Day 6: Jerusalem Old City, St. Anne’s Church, Pools of Bethesda, Chefs for Peace, Western Wall, Razzouk Tattoos

Continuing the Ecclesia Houston tour with Breaking Bread Journeys… after a morning of free time recovering from our epic road trip the day before, we started the day with a visit to the beautiful Church of St. Anne, built between 1131 and 1138 on top of the site believed to be the childhood home and perhaps the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church possesses mesmerizing acoustics, and this makes the church a pilgrimage site for soloists and choirs, of which we got to hear a few from around the world singing praises in various languages. We contributed our own song as well!

The church is located right beside the archaeological excavation of the Pools of Bethesda and its collonades mentioned in the 5th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Pastor Chris Seay read to us this Gospel account of the crippled man who had been waiting 38 years to be healed in the pool which was known at the time to have healing powers (“a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool. Whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease”). Chris mentioned how we have trouble waiting 38 days, much less 38 years.

And I thought about how this crippled man had kept his faith all those years, believing that he could be healed if only he could get in the pool at the right time. And the passage indicates that Jesus knew of this man’s longsuffering spirit in waiting for so many years. I think perhaps that’s why he chose to heal him, to underscore how great this humble man’s faith was. Look at the results of his faith: a visit from the son of God himself, and he was instantly healed. May we all have even half the faith and patience of this man.

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity, and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family, and friends.

We met the chefs took us for lunch at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus, Abu Shukri, which is located by Stations of the Cross 5. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served. They then took us shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made.

Afterward we visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service, the pictures this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 30 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read here. Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item.

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at the Bulghourji Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more.

Some of us then broke off from the group and made our way through the Jewish Quarter and to the Western Wall to pray.

Some of the group ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

Our tour guide Bassam sharing with us about the old city at Herod’s Gate: 

Church of St. Anne, located at the birthplace of Mary:


Archaeological ruins of the Pools of Bethesda:

Chapel of the Condemnation, at Stations of the Cross I: 

Our tour with Chefs for Peace through the old city there are endless images each with 1000s of stories to tell:

Cooking with Chefs for Peace…

Jewish Quarter and Western Wall: 

Razzouk Tattoos:

India: Mumbai to Ahmedabad

After my visit to South India, I took a flight to Mumbai where I joined my friends Edward Sanchez and Anita Jaisinghani to take the overnight Gujarat Mail train to Ahmedabad. Anita is originally from Ahmedabad so it was a real treat to have her show us around her hometown. Edward is an award-winning filmmaker who came along to do a short documentary about our journey and the work of She Has Hope.

Anita is the owner of what she refers to as an “India-Inspired” restaurant in Houston by the name of Pondicheri. She is currently embarking on her latest venture called Queen Scarves which will feature a line of headscarves made from fabrics sourced in India.

Many of the scarves will be made by trafficking survivors who are recovering at the She Has Hope rehabilitation home where they find purpose and empowerment as they learn various tailoring skills. A generous portion of proceeds from the sale of the scarves will be used to pay the artisans fair trade prices for the pieces they produce as well as to fund their programs.

Thus you will see many photos in this set showing you the amazing fabrics we shopped for while we were in Ahmedabad.

Then, of course, there were the amazing people of Ahmedabad. They were extremely welcoming and so happy to be photographed. I have found this to be true all over India. It’s a photographer’s dream come true to be able to freely interact with the locals and have the honor of shooting their portraits.

For my fellow statistic lovers, here are some mind-boggling stats I’ve gathered on Ahmedabad and India population topics. Honestly, this is just me rambling but in case you find this kind of thing interesting I wanted to put it out there:

Ahmedabad is the seventh-largest urban agglomeration in India by population (6,361,084), and the fifth most populous city in terms of people living within the official city limits. Interesting to note that my hometown, Houston, has about the same urban agglomeration population as Ahmedabad at 6,315,000.

However, the real difference can be found in the population density of the two cities. Ahmedabad is extremely crowded with 22,100 people per square kilometer, whereas Houstonians enjoy a sparse urban sprawl of just 1,300 people per square kilometer!

This kind of density is seen throughout India. Many do not realize that India has a current estimated population of 1.339 billion which is more than four times the population of the United States. Here’s the rub: India sits on a landmass only 1/3 the size of the United States. So we’re talking about four times the population of the US, on only 1/3 the amount of land.

Add to this the challenge that 31% of this population lives in urban areas. This means that just India’s cities alone hold a population of 415 million people, more than the entire population of the United States and Canada combined. I do not envy the infrastructure challenges the Indian government is faced with.

Yet in spite of these challenges, India is finally taking some bold steps to fight its environmental crisis. I am so happy to report that almost all of India’s 29 states have banned plastic bags, and many have banned all single-use consumer plastics such as plastic drinking straws as well. It’s a wonderful thing to see the people of India standing up to take pride in the beauty of their amazing country and unparalleled heritage.

This is a major step for India’s staggering environmental crisis, as most cities do not have any well-organized trash collection systems and estimates put the time it takes a plastic bag to decompose at anywhere from 20 to 1000 years. Even at 20 years in a best-case scenario, imagine the accumulation of plastic bags in such intensely dense population centers with no organized trash collection systems?

The plastic litter had completely overwhelmed Indian cities and meanwhile, plastics disposed of before the bans are still seen strewn about the landscapes, seashores, and riverbanks taking their time to decompose. But this new of the bans is great progress and gives me a lot of hope for the future of India to avert a full-blown environmental catastrophe.

So I have given you quite a lot to think about regarding India! Now let’s take a look at some of the beautiful Gujarati fabrics and the beautiful, hospitable people of Ahmedabad!

Note the bonus content at the end of this post with some food shots and a few Ahmedabad restaurant recommendations! 

Bonus content: food shots taken with my iPhone along with a couple of videos of street life during the rainy season. Restaurants you MUST try when you’re in Ahmedabad: Swati Snacks (could eat here every day), The Vishalla, House of MG, and the Green House.


Day 6: Church of Saint Anne, Pools of Bethesda, Chefs for Peace, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

Continuing the Ecclesia Houston tour with Breaking Bread Journeys… after a morning of free time recovering from our epic road trip the day before, we started the day with a visit to the beautiful Church of St. Anne, built between 1131 and 1138 on top of the site believed to be the childhood home and perhaps the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church possesses mesmerizing acoustics, and this makes the church a pilgrimage site for soloists and choirs, of which we got to hear a few from around the world singing praises in various languages. We contributed our own song as well!

Our tour guide Bassam shared some very interesting facts about the unique nature of the church:

Unlike most other Crusader churches, St. Anne’s was not destroyed after Saladin’s 1187 conquest of Jerusalem (Saladin led the Muslim military campaign against the Crusader states). In 1192 Saladin converted the building into a madrasa (Islamic educational institution), known as al-Madrasa as-Salahiyya (of Saladin), as is still written in the Arabic inscription above the entrance to the church.

During the renewed Muslim rule of Palestine, Christian pilgrims were only permitted inside the grotto after paying a fee. Eventually, the madrasa was abandoned and the former church building fell into disrepair. In 1856, in gratitude for French support during the Crimean War, the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmecid I presented it to Napoleon III. It was subsequently restored, but the majority of what remains today is original. Currently St. Anne’s belongs to the French government (thus the French flag that flies atop the church) and is administered by the Missionaries of Africa, commonly called “The White Fathers”, for the color of their robes.

The church is located right beside the archaeological excavation of the Pools of Bethesda and its collonades mentioned in the 5th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Pastor Chris Seay read to us this Gospel account of the crippled man who had been waiting 38 years to be healed in the pool which was known at the time to have healing powers (“a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool. Whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease”).

And I thought about how this crippled man had kept his faith all those years, believing that he could be healed if only he could get in the pool at the right time. And the passage indicates that Jesus knew of this man’s longsuffering spirit in waiting for so many years. I think perhaps that’s why he chose to heal him, to underscore how great this humble man’s faith was. Look at the results of his faith: a visit from the son of God himself, and he was instantly healed. May we all have even half the faith and patience of this man.

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity, and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all faiths: food, family, and friends.

We met the chefs at the Damascus Gate on Thursday along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients we would be using to prepare our dinner!

After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made, the chefs took us for lunch at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus, Abu Shukri, which is located by Stations of the Cross 5. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served.

After a visit to the spice market, we then made our way to the hidden gem of Zalatimo’s Sweets. In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry that the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”). The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple: “with nuts” or “with cheese.” The shop also includes another treasure: one of the original entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is now sealed off and no longer used.

Afterward, we visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service. The photo prints this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late grandfather Elia Kahvedjian, an orphaned refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. He and his family are featured in the National Geographic film “Jerusalem: Within These Walls” to represent the Armenian Quarter. The photos, which had been hidden away since 1947 by Elia as he thought they were of no value, were rediscovered by the family over 30 years ago and now serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read here. Several of the group bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item.

We stopped by Samara Tours, where co-owner of Breaking Bread Journeys works running her decades-old family tour business. As it was Valentine’s Day, Christina and her co-workers had an unexpected gift of roses for each member of the group!

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at the Bulghourji Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more.

Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter and another visit to the Western Wall, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall (which our group was able to see and touch) weighs an estimated 570 tons. To put this weight into context, the heaviest stone in the Great Pyramid of Giza, found in the “King’s” chamber, weighed 80 tons.

Last but not least, we ended the night with a visit to Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk’s tattoo studio. The Razzouk family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

Day 6: St. Anne’s Church, Pools of Bethesda, Chefs for Peace, Western Wall, Tunnel Tour, Razzouk Tattoos

Continuing the Ecclesia Houston tour with Breaking Bread Journeys… after a morning of free time recovering from our epic road trip the day before, we started the day with a visit to the beautiful Church of St. Anne, built between 1131 and 1138 on top of the site believed to be the childhood home and perhaps the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church possesses mesmerizing acoustics, and this makes the church a pilgrimage site for soloists and choirs, of which we got to hear a few from around the world singing praises in various languages. We contributed our own song as well!

The church is located right beside the archaeological excavation of the Pools of Bethesda and its collonades mentioned in the 5th Chapter of John’s Gospel. Pastor Chris Seay read to us this Gospel account of the crippled man who had been waiting 38 years to be healed in the pool which was known at the time to have healing powers (“a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool. Whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease”). Chris mentioned how we have trouble waiting 38 days, much less 38 years.

And I thought about how this crippled man had kept his faith all those years, believing that he could be healed if only he could get in the pool at the right time. And the passage indicates that Jesus knew of this man’s longsuffering spirit in waiting for so many years. I think perhaps that’s why he chose to heal him, to underscore how great this humble man’s faith was. Look at the results of his faith: a visit from the son of God himself, and he was instantly healed. May we all have even half the faith and patience of this man.

A definite highlight of our week was meeting up with Chefs for Peace, a non-profit, non-political organization founded in Jerusalem in 2001 by a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim chefs committed to exploring cultural identity, diversity, and peaceful coexistence through food. Chefs for Peace realizes food— its preparation, sharing, and enjoyment— is a powerful means of creating a bond with others and revealing that which is valued by all three faiths: food, family, and friends.

We met the chefs at the Damascus Gate on Thursday along with the founder of Chefs for Peace, the Armenian, Jerusalem-born chef Kevork Alemian. They then took us on a tour of the old city to buy the ingredients they would be using to prepare our dinner!

After shopping for some fresh Tahini in the Muslim Quarter along with a demonstration of how it is made, the chefs took us for lunch at a restaurant known for their falafel and hummus, Abu Shukri, which is located by Stations of the Cross 5. They explained to us the different styles of making hummus and how to eat the various appetizers served.

After a visit to the spice market, we then made our way to the hidden gem of Zalatimo’s Sweets. In a small room with just an oven, a refrigerator, and a few tables, Mr. Zalatimo and his relatives serve up the greatest pastry that the Old City has to offer, an Arab treat known as a mutabak (from the Arabic for “folded”). The flaky phyllo dough type creation is the only food served at Zalatimo’s, and ordering is simple: “with nuts” or “with cheese.” The shop also includes another treasure: one of the original entrances to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is now sealed off and no longer used.

Afterward we visited a famous photography print shop, known as Elia’s Photo Service, the pictures this Armenian family sell are part of a collection of about 3,000 photographs taken by their late father Elia Kahvedjian, a refugee of the Armenian genocide and one of the greatest photographers in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. The pictures, which had been hidden away since 1947, were rediscovered by the family 30 years ago and serve to help researchers and aficionados of Jerusalem probe its past. For a fascinating article on the importance of the photographs, you can read here. Several of us bought his book, Jerusalem Through My Father’s Eyes, which is a rare and beautiful collector’s item.

After we literally ate our way through the Old City, the chefs invited us to learn how to cook with them at the Bulghourji Restaurant in the Armenian Quarter, and then we ate some more.

Next, after a walk through the Jewish Quarter and a visit to the Western Wall, our tour with Breaking Bread Journeys took us through the tunnels revealing archaeological finds deep underneath the Old City. The Tunnel Tour is in such high demand that you must book it two months in advance. We learned that much of the city was raised from a small valley centuries ago by arched supports, and it is under these arches that many of the tunnels were excavated. We saw the ancient gates to Solomon’s Temple, and learned that one stone of the temple’s western retaining wall weighs an estimated 570 tons.

Last but not least, we ended the night with a visit from Palestinian Christian Wassim Razzouk, whose family has been in the tattoo business in the Old City for over 700 years. It has been a longstanding practice for Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem to get the Jerusalem Cross tattooed as a commemoration of their pilgrimage. Several of the members in our group did just that. To learn more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village

Continuing on Day 2 of Ecclesia Houston‘s Holy Land pilgrimage with Breaking Bread Journeys, we started our tour by making our way from Netanya to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millennia-old Jacob’s Well. Next, we made our way into Nablus city to visit an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap. We then toured more of the old city, visiting several street food vendors and a candy factory. Next, we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim and enjoyed a scenic overlook with stunning views of Nablus below. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its ancient history in the region. Such an amazing day. I am always touched by how welcoming the people of Nablus are. There’s a certain sense of tranquility over the city.

Rural Uganda: Bugadde, Mayuge District

A day (and life) in photos. There was an essence of life present in their expressions. A sort of oneness with the earth and each other. A grandmother gathered her grandchildren and asked me to take their portrait. (We want to remember our togetherness). A family was grieving the loss of a loved one yet invited me to sit with them. (We find comfort in the simple presence of others during times of loss). A man told me how he had lived in the same thatched hut home for 29 years. (We all want to feel grounded). A woman was eager to tell me of the twins she had just given birth to. (New life brings the joy of hope and a belief that life will be better for them). Both cooks and kids smiled as over 200 were fed for a back to school celebration and prayer time on the Peace Gospel rural campus. (Provision brings joy in the hearts of the grateful).

Day 2: Jacob’s Well, Nablus Old City, Samaritan Village

We started our tour by making our way from Tel Aviv to Nablus in the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories. Our first stop was to the Greek Orthodox Church that sits atop the two-millenia-old Jacob’s Well. Next, we made our way into Nablus city to visit an olive oil soap factory that’s been making hand-cut soap for 180 years. It has made Nablus famous throughout the middle east for its soap. Next, we arrived at an event prepared by Slow Food Nablus, the culinary school for The House of Dignity which is an empowerment and education program for Palestinian women. The women of this community are incredibly joyful and were so happy to serve us. Our meal was an unbelievable feast we will not soon forget. Next up, we visited a Samaritan museum on Mt. Gerizim. This Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the Samaritan faith and its deep history in the region. Such an amazing day. I am always touched by how welcoming the people of Nablus are. There’s a certain sense of tranquility over the city.