I am currently on a tour of Israel and Jordan with students and friends of Grace Bible College. We made it to Jerusalem after a very long day of travel. We left campus on time (which is strange) and hit virtually no traffic on the way to Chicago’s O’Hare airport (which is far stranger). This meant we were a half hour early for check in and moved through TSA as quickly as might be expected. With everything going right, we had a long time before our flight boarded.
Flights were a little bumpy but Turkish Air does a good job taking care of passengers (plenty of good food). Our flight arrived on time, but the gate for the Tel Aviv flight was on the other side of the country (only a slight exaggeration!) Even after this long walk, we made the flight without any problem.
After what felt like more than 24 hours of travel, we got to Tel Aviv, through passport control with little hassle, and all our luggage was waiting. So you may be asking, when does the disaster hit? For every other tour the driver is in the airport with a sign, waiting expectantly to take us to the hotel. We were a little late, but no more than a few minutes No driver. I panic for ten minutes as we look fo a driver with a sign, but no luck. I tried the bus company, but they are closed. Finally I manage to find the number I was given for our driver, he is also the transfer driver. Turns out he was waiting just outside, expecting me to call.
All this really did is make us miss dinner, but after a long travel day and lots of airline food, most people have opted for an early (or late) bedtime. We are up early for the Garden Tomb and the Old City, so tune in tomorrow.
For the next two weeks I am leading a (mostly) student group from Grace Bible College on a tour of Israel and Jordan. This is my eighth trip leading a group to Israel. I have 35 students and parents on this trip, so it is by far the largest group I have led.
Days one and two are travel, by Wednesday we will be in the Old City. Here is our itinerary with some links. I plan on posting each day, so check back often for updates. There is a tab near the top of this page with posts from previous trips and two videos.
At En Gedi, 2009
Day 3: (Wednesday-May 3)Jerusalem
We begin our morning at the Garden Tomb for communion (8:30 AM appointment), then a walk to the Jaffa Gate and Old City of Jerusalem to visit the Tower of David museum. We continue to walk through the Old City market to the Western Wall, the Davidson Archaeological Park on the Southern wall of the Temple, including parts of the Via Dolorosa and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The day begins on the Mount of Olives, looking across the Kidron Valley. Walking down the Mount we will visit Domiunis Flevit (where Jesus wept over Jerusalem), the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations. We will walk across the Kidron Valley past Absalom’s tomb and up to the City of David and Hezekiah’s tunnel and the pool of Siloam.
Day 8: (Monday- May 8)Jordan, Jeresh, Mt. Nebo, Amman
We will leave the Galilee early and prepare to cross into Jordan at the King Hussein Bridge and transfer busses in Jordan. We will stop at Jeresh for a tour of this spectacular Roman city. We will visit Mt. Nebo and possibly Madaba on to the Petra Movenpick Resort.
Day 11: (Thursday-May 11)Mamshit, Tel Arad, Masada
We will be on the bus early to explore several sites in the desert. Our first stop will be Mamshit, a Nabatean trading village which has been beautifully restored by the Israeli Park service. Then we will visit Tel Arad, an ancient Canaanite city captured by Joshua. We will visit the Judean fortress and a reconstructed temple at the top of the Tel. Finally, we travel to Masada, the famous fortress built by King Herod and the site of the last stand of the Jewish zealots in the first Jewish War against Rome. Masada is also an UNESCO World Heritage site.
Day 12: (Friday-May 12)Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, Qumran, The Dead Sea. We will hike to the waterfall in Ein Gedi where David hid from King Saul. We will visit Qumran, the location where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. We end this day with a float in the Dead Sea.
Day 13: (Saturday-May 13) Bet Guverin, Emek Elah, Old City
We will leave Tamar early to travel into the central hill country to visit the Bell Caves at Bet Guverin and make a quick stop at the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath. We will spend a final few hours in the Old City for final shopping. We will end the day at the Sadot Hotel, fifteen minutes from the Ben Gurion airport.
After I finished my post for this evening, we gathered for a short time of worship and sharing. This was a really good time since most of the group was Able to share a story from the trip that impacted their thinking about the Bible. Having just come from Galilee we had opportunity to think abut Jesus and what he claimed about himself. Ryan led us in “how great the father’s love for us” (an excellent choice) and David Keller, a professor from Rochester College, gave an excellent devotion on how this land of Israel is a part of our spiritual heritage. After a time of prayer many went out to look at the stars and enjoy a cool desert breeze.
It was a great way to mark the half-way point of our journey through Israel.
We started early today because we wanted to visit Jeresh before crossing the border into Israel. Jeresh is an enormous site and we were really unable to see much of it because of our rush. I think that I could spend a day there and not see everything.
We entered through Hadrian’s gates and took a quick look at the hippodrome. From there we walked to the round plaza and saw the Cardo. The round plaza has been restored well, with a central monument and properly laid out paving stones.
The theater is also well restored, and had some excellent acoustic features. Ryan sang Amazing Grace from the central spot and his voice could be heard throughout the theater. Everyone took a turn saying something, it is quite a remarkable experience.
We hiked from there to the temple of Artemis. According to Sufyan, our guide, it does not appear that the temple was ever completed since no debris has been found from a ceiling. Nevertheless, the structure is massive and give a feel for an important Roman temple. What really struck me was the view from the street, looking up the seven sets of seven steps. The place was designed to strike awe into the heart of the worshiper. Sacred space was so important that a massive temple complex was designed to highlight the central goddess, even though the worshiper would not actually enter the inner sanctuary and see the image of Artemis.
After leaving Jeresh we traveled to the border crossing and the Allenby bridge. This was a long drive, but interesting since we descended into the Jordan rift, all the time watching the geography change from forested hills and mountains to the moon-like terrain of the rift. The crossing went very well, everything was handled by our Jordanian friends and we made it over to Israel by one in the afternoon. Sadly, it was a little too smooth, and the bus arrived promptly at two. We had a bit of a wait, but everyone was very patient.
After a lunch stop (my first falafel) we were too late to make it to Bet Shean, but since I am I charge now, I decided we would start there in the morning. This worked out fine, since we are staying at Ma’agan Holiday Resort. This is one of the most beautiful spots to stay in Israel, a converted kibbutz with excellent hotel services, great pool and wonderful landscaped grounds. The group enjoyed the two hours before dinner in the pool or wading into the Sea of Galilee. It a bit cool and windy, but a gorgeous sunset and great dinner made this a memorable day.
As I finish this, the students are playing progressive charades, which is entertaining themselves and not a few Israelis. We head to the upper Galilee sites tomorrow.
Hope you are all enjoying the few updates from Israel. Today we drove up to the Syrian / Lebanese border, a place called Mt Ben Tal. There is a great view of Mt Hermon, and a nice coffee shop (I had Turkish coffee and some cherries bought from a Druze man outside the store). We visited Gamla, Banias, and tel Dan, then drove through Tiberias. Tomorrow we go through the “Jesus sites” in Galilee.
It is very hot and humid right now in Israel, and there is a haze in the air. Sadly, this has reduced our views of the valleys in some cases, although we could still see snow on Mt Hermon.
At En Gedi, 2009
Floating in the Dead Sea!
GBC Israel 2009 on the Mount of Olives
I think I will get one more update in before heading back to Jerusalem. Internet has yet to come to the Rosary guest house.