Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 12 "Final Thoughts"

There is a great line at the end of the Gospel of John. He writes: "Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." How about that for a final thought?

My trip to the Holy Land was slightly less monumental, OK monumentally less monumental than John's or Jesus', still it's important to identify when when is when. 

Here are some final thoughts and some action steps. 

Hunter Lambeth is a difference maker
First, consider supporting Young Life in the Middle East. As Obama mentioned during his last visit - if peace is going to happen, it's going to happen with the youth. What happens in the future to the Middle East depends on what the youth determine to do about it. And there is no better avenue to peace than the love of God. I don't care if you're Jewish, Muslim or Christian - love was, is and always will be the answer. This is at the heart of Young Life. 

Yousef is a difference maker
Second, we need to care for those who are oppressed and being treated unjustly. The United States government gives more aid to Israel than any other country (to the tune of $400 billion a year). This is Israel - who has the third largest army in the world, whose median income is ten times greater than its Palestinian neighbors, who has been taking land in the West Bank when and where it sees fit, who are building a wall, a wall that we Americans are contributing $2 million a kilometer to pay's crazy. All this while the Palestinian people suffer. 

Readers, put aside your Zionist tendencies and remember first and foremost that we are called to support the poor and powerless, the widows and orphans, the oppressed and harassed - this is clearly the Palestinians. They deserve to see firsthand what loving thy neighbor looks like. 

My new friend Bishara Awad. He is a difference maker.

Third, I asked Erez and Cici, the Messianic Jews, what was the greatest obstacle for Jews to believe in Jesus. You know what they said, it was Cici who actually said it: Christians. It's not Muslims but Christians that historically have been the persecutors of Jews. It wasn't Muslims behind the Holocaust - it was Christians! It wasn't Muslims behind the Inquisition - it was Christians. We have represented Jesus so poorly they want nothing to do with him. How about that for breaking God's heart?

Erez and Cici. They are difference makers.
So if you want to do something for Jews, apologize. That's what I feel led to do. I want to start an online petition, a letter apologizing for all of the atrocities done to Jews in the name of Jesus. The list is long. And we are responsible. It's not Jesus they are against - it's the way we have represented him. It's our fault! If you are a follower of Jesus - join me in repenting for our sins and the sins of our forefathers. 

Fourth, before giving money to a cause, make sure you know where it is going. There are people on both sides of this issue who have profited from well-meaning Americans not willing to do their homework. 

Pray for peace
Fifth, support a two-state solution. Understand that the path to peace is going to appear as if it is requiring more concessions from Israel than Palestine. Don't be fooled. They are the ones in power - they are in a far greater position to offer concessions. The Palestinians have very little to bargain with. We need to help Israel understand they will be better off by losing some ground for the sake of peace. That is a very tough pill to swallow. But join me in praying that clear heads will prevail. 

That is only the beginning, I'm afraid. The Palestinians have no clear governing body, no military, and a failing economy. Palestinians are going to have to allow the international community to bring in peace-keepers, to ensure free and fair elections, and to fight the radicals in their numbers - for the sake of peace. This will also be a very tough pill to swallow. Pray for this as well. 

 Finally, this land is a treasure. Visit it. Pray for it. And let us do what we can to preserve it for the generations to come.

Thank you again, Hunter, for organizing for us this trip of a lifetime. Until the next one. Ned is signing off.

Friday, May 24, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 11 "In Love with this Dude"

I don't usually show my cards like this, but I'm in love with this dude. And if there was a secret purpose to my trip overseas it was to get to know him better. To hang out on his turf. And climb the hills he climbed. And wade in the water and walk in the places he walked even if I got wet by my lack of faith. To do the stuff he did where he did it. I'm not talking about miracles. I'm talking about exploring, walking around, sitting on the rock's he sat on and taking it all in. 

It was incredibly cool to be in Nazareth - that place and time period when Jesus was young and wild and free. It was so easy for me to imagine him on those hills. Playing capture the flag with his friends then hiking  up to the Precipice and spreading his arms wide and leaning into the wind with the world open up beneath him. 

Church of the Annunciation - Nazareth - spreading his arms wide...check it out.

Nazareth is where the Jesus Trail begins. 60 kilometers from here to Capernaum. This being my first trip with Hunter I didn't want to freak him out - but I'm running it next time. In sandals! Just kidding about the sandals. Then again, Jesus did it in Chacos count?

It was also easy to see why Jesus chose Capernaum as his base. It's got everything you want:



open spaces

It solves the age old question: was Jesus a mountain guy or a beach guy? Answer: both. 

My favorite Jesus was this one in St. Jerome's tomb. It's not St. Jerome's altar. I broke that one (long story). And it's not the Holy Innocent's Altar. It might be St. Catherine's. I forgot to write it down. I was flustered. But boy did this Jesus grip me. 

The face.

Possibly my favorite chapel was in Gethsemane. This is the face I found there. 

We learned earlier in the trip that olives are pressed three times to extract their oil. The first that is collected is the Extra Virgin variety. Then more weight is added and more is extracted and that's your every day use stuff. Then even more weight is added until the olives are completely empty. That's for the oil lamps to bring light to the world. Jesus in Gethsemane, which means olive press, asked the Lord three times for this cup to pass from him; three times he was denied; he was pressed three times until he was emptied...amidst these trees to bring light to the world. 

To Jerusalem, we followed the stations of the Cross. 

Simon of Cyrene carries the cross.

Veronica gives Jesus a handkerchief

Jesus comforts the women of Jerusalem.

 Jesus falls a third time.

To Golgotha

I think of what the disciples once said about him: Who is the man? I will never know him fully. But from what I know and what I've seen - I love him. And he loves me. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 10 "The Center of it All"

"Ten measures of beauty descended to the world, nine were taken by Jerusalem."
(Talmud: Kiddushin 49b)

I'm not sure if I'd go that far, but Jerusalem is a beautiful city. It's the most important city in the world for Jews and Christians, and in the top three for Muslims. And you would think with all that religion it would be a peaceful kind of place, but according to wikipedia, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. Our tour guide mentioned something about 18 times, but I can't remember if he was talking about destruction, besieging, or the changing of hands. Having just finished the cities' biography by Simon Montefiore, I can state with authority that I have never been in a bloodier 0.35 square miles in my life. 

I went to Ari's Bar Mizvah - look at us now!
There is much that could be said on this point, but I'll leave it at this: I never felt threatened. Lia and I ran around it. My friend Ari and I hung out late into the night. And I never felt my life was in danger. Parts of Winston-Salem feel scarier than this.

The city reminds me more of an old world European city than a Middle Eastern one. The streets are cobblestoned and narrow. Shopkeepers leap at you every-which-a-way but they don't assault your person. They make you feel like you're bleeding them when they barter, but it's really more for sport. They make their profit. They know it. You know it. It's just the margin that's in play. 

This is the Via Dolorosa "The Way of Suffering" - the path Jesus took from scourging to crucifixion. It was the beginning of the Eastern Orthodox Holy Week, so the streets were packed. I couldn't help but think of Jesus making his way through the crowd during that Passover years ago. Making my way through the crowd was moving. My feet warmed, imaging the painful journey his took. It was an odd feeling, warm feet up to my shins.  

The Western Wall is the only part of the Temple Mount that remains from the time of Herod the Great. It is a place of prayer. And irresistible to the touch. I didn't have any paper to write on. Every crevice is full of tiny prayers - or more likely big prayers on tiny paper. Twice a year they are collected and buried on the Mount of Olives. I wish I had a piece of paper. I didn't even have a bubble gum wrapper.  

Not to be sacrilegious, but who looks funnier? This guy or the guy above. Seriously.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a mystical place. For most of its existence, it's been considered to be the place where Jesus was crucified, buried, then raised from the dead. Then, a hundred fifty years or so ago people started casting doubt that it was the actual place - their reason mainly being because it says Jesus was crucified outside of the city, and if you have ever been to Jerusalem then you would know that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is decidedly inside the city walls. Some folks found another rock outcropping that they swear has a skull face on it (I don't see it). 

Do you see it? I sure don't.
So for the last century of so, I'd say most folks began to think this was the place. Well, lately, opinion has swayed back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as it has lately been discovered that it was in fact outside of the city when Jesus was alive. So there you have it. 

It really doesn't matter to me. The one place you are certain not to find Jesus is at Golgotha. He is risen after all. Which brings me to one quick point. Having now seen these Holy Sites it is so clear to me that you get a much clearer picture of Jesus when you pay attention not to where he has been but to what he is doing now. 

At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, people were lining up to kiss this place on the ground. For what I do not know. And as I stood there in the grotto watching this all go down, out of the corner of my eye, I saw this hundred old woman incapable of climbing the stairs back out (you had to go down stairs to kiss the spot). So this guy goes over to her and helps the old lady up the stairs. She thanked him in Italian and gave his cheek a tweak, and I have to tell you there was more Jesus in that moment than on the spot on the floor. 

Not to take away from any of these places. I admire the history. And it was quite moving to walk around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and see the thousands of crosses etched into the wall by the pilgrims of the past while rubbing elbows with men and women from every continent who have come hear to worship the same God as I do. To see so clearly how this one man Jesus has touched so many people from every dot on the map really touched me. 

Church of the Nativity
 Interestingly, because the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered to be the holiest place for the Armenians, the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and the Eastern Orthodox - two Muslim families carry the responsibility of unlocking the doors each day. The key has been in the family for, get this: 1,300 years! 

Adeeb Joudeh with the Key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Credit: Pierre Klochendler/IPS.
Abdeed Joudeh opens the door. 

We spent the afternoon at the "other spot" with the skull rock that doesn't look like a skull to me. It's called The Garden Tomb. It's really beautiful, and there is an authentic first century tomb with no one in it! So who knows?

The thing I really want to know is who is this lady who photo bombed our picture? She's beside Bruce and Rich in the back row. So if any of you have information on her identity or whereabouts please contact me immediately. I would love to track her down. Not to yell at her, but to congratulate her on her excellent work! Kudos to you, photo-bomber!

The only place I didn't get to go to was the Dome of the Rock. I'm going next time - even if I have to convert to Muslim for the day. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 9 Lia's Highlight of the Trip

There are so many things to write about! I'm limiting myself to three more Israel blogs after this one. Before the months out I need to also get to stories about Adventure Princess camp, a pet fish, and a rescued bird. All said, May 2013 has been my garrulousest month to date.

So back to Israel. I'm skipping over some tremendous stuff to get to this: the House of Hope. This is where we are starting Young Life in Bethlehem. Not with the rich. Not with the influential. But with the blind and the down syndomed and the autistic girls and boys and men and women who have been rejected by their families. 

Yousef worked here for two years and couldn't think of any other students he would rather spend time with. And after spending an hour with them myself, it is easy to understand why. Lia had one of those weepy, snotty experiences where she laughs to cover up how emotional she has become only to create more mucous in the process that squirts out her nose and up her forearms. The kind of moment that makes me fall in love with her all over again. 

It's hard to blame her. We sang songs and listened to the prayers of these quick-to-be-made friends. 

 This young girl below can't speak, but she sat down next to Lia, proceeded to grab Ibrahim's arm then place it around was the first and perhaps only smile we saw on Ibrahim's face all week.

Yousef is putting together a Young Life Capernaum camp for these children this summer. If you are interested in supporting this project financially, contact me. 

And if you are ever in Bethlehem, spend a few minutes less at the Church of the Nativity and stop by the House of Hope. I promise you it will be just as, if not more, uplifting. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 8 Qumran and the Dead Sea

Between the two sights we were heading to see, there was one I was excited about and one that I wasn't.

Qumran, to me, was going to be amazing. Cliffs and caves in the desert. Realizing my inner-Bedouin and maybe finding some ancient scroll written by Isaiah's brother.

Qumran was cool. But not as cool as what I imagined in my head. For one, I had done too much reading about it, so there was nothing really to learn except to learn that the place is really hot. Worse, the caves were out of bounds. You could only take pictures of them. And the pictures were only good if you had a zoom lens. And the only thing that Ibrahim the tour guide told me of interest was that archaeologists have thoroughly explored every cave seventy miles in both directions. Don't get me wrong - Qumran is worth the visit. The wrongness came from my overblown expectations.

To top it off, Lia and I got in our only fight of the trip. There were these Arabian daggers in the gift shop that were screaming at me to buy them. One for each kid, you know, so it would be even. Lia thought it was a bad idea. "But the kids will love them," I explained. "They'll kill each other," said Lia. "They're blunt," I explained...

We didn't get the daggers. Weaponless, I boarded Islam's bus.

Off to the Dead Sea. Great, floating in buoyant water. Big whoop.

Boy was I wrong. The Dead Sea blew my expectations out of the water (pardon the pun). It was amazing, bizarre, fun, hilarious...something better experienced than described.

Speaking of experience, before we put on our bathing suits, we were instructed not to get our heads wet. Supposedly, if the salt water got in your ears or eyes or mouth it could do bad things to you. How bad could it be? I wondered. It's salt.

I stuck my tongue in the water.

Bad idea. Not that I know what this tastes like, but the Dead Sea tastes exactly like what the bottom of a car tastes like in Chicago in January. I was afraid the part I had submerged was going to shrivel up and fall off. I was sure I had lost forever, in one fatal dip, my sense of taste. That's what I feared.

So much for experience.

Fortunately, feeling came back to my mouth in about fifteen minutes. I celebrated by following the time-honored tradition of covering my body in gooey mud. That was awesome. Like getting fitted for a superhero uniform, not that I know what that feels like either.


Check out what it did to my hair!

Monday, May 13, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 7 "Part Two" from headquarters.

Got this from headquarters on Monday. Love it!

Building Bridges, Not Walls
Above is a picture of Hunter Lambeth, area developer for Young Life in the Middle East, spending time with these boys at the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. (The wall, constructed to separate Israel from the West Bank, can reach 26 feet high in certain parts and, when completed, will be at least 400 miles long.) Hunter writes, "I just felt compelled to go up and talk to these guys. We talked briefly about the sadness of the wall — that it divides people — and the hope that one day it might come down and there would be true peace between the PEOPLE of Israel and Palestine. These guys are not involved in Young Life, however, we do have Young Life Capernaum ministry in the city of Bethlehem (as well as Young Life in Nazareth and the Northern West Bank.)

"We love to use and quote the verse Ephesians 2:14 when thinking about this modern wall," Hunter said. "The Message translation is particularly poignant:

'The Messiah has made things up between us so that we're now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.'"

Thank you to Hunter and his wife, Lauri, for sharing this great photo and message! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

ISRAEL - Part 7 Young Life in the Middle East

So we had business to do on this trip, namely Young Life, which means serious, as in, serious fun, but still serious because relationships with others are important and a relationship with God is serious but if these relationships (with others and God) aren't also fun then I might have to question the quality of either relationship.

This was my question: Does Young Life work in the Middle East? In other words, does Young Life's recipe of meeting people where they're at, on their turf, on their terms, with no agenda accept to serve as the best representative of Jesus we can be really work in a part of the world where it appears everyone has already made up their mind?

We arrived in Zababdeh to find out. Yousef has been doing Young Life there for two years. Zababdeh is a historically Christian city; it's the traditional place Jesus met and healed the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Currently, the 15,000 Christian and Muslim inhabitants live in relative peace with one another. Together, they suffer the frustrations of Israeli occupation; though it is more like a cloud than an ever-present torment. (I have more I could write about this, but I won't. There is plenty of blame to spread around, including America.)

football buddies

Back to Zababdeh. We arrived for arabic coffee and dessert. A note on arabic coffee: it's an acquired taste. That's my theory. I haven't acquired it yet. It is more caffeinated sauce than caffeinated beverage. Our team met the Young Life team while I played football (the true international language) in the street. We heard Yousef tell the story of Young Life here, then we walked to Young Life club.

Kids showed up in clumps. Twos, threes, five giggling girls, two shy guys...seventy of them by the time things started. We were in this finished basement of an unfinished house (there was no house).

Club House

Hunter did the ice cream hula hoop skit. I've done the same skit for years. It worked like a charm. Kids laughed. Walls were broken down. A Young Life leader led a mixer involving clothes pins. I did the same skit the week before at my club at Forsyth Country Day School!

The leaders played a couple more games, one I might take home with me, then Yousef gave a talk. And just like in the clubs I've been to all over the United States, the kids listened. They were engaged, rapt absorbing every word. It was amazing. It's always amazing.

Watching the leaders hang out with their teenage friends was like watching the way I want my leaders to hang out with their teenage friends here in North Carolina.

We spent the evening with them, laughing, singing, dancing, and telling stories. I told them, Yousef had to translate, that there was no difference in my opinion between these young men and women leaders than the young men and women that lead with me here in America. In my opinion, they could be Young Life leaders in America someday. Yousef said he wouldn't translate that part. I said, "Why?" He said, "It would make them too happy." He told them anyway. They were happy.


Young Life works. I was convinced. But I actually had another experience that gave me personal proof.

The next day we were in Jericho. You know, the place where the walls knocked down. We were at the Oasis hotel, a five the dessert. It was nice. We had a few hours to kill before dinner, so I awkwardly found my way in my shorts past other fully clothed (I mean fully clothed) guests to the gym. I lifted some weights. Pretty much all of them. There weren't that many. Then, ran on the treadmill in kilometers per hour. (It seemed longer than miles per hour). I don't know why.

Anyway, out of the corner of my eye I saw a ping pong table. Now that's what I call five star! I challenged the Keshians to singles. Took Nancy down. Then Rich. I was feeling it. Some Palestinian guys walked in and challenged me. I took on the bigger of the two. I'll call him Raj. I walloped him. But we had a good time. He cussed after every point - in perfect diction. It was great.

Hunter came in and we played Raj and his buddy in doubles. It was a heated, explicative-laced, death match. The Americans won. Raj, his friend, Hunter and I talked until dinner time.

Later, Hunter led our group in a little business meeting (see, business trip). I played a few songs. On the way back to my room this group of teenagers yell at me. Turns out, Raj was with them. They asked me if I could play for them. I said sure. Then Raj's buddy started singing Country Roads. I accompanied him. We laughed. They asked me if I knew any Jason Mraz. We sang I'm yours. Then on to Taylor Swift, Enrique Iglesias, etc. The result is probably on youtube somewhere. I haven't looked. It was unbelievable. We talked for awhile. I introduced Hunter and Yousef to them and headed to bed. Yousef ended up talking to Raj for about a half an hour. They're going to meet up in Nablus this week to talk some more. All that from ping pong.

That's Young Life.

Can't wait to see how the Lord my use them!