Archive for March, 2016

Israel 2016 – Final Comments
March 22, 2016

For the last part of my visit to Israel-Palestine I took a two-day tour north to Galilee and back to Tel Aviv, with a tour guide.


My guide is Sahar Saado, a Messianic Jew from Jerusalem.

We went east from Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, an area where abundant produce grows, and then north through that valley into the area of Galilee.


At my request we went to Hula Nature Reserve, a vast area of protected land, water and farms.


The huge flock of Gray cranes was delightful and noisy, but since I had no telephoto lens, you are not likely to be impressed with this simple photo.

Gray crane was one of the new species I added to my bird list on this trip, so my “life list” now stands at 658.


Our next stop was Galilee’s Miracle Center to see the remains of this boat recovered from the mud of the Sea of Galilee and restored – a boat from the first century, similar to the one Jesus and the disciples would have sailed on.


Welcome to Capernaum, Jesus’ home base for his public ministry. This what is left of a fourth century synagogue, built on the site of the synagogue that was here in Jesus’ day.


At this same location is a statue of the Apostle Peter, with the Sea of Galilee in the background.


In the evening Sahar and I went to a grille restaurant for lamb and chicken kebabs. Before the kebabs came, we had flat bread to be dipped in 19 side dishes!


We stayed in a hotel in Tiberias, looking east over the Sea of Galilee.


On my last day of touring we start out at Arbel, a high cliff overlooking the valley and, to the right, off the photo, the Sea of Galilee.


The excavations of Zippori (or Sepphoris), which was the capital and largest city of Galilee in Jesus’ day. Here are the pillars and mosaic floor of a synagogue from the first half of the fifth century.


Still in Zippori, a floor mosaic from the house of a wealthy  person. The woman in this scene is called the Mona Lisa of Zippori.


Next stop  – the town of Nazareth. We spent time in Nazareth Village and had a narrated tour of the re-creation of several things typical of Jesus’ day – a sheep pen, a cave tomb, a winepress, a watchtower in a vineyard, an olive oil press  and a synagogue.


And a carpenter’s shop.



We had a lunch of foods typical of NT times. The delicious flatbread was baked in the oven you see here by a baker who is a volunteer from US.


The large, modern Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth.


The inside view of the rotunda.


In the lower level a shrine and grotto.


In the courtyard stands a statue of Mary. Many pilgrims pause to hold her hands and pray.


We went to Mt. Carmel, the site of the prophet Elijah’s challenge to the prophets of the false god Baal. The interior of the chapel.


Elijah about to kill one of the false prophets.

From an observation roof we saw the large, fertile Jezreel Valley, but the fog and haze rendered my photos not worth showing.


Now we are in Jaffa (also called Joppa and Yafo), the ancient port city on the Mediterranean Sea out of which Tel Aviv grew. Here we are looking north along the Sea to modern Tel Aviv.


A friendly-looking resident of Jaffa.


A house in a location similar to Simon the Tanner’s house, where Peter stayed and saw the vision from God that persuaded him to be willing to go to the home of the Gentile Cornelius.


Still in Jaffa, St. Peter’s Church, a Franciscan Church.

My last night in Israel was at Gilgal Hotel in Tel Aviv, a hotel owned by a Messianic Jew.

In these two days I learned important insights into Israel and Palestine from my guide, Sahar. His perspectives were not always the same as what I learned at Christ at the Checkpoint, but I was able to affirm him and bless his role as a peacemaker for Christ.

One of his important comments about Palestinian and Jewish believers was this: “Both sides need to open their hearts to each other.”

God certainly opened my heart in new ways through the many experiences I had in Israel-Palestine.

Thanks for traveling with me.


Israel 2016 – Part 12
March 21, 2016

After attending a four-day conference in the town next to Bethlehem I went to Old City Jerusalem.


I entered through the Damascus Gate, dragging two suitcases over uneven stone pavements.


Looking back at the same gate from inside the city.

I stayed two days and nights at Ecce Homo Pilgrim House operated by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Sion convent.


The Pilgrim House in on the street called the Via Dolorosa, traditionally, the route Jesus walked from Pilate’s judgment hall to the place of execution.  The entrance to the Pilgrim House is on the right, under the Ecce Homo Arch, so called because somewhere near here Pilate presented Jesus to the Jewish authorities, saying, “Behold the man!” John 19:5


Several floors below the Pilgrim House you can see and walk on the Lithostrotos, or Gabbatha, an ancient stone pavement like the one (or the actual one?) where Pilate sat when he ordered Jesus to be  crucified. See John 19:13.


The Pilgrim House has several roof terraces with dramatic views of the old and new city. Here you see on the right to gold roof of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.


We are now at the courtyard and entrance of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus’ burial.


The specific traditional site is inside this shrine.


A few steps away from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, where I attended an organ concert.


Here is the well-known scene of the Western Wall, or Wailing Wall, in the very center of the photo. The area above it is the Temple Mount, with the gold-topped Dome of the Rock. As you have been noticing from my blogs this Dome is the central feature of the Old City. We have been seeing it from many different vantage points.

Muslims have control of the Temple Mount, and they allow only  a few non-Muslim visitors to the area and will not allow any non-Muslim to hold prayers there.


A closer view of the men’s section of the Western Wall.

I also had various experiences outside the Old City.


The Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, just east of the Old City, at the foot of the Mount of Olives.


Now we come to the Garden Tomb, two blocks outside the wall of the Old City, a site that many believe is the real place where Jesus was crucified and buried, not in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This place fits the descriptions given in the Gospels about the garden and tomb of Joseph of  Arimathea.


At one end of the garden is a cliff that, with a bit of imagination, resembles a skull, which is the name of the place where Jesus was crucified – Golgotha.


And here is the famous cave tomb in the garden. To visit this garden, and meditate and pray here, is a soul-refreshing experience.


One day I took a taxi to modern Jerusalem to the small bird observation center located not far from the Knesset, the parliament building. I found, to my delight, that this is the start of the spring migration when 500 million birds pass through Israel on their way from Africa to Europe, and bird banding was in process.


I was able to observe the banding of seven birds, including this Eurasian siskin, which is in the same genus as the Pine siskin we have in North America.

When you visit the Old City, you need to be prepared to do a lot of walking. One day my Smartphone recorded that I took 17,658 steps. (At home a big day may log 6,000 steps.) At the end of that day I was ready  to sit down and rest.


I was constantly thanking God for a good heart and good legs that kept me going.

Israel 2016 – Part 11
March 20, 2016

More about the conference Christ at the Checkpoint 4, with its sub-title “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a relief, service, community development and peace agency of the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches, has an office in East Jerusalem, so the MCC staff sponsored a luncheon for all Mennonite and Brethren in Christ persons attending the conference.



Then on the day after the conference I went to the MCC Jerusalem Office, which rents a few rooms from the Lutheran World Federation Building.


From the veranda you look south along the Mount of Olives and see the tower of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Ascension. There are also several other ascension churches along the ridge.


And when you look southwest, you see the Dome of the Rock in the Old City.


Anna Johnson, from Iowa, the Connecting Peoples Coordinator, met with me and explained the work of MCC Jerusalem.

The office began in 1949 as a response to the refugee crisis that followed the establishment of the State of Israel. Now the office works with 16 partner groups, providing grants for work in agriculture and water. Water supply is a crucial need in the West Bank. Sadly, sometimes the government of Israel opposes the efforts to restore a good water supply to Palestinians.

Increasingly, MCC works with advocacy for justice, for instance, advocating in Washington, D.C., for conditional financial aid to Israel. At the present the US gives almost $5 billion a year to Israel with no conditions, so the money may go to projects that do not foster justice and reconciliation with Palestinian people.

Israel 2016 – Part 10
March 20, 2016

More about my time in Israel-Palestine. Let’s return to a photo I posted in Israel – Part 5.

DSCN7700 RE2

This is a wall on a street in Bethlehem in the West Bank,or Palestine. It is the work of Banksy, an English-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director of unverified identity. He is known for satirical street art on publicly visible walls. How he remains unidentified when he creates art in public places is a mystery to me.

On this piece if you look closely, you can see the cross hairs of a gun or tank trained on the dove of peace.

Later, I found a small store that featured reproductions of Banksy’s works in photos or on ceramic tiles. But one wall of the shop featured a Banksy original on a section of wall that seemed to have been removed from some other location and installed in this little shop.


It was protected by glass, hence the glare. The boy who ran the shop, with his mother seated on the floor caring for a baby, gave me permission to photograph the wall, so I asked to have his photo, too.


He seemed to be an alert entrepreneur.


This Banksy piece, reproduced on the door of the shop, is one of my favorites. Instead of lobbing a grenade….


Here is an evening view of the separation barrier on the north side of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Israel 2016 – Part 9
March 20, 2016

In earlier blogs on Israel, Parts 1 and 2, I mentioned my Palestinian Christian friend KB. By this time I have his permission to mention his full name and post his photo.


Here you see Khaled Banourra and his wife and their two sons in their home in Beir Sahour. They also have a younger daughter, who was not available when I took the photo.

Khaled would appreciate prayer for his family, his job (as the maintenance person at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem) and his decision as to whether the family should stay in Palestine or leave.


Israel 2016 – Part 8
March 20, 2016

More about the conference Christ at the Checkpoint 4, with its subtitle “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”

One afternoon we had bus excursions to East Jerusalem to learn more about the situation of life in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There are actually three Jerusalems – West Jerusalem, with mostly Jewish residents and nice homes and adequate services; Old City, with a surrounding wall built in the days of the Crusaders, and narrow streets, many shops and many holy sites such as the Western Wall and the Temple Mount with the Dome of the Rock; and East Jerusalem, intended to be part of the West Bank but officially annexed by Israel to be part of the State of Israel, and lacking in many services such as water, streets and quality schools.


Our tour guide is an Israeli Jew who was previously part of the army and helped to destroy Palestinians’ homes but who now sees things differently and is part of Green Olive, a cooperative venture of Israelis and Palestinians that seeks to show the reality of life today in the occupied territories.


We went to Mount Scopus, northeast of the Old City. Here we are looking east. The Jordan River Valley is somewhere beyond the horizon.


This is a closer view, showing a Palestinian town in the West Bank and, scarcely visible on the horizon, Israeli settlements planted in the West Bank, despite the fact that international law says it is illegal to put settlements in military occupied territory.


And here, still on Mount Scopus, is the view southwest toward the Old City. It was a hazy day, but if you look carefully, you can see the gold roof of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount.


We have now moved to a different location and are looking at the separation barrier and, on the left, refugee dwellings where Palestinians live. This is a view looking to the right.


And here is a view looking to the left, down a valley. Our guide said that although the houses look normal, they are substandard and receive limited services. He said the people who live here are the poorest of the poor, while the Israelis in West Jerusalem have good streets, reliable utilities and excellent schools.


Looking straight ahead, we saw boys who had entertained themselves by climbing up onto the barrier, a wall three times the height of the Berlin Wall.



Israel 2016 – Part 7
March 12, 2016

More about the conference Christ at the Checkpoint 4, with its subtitle “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”


St. George killing the dragon is a favorite theme in religious art in this region. This is on the wall of the hotel, showing, I suppose, that the owner is a Christian in some sense. Overhead lights reflected in the glass cover of the piece distract from the effectiveness of this slide, but I liked the art and decided to include it anyway.




Walter, from North America, is a volunteer at Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and seeks to be creative in his witness against violence. During parts of past year, tear gas was hurled by Israeli soldiers every day in the streets and landed on the BBC property. Walter collected the spent canisters, scrubbed them carefully and made Christmas ornaments, in a venture he calls Peace Parcels.  Come to my house, and I will show you the ones I bought.


BBC had a gift shop, with items at fair market price, to support the artisans who made them. And how could you have crafts in Bethlehem without having olive wood?





John Azumah, originally from Ghana, was one of the speakers. Currently a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, he was formerly the director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at London Theological School, and from his service there he is acquainted with Brethren in Christ persons Jay Smith, Carmen Schultz, Paul Kiss and others.


On the right is Byron Rempel-Buckwalter from Winnipeg, a volunteer, along with his wife Melita, at BBC. On the left is Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian attorney and recognized authority on human rights and Palestinian and Israeli affairs.He grew up in Jerusalem, graduated from Messiah College, and lives part of the year in Lancaster County, PA, and part of it in Israel-Palestine.

Christians can work for peace in so many ways and so many places.



Israel 2016 – Part 6
March 10, 2016

More about the conference Christ at the Checkpoint 4, with its sub-title “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”

The conference is made up of seven sessions.

1. The Challenge of Religious Extremism within Islam

2. Gospel Response to Religious Extremism

Palestinians feel great sadness over the way that the media in the West report part of the story, not the whole story.

In times of crisis the foolish build walls and the wise build bridges. – John Azumah, originally from Ghana, now professor of World Christianity and Islam at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.

3. Our Muslim Neighbor

4. The Challenge of Christian Zionism

Christian Zionism is the belief by Christians that the Jews have a God-given right to the land of Israel and that this right is exclusive and therefore the Palestinians have no right to be in the land. This belief leads to an uncritical endorsement of and justification for Israel’s apartheid policies. John Hagee of San Antonio, TX, is a leading proponent of the Christian Zionist movement. Some Christian Zionists say that Palestinians don’t  exist.

It is certainly possible to love the Jews and rejoice that they can live in their ancient homeland without espousing the errors of Christian Zionism.

A Muslim leader, via video interview, observed that the occupation dehumanizes both the occupier and the occupied.

It is important to differentiate between Israel as a religion and Israel as a political strategy.           –Salim Munayer, professor at Bethlehem  Bible College.

In talking with a senior citizen from California I learned that everyone at her home church follows dispensational theology and has strong support for Christian Zionism. They opposed this woman’s coming to this conference, telling her that all Palestinians are opposing God and are the enemies of Israel and have no right to live in the land.

Prior to the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together in peace in Palestine.

5. We are Palestinian Christians

Five young adult Palestinians told how God has led them to remain in Palestine, with all its difficulties, including the humiliation of going through the checkpoints, to forgive and love and serve right here. This was very moving to hear their stories and see the joy they are finding in serving God.

6. The Challenge of Religious Extremism within Judaism

7. Palestinian Christians and the Challenge of Religious Extremism

The evangelical presence here is very small. There are 46 evangelical churches in Israel and 16 in Palestine.

Azar Ajaj served as Baptist pastor in Nazareth for 13 years and is now on the staff of Nazareth  Evangelical College. He said, “In Israel we are a minority within a minority within a minority.” The sequence of minorities from larger to smaller is, of course, Christians – evangelicals – and Palestinian evangelicals.

Over a million Palestinians live in Israel but with many restrictions, including a second-class citizenship, and no right to vote in national elections.

8. Religious Extremism within Us

With humility we must acknowledge that in the past the Christian Church has practiced religious extremism through pride, discrimination, persecution, violence and killing dissenting people.

Several speakers pointed out that listening to others is hard work, but this is what we are called to do.

One speaker pointed out an important lesson learned from the experience of apartheid in South Africa – that the oppressed need to  extend forgiveness and the oppressors need to experience repentance.

It will take me some time to process all that I heard and felt in this conference. Some of my blog readers may have opinions that differ from what I have described here, and that is fine. There is room for respectful disagreement in the family of God.

For my part, it has been a privilege to hear firsthand from believers who live in a situation so different from mine and who welcome the understanding and prayers of Christians in the West.

Also, although I have reported some observations that challenge some of the policies of the State of Israel, I respect Israel and am grateful for the privilege of visiting Israel and Palestine.

Israel 2016 – Part 5
March 10, 2016

Let’s return to a photo I posted on an earlier blog.

DSCN7700 RE2

This is a wall on a street in Bethlehem in the West Bank. By now I have learned the story behind the art.

It is the work of Banksy, an English-based graffiti artist, political activist and film director of unverified identity. He is known for satirical street art on publicly visible walls. How he remains unidentified when he creates art in public places is a mystery to me.

On this piece you have to look closely to see the cross hairs of a gun or tank trained on the chest of the bulletproof-vest-wearing  dove of peace.

Israel 2016 – Part 4
March 9, 2016

More about the conference Christ at the Checkpoint 4, with its sub-title “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”

The conference has a Manifesto of 12 points. Here are a few of them.

  • The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim their prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
  • There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equality and rights of Israeli and Palestinian communities.
  • Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must not be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
  • Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue.
  • Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge the stereotyping of all faith forms, and we object to any faith that betrays God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.

There are presentations by 26 speakers. I will not try to mention or quote all of them!

I am hearing so many different perspectives, and I cannot say I understand all I hear, but clearly, the various speakers are seeking to deal honestly with the Scriptures; to understand the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching about the gospel of the kingdom of God; to present the realities of daily life for Palestinians, who live under occupation; to explore proper Christian responses to injustice and suffering; and to understand and respond to religious extremism in Islam and other faiths. And I affirm these approaches.