Sunday, May 21, 2017

Holy Land Day 6- Young Life Camp Day 1

Guest Contributor: Julia Lovett

The Fellows geared up on Sunday morning to welcome families from Jericho and Zababdeh to Young Life Camp at the Murad Hotel. Young Life works with children and adults with disabilities in Palestine and for two days the Fellows had the privilege and joy of spending time with these folks.

Their buses were greeted with enthusiasm by Ned and Dakota rocking paint suits and obnoxious afros. By the end of the camp the initial look of fear on some kids' faces would be replaced by smiles and laughter.

After welcoming the families with some dancing and silly games on the field and enjoying a delicious lunch (hummus always included), we kicked off camp with the first Club. The kids were very engaged in the games and skits ran by Fellows and Palestinian Young Life leaders.
Ned and Dakota as Abu and Achoo teaching the children to YEET!
Alex and Julia as the character Baba ganoush getting
ready for a run

Yousef, the Young Life Director in Palestine, sharing a message
with campers

One of my favorite parts of the camp was free time. After campers and their mom's settled into their rooms at the hotel, we took over the pool and had a blast swimming, dancing and playing!


  I loved watching Ned, Camille, Reese, Sean and Christina jump in and fully embrace each of the kids. From playing catch to coaxing kids into the pool until they felt confident, it was a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of.

We all refueled with a top-notch cook out filled with salads, hummus, pita bread, and loads of grilled hotdogs and lamb kabobs. This feast was then followed by the second Club of the day. The games had the campers laughing and everyone became more and more engaged as the night wore on.
Reese, the Penguin, introducing more games to Abu

Before this leader's entire head and face was covered
in shaving cream
Mothers' of campers observing it all

Another highlight of the day was the dance party that followed Yousef's talk. Glow sticks, loud arabic music and lots of jumping up and down-- what could be better?!
Fellows, Young Life leaders and staff, campers and their mothers.
                        What a crew!                         
Dakota and a camper taking a dance break

The first day of the camp was impactful to say the least. Being in community with these families and the local Young Life leaders was a beautiful reminder that the gospel turns the values of the world on its head. The gospel has the ability to bring people together across abilities, ethnicities, religions and nationalities. Witnessing this happen was personally my favorite part of our journey to the Holy Land.
Young Life Palestine for life. 

Dakota loves YL Palestine!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Holy Land Day 5

Guest Contributor Jessica Kok

Much like the many layers of conflict in the Holy Land, Jerusalem is layers built upon layers of city. It has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The walls of the old city mark what was once the city of David—now a World Heritage Site. 

For Islamic, Jewish, and Christian traditions, the city of Jerusalem holds much spiritual significance, and the status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While the international community  treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, Israel has a stronger claim to sovereignty over West Jerusalem. Jerusalem also houses some Israeli institutions such as the Hebrew University and the Israel Museum. 

Mount of Olives

The major sites on our itinerary included the Temple Mount with its Western Wall, Stations of the Cross, Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For us, it was a day filled with rich history and stories, but also a day of coming to terms with the importance of place and wrestling with moments of spiritual high or doubt.

Something that stuck with many of us: Jerusalem was a center of commerce and activity before Jesus’s time, and has never stopped being just that--right up to today! So as we walked about the hectic bazaars, saw the old gates nestled beneath the modern ones, and the magnificent temples and mosques built above the ruins, we took in the remnants of humanity's creativity in the rarest of forms.

The Garden of Gethsemane is located at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This is
where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion.
Courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
A glimpse of the crowds at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Reese and Ned acted as our guards, regulating the entrance to a cave where you can peer through a tiny hole in the door and see the birthplace of Jesus.

Mint lemonade at a restaurant tucked into the busy streets of Jerusalem!

Church of all Nations / Basilica of the Agony
When asked, the fellows might give you a variety of highlights from this roller-coaster day: drinking the best mint lemonade in the world; singing the doxology in the depths of a 2000 year old cistern; bartering for “Jesus sandals” with 50 shekels; and getting yelled at by some intense shop owners. Personally, I will never forget following Rahel back to this little shop, tucked into a nook of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s courtyard, where an old Ethiopian woman was selling small trinkets. Though I couldn’t understand a word as they carried on a conversation in Amharic, I could see the old woman’s eye’s twinkle and her face glow as Rahel gently engaged with the items in her shop as she talked. People from all nations, backgrounds, and walks of life come to the Holy Land, and we definitely experienced that here!

Outside the Old City stands the Garden Tomb, where many believe Jesus's burial and resurrection took place.
The guide at the Garden Tomb pointing out a possibility for the site of Jesus' crucifixion, on the edge of this rock that overlooked the road leading past Jerusalem. 
Rahel and Christina exploring Jerusalem
Overhead view of the Western Wall--pictures aren't allowed up close.
Because we were in Jerusalem on a Saturday, West Jerusalem was completely shut down for the Jewish Sabbath. As we made our way towards the Western Wall, the contrast was palpable between the ever-bustling markets to the quiet, clean streets of the Jewish quarter. At the Western Wall, the men and women are separated. We approached the rows of chairs, and some us wrote our prayers and stuck them into the cracks of the wall—the closest you can come to the Temple's Holy of Holies.

We came back to the Murad hotel for dinner, and rested up for our first day of camp the next day. Though it was our last full day of touring and we were beginning to feel the travel catching up with us, we met with the Palestinian Young Life leaders and made final preparations for Camp.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Holy Land Day 4

By Guest Contributor: Rahel Tafese

Highlights of the day:
Riding camels in the city of Jericho (mainly around the parking lot); climbing Mount of Temptation towards the Monastery; standing by a 2000yr. old sycamore tree as Julia shared her devotion on Zacchaeus; touring the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in Qumran; floating on the Dead Sea, and dancing the night away with some of the Palestinian Women

As we crossed into the Palestinian Authority of the West Bank, we quickly found ourselves in Jericho, the OLDEST inhabited town in the world. The story of Jericho is found in Joshua 6:1-27 as the Israelites marched around the walls once every day for seven days, and on the seventh day, the walls of the city fell.
Before heading up to the Monastery on the Mount of Temptation, we made a brief stop for a camel ride around the parking lot and to browse through the souvenir shops.

A ride on this camel decorated in gorgeous cloaks was only 20 shekels--definitely worth the experience!
Two of our bravest fellows: Will and Dakota enjoying the camel ride

Mount of Temptation
The  Mount of Temptation is mentioned in the three Gospels: Matthew 4: 1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13 where Jesus, after being baptized by John in the Jordan River, is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil as he spent 40 days and nights fasting. 
Heading up the mountain, Amer explained to us that the monastery was constructed around a chapel that marks the stone where Jesus sat during his fast.

The Monastery located on the Mt. of Temptation
Rahel, Alex, and Jessica overlooking the spectacular view of the Monastery

The earliest monastery was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century AD, but this modern monastery where the Orthodox monks currently dwell in was constructed in 1895. It’s such a tranquil place with a spectacular view at the top. While the rest of the fellows decided to trek up a steep path towards the Monastery, Jessica, Alex, and I took the cable car with a breathtaking panoramic view of Jericho, the Jordan Valley, and the Dead Sea. Even the short climb up the stairs to the front gate of the Monastery was a struggle in the midday heat.

View of Alex in the cable car looking stylish

Sycamore Fig Tree of Jericho:
Under this 2000 yr. old fig tree, Julia read from Luke 19:1-10 and shared about Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector, who was too short to see Jesus walking through the crowd and he decided to climb on a sycamore fig tree to getter a better view. (Being on the shorter side myself I can relate to him).
Julia reading scripture under a 2000yr old fig tree
This was a significant site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Nearly 122 biblical scrolls (fragments) were found from 11 Qumran caves, including every Old Testament book except Esther.
For instance, scrolls found in Cave 1 included the Community Rule, War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness, Isaiah and others.
Christina at Qumran
looking great in her WS Fellows shirt

Dead Sea- AKA premier spa experience
I had been looking forward to this moment for months. The Dead Sea, found 1,388ft. below sea level, is Earth’s lowest point on land. Technically it’s not a sea, just a salty lake, where no sea creatures can survive except some single cell bacteria. But it contains significant concentrations of sodium chloride and other mineral salts that work wonders on your skin. I read lots of articles that hailed it for its therapeutic properties.

Pulling out huge clumps of mud, we slathered it onto our skin for no visit to the Dead Sea is complete without the obligatory mud photo.

Group photo: our skin has never felt this moisturized, nourished, and pampered. So thankful for this beautiful oasis in the middle of the wilderness!

Reese and Julia with a big clump of mud.
Check out Alex's perfect face mask.
Julia & Alex casually floating in the Dead Sea.

Director Ned keeping it stylish.
He was convinced that the mud would work miracles on bald spots (not that he has any).

It’s devastating that in a couple hundred years this lake will cease to exist, as its main tributary is the Jordan River. The Dead Sea has been rapidly shrinking in recent decades due to the diversion of incoming water from the Jordan River.

You have a couple of hundred years to make your visit!
Dance Party at the Murad Hotel
It’s amazing how music can cross cultural and language barriers. After dinner we were able to partake in a dance party with some of the Palestinian women staying at the Murad. 
The ladies started out on the dance floor and afterward some of the men were allowed to join in.
Check out the video found on Ned's Facebook page

This was just one of the great adventures we had during our time in Israel. It was an experience unlike any other and we thank you all for your prayers and financial support that made this possible.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Holy Land Day 3

By Guest Contributor: Christina Sandstedt

We began Day 3 by going to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, the location where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and revealed to her she would conceive a son by the Holy Spirit and his name would be called Jesus because he will save the people from their sins. The church itself is home to the largest Christian congregation in Israel.

Church of the Annunciation
Inside the Church
Camille read Scripture and shared her thoughts with us
After going to the church, we had the opportunity to stop by Nazareth Bible School and hang out with the students on their class break. I thought going up to the students and talking to them would be like pulling teeth, but most of them were so excited to see us and loved practicing their English with us.

Our veteran YoungLife leaders (Dakota & Ned) made new friends easily.

We also went to Nazareth Village, which is a reconstruction of Nazareth life at the time of Jesus. Our tour guide for the open-air museum was Nathaniel, who is one of the approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews living in Israel. Messianic Jews make up less than 1% of the Christians in the Holy Land, and Christians make up less than 2% of the population in total. Originally, we were sad Amer (our tour guide during the week and low-key my favorite person I met in Israel) wouldn't be giving our Nazareth Village tour, but we soon enjoyed getting a great tour from Nathaniel and hearing part of his story! After the tour, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of the type of food Jesus would have eaten.

Nathaniel, our tour guide.

Alex made a new friend on the tour.

Olive Press on the Nazareth Village Tour
Our Chef

Our afternoon was surprisingly free because of a schedule change that morning so each of us chose activities that were life-giving to us. Some took naps, others shopped, or explored around Nazareth. The group I was with decided to walk to the top of a chapel building we could see from afar. We ended up walking a few hours and through a construction site to get there, but the view was worth it!

Our destination

View from the Top

More Adventurers-Jess and Rahel (photo cred to Campbell)
That evening, we experienced legendary Arab hospitality to the fullest. A family who worked with YoungLife had us over to their home in the small village of Ibillin. Our host cooked for us...and cooked for us....and cooked for us. I think all the Fellows would agree that was the fullest we were on the whole trip! I went to Israel expecting the holy sites and the place to impact me the most, but in reality it was the people we met, who loved us so well, that impacted me the most.

Some of the local Ibillin YL leaders had dinner with us.

Ned and Wael giving (and translating) speeches.

Our Chef Extraordinaire who cooked us fifty pounds of meat each