Jerusalem

Baker's Dozen

Actually it was more like a dozen and a half.

As I write this note, Tommy Baker and his coterie from First Church of Christ in Burlington, Kentucky, are winging their way home. They looked tired but happy as they left the motor coach and headed into the departures terminal of the Tel Aviv airport. Their 2019 pilgrimage in the Holy Land was nearly complete.

Janet wings it on a camel in Jericho.

Janet wings it on a camel in Jericho.

Our 10-day experience with First Church took us to many of the best-known biblical sites in Israel-Palestine, including Caesarea-by-the-Sea, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. At these sites and many more we contemplated the biblical story, archaeological findings, and the contemporary situation. As Denny, one member of the group, put it, “It has been a true trip of a lifetime!”

Rick Lowry, Spiritual Growth Pastor at First Church, contemplates the Sermon on the Mount on “the Mount”!

Rick Lowry, Spiritual Growth Pastor at First Church, contemplates the Sermon on the Mount on “the Mount”!

This kind of success grows out of a team effort. On one end was the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies (JCBS), the organization that coordinated all our in-country logistics. On the other end was Robert Makhlouf, driver extraordinaire, Arab Christian, and old friend. Between these ends was Tommy Baker and Rick Lowry, pastors at First Church.

Robert wheeled our big Volvo like like a boss and always wore a smile. Since the last time we worked together he has become a father. His little girl is four months old.

Robert wheeled our big Volvo like like a boss and always wore a smile. Since the last time we worked together he has become a father. His little girl is four months old.

Some challenges came as a result of the heat. Undoubtedly, summer travel in Israel-Palestine brings on serious shvitzing (Yiddish for “sweating”). We shvitzed a bit (to say the least!) in the afternoon sun in Tiberias, Jericho, and Qumran. On the positive side, rain was not a problem! We drank plenty of water, took our time, and onboarded a little extra vitamin D.

Group photo from the summit of Mt Arbel. The Sea of Galilee shimmers in the distance.

Group photo from the summit of Mt Arbel. The Sea of Galilee shimmers in the distance.

One new experience for me was an overnight in Jericho. We slept in the hotel Oaisis, just inside the Palestinian border. This location made it possible to do a late afternoon swim in the Dead Sea and a cool morning walkabout over the remains of ancient Jericho (Tell es-Sultan). Watching the sun slip behind the crusty hills of the Judean Wilderness was special, as was the early morning call to prayer from the minaret near the hotel (!).

Swimming—or bobbing—in the Dead Sea. Photo by Tommy Baker.

Swimming—or bobbing—in the Dead Sea. Photo by Tommy Baker.

First Church has sent multiple teams of Bible Land Explorers to us over the course of a decade. Plans are already in the book for yet another return: May 16-29, 2021. If you are interested in being a part of that experience, it is not too early to contact Executive Pastor Tommy Baker at tbaker@firstchurch.me.

In the meantime we will continue the quest to discover the place where faith begins.


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Our groups cover a lot of ground in order to make the most of our limited time. Travelers should be able to climb stairs unassisted and walk over uneven surfaces. Good shoes are a must!

If you are interested in experiencing the land of the Bible through through the lens of history and faith, consider joining one of our future trips. Our 2020 and 2021 tour schedule may be found here.

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.

Above the Jesus Trail, 2019

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.

Cody, his phone, and his drone. Nazareth, Israel.

Cody, his phone, and his drone. Nazareth, Israel.

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.

Enjoy.

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.


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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 markziese@gmail.com.

For a complete list of travel opportunities in 2019, see our schedule here.


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."

An exceptional experience

An exceptional experience

While not the excursion that we had planned, the Johnson University study-tour to Israel/Palestine turned into a real-world exercise. And the team responded magnificently.

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.

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.

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.

Weather or not

Weather or not

The Mediterranean World is favored by good weather. Certainly it has its share of rain and thunder and ice and bluster; these are but temporary guests. Its Princeps civitatis is the sun. Brilliant Helios. Sol. Shemesh. Shems.