Fulfilled and enriched

If you came upon the ruins of Petra unaware and uninformed, you might believe you had stepped onto another world … which is true, to a degree. Petra is ancient, mysterious, unique, and awe-inducing.

1c. Further in

Our group heading down the Siq, Petra’s main entrance.

2. First view of the treasury, tomb of Aretas IV

Our first view of one of Petra’s famous tomb facades

Believed to have been settled as early as 9,000 BC, Petra was established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. (Nabataeans were nomadic Arabs who settled in Petra possibly because of its proximity to important trade routes.) The Nabataeans were particularly skillful in harvesting rainwater, developing desert agriculture and creating remarkable stone carvings.

2a. Full view

Probably the most famous stonework in Petra, this is believed to be the tomb of Nabataean king Aretus IV, who shows up in Biblical history since he is father of Herod Antipas’ first wife.

We spent the entire day wandering the ruins, hiking to the high places, avoiding horse-drawn buggies and mule mounts (for those folks feeling they needed assistance to reach the major sights which were a good mile down the Siq),

2b. The scene in front of Aretas IV's famous tomb

and being amazed at natural sandstone staining.

4. Gerry checking out the natural liesegoge staining

Gerry thoroughly enjoyed the iron oxide “picture stone” staining, noticeable here on the ceiling of a cave.

Visiting Petra was the final activity of our time in the Holy Land. During a comprehensive debriefing session held that evening, many folks expressed gratitude,  delight, and satisfaction (along with some disappointment, especially in not being able to know without a shadow of a doubt where some of the important events in Jesus’ life actually did take place) for this inspirational tour. We parted having made new friends, having had stimulating discussions and having learned so much. The general consensus was that this was not a vacation, but a much broader, richer experience. Thanks, Jeff, for shepherding us through such a fulfilling, enriching adventure.

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Putting the pieces together

Having left Israel and entering Jordan yesterday, we spent today traveling toward Petra with stops along the way to discover and appreciate the history, prevalence and importance of mosaics in this area. At the top of Mt. Nebo, where Moses once viewed the Promised Land, we found the Moses Memorial Church.

2. Moses Memorial Church

In use off and on since the 4th Century, the present Franciscan basilica houses the best preserved mosaics in all of Jordan, some dating back to 530 A.D. The most famous is a hunting and herding scene interspersed with an assortment of exotic African animals, including a zebu (humped ox), lions, tigers, bears, boars, zebras, an ostrich on a leash and a camel-shaped giraffe.

2a. 2nd C mosaic floor with exotic animals

Probably the most famous Jordanian mosaic is housed in St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church in downtown Masada. In the 1800s, as builders prepared the site for St. George’s, they came across the remnants of a Byzantine church. Among the rubble, the flooring they discovered was a mosaic representing the oldest map of Palestine in existence, providing many historical insights into the region.

3. Oldest geographic mosaic in the world

At the top of the map, you can see a depiction of the Dead Sea with the Jordan River flowing into it. Jerusalem is to the left and below the Sea in a somewhat octagonal shaped enclosure.

We learned about the art of preserving and creating mosaics with a stop at a Mosaic School workshop in Masada (The school was established by the government of Jordan in 1992.). We saw artists chipping, cutting and gluing, putting the pieces together to create uniquely beautiful works.

2b. Mosaic makers

Jeff, our teaching leader, puts energy, creativity and passion into stories, mini-sermons, and Biblical history lessons, helping us put together the pieces of Jesus’ ministry, life and call on each of our lives in a deep, meaningful way. Below, he gestures dramatically while connecting Herod’s Machaerus fortress/palace (ruins seen at the top of a hill behind Jeff) to Jesus via John the Baptist.

4. Jeff teaching at Machaerus-Mukawer

This evening’s worship service capped not just today, but our entire journey. Since we are nearing the end of our time together, Jeff preached a challenging sermon on what exactly it means to be a follower, not just a fan, of this Jesus whose steps we’ve been tracing. What now? How should we respond? There’s an expectant feeling that, to quote our Jordanian guide, “The best is yet to come!”




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With Gerry

Even though Gerry and I made plans to take this trip together well over six months ago, Gerry’s geo-consultant work suddenly caused a glitch in March. A long-in-the-works project was fast-tracked, making its start fall directly in the middle of the trip dates. To honor his colleagues, his almost-five-years’ participation in the project, and his supervisor, he felt he should stay home.

We decided I should go ahead without him after which I found a new travel buddy. Then less than two weeks before departure, the work project was delayed until June and Gerry was available to travel again. Even though it was almost time to leave, the trip coordinators graciously allowed him to add his name back to the roster and since we hadn’t cancelled his flight reservations, they were still intact. Happily then, here we are, having this adventure together, something for which I am very thankful. It would be less fun, less geologic (Yes, there is interesting geology even around ancient ruins.), and certainly lonely if he weren’t along for the ride. So, even though I really don’t like having my picture taken, every time he asks me to pose with him, I do. What follows then is shots of us together throughout the trip:

2f. Where to next, Gerry 2

Deciding where to go next while walking through Haarlem (5/16).

6. Jan and Gerry on the boat in the wind.jpg

Windblown on the Sea of Galilee (5/20).

1b-2. Togetherness

Togetherness, even in the (Bet She’an) latrine (5/22)

1a-2. Jan and Gerry 2

On the Mount of Olives with Jerusalem and the Temple Mount Dome of the Rock behind us (5/24)

3a. Jan and Gerry

While walking through the impressive Jerash/Gerasa ruins today (5/26)

I am thankful for my tour buddy and especially grateful that he is able to see Israel and Jordan with me.

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It’s (only) water

As I stood downing a cool glass of orange juice before breakfast this morning, someone asked me how I was — “Dry,” I answered. Here in southern Israel, it is just that. Water was and is so important, something driven home again and again as we visited Masada, Engedi, Qumran and the Dead Sea.

1-1. Mount Masada


3. Springs at En Gedi

The spring at Engedi where folks reveled in the cool water

4b. Qumran cave

A cave at Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were found, surprisingly well-preserved due to the extreme dryness.

2. Along the Dead Sea 2

Along the Dead Sea

The ingenuity of the people that live(d) in these places in finding, delivering and storing water is impressive. Masada, being on the top of an isolated mesa, provided a great challenge; first rain water was caught, then hauled up the mesa through the Water Gate, then stored in cisterns. Ritual and regular bathing was a big deal for the Jews living in the community, so more water than for drinking, washing utensils and preparing food was needed.

1a. Cistern at Masada

This huge cistern has a narrow stairway to use in reaching the bottom, if needed.

The Essenes that lived at Qumran (and more than likely transcribed the Dead Sea scrolls) chose the area because it was remote, harsh and dry enough that no one would bother them — but they still needed water. A looonnnng trench begun in the surrounding hills and extending throughout the entire community brought rain water to them.

4. Water channel at Qumran

The path we walked through Qumran followed the water channel throughout the ruins.

Khalil, our guide, remembers the level of saltiness in the Dead Sea being 27% when he was a high schooler; now it is 35%, highlighting how much water has been and is being appropriated from the sea (rising population, industry, and mineral extraction). Although you can’t exactly tell from this picture, these folks are able to bob on the surface of the sea as the salt keeps them easily afloat.

5. Floating in the Dead Sea

[If you know Gerry, you can find him somewhere in this pic. : ) ]

We have been encouraged by Khalil to drink lots of water as we tour. We carry our water bottles with us everywhere. Our breakfast, lunch and dinner tables have carafes of cool water which the attentive waiters refill often. I know I have taken the abundant water we have in the US for granted. I hope I continue to value it once I’m back home.


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Were You There ….?

With “Following the Footsteps of Jesus” as our trip theme, we have been walking where he walked, seeing where he spoke, and more easily imagining his day-to-day life. With that in mind, today’s goal was to visit, remember and commemorate the events during the last week of Jesus’ life. We began by walking the Mount of Olives,


being awed by the 2000-year-old olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemene,

1b-1a. Olive Tree in the Garden

exploring the Herodian quarter ruins where Jesus’ trial in the high priest’s home may have happened,

2. 1st Century Jewish priest homes - Herodian sector

trying to reconcile the fact there are two sites claiming to be the place Christ was crucified and buried (Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb),

2a. Church of the Holy Sepulchre  2b. Garden Tomb

and gladly putting aside all questions as we worshipped together through Scripture and  song.

2c. Liturgy

Being in the cities referenced in the Bible, learning about the historical events in Jesus’ time, and getting a real feel for life in Israel’s climate and geography are all meaningful and helpful in properly understanding His words and actions.  However, much time has passed and many of the places where important things happened have been destroyed and/or built over more than once. We can’t really be sure that “x” marks the spot even if we would dearly wish it so. So, although we are in the right country, often in the correct area, sometimes on the real spot, following Jesus’ physical footsteps isn’t the point. The point is to simply follow Him. I think I can see more clearly how to do this, having been here in the places he lived and moved — I certainly do hope so.

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A study in contrasts

Driving around, in and out of and through Jerusalem today provided a study in contrasts. From the ruins of the Herodium to the modern classroom at Bethlehem Bible College,

1. Jeff explains the Herodium  3. Bethlehem Bible College professor speaking on Palestinian Christians

from the tiny, low grotto where Christ’s birth occurred to the high-ceilinged Church of the Nativity,

4c. The spot of the Nativity 4e-1. Nativity

from the sparseness of the West Bank to the luxury of our own hotel,

1-1. Herodium  Dan Hotel

we encountered spaces, ideas and experiences vastly different from each other.

The Herodium, Herod the Great’s favorite palace/fortress, was an engineering and artistic feat. The Church of the Nativity (the oldest continuously active church in the world!) was a surprisingly inspirational place. Going through checkpoints to reach West Bank sites was sobering and saddening. It felt as if my spirit was pulled back and forth, up and down, all day.

The most memorable part of the day for me was hearing from a Bethlehem Bible College professor on being a Palestinian Christian in the Jewish homeland state of Israel. When questioned after his talk, he held nothing back in challenging Christians for ignoring, betraying and forgetting our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters in the loss of their land, homes, and livelihood. “Each one of you can do SOMEthing,” were his final words. Not sure what that should be for me, but I do feel a call to respond. I’ll keep you posted ….

4a-1. Jan

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Going up to Jerusalem

Leaving Tiberius this morning, our day’s-end goal was to reach Jerusalem. On the way, we first stopped at Bet She’an, the largest archaeological site in Israel with impressive remains dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D., the time in which we’re most interested.

1. Down the main drag of Bet Shean 1a. From the top of the Tel

At the end of the main street (cardo), you can see the tel where layers of 15 different cities/communities, one on top of the other, resulted in an impressive mound. The second picture was taken from the top of the tel where you can see much of the shape and breadth of Bet She’an, including the well-preserved theater

1a-1. Bet Shean theatre

and the well-used latrines.

1b. On the latrine

As we entered Jerusalem after lunch, our first stop was the Israel Museum where a large scale model of the ancient city fired our imaginations.


Isn’t Herod’s temple, front and center in the model, impressive in size and design?

Inside the Israel Museum, we heard about and saw some copies and pieces of the Dead Sea Scrolls (no pix allowed). When they were discovered in 1946/47, the reliability of the transmission of Scripture’s text through time was affirmed.

We ended the day with a tramp through Hezekiah’s tunnel, an underground waterway that brought needed water to the old city. With flashlights and water shoes, we safely accomplished the trek through narrow, often stoop-inducing channels. Although the space was cramped, it did not cramp the group’s style — four-part singing throughout the tunnel sounded terrific and lifted our hearts.

We’ve only begun our exploration of this place of beautiful names (“City of God,” “Joyful City,” “Desired One,” “City of Peace”). We look forward to becoming better acquainted with one of the oldest cities on earth.

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Lasting and Living or Temporary and Terminal

As we toured northern Israel (a lush area with streams of water, green landscapes and rich farmland) on Monday, the contrast between things that truly last and those that don’t continually came to mind.

We began the day with a visit to Caesarea Philippi, or as it’s known in Israel, Banias (a derivation of Paneas, a place dedicated to the Greek god, Pan). Herod’s sons, ruling separate areas of Judea according to their father’s dying wish, continued to curry favor with the powers in Rome. Here, Herod Philip went rather to an extreme in choosing as his home base this city dedicated to Pan, renaming it Caesarea Philippi honoring the Roman Caesar Tiberius. A large temple complex on the heights overlooking the city once looked like this:

1-1. As it once was

I imagine when the Greeks originally built it, they thought it would last forever. However, this is what remains:

1. Panios near Ceasarea Philippi

Herod Agrippa, later given Caesarea Philippi by Caligula, executed a major project rebuilding the city, including an extravagant palace:

1a-1. What it once was

Did Agrippa believe his work would always be there? I imagine so, but today it looks like this:

1a. Ruins of Philippi

When Jesus and his disciples came to Philippi, their conversations focussed on more eternal things. It was here that Peter responded to Jesus’ question about who they thought he really was with “You are Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Here also, a demon-possessed man was liberated from his condition and given right-minded life by Jesus. I am happy to be a child of this living God.



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The Evangelical Triangle

Did you know Jesus spent most of his ministry in “The Evangelical Triangle,” a small geographical area between the biblical cities of Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida?


Before this trip, I hadn’t heard of the Evangelical Triangle, so touring that area yesterday brought clarity to the Scripture passages detailing Jesus’ activities in these villages. He chose to make his home in Capernaum, probably in the house of Peter, and made journeys to other communities around the Sea of Galilee from there. We visited the site of Peter’s house, the foundation of which is surrounded by successive octagonal church foundations.  Early Christians thought the place special and chose to build their worship structures over and around it.

2a. Peter's house surrounded by two house church foundations

There is a modern Catholic church built over these foundations today where a worship service was in progress during our visit.

The memorable event of Jesus preparing fish and bread for his disciples’ breakfast (John 21) is commemorated at the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

3. Church of the Table -- Jesus cooks fish and bread

It’s location right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee offered an opportunity for members of our group to wade in the water. The “Table of Christ”, a large stone upon which the storied breakfast may have been served, has been enclosed inside the chapel.

4a Primacy

We didn’t only have to imagine what it was like for Jesus and his disciples to boat across the Sea of Galilee — we had an opportunity to do it ourselves! While on the water, our captain stopped the engines and Jeff read and commented on the story of the disciples’ fear in the midst of a storm that Jesus calmed in compassion and power. The words had added import as we felt the rocking of the boat and heard the splash of waves against the sides.

As Jesus traveled throughout the Evangelical Triangle, crowds followed him wherever he went. He taught them, healed them and fed them. The important Sermon on the Mount was delivered in this area, something we remembered and celebrated on the Mount of Beatitudes with a service of Scripture (from Matthew 5 – 7) and songs, certainly a blessed ending to a full Sunday.

1. Jeff setting the stage for Capernaum

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Water, Hats, Sunscreen …

If Khalil, our tour guide here in Israel, said the title phrase once, he said it ten times — and for good reason. On our first day in the country, temperatures reached 42 degrees Celsius (107.8! Fahrenheit, Khalil sadly informed us). Every time we left our air-conditioned, oh-so-comfy bus, the heat hit like an oven blast — but since we’d been adequately prepared, we managed just fine.

1. Khalil readying us for a tour

Khalil preparing us for our first site visit.

We began the day with a visit to Caesarea Maritima, a Biblical-era port city built by Herod the Great — not only built, but created, since there was no natural harbor. Using the Roman technology of making volcanic ash cement, HUGE breakwaters were formed to protect ships and trade vessels.

Herod desired to ingratiate himself with the Roman political powers, so named the city after Caesar and built a temple to the goddess Roma at the very center. The temple site saw many alterations as over the centuries Rome, the Byzantine Empire, the Muslims, then the Crusaders all took their turn running the city and first razing whatever temple stood and building their own.

The theater, with wall sections and foundations dating back to Herod’s time, still stands and is used for contemporary concerts and presentations.

1b. Theatre in Ceasarea Maritima

While we were there, a young American man mounted the stage with his guitar and sang Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” Since Gerry used that song whenever he taught first-year geology at Calvin, he stood directly in front of the fellow and supported him with energetic applause.

Jeff, our teaching leader, took opportunities throughout the day to emphasize Biblical connections to where we were and what we were seeing. Here, in a shaded area of Caesarea’s Hippodrome, he quoted the many Scriptural references to Caesarea, enlivening our imaginations, empowering us to see Jesus, his disciples and Paul walking the paths we walked.


The remainder of the day was spent in high places, first on Mount Precipice where the Jewish leaders of Nazareth unsuccessfully attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff, then on the Cliffs of Arbel where Jewish rebels hid and were eventually routed by Herod’s soldiers dropping over the cliff in baskets. The landscape was hazy, but we enjoyed the view none-the-less.

3. Overlooking the Jezreel Valley from the Cliffs of Arbel

From the Cliffs of Arbel, overlooking fertile farming land.

3a. The group overlooking the Cliffs of Arbel

Our group enjoying the view

Our guide Khalil, being an Israeli Arab Christian, provides a very unique perspective as we visit sites and discuss the current religious and political situation in Israel. He is articulate, speaking with passion and pride as well as humor and humility. We look forward to his continued interesting commentary.


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