Saturday, 22 November 2008

Egypt 11.14.08-11.21.08

I spent most the week with a pen in hand and camera within reach, in fear that I would miss something of the peculiarities, differences, and beauties of Egypt.

Every night before I went to sleep, I wrote down all the sights and sounds I could remember from that day. So here you have a compilation of all my random moments throughout the trip, documented each day, which I hope will provide you a glimpse into the fast pace and friendly faces, along with the unusual hustle and bustle of Egypt.

11.14.08 ….day one…. (buses and taxis)

Welcome to Egypt. First impression: don’t tell me that this whole country is devoid of toilet paper and soap!! However, we came to find out it is. Let’s just say hand sanitizer becomes your best friend and you carry toilet paper with you everywhere!!

Today we arrived at the border, went through the most unofficial of entrances, bartered for a taxi, and winded our way past the Red Sea and through the Sinai Peninsula. As we were driving the sun began to set in all its golden glory which was even more glorious as it sunk behind the jagged mountains of the dusty, sand-swept Sinai.

We quickly discovered that we weren’t the only ones on the road. We passed a few herds (or groups, or families, or schools, or flocks, or whatever the word is. you know what I mean, nevertheless!!) of camels. These awesome but awkward animals stumbled around the freeway as our fearless taxi driver maneuvered his way around and through them. Darkness set in fast and the moon appeared big, round, and orange, orange like a pumpkin in the black sky. It was a full moon and massive at that. I have never seen the likes of it before. It was spectacular.

We continued snaking our way around the corners and holding onto our stomachs as we plummeted down and soared up over the abrupt terrain. The windows were down. Our hair was blowing all over the place. And the driver was blaring Arabic radio most of the way. Along the way the driver made constant road-side stops and we had our passports checked multiple times.

We finally arrived in Cairo close to midnight and found a youth hostel to stay in. Sun Hostel. 25 Egyptian pounds a night. Folks, that’s about $5. Now is that a deal or is that a deal?? However, as you can assume from the cost, it was pretty basic. By that I mean community bathrooms, no toilet paper, no towels, and sheets that had their fair share of use. But hey, 5 bucks!! We just tried not to think about whether or not the sheets had been washed (ever?) or if we were sharing our pillow with lice.

I fell asleep tonight to the hustle and bustle of the roads of Cairo.

11.15.08 ….day two…. (pyramids, camels, and mummies, oh my!!)

There was a heavy haze in the air today. I assume it’s the pollution, no doubt from the crowded roads of this crowded city.

We took the metro this morning. All of us girls in the group wore our headscarves, in an attempt to blend in. Still though we were the object of many a stare. Big brown eyes glared at us wherever we went.

I saw my first (and probably last) pyramids today. They are just like the photos. Large and triangular, placed randomly, standing tall on the sand. They aren’t just any ole sand castles though. You wonder as you look at them how they were constructed and how they have lasted all these thousands of years. It really is quite incredible. And as my friend Mayra and I were walking around these magnificent monuments of history, we were stopped by young Muslim girls for a photo shoot every few yards. “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “Will you take photo with us?”, they ask. It was quite adorable. I tell you, we are famous here. Before we knew it we were surrounded by a sea of brightly coloured headscarves and ready cameras. Just because you have blue eyes makes you an automatic photo target here. But we didn’t mind. Actually, we loved the opportunities we had to exchange a few words with these young girls. We at least smiled in the same language. And then we were bombarded by a long procession of kisses on both cheeks, as they said “thank you, thank you.” We returned the kisses and replied in our best Egyptian accent “Shukran” which means thank you.

I also rode my first (and probably last) camel today. It stooped awkwardly to my level and I got on, behind a Bedouin man. I tried to do so gracefully but couldn’t, and felt a bit ridiculous as I could barely do so in pants, and he was in a long dress. But hey, he’s had more practice than me, right? So, after finally mounting this awkward, lanky legged creature, I enjoyed a ride around the pyramids. I bumped back and forth and up and down. But what an experience!! And to complete the entire Egyptian experience, we topped the day off with a trip to Cairo Museum. Elaborate tombs, artifacts galore, intricate jewelry, and…. drum roll please for the main attraction: mummies!!!! We saw about a dozen, the coolest one being: Hatshepsut, the woman supposed to have raised Moses after saving him out of his basket in the river. We spent three hours wandering the endless hallways of this museum. So much history preserved and displayed within these walls, that one could get lost for hours, imagining the life and lives of ancient Egypt.

Tonight, after all our adventures, we decided to get a flavour of the city, best done by walking through the city streets. So we did. We braved the crowds of people and dared to cross streets, which can be a life-threatening activity here in Egypt. During this walk, as I watched and listened to the impatient cars, honking loudly and often, I created what I believe to be an Egyptian driver’s test. And here you have it:

  1. How often should you sound your horn? (As often as possible.)
  2. Is there such a thing as lanes? (No!!)
  3. When a turn seems near impossible and space is limited, what should you do? (Turn anyways!!)
  4. When should you stop? (Never!!)
  5. Who has right of road? The pedestrian or the car? (The car, always!!)
  6. What is the speed limit? (Whatever you decide it to be!!)
  7. Is there a limit to the amount of passengers in your car or taxi? (Of course not!! Pile them in!!)

On our walk, we also met a pick-pocket. He was a lovely wee lad; even helping us bewildered tourists make it across the street alive and in one piece. We chatted with him a bit, in his limited English. You know, the basic conversation, exchanging names and ages. Later on though, we caught him out of the corner of our eye reach into a man’s pocket and take his wallet. The crime committed, he jetted off. No wonder he was so friendly to us. It’s a pity though, to see a little kid so desperate like that.

We stayed tonight again at Sun Hostel. 9th floor. Our window was broken and so we were left to hear the cars talk to each other all night. I don’t think this city ever sleeps and I didn’t know if I would be able to either. I was dead tired but looking forward to the adventures in store the rest the week. Both the commotion outside and my thoughts inside kept me up for a while.

11.16.08 ….day three….

Today I wore a blue headscarf (one that I bartered for) and have officially decided that I like wearing headscarves. It solves a bad hair day any day, instantly!! haha.

Up early this morning but enjoyed a rushed cuppa tea at the train station, which was as you imagine all train stations to be: big and busy. This one had high ceilings, blue rimmed and rusty. Busy business men walked hurriedly by. And the woman were all dressed in their traditional wear, some in the traditional black with their piercing almond eyes peaking and peering through the slits, while others were dressed in all sorts of wonderful scarves, silky and colourful.

We boarded the train at 9:00 and settled in for a few hours trip. I listened to the rattling and rolling of the wheels and watched the world speed by my window. My eyes were heavy but too curious too close. I saw loads of old deserted brick buildings, hundreds of flats with floors stacked one on top of another stories high, distressed shutters all sorts of colours, clothes draped over the balconies being blown dry by a faint wind, boxy cars, rickety old motorbikes, turbaned men, women balancing barrels on their head, horse-drawn carts, litter everywhere, ripped remains of posters pasted on cement walls, mosques, overgrown dried grass, green vegetation, Arabic graffiti, stubborn and scattered cattle, the Nile River, and people working, picking, tending the land. I saw poverty. I saw extravagance. I noticed people walk everywhere, either that, or they pile as many people as humanly possible into cars or on top of motorbikes. Women sometimes walk hand in hand and men often walk arm in arm. I feel as though I am just beginning to get a taste of the peculiar flavour of this country and its cities. It’s only a country away from Israel, but o so different.

We reached our destination right around lunch time. Alexandria!! We saw the Roman catacombs which were interesting and eerie. We also saw Pompei’s pillar which stands tall and terrific. And then we headed to Qaitbey Fort which was gorgeous. We explored its many hallways and rooms, and then sat on rocks by the Mediterranean to watch the sun sink into the water. Our feet dangled over the edge of the rocks and we breathed in deep the ocean air. It was a bit cloudy so that a slight a gold glimmer sparkled on the calm waves. And there was an empty wooden canoe bobbing back and forth on the waves. It was picturesque.

As if the day hadn’t been busy enough, we headed to a local mall for dinner, followed by chocolate ice-cream, not to mention a few Galaxy chocolate bars. I was in heaven as far as I was concerned. Can’t get enough chocolate!!

We then caught a bus back to Cairo and once there headed to the train station, again. It was 3 AM by this point. We sat on our luggage in the middle of the somewhat empty train station, waiting to hear if there were tickets still available for Luxor. The lights were brighter than usual and harsh on our exhausted eyes. Come to find out that there were no train tickets available till the next morning and so we were escorted by a policeman to the nearest hostel. We had the luxury of toilet paper here but had to brave a cold shower. Finally crawled into bed around 4 AM only to catch a nap before boarding the train to Luxor at 8:00 AM sharp. What a day. What a night!!

11.17.08 ….day four ….

Today entailed a ten hour train ride from Cairo to Luxor. I sat across from a man with leathery worn skin, stained by many years of the hot Egypt sun. he was wearing a forest green dress from neck to toe and a small white turban on his head. His hands were clasped, resting on his stomach. He spat on the floor of the train a few times and smeared it in with his shoe. Two Muslim women sat diagonally behind me. they were in all black, head to toe. All that was visible were their eyes, peering through the tiny black slits in their head-dress. One dozes off and begins to snore. I glance back, meet eyes with the awake woman, smile, and laugh a little at the loud snores. Her eyes told me that she was laughing too. By now, you’d think I’d be tired enough to sleep, but my curiosity to watch these people who are watching me keeps me awake. That and their cell phones went off every few minutes, blaring something in Arabic for a ringtone. I heard Arabic chatter all around me as I watch the green land roll by, alongside the Nile. It really is the longest river in the world. We were alongside it for those ten hours in the train. Newspaper boys went up and down the aisles of the train, yelling the price I assume. Every hour or so a man would walk by saying “Chai or cafĂ©?” I had a cuppa tea, or two.

We finally arrived at Luxor as the sun was beginning to set. After a day of only eating dried fruit, for that’s all we had in our back-packs, we were craving a Big Mac!! So yes, we decided on McDonalds for a late dinner. Typical tourists, I know, but we needed some American food after a long Egyptian day.

Afterwards, we roamed the streets of Luxor. The shop-owners were relentless and so we had to barter more stubbornly than all the times before. But I ended up getting a pair of red flats for 50 Egyptian pound. That’s $10 people!!

We then went to our hotel, which I would rate 5 star!! Toilet paper, soap, AND hot water!! Now we’re talkin’ luxurious!! The owner of the hotel was a man called Nasser. He was great. He spoke decent English, made us laugh, told us stories, and offered us bananas. Our room was painted a cheery lemon yellow. The floor was tiled teal. There was a red rug and green floral bedding. The pillow slips and sheets appeared clean, for once, and there was a tiny oak wardrobe and vanity. All to say it was enchanting. Not to mention we were a few stories up with a small balcony. Below us were men playing checkers and smoking hookah. It was near midnight. The music was blaring and the night had only begun for these men. I was tired enough nevertheless to fall asleep to the lullaby of Egyptian night-life.

11.18.08 …. day five ….

We had a roll with jam, a boiled egg, and another banana for breakfast and caught the 7 AM bus. We first headed to the Valley of the Kings, where many Egyptian kings were buried. We went deep into the ground, into these tombs. The engravings were intricate and colourful and the walls were covered in hieroglyphics. Funny to think we saw the king’s body mummified in Cairo and then their tomb in Luxor. Usually the two aren’t separated. After this we went to Hatshepsut’s (remember, the woman who saved and raised Moses) temple. And then caught another taxi to Karnek Temple, which was incredible. It was as massive as could be. The pillars were intimidating, as there were over 100 still standing, which only whisper the grandeur of what this temple would have once been. Ancient stone statues and gods were everywhere.

By now we were starving. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast and so we had the taxi driver drop us of at this little restaurant, a ‘hole in the wall’ type of place. We had rice and chicken smothered in sauces, with a mango concoction to wash it all down. Our stomachs now satisfied, we hit the streets again for some more shopping. I really think I’m getting the hang of this whole bartering thing. I bartered a scarf down from 95 LE to 25 LE. Now that’s some pretty darn good bartering, if I do say so myself!!

We then took a stroll through Luxor Temple and went back to the lovely hostel and to our friend Nassar. He said we could chill on the roof-top till our train departure. So, we did. The night air was cool and the city lights lit up the dark. We met fellow travelers, two guys from New York. So we chatted with them for about two hours and exchanged our experiences. We also talked about life and what we believe about this world, life now and life after. It was a sad reminder that most people in this world deny, ignore, or belittle the existence of God. We told them about Hope and parted with them, only praying that God would open their blind eyes to His truth.

We then went to the train station and settled in for another trip through the night.

11.19.08 ….day six ….

I had a restless night aboard the train but slept some nonetheless. I ate a half a roll for breakfast and gulped down leftover water from the previous day. We got off the train only to get on a bus for 7 more hours. I was exhausted of traveling by this point but I just kept telling myself it was all part of the experience.

We arrived in the Sinai Peninsula by nightfall and stayed at the first hotel we spotted. I literally fell into bed and didn’t wake up until nine o clock the next morning. I woke up to a crisp blue sky spotted with scattered white clouds. The mountains were standing gold against the sky. I took a photo in my mind, to have forever.

Mid-afternoon we hopped on probably our 50th bus. Onward to Nuweba, a beach along the Red Sea. We sat by the seaside and talked. I also went rock collecting along the shore. There were all sorts of colourful rocks, all shapes and sizes.

We then stayed in huts, yards away from the water. We slept under a large canopy mosquito net and luckily woke up the next morning alive. The bed bugs didn’t eat us.

11.20.08 ….day seven ….

7:30 AM bus to the border. 10:00 AM bus to Jerusalem. Caught a taxi 3:00 PM to Moshav YadHaShmonah. Home sweet home.

So it was a full week as you can read. A week full of experiences and adventures. Walking and waiting. Taxis and trains. Sights and sounds. Fun and firsts. Smoke and sun. People and pyramids. Museums and mummies. Camels and Cairo. Bartering and buses. Driving and dodging. Late nights and early mornings. All the while, trying to store it all away in my memory, realizing I’d probably never be back again.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

....the galilee....

Just got back from an eight day trip in the Galilee and leave tomorrow for an eight-day trip for Egypt. So assuming that I’ll have many tales to tell of my upcoming adventures in the land of camels, mummies, and pyramids, I thought I should first cover Galilee.

You would assume that I would be a professional by now, having a few of these blogs already under my belt. However I find myself in the same predicament as all the ones previous. Where to start? Perhaps, this is the most difficult one yet, considering that this ‘field-trip’ to the Galilee was in fact multiple field-trips, as we toured all around Galilee.

For sake of time and space I will spare you the novel, I could very well write about the sum of sights I saw and loads of lessons I learned while in Galilee. Rather I will stick to just the highlights.

Let’s just say we covered a lot of ground (as well as a ton of information) and by a lot, I mean a lot. We went to: Aphek/Antipatris, Caesarea (Maritime and Philippi both), Mount Carmel, Dor, Megiddo, Harod Spring, Nazareth, Sephoris, Cana, Arbel Cliff, En Gev, Bethsaida, Corazim, Caperneum, Tiberias, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Dan, Jordan River, Bet-She’an, and Wadi Fara. Not to mention we saw Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon from a distance. Moreover, we visited ancient ruins galore, a rolling stone tomb, museums, an old Crusader fortress, as well as churches right left and center!!

We climbed mountains, hiked hills, and swam in the Sea of Galilee. (The only thing I feel like we didn’t do was fly. Maybe next time!!) We walked city streets and ate shawarma in random little family owned restaurants, if you could even call them that. We enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, followed by a fresh fish dinner. We were up early and to bed late.

I’m growing, learning, laughing, studying, stretching, and thanking God for teaching, showing, and reminding me of many many things.

Of course the main attraction of the entire trip was the Sea of Galilee. We stayed five nights by the sea, during which we enjoyed some tremendous sunsets, which were some of my most memorable moments. God painted quite the picture as all hues of gold were smeared across the sky, reflecting ever so beautifully on the glassy sea. I felt as though I was standing in a picture frame. It was so peaceful. The water was still, completely still, just as it would have been when He calmed the raging sea in a mighty display of power. Everything was quiet, not a sound to be heard but the gentle breeze And the thought of God, so magnificent and glorious, quieted all other thoughts.

However, amidst all the fun and facts, and among all the locations and lectures, the thing that I was most challenged by was a question posed (by our amazing professor, Abner Chou). He asked us do we really value Jesus? Do we treasure Him? Do we really love Him, in all His loveliness and worthiness? Do I prize Him above all else? Is His kingdom my primary concern? Or am I wrapped up in mine?

He is far too glorious to be taken for-granted.

And as a side note, let me just say that God has used this same professor to challenge me on a host of things. Old Sunday school lessons have become life-transforming truths for me here. I never really understood how miraculous the miracles were and how they all point to Jesus as God, in all sorts of ways. The Bible is exciting, believe it or not!! And it always has been. And I knew that but didn’t fully understand it or see how all the time. I suppose I was just too lazy to see all the wondrous wonders of it. But now, o now, I am reading it in amplified, living colour.

So, I encourage you all to know the God of the Bible. Study Him. Enjoy Him. For knowing Him is the richest joy and deepest peace.

Well, I best be going. I have my first exam tomorrow and need to start studying. Oh yea, and I better pack for Egypt as well seeing that we leave in the morning.

Till next time. Shalom.

Friday, 31 October 2008

....remember, lest you forget.

Shalom everybody!!

Well, if I were to try and type all the adventures, experiences, and lessons that the past few weeks have entailed, I am afraid my fingers would fall of before I could complete the task. So since I’d like to keep my fingers, let me just highlight some of the highlights for you. :)

So, buckle up and hold on tight for a fast-forward tour through the past few weeks.

Negev (wilderness) …. (10.14-10.17)

….remember, lest you forget.

Something I remember very vividly is at one point our bus pulling of to the side of the road and Bill (our professor) allotting us thirty minutes to sit in the Wilderness of Paran (location of the wilderness wanderings) and reflect on Deuteronomy 8. This passage convicted me of the flippancy and forgetfulness with which I sometimes approach God’s faithfulness. While sitting on the cracked ground amidst dead shrubs and scattered rocks, I resolved to remember, to remember God’s perfect providence to the children of Israel and to me. This thought of God’s faithfulness was accompanied with thoughts about humility as I considered verse two. Just as God knew exactly how Israel needed to be humbled then, so He knows exactly how I need to humbled now. The more I thought about this, the more I came to remember (something so obvious yet so often forgotten) that I am an unworthy recipient of God’s grace. Thus, I ought to live in humility for I have nothing to be proud of, nothing to boast in, except Christ. I could go on and on about how this passage triggered much meditation, but I will close with this. It seems ridiculous, even down-right disgraceful, how quickly the Israelites forgot the deliverance that God granted them from Egypt. Yet, how often do I forget to praise God for His daily supply of all that I need. I am just as guilty as the Israelites. O that I might thank God more.

Our itinerary was jam-packed. We traveled all around, up and down the Negev, stopping at Beer Sheba, Nahal Zin, Avdat, Mizpeh, Maktesh Ramon, Kadesh Barnea, Elat, Timnah, Qumran, and Arad. So, as you can imagine, the wheels on the bus were going round and round and round getting to all these places. And we stayed in different hostels and hotels each night.

I really enjoyed our stop at Elat. Here we enjoyed a day at the beach and a night on the town. We had the opportunity to snorkel in the Reed Sea (Moses parted) which was absolutely amazing. What a display of God’s creativity!! Schools of fish darting to and fro, shimmering silver in the sunlight reflecting through the water, coral all shades of wonderful colours, and silence, pure silence, apart from my steady breathing exaggerated through the snorkel. Then later that night we enjoyed a bit of the night life in Elat. Music and dancing, food, crowds, shopping, and bungee-jumping (at least for two of us;) were all part and parcel of the night. And as if that didn’t already make the day, the view from the hotel topped it all off, with a gorgeous panorama of the sea, back-dropped by Jordanian mountains. Not to mention, it was a full moon, a big white ball suspended in the big, black sky.

Now to finally finish this fast-forward tour through the Negev, our last day entailed a hike up and down Masada, a visit to the Qumran caves, and a stop at salt deposits from the Dead Sea. Let’s rewind and pause at Masada for a few sentences. Did you know that Masada is the second most visited site in the Israel (the first being the Wailing Wall)? I didn’t, but now I understand why. Well, the day got off to an early start. By early I mean 4:30 AM, which is the earliest I have ever woken up on purpose!! haha. However, it was well worth it, as a group of us were able to make it up Masada in time to catch a spectacular sunrise, colours of burnt orange and fierce golden smearing the sky. God is quite the artist let me tell you!! Also, while up here we spent a few hours exploring the ruins of one of Herod the Great’s fortresses. Later on during the day we hiked up to Cave 4 of the Qumran caves. (Our legs were definitely exhausted that night and sore the next morning!!) Here in these caves, many biblical texts were found, known as the Dead Sea scrolls. All in all it was a fantastic and profitable trip, one I will not soon forget.

Let’s see, what else? Well, just the other week we visit MeaShearim, the most Jewish neighbourhood in the world. We also went to a Sukkot Fair. This was right around the time of the Jewish holiday, Feast of Tabernacles, aka: Sukkot. It is a time for the Jewish people to recall the journey to the Promised Land and the trek through the wilderness to get there. It is a time of joy and remembrance, and is widely celebrated by people building sukkots, which are booths. Each family builds one and lives in it for about a week, which is a way of remembering how their fathers lived through the years of wilderness wanderings. They also use what is called a ‘lulav’ (which is like a long reed) during the daily prayer services in the synagogue. So, at this Sukkot Fair, we saw dozens and dozens of Orthodox Jewish men purchasing their lulavs. However, before purchasing, one must inspect it carefully to make sure it is presentable before God. They want to bring their best to God. What a testimony this was to me!! Do I bring my best before God?

We’ve also been to Samaria, where we went to the ancient sites of Bethel, Ai, Shiloh, Shechem, Mt. Gerazim, and Tirzah. And we continue to make a weekly trip into the Old City of Jerusalem on Shabbat afternoons. This is always a high light of the week for me because it means more shawarma and falafel… and more bartering, which I am proud to announce is improving. :) While in the Old City a few of us met a young American couple just married with a baby, and they invited us over. So, we went and had a wonderful time. They live in an old Arabic house and had warm pita and humus awaiting us, the typical here in Israel, but o so delicious. Turns out they moved out here just for the heck of it and they absolutely love it. So we had a good night with them, chatting up a storm….

Speaking of a storm, just this week we spent a rainy day in Tel Aviv for the day, which could be summed up in these words: puddles, people, pigeons, buses, benches, bikes, shops, alley-ways, talks, and walks. We also went to Jaffa, which is Joppa from the Bible. Here we read the account of Jonah, and God decided to send some sound-effects. Just as we were getting to Jonah 1:4 "but the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea" there was a loud roar of thunder followed by a mighty flash of lightening. It definitely made the story that much more vivid. And then the rain began to fall and so we ran for cover in an inside mall.

And that is life in Israel my friends.

Tomorrow morning, we leave for an eight-day trip to Galilee. So, I’m anticipating many good times ahead. Stay tuned. :)

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

....the testing ground of faith....

Well, it’s hard to believe that it’s been over a month now. A third of the semester has passed. Time is definitely flying, and I am holding on tight as the days speed on.

Well I face the same dilemma as the last time I blogged. The inevitable question of … where to begin? I feel as though I have already learned enough to contemplate for the rest of my life, and into eternity at that. Now to apply all of these lessons, that is what matters truly.

This past weekend we went to the Dead Sea. It is quite a sight to behold, as mountains surround it, but not just any mountains. These mountains of the wilderness sport sharp edges, juxtaposed by massive rocks. They are dusty and vast as could be, and serve as a spectacular back-drop for the Dead Sea.

Well, we didn’t just come here to admire the scenery, we came for the same reason everybody comes to the Dead Sea… to float!! And float we did.

It truly is the weirdest sensation, as your feet slowly come out from underneath you. You have no choice but to float. The salt literally pushes you up.

After a dip into the salt, we had a camp-fire and then camped out under the stars. We awoke the next morning to the sun creeping up from behind the mountains. To try and capture the grandeur is impossible. I admit it. But take my word for it, it was spectacular.

The next day we went on a hike. The mountains were no longer merely a pretty picture to admire from afar. At about six in the morning, we stepped into this picture and spent a few hours hiking up and down and up and down the rugged terrain. We were tired. (Remember we had just spent a night in a sleeping bag on the ground. Dust and rocks don’t exactly make for a comfy mattress.) We were hot. The sun was blaring. A breeze was non-existent.

All this to say, we experienced only a smidgen of what David endured during his (at least ten) years in the wilderness, as he was fleeing from Saul. God used and uses the wilderness as a testing ground for His people. It strips you bare. The unbearable heat, lack of shade, lack of water, and difficult terrain makes for quite the test. What or whom you really desire becomes quickly evident. That being said, this weekend was an excellent time to reflect upon what we desire. Do we thirst after God, as a man thirsts after water in a wilderness? Do we find our rest in God, or do we look for our own shade? What are we most concerned about? Our comfort or our Creator? What do we treasure? (May it be (become) God’s glory only!!)

Among other things, we have travelled to Yad VaShem, The Holocaust Museum, dedicated to honouring every single one of the six million people who were murdered in the Holocaust. That was difficult to say the least.

All sorts of feelings overwhelm you. As you look at the countless black and white pictures of victims, you stare into their eyes and wonder who they were and where they came from. You wonder what the children would have been if they could have grown up. You wonder how many of the parents had to watch their children suffer to death. You wonder how many generations were eliminated in the murders.

You wonder many things.

You see some of their belongings saved from the tragedy. You see old suitcases, which would have carried their few belongings to the concentration camps and then been immediately confiscated by the Nazis. You see old buttons from their clothes, along with worn teddy-bears. And you can’t help but wonder the little tot who was the proud owner. You see a large pile of shoes collected from the remains of the camps. And you imagine the many feet that would have worn those shoes, as they walked to their deaths.

Then you come to the section of the museum about the concentration camps. You see horrible images of people, who barely resemble human beings. They are as emaciated as could be, hollow and limp. You could not even tell men and women apart.

It was all so sick and horrible. Unimaginable, yet not unbelievable, because it happened. The Holocaust happened; which means we are left to wonder how. Such injustice and evil begs the question how. How in the world could people slaughter millions of people?

Well, having done a bit of outside reading on Hitler, I learned that his morality was not based on traditional Judeo-Christian ethics but rather a complete denial of them. He wanted to get rid of the idea of God. See what happens when you reject God? A Holocaust happens.

Not only did Hitler reject any sort of morality based on God but he fully embraced an evolutionary ethic. Read his words for yourself. “All of nature is a constant struggle between power and weakness, a constant triumph of the strong over the weak. A stronger race (speaking of his own) will supplant the weaker.” His goal can be seen in his words, "to promote the victory of the better, the stronger, and to demand the submission of the worst and weaker." He solemnly believed that the 'Aryan' race was superior in every way, physically, intellectually, and morally too, believe it or not. Hence, from this sort of reasoning, anything was morally right, so as long as the 'Aryan' race was promoted. From this stemmed eugenics, which was artificial selection. The disabled were one of the groups that were deemed dispensable because they were seen as unfit and harmful to the 'pure line of the Aryans.' In other words, the weak must be destroyed to make place for the strong. And in other words again, Hitler argued that the destruction of the weak (whomever he so happened to deem the weak) by the strong is humane. According to Richard Weikart's book, From Darwin to Hitler, "he viewed the Jews as parasites of bacillus, who were infecting and destroying the health and vitality of the German nation." Thus, these "parasites" must be eliminated, and eliminated they were, millions of them. More could be said, but I will refrain. I just thought it was fascinating (and more so disgusting) the parallels between Darwin and Hitler. The lesson: it is dangerous to reject God, for when one does so and creates his own morality, such horrible things as this will happen. I'll finish with more words from Richard Weikart. "Hitler and many other Germans perpetrated one of the most evil programs the world has ever witnessed under the delusion that Darwinism could help us discover how to make the world better."

And also, as I thought through this question, I found the deeper answer in the Bible (where all answers are). People are sinful, all of us. We are all sinners. “Our hearts are desperately wicked.” And we do wicked things. Human beings murdered human beings, then and now. So, what more than this terrible event to point to the effects of sin (that infects all of us)?

Well, I better wrap up. Wouldn’t want you to stop reading before I stop writing. You wouldn’t do that though, would you? haha

I know this post was much more serious than the past but that has been the nature of the last two trips. Don’t worry though. I am having a fantastic time here. Learning a lot. Laughing a lot. Seeing a ton. Traveling all over. Eating new things. Listening to Jewish music. Singing Jewish songs. Praying more. Reading more. Writing more. Sleeping less. And that is life in Israel, my friends.

God be with you, wherever you are.

Friday, 19 September 2008 far, SO good!!

Shalom everybody!! I hope this finds you well.

So, I know. I haven’t exactly been updating regularly. Okay, okay, hardly at all. I know!! But, let me clarify that my lack of writing has not been due to a lack of things to write about. Quite the contrary actually!! I have experienced many a new thing, seen all sorts of sights, read all kinds of books, tasted a few new foods, and have been learning so much. So much so, that I have no idea where to start.

So, the question is: where to begin? ….seeing that the past few weeks have been a whirl-wind of field-trips and firsts.

Well, I’ll start with food, because… well, food is always fun to talk about. So, I tried my first shawarma the other day and liked it very much. It’s a really popular dish across the middle-east. There are different fillings available, but mine had turkey, cucumber, tomato, and a combination of strong sauces. My taste-buds look forward to some more. J (Let me tell you though, service is very different here. You enter a tiny restaurant and are asked, “What you want? We have shawarma, falafel, foul, and also we have husbands. You need a husband?” It’s quite funny. I decided to pass on the husband, rather opting for some shawarma.)

Since we’re on the subject of firsts….another first of mine was bartering. Some call it an art, which I cannot argue with. It is an art that I hope to master by the time I leave. However, here, it is just the way of life. There are no set prices, only suggested prices. It all comes down to how well you can argue back and forth with the shop-keeper until you compromise on a price. This is a situation when being stubborn comes in handy. J So far, I have bartered for a skirt, a beautiful, silky, colourful skirt. Also, I have bartered, quite successfully might I add, for four scarves. Don’t worry though, they’re not all for me. Some are gifts. Well, actually, to be honest, three of them were gifts but I liked one too much to give away. Moral of the story: don’t try on presents. J

Those are just a few firsts. I’m anticipating many more to come.

Well, if you were to ask me what I have been learning, I would reply, “How much time you got?” haha. So, for sake of time, I will spare you one or two. (And also, I must be honest, another reason I haven’t updated this blog lately is for fear of not doing ‘Israel’ justice, if you know what I mean. The experiences have been so incredible and the lessons already countless, that trying to explain them in words would only, just barely scratch the surface!!!! Sometimes words are impossible and insufficient. But I will still try my best. So, here we go…)

Well, I am learning so much and re-learning so much all at the same time. Some of the most important lessons in life are re-learned over and over again. One of which, being God’s faithfulness!! I have definitely seen it in my life, but to see it in the history of Israel takes it to another level. You see, Israel’s location is a prime example. In a way, things such as its climate and its position, in between countries, forces the people here to look to God, to depend on Him, for everything, from rain to protection. And as we have been studying in class, God’s provision has never failed yet (and it never will). He has always supplied for and sustained His people, and even still today, the anthem of His faithfulness is sung. The same, powerful, awesome mighty God of the past is alive and working today!! O that we might let this truth transform our lives. God will continue to provide, for He is faithful, always.

May you consider anew His faithfulness wherever you are, and through out whatever is going on. “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” (Joshua 21:45) And He still keeps His promises today. Take heart. Have hope.

Another thing, running along the same lines of God’s faithfulness, is God’s sovereignty. He is completely and wonderfully sovereign, in everything and at all times. We have been seeing how God’s sovereignty so perfectly ruled Israel as a nation, whether that meant the timing of a project or the choosing of a king. His purposes are always fulfilled at the time of His choosing. And this observation brings great comfort to me today… as I realize that it is the same sovereign God who rules the momentarily affairs of my life, and your’s. As the words of the old hymn go, “God so wonderously reigneth.” He certainly does.

And though I could go on and on about the many things God is teaching me, I will wrap it up with this… that among the daily things God provides for us, let us not forget the ultimate provision, of the Messiah!! ….who is the Saviour of the world.

It has been really amazing (to say the least) to learn about how Christ Jesus so perfectly fulfills all of the Old Testament prophecies. It has really confirmed my faith, that much more. He was prophesied to come. He did come (to this land!!) And He is coming again, to bring all His children home to heaven.

And, how glad and grateful I am, to know the Messiah!! It really is heart-breaking to hear the Muslim call to prayer. It happens regularly every day, and you’ll hear it over the speakers across Jerusalem. It is really tragic to see Jewish people at the Wailing Wall, reciting their prayers. It is just as tragic to watch secular Jews, meander in and out of shops, with little to no interest in God. All to say, how thankful I am to have been shown the truth of the Gospel!! Might others come to know the Fount of Life and Eternal Hope.

Well, now to wrap-up, seriously this time. haha. (By the way, the phrase “in conclusion” is just that. A phrase. But I’ll eventually get around to concluding. It just takes me a little longer than most. haha.) But before I do, let me share a few of my favourite things about Israel, asides from the incredible teaching from my professors.

I love the Jewish culture. They love to celebrate!! In my Jewish Thought and Culture class, my professor, who is Jewish himself, told us that every day is a cause for celebration, especially weddings and birthdays. The other night I was walking the cobble-stone paths of Jerusalem with some friends, and from an open window we heard many people singing and clapping. I love it. Speaking of which, we have been learning a few Jewish songs, both religious and traditional. Another thing, both my room-mate and I absolutely love about here is the fruit. Fruit is always available. Every day after class we roam through the small vine-yard on the Moshav and pick a few grapes. It is a lovely (and delicious) walk, followed by a seed-spitting contest.

Well, that’s all for now folks. Tune in again (hopefully sooner than later). J

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

September 2, 2008

I write this from my room at the Moshav. My window is open and I can hear Jewish music playing outside.

So today, I saw, tasted, heard, learned, and experienced many a new thing.

My poor camera is exhausted, as am I, but we sure saw a lot. I was busy clicking away as I tried to take in every sight, every sound, every smell.

Crowded streets hustling and bustling with all sorts of people, a place where the noise never seems to cease, where the smells are strong and the sounds are many, where three religions meet in one city, where cultures clash yet seem to tolerate each other enough so that daily life goes on.

It was all very different to me, yet I found it all so fascinating.

Hebrew and Arabic are the main tongues here. The streets are shared. Men with Yamahas upon their heads hurried around, as Muslim women in the custom Muslim dress, bought their groceries from local stand of fruits and vegetables. I heard all sorts of noises, from the baby screaming from an open window stories up, to the custom Muslim call for prayer, to the school children reciting the Hebrew alphabet, to the constant honking of horns. Drivers seem more impatient here and space is, well, hard to come by. Every crack and cranny of Jerusalem is occupied. Something as simple as walking down the street quickly becomes a fight through the masses. To add to the clutter of people, crowding the narrow streets, wheel-barrows carrying all sorts of foods can appear at any time and traffic-jams occur frequently. And I must say, the wheel-barrow drivers/pushers(?) are merciless. So, watch out!! If you get in the way, well, they will simply run into, and if need be, over you. The money is colourful, as well as the many beautiful skirts that are popular here, one of which I plan to buy. All in all, it was a fantastic day. What a city, what a city!!

Today, as I walked through the streets, actually rather navigated my way through the crowds, it was amazing to me that I was actually walking the same stone streets that our beloved Messiah walked some thousand years ago. How incredible that thought was to me. In that instant, Israel became real. Within the Old City, we went to many a place. Our first stop was the Citadel, which was quite the building, in more ways than one. Asides from its central location to the Jaffa Gate, it actually tells a story. Nearly all of Jerusalem’s history is represented in some way or another by this magnificent building. The different sizes and colours of the stones are a dead-giveaway of the various periods of its history, while the inner court-yard also holds its own stories of Jerusalem’s long and busy past.

From the Citadel we had a grand panoramic view of Jerusalem. The first thing we spotted were the three tall buildings to the east, the Tower of Ascension on the far right, which was built by the Russians, the Augusta Victoria Hospital in the middle, which was built by the Germans, and to the left, the Hebrew University. These three tall buildings simply served as the back-drop for the main attraction….the Dome of the Rock. It is impossible to miss with its round gold top. I once heard this place referred to as “the most fought-over real estate in the world.” Muslims, Jews, and Christians alike all esteem this place greatly as each faith believe it to be central to their religion’s history. Muslims in particular regard it holy, as Mohammad’s ascension supposedly occurred there. Many Muslims would even venture to venerate the temple even more than Mecca. As far as its history goes… it was first destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar and then later destroyed again in 70 AD by the Romans.

Our next stop was the Church of the Holy Supulchre. This I found intriguing, beautiful, and horrible all at the same time. Let me explain why. First of all, it is one sight to behold, inside and out. The ceilings are tall and the all the decorations, statues, and fixtures are very elaborate. I would sum my experience in the Holy Supulchre consisting of bells and smells, ‘Christians’ and candles. You see, it is here though that Christ conquered death, once and for all. However, now it is a church which people have made a tourist attraction, while it is still an operating church. Priests, dressed very ornately walked to and fro, burning incense, ringing bells, and chanting prayers. All around people knelt to kiss the place where Jesus was crucified or light a candle and then cross themselves. This was all especially tragic to see, as this place, where our wonderful Lord and Saviour bled and died and rose, to save us from death and darkness into life and light, has become a place of routine religious duties, doubling as a frequent tourist spot, where a ‘spiritual blessing’ is hopefully received.

However, as I quickly became saddened and appalled by all the idolatry I was witnessing, I was quickly reminded that so often I excuse or ignore my idolatry, just because it isn’t as blatant as kissing a ‘sacred’ stone. O that I might be more aware and come to hate my sin of idolatry, just as God hates it. He alone is worthy of all of my praise. God, forgive me, and help me to treasure You above all else.

Next stop….the pools of Bethesda. As we arrived at this location, we read all together John 5:1-15. Turns out that at this very place, Jesus heals an invalid. His miracles point to His glorious power. This same God, who made the lame to walk, the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, is the very same God who conquered death, thus so that we might be saved, is the very same God whose Holy Spirit dwells within His children. All to say, what a powerful God we belong to and serve!!

Our last stop for the day was a Muslim grave-yard. Here we read these verses, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:25:28) these words of Jesus really came alive as we read them, overlooking a sea of whitewashed tombs. While the outsides of these tombs appear clean, underneath and inside them are either dead, rotting bodies or a pile of bones. Likewise, though we might appear to be a law-abiding, church-going, passionate-preaching Christian, our heart may be hardened and are motives completely repulsive to our Holy God. O that we may be pure in our love for God.