Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Great Day in Galilee
         As we get nearer to the end of our pilgrimage, I am getting more and more anxious to be home with my family and friends. One of the nice things is that this closing part of the trip is in  the rich, green area of Galilee. It isn't quite as green right now because it is the end of summer, but when the rain comes in a month or so, I am told that it gets really green through March or April when the heat kicks in and the rain stops.
Our day began on Mt. Tabor, the place where it is said that Jesus was transfigured with Elijah and Moses while James, John and Peter watched on. We went up some pretty precarious switchbacks - it is an amazing ride to the top, and I am sure that one of the reasons these three were the only ones that made the journey up was the guys like Matthew - who had a desk job, tax collector - couldn't make the trip up.

We also went to both Nazareth (picture below is of the Basilica of the Annunciation) and Cana. It was a beautiful day to see the sights.

We topped the day off with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee - which is really more like a medium sized lake, much much smaller than Erie! After posting, I realized that the breeze is showing the bottom of my belly! Slightly embarassing.

It was very relaxing. There was a group of German tourists who were listening to the reading of the story of Jesus walking on water and singing a song in German in the lower part of the boat, so we got the upper part to ourselves. I just had to take this picture:
A chance to relax on the Sea of Galilee with my feet - shoes covered in dust from two weeks of walking around the Holy Land - up on the bench. This picture tells a lot. Shalom and Salem.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Goodbye Jerusalem, Hello Galilee!
Well, this morning we left Jerusalem after 10 days and drove north to the beautiful, more laid back land of Galilee. We began at the ruins of the old city of Beth Shean, and walked around the fully excavated site. There was a nice big theater, a collonaded street, and (as seen below) a public toilet! It was an interesting ancient city!

From Beth Shean, we continued north to Yardenit, the spot where the Jordan River springs from the Sea of Galilee, and the site where many people believe Jesus was baptized. I am not sure about that, but every day it is the spot where many Christian people want to get into the water with white gowns, some of whom are baptized as well.

After this stop, it was on to Tiberius, our home base for the conclusion of our pilgimage. We are staying at the Astoria Hotel, and will be travelling around to different sites in the area. the view that we have of the Sea of Galilee is a pretty way to spend the end of our trip!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

LWF and Augusta Victoria Hospital
Today, we spent two hours with Mark Brown of Lutheran World Federation at the complex at August Victoria on the Mt. of Olives. Augusta Victoria has a rich history - originally built by Kaiser Wilhelm in the late 1800's, it is very strategically located on the Mount of Olives. Not only can a person see Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley, but you can see out into the Judean Wilderness to the north as well. After the Germans used it as the center of their presence in Jerusalem, the Turks used the facility as their headquarters in the early 1900s, and the British used it as their headquarters from 1917 until 1948. Currently there is a church dedicated to Kaiser Wilhelm's wife (Augusta Victoria) and the Hospital and other buildings on the grounds. The hospital specializes in cancer care (radiation and chemotherapy) and dialysis for both children and adult Palestinian people.
        There are many, many olive trees on the property which - in the next month or so - will be the destination of many volunteers from around the world to pick the olives so that their oil can be sold to support the church, hospital and their other ministries. I am hoping that my congregation, Clinton Heights Lutheran Church in Columbus, will purchase some of this olive oil as well as to consider sending financial gifts to the hospital as well. They have done away with any emergency medicine and childbirth to focus on the cancer and dialysis programs - it is the only facility in the area providing these services to the Palestinian people here. In addition, a few years ago the LWF headed up fundraising and installing of a wonderful soccer field with artificial turf and lights in one of the tougher Palestinian neighborhoods in the area. It has helped to transform the area from a dangerous place with much drugs and crime into a more positive atmosphere for the residents there.
        It makes me proud to be among the Lutheran Christians who support the wonderful work that is being done with and for these folks!
The Augusta Victoria tower which can be seen from all over Jerusalem

The old symbol on one of their cars.

The brand new soccer field that is providing positive activities for the young people of the tough Palestinian neighborhood down the street from Augusta Victoria.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Dead Sea and Jordan adventure
Once again I apologize for not posting any blog in the last few days, but I was without my computer as my companions and I took an adventure down to the Dead Sea to see Qumran and Masada, float in the Sea, and travel to Petra, Jordan for an overnight stay and a long, tiring walk through the beautiful Petra ruins.
        We began with an early morning appointment with our driver. We left at 7:00 a.m. and our first stop was at Qumran, the ruins of the ancient community of the Essenes. These were the people who were responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was interesting see the site in the desert where these people lived and copied the ancient scrolls in anticipation of the war between the children of light and the children of darkness. You have probably seen pictures of the caves where in 1948 bedouin shepherds accidentally found them in a cave.

From there we went to Masada, where another sect of the Jews during Jesus' day were preparing for the final battle, but they were preparing to fight this battle. You may have heard the story - the Zealots were chased to this place high above the desert that Herod had built a small city with a wonderful palace on. The Romans tried to defeat them but could not. Finally they built a siege ramp and battered down the huge doors and found that instead of surrendering to the Romans, the zealots and their families had taken their own lives. Below is a picture of me on the Palace Porch at the north end of Masada.

No trip to this area would be complete without floating in the Dead Sea!

Finally we went into Jordan and drove through some pretty spectacular looking land to get to Petra. Below you will see some of the interesting land formations we saw from our van, but unfortunately I did not take my charging cord with me and the battery on my camera went dead before we got in to the Petra ruins - made famous by the movie, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". I will have pictures after my companions send me copies!

And of course, in Jordan there are LOTS of camels - some of them are like deer, just walking along the road!

Tonight we are going to a potluck sponsored by the English speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer where were worshiped last Sunday.

Tomorrow is our last day in Jerusalem before we travel to Galilee. I look forward to sharing more with you all as the pilgrimage continues.
Shalom and Salem - Ralph

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hello all!
I apologize in advance for not posting any blogs for a couple of days. We have been very busy walking around the old city of Jerusalem, going to Bethlehem and seeing other churches and sites around this amazing area. It is such an interesting land, and today I went through the Tower of David Museum, a place which tells the history of this place from the time of the Canaanites to the present. It was an enlightening time, which helped to realize how very complicated the history and background of this city is!
        Since my last post we have visited Bethlehem and the church of the Nativity, Manger Square, the Shepherd's Field; We watched the Jews walk through the streets of the Muslim Quarter to Temple for Shabbath and witnessed some rock throwing and a little bit of tension, but overall it was just a weird interaction of cultures. We went to West Jerusalem last night to a sports bar called, "The Lion's Den" that was trying to be very "US-like". They had burgers - since they keep kosher, there was no cheese for the burgers, but mine had a fried egg on top! We watched the Reds get beat by the Pirates, but the OSU/Wisconsin game was not on until about 2:00 a.m. last night, so I had to find out the score when I got up.
        This morning we worshiped with the English speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, a church built by Kaiser Wilhelm in the late 1800's. The clergy couple who serve there now is from Ohio - Marty and Angela Zimman - I used to be a colleague in the Springfield area with Marty's father, Pastor Bill Zimman, and Marty also is friend with Pastor Bill Diehm, my colleague at St. John Lutheran in Oak Harbor. It was a great worship time, and we enjoyed some fellowship over tea afterward. Wednesday evening we may go to a member of the church's house for a fellowship gathering  - volleyball and potluck - on the Mt. Of Olives.
        Tomorrow morning we are arising very early for a busy two days: we drive to Qumran, the place of the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls, to Masada, and to the Dead Sea. Of course, we all plan on floating on the sea there. We will go over into Jordan and travel to Petra, staying tomorrow night at the Petra Guest House. On Tuesday, we will "do Petra" - we have heard that there is a lot to see and a lot of walking involved. I was there 26 years ago, but I do not remember everything involved.
        Thank you all for your prayers and thoughts. We are all feeling safe and secure wherever we go, although when we walked through a busy market yesterday, Jim (who was in back) emerged with all of the  zippers on his backpack undone and $100 missing. Hoping that is the worst thing that happens!!
Peace- Ralph
The spot under the altar of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where they believe Jesus was born.

Sitting outside with some new, young Jewish and German friends.

Some of the boys that followed us around the Batala Refugee Camp in Nablus.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A great day with a lot of walking

Yesterday the weather was beautiful and my companions and I walked many miles together. The journey took us up and down and around the old city, out the Zion Gate to Mount Zion, and down the Kidron Valley. We stopped in the Dormition Abbey along the way, one of the spots where the Virgin Mary is said to be buried (or was she assumed into heaven??). Highlights of the day: I got a chance to revisit my High school French language skills when we visited the church of St. Peter, a French church built where Caiaphas' house was, focusing on his denial and the "singing" of the rooster. St. Stephen's on the site where the first martyr was stoned; arriving at the Garden of Gethsemane just in time for it to close for lunch; meeting a man and his wife and four young children (we sang happy birthday to the youngest as he turned one year old yesterday) who came to Israel, rented a car and have been touring themselves for two weeks (that takes a lot of courage, I think!); John being persistent in getting us into the Russian Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives as well as into the church at the Lutheran World Federation, "Augusta Victoria" compound, there LWF runs a hospital which is one of the only places for Palestinians to receive things like dialysis and chemotherapy. Lutherans have a good reputation there! "Oh you are Lutherans? Then you are our brothers!"
        We closed the day with a wonderful meal at the Ecce Homo convent (where we had hoped to have stayed, but there is a large group already there) and some social time. There was so much more that we did and churches that we saw and pictures that I took, but that can wait for another time. Below you will see just a few shots from the beginning of our trip. Dinner our first night here, the view from our hotel's rooftop garden, and a looking up the Via Dolorosa.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The beginning of our Pilgrimage

Salaam and Shalom,
After a long but smooth travel experience from Columbus to Israel through JFK airport in New York City, my travelling companions and I arrived yesterday in Jerusalem and are comfortable at the Al Hashimi hotel inside the walls of the old city. We had a "political tour" scheduled for most of today beginning at 10:00 a.m. with Abu - he spoke passionately about the situation here from the perspective of the Palestinian people who are constantly harassed, inconvenienced, and are slowly being driven out of their own neighborhoods. It was very sad.
        We began our day with a self-guided tour of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditionally held site of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The crowds were very low - we were able to see a lot and take many pictures. I will post some on the blog soon.
        We are very thankful for the people that we are meeting along the way - hotel staff who are so kind, wait staff at restaurants, drivers who excel in squeezing vans through tiny spaces on crowded streets, and local men, women and children of all faiths whose lives are not so much unlike our own. The Jewish festival of Succoth, or "Festival of the Booths" is coming up, which explains why there are a lot of Jewish pilgrims here. I just hope and pray for the day when the peace of God overcomes hatred and death.
Until next time - Pastor Wolfe