Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide; in every change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heavenly Friend – through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake to guide the future as He has the past. Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake: all now mysterious shall be bright at last! Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart, and all is darkened in the vale of tears. Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart – Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears. Be still, my soul, thy Jesus can repay from His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still my soul, the hour is hastening on when we shall be forever with the Lord. When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone…sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored. Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet at last. (Be Still My Soul, by Catharina von Schlegel)
Yesterday, Denny talked to our small group as we sat on a quiet boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. It was a calm day, with gentle waves slapping the sides of the wooden boat, silent birds gliding past, the surrounding hills and mountains visible through the morning haze. There are so many places we’ve visited in Israel that look nothing like my imagination says they should. High-rises, high-tech industry, and modern shopping malls dominate cities like Nazareth, Joppa, and Jerusalem, but in the Galilee – here, you can see Jesus. Here, perhaps, there were times He could let His guard down, and laugh with those He loved. Here, Denny reminded us, He stepped into a boat many times. Here, His eyes saw what ours saw yesterday, and here “the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.”
Sam was asked to read Matthew 8:23-27, an account of one of the storms that overtook the disciples on this Sea. Verse 27 says that the men were amazed, and asked the question: “What kind of a man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Denny said that Matthew often used a literary device where a question was asked, but no answer given, in order for the reader to find his own answer. I hope Denny doesn’t mind me mentioning that his voice broke with emotion (it made me respect and love him even more) as he asked that question – “what kind of man is this?” In the moment that it took for him to regain his voice, through my own tears I wrote these words down as my answer – Master, Lord, Creator, Healer, Brother, Friend, Leader, Peacemaker.
It has been a little bit hard for my soul to be still as we’ve hurried from place to place over the past few weeks. Months, really. Our life, our location, our activities have changed, but He has not. In some ways our relationships with others have altered, but our relationship with Him remains the same. My emotions zigzag sometimes, but His do not. In every change, my Lord, my Brother, my Friend – He faithful will remain.
Here’s what has been going on in the past week…it’s pretty long and rambly, so proceed only if you’re interested.
We sent our friends home Friday night. Even while knowing that more friends were coming to join us, it was a hard night. The trip was an enormous undertaking for so many people. For everyone to arrange their schedules to be able to be gone for two weeks. To pinch the many pennies it took to pay for the trip. To coordinate house, pet and child “sitters”…to organize piles of work and pay bills – for a group of 40 to do all of these things and ready themselves to fly away – it was monumental feat. And the fact that we were all friends (though missing many others that would have added so much,) sharing such a spiritually enriching, faith-building journey was something that I kept thinking about, over and over. As a result, reflecting over all of these things – as Michael said, I was a total faucet face as we joined hands for the last time overlooking the hills that surround Jerusalem, and sang together.
We had a farewell dinner together at a restaurant called Naura in the community of Abu Ghosh: all kinds of middle eastern dishes that John loves and I, um, tolerate. Wes stuffed himself silly with more pita bread and hummus and then they brought out plates of falafel and big bowls with criss-crossed kebab swords of chicken, lamb and beef. Toward the end of the meal we took turns telling what we considered to be the most memorable site visited, and then we hugged each other again, and they got back in the bus and headed back to the states. (Well, to the airport, first.) J
Denny and John and I stayed in Jerusalem while we waited for the second group to arrive. Saturday we borrowed Lindy’s car and drove to several sites that we weren’t able to visit with the group –Lachish and Gezer. The countryside is breathtakingly beautiful this time of year. We had been to both of those tels last summer when it was dry and dusty – but now it is green and lush. We had supper that night at my favorite place called “Focaccia” in west Jerusalem – non kosher, so we got to have meat AND cheese together!
Sunday morning we headed to the airport and met Tsvika (our guide for this group) there. I was so glad to see him again! He’s become a friend, and trusted advisor while we are here. He was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last fall, and has been off work for six months while he was treated and recuperated. I’ve been worried about him and we’ve been praying for him. He looked better than I expected him to – but he is tired in the afternoons. Please pray for him with us – he knows so many facts about Jesus’s life, but we want so much for Tsvika to know Him.
Then we met our second group: Bear Valley Alumni and Friends. We are much smaller in size – only 15! Besides John, Denny, and me, we have Sam Dilbeck, a friend we’ve known for 20+ years. He preaches in Brighton, Colorado. Then we have Logan and Chelsea Reeh – we are claiming them as the first Bible Land Passages marriage, because she came with us two years ago and while here, another of our group said “You need to meet Logan Reeh…” and the rest is history. They live in the Bryan/College Station area and have been married since last September. We have Andrew Warnes with us – his brother Adam was with us last week and we wish they could’ve come together, but I sure am happy to have a Warnes man on each trip – they are both so kind and considerate and helpful! Jordan Wise is another of our group – he is a not-too-long-ago Bear Valley graduate from Colorado, involved in both ministry and secular work. Bud Woodall is here – he preaches for the Northeast church of Christ in Albuquerque, NM and works with the Future Preacher Training Camp at Bear Valley every summer. Elizabeth Hewlett and Marilyn Birchfield are two friends from Cleburne, TX who have joined us – we’ve known Elizabeth for some time through her son, but this is the first time we’ve met Marilyn. David and Nancy Ballard are with us – David preaches for the Pattonville church of Christ in Pattonville, TX – he is also Bear Valley’s coordinator for the West Africa extension schools. Nancy’s sister Virginia and her husband Chuck came too – Chuck is a fisherman out of Unalakleet, Alaska (go look how far north they live!) and he is a HOOT who has already made me laugh more times than I can count.
I think my favorite thing about these trips is meeting new people, and when this group came out of baggage claim at Ben Gurion International Airport looking slightly dazed after an 11-hour flight – I knew that we were about to make memories and a lifelong relationship with each of them. I love that! Sometimes you have a first impression of someone, and then you spend a little time with them and realize that there is so much that you don’t know. So many circumstances and hardships and joys and sadnesses that make up the details of a person’s life. Repeatedly, I’ve been completely humbled and blessed to just sit and listen.
Each day flies by, but at the same time – Sunday seems so long ago. We are on a much smaller bus this time, because of fewer people – but that just means more camaraderie, right? (I hope so!) Sunday we visited Aphek (the first time Chuck made me laugh – I mentioned to him that the stone paved road we were walking on was Roman, and he said drily – “Well, they did a good job!”) and then Caesarea Maritima. I always wonder about the times Paul left for his missionary journeys from Caesarea – what did the city look like then? Did friends follow him to the dock, hug him and cry like I did when I said good-bye to my friends? What did he take with him?
We worshipped together at the hotel in Caesarea that night. Denny reminded us that we aren’t here just to walk where Jesus walked, but that we should remember how important it is to walk as Jesus walked – being completely committed to the will of God, living in submission to God, and with our allegiance belonging to God.
Sunday was my 50th birthday the 20th anniversary of my 30th birthday (that sounds better) and John arranged for the hotel to serve a birthday cake. It was delicious – and I felt pretty special receiving so many birthday wishes and texts and facebook comments and messages from my kids and my mom. Tsvika said “happy birthday old lady – you haf change area code!”
Monday we first visited the top of Mount Carmel – the area where Elijah likely fought against the false prophets, and then we headed to Megiddo, and after that, Mt. Precipice in Nazareth. We had lunch again at the Nazareth church building, with Maurice, Inaam, Awny, and little Maurice. Inaam had prepared a dish called Maqloobeh (I’ve looked it up and found a different spelling on every recipe) – an upside down chicken/rice/cauliflower dish. It was delicious! It was very similar to a broccoli chicken dish I regularly make at home. She had a dish of slivered almonds out to sprinkle on top, and had also made several salads and side dishes, and had fixed a special birthday cupcake just for me, with a flaming torch and a happy birthday song in Arabic. I have loved being able to introduce them to our American brethren.
We visited the Nazareth Village again and had a guide unlike any we’ve ever had before. Twice before, we have had the same man who spoke in a monotone voice and looked like he was bored out of his skull, but this guide, Nathaniel, was very unique. He really made the tour enjoyable. Near the end of the tour, we stopped at the synagogue. He waited for us to all come in, then sang an absolutely beautiful song in a rich baritone voice. He stood up, picked up the scroll from the low table in front of him, unrolled it, and recited: “THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD.” Then he rolled up the scroll, handed it to someone, and sat down. And just as the eyes of those in the Nazareth synagogue 2000 years ago were “fixed on Him”, our eyes were fixed on Nathaniel. It made Luke 4 come to life for me. We asked him to sing again, and he did – it was a memorable experience!
We drove on to our hotel in the Galilee – about an hour from Nazareth. We stayed at the same kibbutz where we stayed with our first group – the Kinar. Then Tuesday we got up and headed for northern Israel; first Tel Dan, where Jeroboam went against God’s will and created his own place of worship, complete with a huge altar and golden calves. Denny talked about 1 Kings 12, and the importance of following God’s pattern. He said, “God didn’t give us the right to make our own Dans and Bethels in our own spiritual walk; He wants us to do what He wanted.”
We had falafel/shawarma/schnitzel/hummus at the Lebanese restaurant nearby, and went on to Caesarea Philippi, where the events recorded in Matthew 16 took place. It’s interesting to note that Caesarea Philippi was an important cultic site for the Greek god Pan, the son of Hermes – so Peter’s reply to Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:15 becomes even more significant: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Pan and Hermes were fictitious, powerless, and dead – just the opposite of Jesus Christ and His heavenly Father. When we left there, we drove up to Mount Bental – a mountain overlooking the “Valley of Tears” from the Yom Kippur War of 1973. From Mt. Bental you can see into Syria and Lebanon. It’s a big destination for Israeli school children to learn about their history, and there are many Israeli soldiers who gather on top. There is also a great coffee shop called Coffee Anan – with lines that stretch out the door.
We got back to the kibbutz early enough to watch the sun set on Tuesday night. It had been hazy for much of the day and we were afraid that the sunset wouldn’t be visible, but it turned out to be beautiful. There is a small beach within walking distance behind the kibbutz – a beach made up of mostly pebbles, tiny shells, and a little bit of dark sand. The remains of someone’s campfire made me think even more of John 21. There were lots of reeds standing up in the water close to shore. We could make out Tiberius on the opposite shoreline. Chelsea sat on a rock a little way out into the water. Chuck found a long branch and stood it upright, wondering if the wind would knock it over. Andrew snapped pictures, and we all just enjoyed the sights, sounds, and smells of the Sea. I love it there!
Yesterday we began in Capernaum, then after our boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, we drove a little further south to Magdala. The story of the discovery of the synagogue at Magdala is interesting (and it’s almost certain that Jesus taught here, as it dates to the first century, and Mark 1 and Luke 4 say that He preached in synagogues throughout the Galilee,) and they’ve built a chapel near the water with an atrium in honor of the women in the gospel accounts. Four alcoves inside the chapel have the most beautiful mosaics I’ve ever seen – each one 160,000 mosaic pieces depicting a scene from the life of Jesus. A painting in the basement portrays the moment that the woman with an issue of blood touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, and it is surprisingly moving.
Yesterday afternoon we made the trek up Mount Arbel – my favorite place of all places in Israel. John talked about Jesus’ power and His perspective. He had power over storms, demons, sickness, emotional sadness and distress. He has power over life’s circumstances. And Jesus has a perspective that we don’t…we tend to see our life “in the boat” and often that boat feels like it’s in the middle of a storm. But Jesus sees life above the boat – He sees the other side of the shore. John read Matthew 5 standing up there, because some think this is the location where the “Sermon on the Mount” took place. It is so easy to see Jesus standing in the grass there, teaching crowds of people.
This morning we left the Galilee and headed south. We stopped at Beth She’an and Scythopolis, a Roman city in the center of Israel. The grass is already beginning to die, and the colors are changing from bright green to yellow and brown. The contrast from just 10 days ago is stark. The country has been experiencing, as Tsvika calls it, a “eat wave”…otherwise known as a heat wave.
We spent the afternoon driving all the way down to the southern tip of the Dead Sea, where we are spending the night. Tonight, the time changes to Daylight Savings Time – yes, Israel has DST also – so our fellow tour members are moaning about having to experience TWO “spring forward”s!
A few funnies – at dinner last night, John asked the group – “have you ever cracked a walnut?” and immediately Chuck said “tell it a joke!”
More Chuck jokes – as we’re getting on the boat on the Sea of Galilee – “Which gal did you wanna see?” “If you take night classes from Texas A&M, shouldn’t it be called Texas P&M?” I asked him, “Did you have schnitzel (chicken) or shawarma?” He said “I chicken out every time!”
This morning at breakfast, John said he’d had an Americano coffee with an extra shot of espresso. David said, “so you had an American Expresso?”
At Scythopolis, looking at the mosaic floors in the homes and bathhouses that had been covered up by marble, we were laughing about the Roman wives who were bored with their mosaic floors and wanted a remodel. Jordan said “They got their 20% off coupon from Bed, Bathhouse, and Beyond!”
Lots of us can’t say Tsvika’s name. I’ve heard him called “Seevee”, “Shvee”, “Shmee”, and “Stevie”.
Speaking of Tsvi – I laugh at his English pronunciation. “Eat” is “heat”. He said “someone is making a TV serious with that…” (he meant series). “Cleef” is cliff, “fairy” means furry, “halafinyo” is jalapeno, and “olee” is holy.
So far, we are all injury free and healthy! We are enjoying getting to know one another. Back home in Austin, the identity of the serial bomber who sent at least three package bombs and rigged a trip wire was discovered, and he died by an explosion of his own making. We are always questioned – “is Israel safe?” Bad things happen everywhere – yes, sometimes they happen here in Israel, but these most recent terroristic attacks hit a little too close to home, literally.
It’s our 8th hotel in a little more than 2 weeks. When I wake up in the night, I have to think pretty hard about where we are, and where the bathroom is. 😉 Please continue to keep us in your prayers!