Refining, Shaping, and Blessing

It’s almost 4 in the morning, and my eyes popped open about 45 minutes ago. Before I could tell it to hush, my brain was already thinking about coffee, and calculating what time it was back home, and wondering what time the sun would rise outside our balcony – because it happens early, and I don’t want to miss that. Birds are already singing their wake-up song.

I probably won’t blog every day, as there will be so many on this journey with us who can do that so much more capably. Neal (go to will be blogging and always has wonderful reflections – and hopefully Kathy and many others will share their thoughts. I’ve seen Michael and Tyler with their cameras out and I know those images will be wonderful.

Our main stop yesterday was at Caesarea Maritima – the huge, mostly man-made harbor that was built under Herod “the Great” (great because of his architectural and design projects, not great because of his character!) We were rushed because part of the park closed earlier than we anticipated (and because it’ll take more time to get all 40 of us where we need to be) but we gathered near the Hippodrome and John reminded us to remember where we were – in the “land between”, a “land bridge” necessary for commerce and trade between countries to the north and south,  and a “testing ground of faith” for God’s children of Israel. There were many civilizations who sought to inhabit this land – but it was a land that He promised to His people.  But they had to trust Him to bless them with protection and the power to expel their much stronger enemies who already inhabited the land. They had to trust that He would send the early and latter rains to grow their crops that would sustain them. Often they trusted in themselves rather than in God, and when they did – they failed. Sounds familiar to me in my own life – does it to you?

All of us gathered at the Hippodrome in Caesarea for our first “teaching”, as our guide calls it
The harbor at Caesarea

John said that God used the Israelites’ location and habitation within Israel to refine and shape them, and to bless them. He said that we, too, are in a strategic place where we can make insight into scripture, and that if we let Him, God will refine, shape, and bless us while we are here. And hopefully, some of what we all will share will refine, shape, and bless those of you back home as well.

Many years ago, a man known as St. Jerome said that “five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” This speaks to me! I stand in Caesarea and read the events of Acts 21 through 26 – imagining the sight of Paul facing the noisy mob in the Jerusalem temple – standing on the stairs and asking to speak, and a hush falling over the crowd. But they hated what he said – crying out, throwing off their cloaks, and tossing dust in the air (can’t you just see it?), and eventually conspired that they would eat or drink nothing until they managed to kill him. When news of the conspiracy reached the ears of Paul’s nephew, and then the commander – they made plans to move Paul under cover of darkness to Caesarea – guarded by two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. What a plan, and what a sight that must have been!

In Caesarea there are remains of Herod’s city – among the remains a “hall” where it may be that Paul appeared before the governor. Here too, Paul appeared before King Agrippa and Bernice, “amid great pomp”, and Paul defended himself. Agrippa listened to him, and eventually said “in a short time you will persuade me to be a Christian…” to which Paul replied (and today we still want what Paul wanted) “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am…” – a Christian.  This hall is a stone’s throw from the Mediterranean, overlooking the beautiful Sea. To the north is a huge hippodrome, and just to the west (I hope I’m getting these directions correct – I do better with left, right, up and down!) along the edge of the Sea, are the remains of Herod’s swimming pool – maybe the earliest “infinity pool”.

This “hall” may have been where Paul appeared before the governor

A few observations and funnies –

John told me he would grow out his beard on this trip (a deal he is now reneging upon…) and he and Tyler were discussing it. John said “Man, I can’t grow a beard like you!” Tyler said “Not with an attitude like that, you can’t!” To which John said “well, I think genes have something to do with it, don’t you?” And Tyler said “No it doesn’t, I’m not even wearing jeans.”  It made me laugh.

I experienced my first high-wind takeoff from Denver, where the plane was rocking side to side as we were speeding up to take off. Not a big fan of high wind takeoffs now! Then we had a delay in Newark, and incidentally – it’s an ordeal just to enter the gate area when you are heading to Israel. You have to show your passport and boarding pass before you’re allowed to enter the gate area, then you have to put your carryon luggage on a table and step away from it, and then you’re usually “wanded” before you stand in a line while the gate attendants glare at you for a moment (why? I don’t know…) and then they tell you that you can retrieve your carry-ons. Israel takes security very seriously and I’m thankful for that!

Long flight but uneventful and we arrived about an hour late into Tel Aviv – then it took two hours for all of us to process through Passport control and retrieve our luggage. Finally we got through the airport and met Lindy and our new guide, Eitan. (Tsvika will guide us for the next trip but he had a tour already scheduled during this period. He’s also been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer since we saw him last – has been under treatment and is now guiding again, but I’m so sad about news of his cancer, for several reasons. He knows who Jesus was – but he doesn’t KNOW HIM. I want Tsvika to be in heaven, too.)

Part of our group – l-r Neal, Wayne (with his head chopped off, sorry!) Kathy, Adam, John, Teri, Wes, Anita (next to John), Liz, Melissa, Travis, and Holly (in the back), Donnie in front of them, and then Kaleb and Aaron by Wes
Adam ordering a burger in Newark – last CHEESEburger for a while!
Finally on board our bus
While most everyone else slept on the plane…

Since there are so many of us, we’re having to use “Whispers” – an ear bud attached to a little battery pack that allows us to hear Eitan (wearing a mike) and the men who are teaching at the different sites. So far I’m not liking it – the little ear bud hurts and I’m not crazy about wearing a battery necklace. But it does help to be able to hear even if there are crowds and noise around us.

We visited the Aqueduct near Caesarea when the sun was setting. I think everyone just wanted to go to the hotel after Caesarea – but we knew they would love seeing the sun set over the Mediterranean. We weren’t there for very long, but it was absolutely beautiful. We had the place almost to ourselves. To get to the edge of the sea, you have to walk under or around the huge aqueduct that was actually buried under sand for many years. It’s an amazing feat of architecture that you can read about here.

The aqueduct near Caesarea
Tyler capturing the sunset
Michael and Lynn
How much fun is this – to be here with friends!?
NEVER could be disappointed in the sunset here
Walking under the aqueduct to see the ocean

We had supper with Eitan (it’s pronounced Ay-Tahn with emphasis on either syllable, he says) and our bus driver, Rami. Of course we found out about their kids (Eitan has two sons and a daughter, and Rami has a son and a daughter.) And of course they both had their background on their phone screens – like me – set with pictures of their granddaughters. It’s fun to get to know these men. Eitan has been guiding for 47 years. He is 70 years old and has degrees in archaeology, geography, and I believe he also said he has one in history. John will enjoy talking with him about those shared interests. I’ll get pictures of them soon.

Brought my pour-over and my addiction with me 
Our bus

Today we head to Mt. Carmel, then to Megiddo. After that we will drive to Nazareth, where we can’t wait to see and have lunch with our church family. Inaam Jadon is preparing an authentic Israeli meal for us at the church building, and we will get to hear from Maurice (the preacher there) and see their son Awny and hopefully several others that we got to know last summer. Then we will head to Nazareth Village and on to Mt. Precipice.

It’s now 5:45 a.m. – the sky is lightening up and it’s very still outside. It’s cloudy, but I can see the Mediterranean about a half a mile away. I can hear gulls “cawing” and more birds twittering, and the roar of the ocean. This side of the world is waking up. Praying for all who are back home, and we ask that you continue to remember us in prayer!

This morning – just under the clouds you can barely see the Mediterranean

3 Replies to “Refining, Shaping, and Blessing”

  1. Thanks for sending this blog to me to read. I am always excited to read your reports and see the fabulous photos. Praying for you and your group to have a safe stay there.
    Gwen Antwine


  2. Carla, I’m living this experience through you and enjoying every word and picture. You are all in my prayers for a safe and edifying trip. Diana


  3. Praying for safety and enlightenment for everyone on this wonderful journey and hoping we can make it with you one day! Love y’all! Penne & Hugh


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