Bible

A Threepeat

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.

The bathhouse at the palace of King Herod at the Herodium is a perfect place for a group photo.

The bathhouse at the palace of King Herod at the Herodium is a perfect place for a group photo.

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.

These sturdy souls took up the challenge of wading through the dark tunnel known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This conduit provided water for the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the Iron Age.

These sturdy souls took up the challenge of wading through the dark tunnel known as Hezekiah’s Tunnel. This conduit provided water for the inhabitants of Jerusalem in the Iron Age.

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.

We borrowed an excellent driver from the British Embassy. Louis not only knew the roads, but was instrumental in keeping our group safe and well-fed.

We borrowed an excellent driver from the British Embassy. Louis not only knew the roads, but was instrumental in keeping our group safe and well-fed.

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.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Photograph by Kurt Knochel.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional site where Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Photograph by Kurt Knochel.

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.

We didn’t suffer too much at our hotel beside the Dead Sea.

We didn’t suffer too much at our hotel beside the Dead Sea.


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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 markziese@gmail.com or see our full list of study-travel opportunities at the link here.

Wisemen Wafers

Wisemen Wafers

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.

James goes West (part 3)

James goes West (part 3)

I warned you early on. Caution is needed when exploring the legacy of James the Great. From the bunk where I am perched* it is the stuff of national epic. And when it comes to epics, the roar of the anthem can drown the melody of truth.

James goes West (part 2)

James goes West (part 2)

We know that James was beheaded in Jerusalem (See Acts 12:1-2). It makes sense that he would have been buried in the place where he was killed. Who would go the trouble to move a dead body? Especially a messy one.

Ah, but this where it gets interesting.

James goes West (part 1)

James goes West (part 1)

The story of the end of James the Great is described in the New Testament. Outside the New Testament, however, his story lives on. Part of that story is dedicated to a epic journey that the Bible is mum about, and part of that story is dedicated to a post-death appearance. Both of these accounts teeter wildly into the area of myth, but never say that to a Spaniard. It may cost you an eye.

The James Gang

The James Gang

Scholars have gone bald in the effort to identify the James Gang in the pages of the New Testament. Since I am losing hairs for other reasons, I'll let others tease out the details. Our focus is to identify the three "biggies."

Stork swarm

Stork swarm

Swarms of giant storks were suddenly everywhere. They were beyond counting. In the hundreds? For sure. Thousands? Maybe. Some circled slowly overhead, great wings outstretched. Many more rested, nested, and clattered their bills from poo-spangled trees. 

Like a patch ripped off

Like a patch ripped off

Two kinds of cut stone doors used to close tombs in old Jerusalem. One is shaped like a flat disk. The other like a stubby plug. Both can be rolled.

They were resilient

They were resilient

The weather threw the book at us, But this cadre of pastor-teacher-professionals was up to the challenge. They were determined to the see the land of Jesus with their own eyes.

A nick visit

A nick visit

Local tradition suggests that the real St Nicholas (of Christmas fame) lived for a short time in the Bethlehem area. I pulled on my coat to visit someone who could tell me more.

It has an odd ring

It has an odd ring

The old king climbed into the icy womb of Kilimanjaro. On his finger was the ring of Solomon. His porters carried a vast treasure. None of it has ever been found, of course.

For fam trippers

For fam trippers

How is it possible to experience an exceptional study-tour in Israel/Palestine at or below cost? The answer is a Fam Trip! But keep these four things in mind.

A team effort

A team effort

The bus was nearly at capacity with 47 persons when we rolled into the airport. In a similar way, our hearts and minds were full. Old friendships had been enriched and new friendships had been forged over the course of the past two weeks. We hugged and shared goodbyes, knowing that as we returned home, we did so as changed people.

An eclectic fellowship

An eclectic fellowship

Twenty-one Bible Lands Explorers from the United States and Mexico hit trail this summer in Israel-Palestine. In eleven days they managed to cover the ground from Dan to Beer-sheba. More importantly, these pilgrims came from from very different locations and stations of life. They gathered as strangers, but parted as family.

A tidy crew

A tidy crew

The advantages of exploring Bible Lands with a small group of friends are many.  Priorities and agenda are not dictated by company interests. The racket of commissioned group shopping and guide-kickbacks are eliminated. Heightened interaction with local culture is possible. Pace is whatever the fellowship decides. In short, the tyranny of the program is eliminated.

All Nations: Gethsemane and the Church

All Nations: Gethsemane and the Church

A visit to one of Jerusalem's most famous landmarks teaches us that there is no death without perseverance at Gethsemane and that there is no "Church of All Nations" without death.