comes to a dead stop just 5 metres from the checkpoint. This caused a bit of a ruckus as the soldiers came forward shouting and gesticulating in Arabic. The car was pushed to a side road and there was all this hustle and bustle… I very touristly took out my camera and started taking shots of a bombed out police station opposite where we had parked.
Bad idea…a soldier menacingly walked towards me with his hands on his rifle and before he asked me anything I felt to say…salaam waluay kum…to which he replied waluay kum salam…where you from? he asked…Australia I replied…..I love Australia he said…we shook hands and that was that.
We waited an hour for Charlie’s wife to drive from Jerusalem with their family car because he insisted the tour continue. Kept apologising to me and I said not to worry cause it wasn’t his fault. All this time I felt the tremendous peace of God and I was not worried or anxious one bit. Kept praising God in my heart and just loved the chance to get up close and personal with these beautiful and misunderstood people.
Inside Jericho the worlds oldest city, archeologists have said that it is about 10,000 years old. We came across the tree where Zecharias the money changer climbed to get a better view of Jesus. Not sure whether this is the tree but according to the site and my erstwhile historian the tree is around 2500 years old according to its rings.
Further on we visited the archeological dig where historians believe is the actual fortress that was brought down by God when the Israelites circumnavigated it 7 times and blew their trumpets/horns. It was amazing to think that these stones in front of me were the very same ones that existed thousands of years ago…absolutely tremendous.
Directly behind the site is temptation mountain…the very mountain where after the Lord’s baptism he was led to be tempted and where he fasted 40 days and nights. It is absolutely rocky and in some places is so steep one could hardly climb. I stood there imagining the Lord climbing, fasting and being tempted and even if it wasn’t the site it does bring a sense of reality and perspective when reading scripture. it is such a blessing to have a Bible on hand and to read and visit places mentioned in the bible for real. I thank God for this truly awe inspiring and wonderful privilege of being here. I feel absolutely safe and protected and I know I am in his will. I am also learning to rely on the Holy Spirits direction as he leads me to what HE wants me to see and learn.
Finally, I took a walk on Jerusalem’s ramparts, caught up with a Christian group on the walls and joined them in singing and praising God and then quietly slipped out. It was just a very sweet moment where God allowed me to join fellow brothers and sisters as they unfurled banners of “The Lion Of the Tribe Of Judah” and to sing along.
Past the ramparts…went into the Dormitian abbey where on the lower ground came into contact with the foundation column of a crusader church. Then visited King David’s tomb and the room where the last supper was held…both not actual sites according to my trusty oxford archeological guide to the Holy Land written by Jerome Murphy O Connor. Oh well!…
Not the actual site ....
Finally the highlight was visiting the western wall… the only remaining foundational wall of the second temple period rebuilt by Herod and destroyed by the Romans in A. D 70, according to the Lord’s prophecy that not one stone will be left standing of the temple. Wore my skull cap and as I was standing there looking at the wall thinking that Jesus and the disciples walking past to get to the temple proper…prayer began. I was able to pick out words as Adonai, Hosannah, Hallelujah and I gave praise to God through Jesus Christ. It is beyond my feeble attempts to describe the experience so I won’t, suffice to say my prayer life and reading of scripture will never be the same.
I now come to the end of this long post… I want to ask that you continue to pray for me and that your prayers for my safety and well being, peace and strength have been heard. It has been a tremendously full 4 days and I am glad that i did come early. Tomorrow the course begins and I wont have time to write this lengthy again. I hope to update this blog weekly with short posts when possible. Oh by the way its shabbat today and the buttons on the lift dont work and the lift is programmed to stop at every floor whether going up or down and I am on the top floor. The Lord has a sense of humour- me thinks.
I have had the opportunity during conversations with the other teachers to state my faith…pray that God give me more opportunities and boldness to proclaim him naturally so a seed may be sown here and there.
Lastly, I had pomegranate juice….it is the most refreshing drink, bitter and sweet at the same time just like the Holy land. I also realised that the land has been set apart by God for his purposes doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is holy in the Holy land. Till next time…Shalom from Jerusalem.
Please also pray that I would have strength these next 3 weeks to stand the heavy schedule. God bless and love to all of you.