Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year !

The longer we are with the kids the more we see how wonderful they are. Mariella, Savannah, Shania and I are having a great week. We’ve played with kids, hugged them, laughed with them, and danced with them. They are smart and energetic and full of laughter. Here are some recent photos. The dog in the photos is named Stevie. He knows everything going on around here. He follows us from house to house while were visiting children. Stevie thinks his main job is to chase the cats, which seems to be some kind of compulsive disorder. Stevie followed us as we walked down the street for dinner. He snuck in the restaurant during one of our visits. The second time he waited patiently outside the restaurant door. The paintings in the slide show are displayed in the guest house and in some of the children’s houses. Have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shepherd's Field

We are having a great time loving on the little kiddos. Here are some photos.

To the Dickerson family:
Here is Elizabeth, the child you write, pray for and sponsor. She is a sharp young lady who speaks great English. I passed on your message to her. She blushed a little when we told her that you "love her and think she is beautiful and wonderful". We repeated your words a few times so it would sink in and ring in her heart and ears.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scammed at The Forbidden City

Well, today we were humbled. We’ve read about different scams in different countries, but we were not educated on the Beijing Tea Scam run by seemingly nice Chinese college English majors eager to practice their English. It is difficult to swallow my pride and admit being taken advantage of, but it happened. We brushed shoulders with three college aged girls at the Forbidden City next to Tiananmen Square. We had friendly conversation and before we knew it we found some nice friends or so we thought. We decided to grab a quick drink with them. The con was so subtle. We ended up going to a tea shop with them where we tried some fantastic teas. We foolishly did not ask to see the prices of the teas (heavily inflated prices). We drank tea and ate snacks and a couple hours later the bill came. It was off the charts expensive. The girls were also shocked by the price and were forced to pay with their so called credit cards, but they were in on the scam. We payed our share which was too much money for “gourmet” tea. The whole thing was a set up and it was good.

Here is another victim’s internet post:
“Update: I don't think this Tea House goes by this name in China, but you can use a simple rule of thumb. If you go to ANY TEA HOUSE make sure the sampling is FREE - this is the normal situation and you are NOT obligated to buy tea, which even in China can be very expensive. In general if you are uncertain of fees.... ASK!

I fell for the Beijing Tea Scam (also common in Shanghai) where you are approached by a person claiming to want to practice English, then subtly lured to a Tea House for a "Tea Ceremony" that is hugely overpriced.

The scam is so good I later found that some savvy travelers had also been duped by this because it preys on the fact that you don't want to insult anybody and generally are unfamiliar enough with the landscape, money, etec. that you just pay the bill. My bill was $85 for a few tea samples. I'm guessing some who fall for this never even realize that they have been scammed - rather just think they paid "a lot" for Tea.

The China Tourism groups and guidebooks are guilty of NOT warning people enough about the fact that generally if you are approached in popular tourism areas by people who can speak English they are usually working some sort of sale or scam. Sadly, the notion that people are looking to practice their English is only true in that that they are improving on these very clever short cons.”

It is difficult to admit what happened, but it is an unfortunate reality of the journey. I usually try to paint myself in a positive light especially when I screw up, but I am trying to become more transparent and honest about the good, bad and embarrassing things in my life. It will be difficult for us to trust nice Chinese people in the future as we will be expecting they may want to take advantage of us. We pray that we will still be able to love people well despite being lied to and robbed. The last photo in the slide show is a picture of our con artist friends. The ringleader is not pictured because her “Buddhist faith” does not allow her to get her picture taken. Interesting!

We plan on spending the next week living and volunteering at an orphanage. We will bring our friend's two daughters who were adopted. We anticipate a fruitful visit where Christ will work in and around each of us. May love overflow and bring glory to Jesus. We may even bring our complementary tea gift to share with others.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Great Wall of China

We hiked on the Great Wall today near Huang Hua Chung. Here are some pics:

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Beijing Duck Christmas

From China, Beijing Duck Christmas 2

Many of us have seen the movie, "Christmas Story". After Ralphie's Father loses his blessed turkey to the neighbor's dogs they end up eating a Christmas dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. They eat roasted duck. Here is our version...

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas! Today marks six months on the road. Praise Jesus!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shepherds Field

Yesterday we went to visit Shepherd's Field in Langfang. We heard the story of how the "village of love" came to be. The kids and staff are fantastic. There are great kids to adopt if you are interested in growing your family.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Biking the outskirts of Beijing

Yesterday Matt, Daniel and I wandered the city. Matt showed us the area around the college he attends. Today Dan, Matt's dad, was kind enough to let me barrow his road bike. I went on a 30 mile (round trip) ride to a town north of Beijing. Part of the great wall is on the mountains on the outskirts of town. I did not ride up into the mountains to see the wall. We plan on hiking near the wall in the next few days. Tomorrow we plan on visiting an orphanage. Some friends of our adopted their daughter from the orphanage. It was fun riding through fields and streets of the quiet village. Here are some photos.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Left the house at 10:54...

It is an interesting thing to have a guard standing in-front of the house 24-7. Each time we leave or return home our movements are noted by the guard in his book. I guess it is nice to have a guard watching over things all the time. Good for safety.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Sunday in Beijing

From China, Scorpion

From China, Scorpion2

Here are some photos from the Christmas party a couple nights ago. We went Christmas Caroling through the neighborhood. We stayed out until mild hypothermia set in. The Chinese guards in the complex appeared to be amused by our singing. This morning we went to church. The church is sanctioned with the government. We must show visas at the door. Only international citizens are allowed to attend. After church we had some more chinese food and then drove by Tienanmen Square. We did some shopping and I came away with a $3 dollar cashmere scarf. Nice! We ended the evening with snacks from the street vendors. We had noodles, cantaloupe, pot stickers and scorpion.

Two Chinese girls stopped Mariella and Shania for a picture. Many Chinese like westerners and even request pictures.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Checked In...

Today we checked in with the local police department. When visiting friends it is necessary to check in with the police to let them know where you are staying. We informed them and received a receipt of approval. Dan and I ate nearby the house. Fresh and delicious soup for 60 cents a bowl. Can't beat that. I took the girls for a walk later in the day. After forty minutes in the freezing weather they were ready to return home. It's cold! Tonight the Fadling's are hosting a Christmas party.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The First will be Last…

I’ve read Christ’s teachings about the first being last and that it is better to give than to receive. What I did not know was that this teaching may also apply to Chinese Christmas parties. The party was at a local bar where good food and drinks were served. There was also a live band and karaoke. Eventually the people hosting the dinner initiated a group game where prizes could be won. We enthusiastically anticipated the start of the game. What was the game you ask? The first game played with fifty or so people was, guess a number between 1 and 100. It was a crack up. One by one the host went around the room with a mic asking people to guess the number written on the paper, not assisting by saying higher or lower, but just saying no to all incorrect numbers. I said 99 and was wrong, but Mariella guessed 23 and was right. Yes! We will win a prize. After some vigorous cheering from the crowd Mariella waited for the 1st prize. The host held three pieces of paper in her hand and asked Mariella to pick one of them; she picked the middle paper and read the word “show” on it. The host happily announced that the winner gets to sing a song. They were freaking serious. Mariella’s prize was to sing an impromptu song. Man, I’ve never seen someone freeze up so quickly. Talk about pressure. There were a bunch of Chinese and international people looking at her waiting for her to sing. I thought it was the funniest thing ever and was glad that I did not choose the correct number and win the game. Eventually, Mariella panicked and pulled me to the stage. Oh, crap I thought. Like a good husband I got up and walked out to the floor now freezing under the pressure just like Mariella. I was handed a guitar by the band guy. What the heck am I supposed to do with this? Hit the host over the head with it? I wish I could say we picked a fantastic song and sung it with great skill and that the other party members joined in on the singing. The event did not happen like a typical Hollywood movie. Instead, after scrambling to think of a song, we sung the fifties song, “Lolly Pop”. We sung it horribly and we must have looked like complete idiots. We definitely lost the game! After the terrible singing, a few highly intoxicated people clapped for us and we were given a wrapped gift. I thought, at least we get a nice gift. Mariella ran back to the seat and tried burying her face behind me; we eventually un-wrapped the gift at the table and discovered a hard plastic bear bank, probably made in China. Nice! At least we do not need to find a white elephant gift for Friday night’s party. We were first, but were last. We are reminded that sometimes it is better to be last. Especially when playing games at Chinese Christmas parties. Luckily we will never see these people again.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Resting in Beijing

We have rested the past couple days. Beijing is six hours ahead of Cairo. It is nice to not move at the pace we've been moving the past couple months. Yesterday we received our first ever full body message. There is a place around the corner that gives one hour messages for 68 Yuan (about $10). A message before 5pm is $8. Nice! We hope to venture into the city and surrounding areas in the coming days. Today we went to his daughters Christmas play at school. Each class has two teachers. One speaks Chinese and the other English. Tonight Dan has invited us to a Christmas party with his fellow airline pilots. Tomorrows high -4. The low is -13.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Beijing, China

We arrived safely in Beijing, China. The temperature on arrival this afternoon was 35 degrees. It is much colder than Cairo. We are happy to be with the Fadling family.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Giza, Pyramids

From Egypt, Cairo, Leap

We woke up in the morning and haggled with a couple taxi drivers on prices for driving us to the Pyramids. One driver got mad at us and decided not to help us out because he did not like our offer, but the other driver agreed to take us. He ended up staying with us for the afternoon and drove us back to the hotel from the pyramids. We had fun riding camels and soaking in the grandeur of the Great

Our time with Nihad, her fiance and family was too short. They overwhelmed us with their warm hospitality and kindness. We were honored to enjoy a family dinner with them prior to departing for Beijing. Thank you Nihad for a wonderful experience while in Cairo.

From Egypt, Cairo, Last Supper

Cairo Street Market & Christmas Opera

Text coming soon. We will write while on the plane to Beijing tonight. We should arrive on the Tuesday. We are looking forward to a visit with the Fadling Family. We plan on celebrating Christmas with them.

Today we went to the markets with Nihad. We perused the market bargaining with the store owners. They were not happy that Nihad, an Arabic speaker was with us. She gave us more purchasing power. We developed a system where Mariella picked out what she was interested and Nihad would bargain in Arabic and I would say yes our no and tell how much I was willing to pay. We found that walking out of the store after bartering would usually result in the owner giving into the price that we were willing to purchase the item. A crazy lady spit on Nihad's back while we looked in one shop. I thought spitting on someones back was some sort of Egyptian greeting. Nihad and the store owner quickly corrected my inaccurate inference. After the market Nihad treated us to lunch at a park overlooking a significant area of Cairo. We concluded the evening with a Christmas Orchestra/Opera. It was a pleasant evening that sparked the warmth and excitement of the Christmas season. Our time with Nihad, her fiance and family was too short. They overwhelmed us with their warm hospitality and kindness. We were honored to enjoy a family dinner with them prior to departing for Beijing. Thank you Nihad for a wonderful experience while in Cairo.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Priest's Personal Museum Tour

We stayed at St. Katherine's Monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai. We met a kind Greet Orthodox priest who was the care taker of a small but exquisite museum located on the premises. He invited us for a personal tour and was kind enough to take a bunch of photos of us near works of art, some dating back to the 5th century. Wow! We will write more when we have the opportunity. We leave on Sunday night for Beijing. Today we are meeting with our Egyptian friend, Nihad. I went to school with her at the Focus on the Family Institute. We hope to visit some street markets, take a float down the Nile River and see the Pyramids. Nihad invited us to attend and Opera tonight. Mariella is excited, but first we need to find some proper attire to wear to the event.

Hiking Mt. Sinai

Text coming soon.Yesterday we left Jordan crossed into Israel and then crossed the border into Egypt where the relentless pursuit of people petitioning us to buy things or hire their cab. Everything is bargained for. Upon exiting Egyptian customs a guy asked us if we needed a cab ride. We said that we would walk a mile to the bus station. He persisted along with many others to give us a ride. He ended up following us down the street and eventually he was waiting at the bus station. It turns out that one bus a day goes to Mt. Sinai. We were forced to begin haggling. After walking away from him a few times we agreed to a price then departed on the four hour journey through the beautiful desert. We wished the camera was working so we could take photos of the incredible landscape. On the way we picked up a hitchhiking police officer and we even stopped for the 3pm Muslim prayers. They pulled over for what I thought was a toilet break. Instead they got down on their knees and started praying and bowing in the direction of Mecca. Eventually we arrived to Sinai. We stayed at the monastery at the base of the mountain. The next morning I woke up at 3a.m. and began hiking the trail by the light of a crescent moon. There were Bedouin camel guides who petitioned me to hire them for a guide to the top. I opted for a solo journey. I lost the trail a couple times, but was able to get back on course while waiting for a Bedouin guide to appear. I could follow his camels and the clients he was guiding. Once on the mountain the trail was easy to follow. I made it through past the slippery ice covered steps at on the top of the mountain with another fifty minutes or so before sunrise. I expected to find many people at the top. All I found was a Bedouin man renting out blankets at mats. He told me I was the first one up. Slowly more people appeared as the sun rose from the direction of the Red Sea. Beautiful! I descended the mountain down the 3,750 steps of the trail called the “Steps of Repentance”. I made it back to the monastery to join Mariella for breakfast at 8:30 am.
P.S. The camera did not work the night before hiking Sinai, nor the morning prior to departure. I took it out while waiting for the sun to rise and it started working again. We are grateful.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Petra, Day Two

The first night we arrived at the hostel we watched Indiana Jones, In Search of the Holy Grail with 15 other multinational visitors. Watching the movie before visiting Petra got us all excited about exploring Petra. We decided to stay an extra day in Wadi Musa, gateway to Petra. We enjoyed wandering back through the Siq (canyon) to the Treasury. I was able to find my way up the back of a mountain which eventually led to awesome cliff-side views of the Treasury. Mariella and I also hiked to a huge monument called the monastery where we enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking the Arabian Desert and the ruins of Petra. Mariella’s highlight was likely the donkey ride down from the monastery followed by a camel ride to the treasury. Tomorrow we hope to exit Jordan through Jerusalem and continue on to Egypt. We hope to make it to Mt. Sinai. The plan is to wake up early the following morning for a pre-sunrise assent. After descending we hope to catch a bus to Cairo for the eight hour journey.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


Yes! The rain stopped. We spent the day hiking around Petra. What an amazing ancient city! I would love to transport back in time to observe the city in its prime.

Monday, December 7, 2009


This morning we walked to the Egyptian consulate in Eilat, near the Red Sea and we obtained the visas in less than one hour. We welcomed the friendly costumer service unlike the service from the crazy guy at the Egyptian consulate in Tel Aviv. After obtaining visas we tried to hitchhike to the Jordanian border, but were unsuccessful in the twenty-minute hitchhiking window we allowed ourselves. We settled for a cab ride. We paid the exit fee for leaving Israel and walked the 500 meters to Jordan through various check points. Upon entering Jordan we haggled with the cabdrivers who were trying to get us to pay double the amount for a cab ride and trying to set us up with different tours. After threatening to get out of the cab drivers car he cut the price in half. We also met an Aussie upon entering Jordan and we split the cost of a cab to drive two-hours north to Petra. It was interesting seeing herds of camels walking in the desert near the highway. We arrived in Petra safely, but got caught unprepared for the rainy weather. Mariella and I left our bags at a hostel in Israel and too small day bags for a few day excursion in Jordan. We packed light, leaving our fleece sweaters and rain jackets behind. We hope the weather clears up tomorrow as we venture out into Petra’s canyons. We will need to find some warm clothing. The Jordanian people we’ve met today have warmly welcomed us. While waiting under an overhang for the rain to let up two young Jordanian guys invited us to have Bedouin coffee with them. Hopefully we can catch up with them after dinner. We should have more pictures to share in the coming days. Our German friend, Thomas, let us barrow his camera while we are in Jordan. Thank You!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hitchhike from En Gedi to Eilat, 3 hours of fun.

Today we left Ein Gedi via hitchhiking. We made a nice sign with “Eilat” written on it. Now, Eilat is about a four hour drive from Ein Gedi so we were hoping this method of travel would work out...I think Mariella was right at home with the hippie like family that eventually picked us up. The people who picked us up were an Israeli family. We did not learn much about them because they did not talk much on the journey, but they did rock out to reggae music and they did sing a couple songs together, each chiming in when feeling it. Some songs were in Hebrew others were in English, even Portuguese some even had drums and didgeridoos playing. They were content rolling through the desert in their campervans. They did not even ask where we were from. The father sitting in the passenger seat sported a scraggly like beard and hairdo. Oh how we wish we could have recorded parts of the journey. Mom sat in the middle of the front three seats. She was carrying her compact homeopathic kit in a small case. The sixteen year old (I am guessing) son was driving, passing cars on the two lane desert highway wall beating his hand against the steering wheel. Their young daughter was woken up in the back seat while the family pulled over to pick us up. She moved out of her sleeping spot and Mariella sat next to her while I crawled into the very back of the van complete with blinds around the window. We were jamin’. The best part was the family singing to the songs. Sooo funny! Mariella was moved to give the little girl a bracelet that our young friends in Kenya made. The bracelet had the word “PEACE” woven into the bracelet. Mariella also gave the little girl a glass necklace that was made in Monaco and purchased in Venice. The girl was grinning ear to ear. I don’t think her parents saw Mariella giving the little girl the gifts. I bet the girl’s mother will want the necklace. It was a cool necklace. Unfortunately the family was not going all the way to Eilat, so they dropped us off at a bus stop in the desert. We had a sandwich and whipped out the sign reading “Eilat”. It was not long before some guys working for the city water department picked us up in their work truck, by the way they had just passed earlier and waved, turned around further down and approached us as a taxi driver also stopped, wanting to give us a “deal” we obviously took the cheaper/free option. They dropped us off at the door of the hostel, and seemed happy that we were visiting their home town. Thank you God for providing. Our German friend, Thomas who we met in Jerusalem, is also staying in this hostel, today is his birthday, we went to sushi…mmmmmm, sushi, we shared a delicious cake and ice cream with some sparkle candles on top. Happy Birthday Thomas, we’re glad we met you.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Wadi David

This morning I went out hiking in and around Wadi David, while Mariella chatted with a new friend before going on a solo hike to Wadi David. The hike was in a majestic canyon. The terrain looked like a martian landscape. It was apparent that nothing could live in this habitat. I wish I had a functioning camera to share the beautiful scenery. I walked from the mountain side down to a dry canyon river bed with humbling walls towering around me and no other person in sight. After soaking in the silence I continued hiking out of a canyon to Ein Gedi Spring. It was amazing to see a location with no life, utter emptiness, and then a river of life flowing out of the rock. As I approached, life was teaming around the oasis high upon the mountain side. There was a frog basking on a rock, birds perched on the branches of reeds surrounding the spring. There were also Rock Hyrax everywhere and Ebeks (a dear like animal). Christ referred to himself as the “living water” and that the water he offers will cause people to never thirst again (spiritual imagery). When Christ spoke these words it must have been a powerful word picture to the people of his day who could not exist without life giving water. The wadi is a location where some think David hid out while Saul was trying to kill him (1 Samuel). Here are some photos an Israeli guy and a Russian guy took using our SD card. Tomorrow we plan on catching a bus south to Eilat to obtain Egyptian visas then we hope to cross over to Jordan and hike around Petra. We’ll see what actually happens.

Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, En Gedi, Masada and the Dead Sea

From Israel, Dead Sea Floating


Craig and I contacted the Alternative Travel Group (ATG) as suggested by some friends, and made arrangements to stay with a Palestinian family in Beit Sahour while we visited in and around Bethlehem. Again, we have reveled in God’s goodness to us through His provision of people wanting and willing to love on two young travelers. The highlight: Feeling like I was back home with my family; drinking coffee, laughing, drinking coffee, talking, drinking coffee, staying up late and drinking coffee. Needless to stay Craig was a little stretched and stayed up as late as 1am, maybe.
Samie and her family; 2 men, their wives, and 2 children each, all live nearly under the same roof, but more importantly they live as ONE family, it’s beautiful to watch. I ended up hanging out with the kids the last night as they hosted some German guests. I sat with 4 children, all under the age of 10’ish, and we spoke Spanish, English, Arabic, German, and French. We giggled as we attempted to learn from a French school book and learn certain words in all languages present; children are so great at breaking down cultural walls, no matter the size of these walls. I also fell in love with the newest member of their family, who is the same age as my little nephews Luke and Jack, she was a beautiful and joyful little girl with one dimple on the right cheek and the biggest, most beautiful honey colored eyes you ever saw. Don’t get all excited Mom and Mamacita, no news to write home about, I’ve always loved children.
It was a great couple of days visiting our new Palestinian friends. We ate some amazing food, cooked by Samie and the girls, and had delicious teas, coffees and conversation. We learned a lot of things regarding the political situation in Palestine and still know nothing about it-one of those incredibly complicated and sensitive issues that we will just have to understand by knowing that we can’t understand it.
We left Bethlehem this morning after a yummy pita and humus breakfast. After saying good-bye to Samie we caught a cab to the bus stop, then a bus back to Jerusalem. On our way out of the Palestinian Territory everyone on the bus had to exit the bus and show the machine gun bearing soldiers their passports and other forms of identification. After a five to ten minute stop we continued to Jerusalem to catch an Israeli bus to En Gedi, near the Dead Sea. After checking into the hostel, we walked to the sea for a float. It was a weird and fun sensation to effortlessly be floating in water. I am sure you’ve all seen pictures of people floating in the Dead Sea, I remember seeing one as a kid, but being in the sea and walking into the water, immediately feeling the buoyancy of your feet is so strange. You eventually get to a certain point, perhaps a bit past your belly, and your legs are pulled from under you and you are forced to float, no effort at all, you can’t put your feet on the sea floor because it’s just too difficult. This of course makes you let out loud, uncontrolled laughter and everyone else, who is already used to the new sensation stares as if they weren’t just in your shoes. Unfortunately, the camera is broken, this time it seems permanent, but a guy was nice enough to take the SD card and take some photos of us from his camera.
Tomorrow, we plan to catch a bus for a twenty minute ride south to Masada where we will visit the site of the fortress where the Zealot’s made their last stand against the Romans. The desert area is beautiful! The following day we hope to explore Wadi David before heading further south to Eilat, where we will attempt to acquire Egyptian visas, again, hopefully this time we won’t have anything incredible to blog about.
Friday, December 4th
Today we hiked to the top of Masada, a fortress that was one of the ancient wonders of the world. “Perched atop a plateau in the Judea Wilderness with a spectacular view of the Dead Sea nearly 2,000 feet below, it was a luxurious fortress-palace combining all the essential elements of a King Herod project. A three-tiered palace hung precariously from one end of the plateau, almost defying gravity. The western portion contained hot and cold baths, mosaic floors, and plastered walls. Masada also boasted swimming pools, barracks for soldiers, huge storehouses with supplies for outlasting years of siege, and cisterns holding millions of gallons of water”-Ray Vander Laan. “During the Jewish First Revolt against the Romans in AD 66, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the Zealots fled here to its high fortress, which became the last outpost of Jewish Resistance. Faced with imminent attack, 10 Jewish men were elected to slay the rest of their group. When the Romans stormed the fortress, they discovered 960 bodies; only seven people, who’d hidden in a water cistern, survived to relay the tale to the world” –Lonely Planet. The history of Masada is quite fascinating. Unfortunately the camera is still broken. We now carry our SD card around and ask people to put it in their camera and take a photo of us. The hike up the Snake path was great and we hiked to the top before the herd of people taking the cable cars got there, so we enjoyed the views and eavesdropped on some of the English tours before heading back down to watch a quick film about Masada and returning to out hostel, not by bus because we missed it by a minute or two, but by yet another successful hitchhike from two nice German guys-hooray for kind people unafraid to pick up two sorry looking people.
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Wednesday, December 2, 2009


Today we walked around Bethlehem visiting the Church of the Nativity. The camera was broken today so there are no pictures. After walking around Bethlehem Square we walked to the Shepherd's Fields, basically another church with some caves. Tomorrow we plan on taking a bus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to Ein Gedi near the Dead Sea. We hope to take a dip in the Dead Sea and hike up Wadi David. We are enjoying the community and good cooking with our new Palestinian friends. All is well. Blessings!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Arrived in Bethlehem

Yesterday we departed the Muslim Quarter of Old City Jerusalem. Before catching a Palestinian bus we visited the Garden Tomb. The tomb could be the garden of Joseph of Arimathea in which Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. On the premises is a beautiful garden like area with a burial tomb, a giant rainwater cistern (the biggest ever found in the area), an ancient wine press and a place called Skull Hill (a skull shaped cliff). While visiting this site we met a wonderful American family currently living in Qatar (located in the Middle East). Mariella and I were impressed by amiability of their children (similar to the Cotter Clan in Belfast). The brief meeting was a refreshing way to start the day. The carving on the door to the entrance of the cave sums up my initial experience in the “Holy Land”, a location where there are many monuments stating that such and such event occurred at such and such location. The quote on the door reads, “He is not here- for He is risen.” This is a reminder to me of the presence of the Living God in our lives. Although the history and ruins are amazing, the presence of and power of Christ in our lives is much more significant and tangible.
Eventually we caught a bus to Bethlehem. The wall built around the Palestinian Territory is unsettling. At one point on the bus ride I saw a group of high school aged students exiting their school located on the inside of the wall. It looked as though the students were caged in their town. We entered Palestinian territory and Bethlehem easily with no passport checks. We just drove through the checkpoint. Our friends working on the Jesus Trail connected us with a Palestinian travel organization that sets travelers up with Palestinian families. We are being hosted by a wonderful family who has welcomed us as their own. We are staying in an area called Beit Sahour next to a location called
“Shepherd’s Fields”. This is the traditional location where shepherds who visited Jesus in his manger are said to have tended their flocks. I was surprised that Bethlehem sits up on a hill. I always pictured the area to be flat. It is very hilly area. We will go exploring the area today. It is exciting to be here in December and listening to Christmas music brings a greater aura of enchantment to the little town of Bethlehem. I am happy we visited this area after exploring the Galilee region where Jesus lived and did most of his miracles, followed by Jerusalem where he wept over the city and was innocently crucified and powerfully conquered the grave and now, we are in Bethlehem, the place where Jesus (or Emmanuel meaning God with us) entered the world. While kings and kingdoms have passed away the reality of God’s redeeming love continues to live and move, transforming the ones He came to seek and save. This is a love story unlike any I have ever known.