Pilgrim report: New Hope Christian Church (Roanoke, Virginia).
The sun was directly overhead when we arrived at the trailhead. The asphalt was gummy.
“Bring everything you need to survive for an hour and half,” I chirped. “Maybe two hours. Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and an extra bottle of water.”
Our crew didn’t need my reminders. On the previous day we had hiked from Nazareth to Sepphoris, an accomplishment in any season. It is a notable one at the end of June with the temperatures scraping three digits.
Even in this season of scarcity I hoped to spot some wildlife on the trail. Today we aimed to follow a stream that trickled through the canyon (Arab. wadi) from the plain near Nabi Shuʿayb (the traditional burial place of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses) to the moment where the canyon released its travelers on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
The canyon is called Wadi Hamam or “Valley of the Doves.” It forms one leg of the ancient highway connecting the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus likely walked this path in Eastern Lower Galilee.
I don’t know what wildlife encounters an ancient traveler would have had, but five kinds of critters surprised us.
Our first critter appeared out of nowhere. I stepped through the thicket and almost ran into a cow. It was standing in the water, blocking our path. She raised her head. Menacing horns protruded from her brow.
City-boy Mike confessed: “I said ‘Holy _____! Look at those horns. It’s a bull. We’re all gonna die.’ Later I asked for forgiveness.”
“Yah! Git!” I coaxed. The cow moseyed on, yielding the road.
A few minutes later Thunder Bobby hollered, “What’s that?” Our second critter of the day, a pudgy hyrax, looked down from his overhead perch. Like everyone else under this sun, he was slow to move. He watched us carefully with beady black eyes. Finally he barked a warning to his hyraxian homies (see our previous post on these “Wise wee folk” of the Wadi Hamam here) and crawled out of sight.
Our third critter encounter came as a result of Lightning Seth’s keen eye. High above us, he spotted the movement of a Palestinian mountain gazelle. We all watched in amazement as the gazelle (unlike the cow and hyrax) sprinted and leaped with vigor across the steep slope. By the time I finally got my camera unholstered it was already gone.
This particular species is iconic to the region. For more on its endangered status, see here.
Lightning Seth was quick. He caught the gazelle on his phone. Watch the video below.
Later, we spotted two more on the opposite side of the canyon.
Our fourth critter encounter was also on the slope above us.
I turned back to see if the group had successfully crossed the stream. Movement caught my eye. It was a wild boar. A pumba. A big pig.
And he was not running downslope into the Sea of Galilee (!) but upslope and away from it. I caught the still image. City-boy Mike caught the video that follows.
The celebration of bacon was a part of our conversation for the rest of the day.
Caves appeared in the ancient limestone above our head as we approached the opening of the canyon. Here was our fifth critter sighting.
At first I thought it was school children. City-boy Mike saw the bit of color as well and hollered, “Hello!” “Hello!”
A couple of goats appeared at the mouth of one of the caves.
I’ll bet there was a shepherd dozing inside.
During our walk in Eastern Lower Galilee, I had hoped for some animal encounters. Cows from the nearby village were a given. Maybe goats. The other critters were a pleasant surprise.
Far from being a“valley of the shadow of death,” the Wadi Hamam with its stream and thicket turned out to be a veritable “valley of life.”
Our current group of Bible Land Explorers are from Roanoke, Virginia. They are not content to “do” the usual tourist tour, but have specifically requested special engagements like hiking portions of the Jesus Trail.
If you are interested in experiencing the land of the Bible in a fresh way, consider joining one of our future trips. Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.
Threepeats are special.
Summer 2019 marked the third year that Whitewater Crossing Christian Church of Cleves, Ohio, sent a crew to the Heartland via JCBS. It was special.
Thirteen folk from the midwest packed their bags and came to the mideast for twelve days of personal study, prayer, and fun. It was a small and tidy group. What we lacked in numbers was offset by raw enthusiasm.
The boulders on the trail at Tel Dan were slippery, but teamwork got everyone through.
The heat was cranked up in the Dead Sea basin, but the secrets of Masada and Ein Gedi were revealed.
The darkness of Hezekiah’s Tunnel was intimating, but headlamps (and a little hand holding!) did the trick.
Between that tunnel, the swimming pool, the Dead Sea, and and (of course) the Jordan River, everyone ended up in the water at some point.
With two physicians and two nurses in the group, I never felt so confident in my life. Fact is, I was almost embarrassed to be carrying a medical kit. Fortunately, there was no need for my kit or their knowledge.
Part of that success was due to the professionalism of our driver. We borrowed Louis for two weeks from the British Embassy. His knowledge of the roads and skills in navigating them was uncanny. While we did not splash like Tony Blair, I am certain we received the same attention from this wheelman as did the Prime Minister.
The extra cover to the experience, of course, was drawn from deeper sources. We prayed in the morning and evening. We sang in the churches. We climbed to the top of many tells, and despite wobbly knees, stood on the top of these vistas and read from the Bible.
One of our travelers, Nancy, returned home after these 12 days and wrote a quick note. She described the trip as more than a sightseeing excursion. She believed God communicated to her in these words:
“Child, you have heard my Word in new ways. You have seen with your own eyes places I designed. You have heard with new understanding historical events I orchestrated with purpose. You were led back in time to be taught and inspired by people I created and directed according to my will. You saw places of great importance and remembrance that have been uncovered under my supervision. In all of this . . . remember me, remember me, remember me.”
That kind of experience never gets old, no matter how often one returns to this part of the world.
Plans for a fourth trip with Whitewater Crossing Christian Church are already in the works.
If you are thinking about visiting the Heartland yourself, consider joining us next year. We have open seats for several trips in 2020 and 2021. If you represent a church or school group and are interested in exploring this kind of travel ministry, know that we are booking custom experiences for 2022. Chat with me at email@example.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.
Gordon lifted the oversized compass to his face. The transparent plastic flexed in his hands, making his nose appear to wiggle. His voice was less animated. His words came out deliberately.
“Turn the bezel until the arrow is in the box.” He turned the disk on his plastic demonstration model. His nose wiggled again.
We complied. Our group sat at the table with real compasses balanced on our upturned palms. I twisted the bezel on mine. The needle danced briefly, then settled dutifully.
“It doesn’t matter how many bells and whistles a compass has,” Gordon said. “It does just one job...” We recognized the prompt and chimed as chorus, “…it points to magnetic north.”
This was old school at the local REI. We were studying the compass, paper quadrangle maps, and the mystery of declination. Gordon was the perfect teacher. He was articulate and patient.
He also warned us about ever-present danger of table legs.
“Watch.” Gordon slid a compass across the plastic table. At one point the needle wobbled and forgot its singular purpose.
“Remember, it’s a magnet. The table legs are metal.”
He illustrated his point with a story about hikers he had once observed working off a quadrangle spread across the hood of the car. “That engine block will really mess you up,” he chuckled.
He didn’t need to remind me.
I drifted out of the classroom to a dark and rainy night on the streets of Jaffa, Israel. I was driving a tiny rental car. Inside was Tanner, my son, Jody my graduate assistant, and Karl, a good friend. We had just arrived in Tel Aviv a few hours earlier and were quite bleary after an all-night flight. We were attempting to find a hostel where I had made reservations.
This was back in the 1990s before the widespread use of miraculous technologies like the handheld GPS, the cell phone, and the Ninja smoothie blender. We were true pioneers, just a generation away from the discovery of fire. Jody held a paper map and a compass. “Turn right.” “Turn left.” “Try right again.” We wandered for what seemed to be hours. Hopelessly befuddled, we found ourselves at the spot where we started.
Without alternatives (like the mossy side of trees) to guide us, we gave up. We deadheaded our way to Galilee. We pulled onto a dirt road beside the Horns of Hattin at about four in the morning and slept in our seats to sunrise.
Only later did we discover that something in the vehicle was messing with Jody’s compass.
Thanks to Gordon I now know that it doesn’t take much. The earth’s magnetic field is relatively weak. Science suggests that this force is measured at 5 × 10−5 tesla (or 50 µT).
Did you that before it was a space car, the Tesla was a unit of magnetic field strength? I didn’t. Neither did I know that while the value of the earth’s magnetic field is strong enough to protect the earth from harmful solar wind it is not strong enough to overcome the mysterious powers of some small European rental cars.
Our local REI store offers a variety of courses regularly. One of them is “Map and Compass Navigation Basics.” For a small fee, you can find yourself in a good introduction to compass navigation or be reminded of things you forgot since your Boy Scout days.
If an REI is not convenient, the book of choice is Bjorn Kjellstrom’s Be Expert with Map and Compass (Wiley, 2010). This is the classic guide to compass use. Its author was a Swedish orienteering champion and cofounder of the Silva compass company. Be Expert has been revised since the original 1955 release and is now in its 3rd edition.
We have seats available on a couple of trips scheduled for summer of 2019. The good news is that we will be traveling in a wondrous GPS-equipped motor coach. I haven’t gotten lost in a few years now.
Registration will be closing soon on our May 25-June 4 excursion as well as our June 4-15 trip. These are similarly paced and priced. If you are interested in either please contact me immediately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.
I must confess that it took me a long time to recover from the jump between film and digital photography. Shutter speeds and F-stops made sense. But these new gadgets and all their buttons seem so irregular and complicated.
I was just beginning to feel good about my digital Lumix when this college kid shows up with a drone and a phone.
The drone was not much bigger than a deck of cards (with rotors retracted). The phone, was, well, a phone . . . but it had an app that controlled the drone!
It blew up my world.
Cody was a crazy-good pilot. He could fly that little whirlybird in and out of the palm of his hand. He buzzed the treetops, circled the moon, chased the cows, and we watched the whole thing happen in real-time on his phone.
Cody was one of our Bible Land Explorers who walked the Jesus Trail in January of 2019. He sent me this edited clip of the experience.
It looks like another technological curve is ahead of this old dog.
And the next time we do the Jesus Trail, you really should join our merry band.
Note: all the clips featured here were taken along the Jesus Trail except the last. The view to Jerusalem was taken from the Haas Promenade just south of the city.
We have seats available on a couple of trips scheduled for summer of 2019. Registration will be closing soon on our May 25-June 4 excursion as well as our June 4-15 trip. These are similarly paced and priced. If you are interested in either please contact me immediately at email@example.com.
For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.
We are busy here at the Bible Land Explorers’ headquarters chewing the magoi. So far we’ve noted how Jesus was born in a Cold War (see here) and how the magoi were savvy politicians with a reputation for king-making and king-breaking (see here). As Christmas morning approaches, however, we lean toward something more festive: wisemen wafers!
Enter the idea of the eulogia.