Day 3, Part 1: Cana, Nazareth, Mary’s Well, Mt. Precipice

Continuing our tour with Ecclesia Houston led by Breaking Bread Journeys, I am dividing Day 3 into 2 parts as I ended up taking quite a few photos today.

We started our day in Cana, where, according to John’s Gospel 2:1-11, Jesus performed his first miracle by turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. The married couples of our group took the opportunity to renew their wedding vows in a very moving group ceremony led by Pastor Chris Seay in one of the gardens of the Franciscan Wedding Church at Cana. I find it beautiful that Jesus’ first miracle was at performed at the celebration of a marriage.

After Cana, we made our way to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We enjoyed one of my favorite churches in the world, the The Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. I enjoy this church because of its simplicity contrasted with a subtle intricacy in the woodwork and muted tones of the murals and lamps. This humble church sits atop a natural spring which would have most likely been the spot from which the ancient community well of Nazareth was sourced.

The waters of the spring issue from a mountain known as Jabal as-Sikh and flow through an underground channel in the rock for 17 meters (56 ft) before emerging in the church. As recently as the 20th century, they continued on underground from there for another 130 meters to emerge in the public fountain known as Mary’s Well. It is probable that Mary drew water from this well for the holy family. The murals and iconography in the church are beautifully done, depicting various stories from the Bible along with icons of various Biblical figures.

We then took a short hike to Mt. Precipice for some beautiful panoramic views over the Jezreel Valley. It is believed by many to be the site of the Rejection of Jesus described in Luke 4:14-30. In this passage, Jesus proclaims himself as the one described in Isaiah, saying,

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The people of Nazareth, not accepting Jesus as Messiah tried to push him from the mountain, but “he passed through the midst of them and went away.” The mount is situated on the southern edge of the city and provides beautiful views of the valley below and Mt. Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration) seen as an isolated peak to the east.

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

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 three-millennia-old Jacob’s Well. Christianity has a longstanding connection with the site of the well, with various churches being constructed on the site since 384 AD. We tried to guess the depth of the well today, which prompted me to research the question. I found that based on a measurement made in 1935, the total depth of the well is 41 meters (135 ft).

Pastor Chris read to us from John’s Gospel 4:1-26, which describes the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman who drew water for Jesus from this very well. In the passage Jesus tells the Samaritan woman of the living water that quenches our spiritual thirst forever. Jesus breaks accepted social barriers of the time by associating as a Jew with a Samaritan, and by associating publicly with a woman.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Drink this water, and your thirst is quenched only for a moment. You must return to this well again and again. I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again.”

We experienced the rare blessing to drink water from the same well mentioned in this Gospel passage – to quench our physical thirst – while on the very same site were reminded of that eternal spiritual wellspring deposited within us!

Next, we made our way into the old city of Nablus 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.

It never ceases to amaze me how extremely friendly the people of Nablus are to us foreigners. So often we heard, “Where are you from?” with us replying, “America” and them then saying, “Welcome, welcome.” We learned to say “salaam alaikum” which means “peace be with you” and “shukran” which means “thank you.” These two phrases carried us far with these kind people, as you could tell they were grateful for us visiting their city, and we were likewise humbled by their hospitality.

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. At the lunch we were joined by a local Sufi Imam who shared with us his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian tensions, what life is like in Nablus, and how he is working to try to influence youth to seek peaceful resolution to the tensions vs. violence or military struggle. He cited that over the past few decades it has become clear to him that military struggle creates only loss in their pursuit to see the freedoms they desire.

Part of the aim of this unique tour is to demonstrate the love of Jesus to all peoples of this diverse land as we enter in to their homes and neighborhoods to break bread and listen. I believe that part of loving like Jesus loves is to break the accepted social barriers as he did with the Samaritan woman, to go across those “borders” and listen with respect to those who are not like us. We will do that again later in the week as we tour Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Museum, and as we enter a Jewish home to break bread in a traditional Shabbat dinner. And we did it today by listening to our new friends in Nablus. In between these two book-end experiences, we will walk where Jesus walked and further consider his radical ways of love, with no better backdrop than to be among those who often feel hated and misunderstood.

Next we visited the Samaritan Museum on Mt. Gerizim and enjoyed a scenic overlook with stunning views of Nablus below. The Samaritan Priest explained to us much about the tiny minority Samaritan faith (essentially, an obscure sect of Judaism, although they would not describe it that way) and its ancient history in the region. We were reminded again of the account of the Samaritan woman, and of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, when asked by the scholar who Jesus means by “your neighbor”, tells a story of a man attacked by robbers and left for dead. An apparently pious priest and a Levite pass by the wounded man, but a Samaritan stops to help the man recover. Jesus then asks, “Which of these three proved himself a neighbor to the man who had been mugged by the robbers?” The sholar answers, “The one who showed mercy to him.” And Jesus said simply, “Go and do likewise.”

I felt this day that Jesus was calling us to “go and do likewise” to show mercy in the simplest of ways, by showing up, accepting hospitality, and blessing strangers with the gift of listening. It’s a theme I’ve seen on these tours, and I think our presence represents Jesus well, while trying our best to stay ubiased and avoid politics, to diffuse the tension of the region with the love deposited within us, to be ambassadors of God’s peace in the most unlikely ways. I feel that this is part of the adventure God calls us to.

I hope you’ll enjoy my photos from the day, and hope they offer a representation of some facets of what we saw and experienced today. Thanks for following along!

Day 3: Mount Precipice, Nazareth, Mary’s Well, Tulip Winery

Today we made our way to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We took a short hike up to Mt. Precipice for some beautiful panoramic views. It is believed by many to be the site of the Rejection of Jesus described in Luke 4:29-30 – The people of Nazareth, not accepting Jesus as Messiah tried to push him from the mountain, but “he passed through the midst of them and went away.” The mount is situated on the southern edge of the city and provides beautiful views of the valley below and Mt. Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration) seen as an isolated peak to the east. The beautiful views provided for some great shots of the group.

This is my 9th group to shoot for and I have been to the holy land many times, but today was one of those days where it really hit me — Jesus really walked here — and so I took some time and walked back down the mountain a different way than the group to pray and really commune with his presence which seemed palpable in those moments.

We then made a visit to one of my favorite churches in the world, the Church of Mary’s Well, a Greek Orthodox Church. It is believed that this humble church sits atop a natural spring which would have most likely been the spot from which the ancient community well of Nazareth was sourced. So it is probable that Mary drew water from this well for the holy family. The murals and iconography in the church are beautifully done and very inspiring.

After that, we were ready for lunch and a wine tasting at Tulip Winery (יקב טוליפ). I love the cause behind Tulip, which employs 35 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name means “Village of Hope.”

There they say “Labels are for wine bottles, not for people.” They were founded with the purpose of providing special needs adults with employment and the support of community on the former kibbutz where they’re located. Started as a tiny boutique winery in 2003, now they are shipping over 300,000 bottles of wine annually and have won various awards locally and internationally. I have really grown to love this place.

Day 5, Part 3: Mount of Temptation, Qumran Caves, Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Church of the Holy Sepulchre

This is my 8th holy land tour group to shoot for, and our itinerary generally follows a similar path. I will say that this day of the itinerary is usually the most intense, as we cover so much ground in one day. As a result, it’s the day that provides the most photo opportunities. It’s like packing three days into one (thus 3 posts to cover this one day). Probably the hardest part of publishing this blog is narrowing down the photo choices! From this day alone I’m publishing over 200 photos.

My devotional thought for Day 5 focused on the transitory nature of time and life. By the time we reached Jerusalem, many of us remarked something to the effect of, “Wait, we were just on the Sea of Galilee this morning?” I have often reflected on the power of a photograph to freeze time and capture a fleeting moment, and for this single moment, at least a thousand words could be written to describe what was felt and experienced within that frame. Then you stop to think of all the countless trillions of images like this which are accessible to God at any given time, and that he knows each one, feels each one, and has books written in his heart for each of us, lovingly journaling all that we have seen, felt, celebrated, and suffered. God sees all and knows all. Just a few pages ago, Jesus was being baptized by John, and in just a few page-turns in our story, we will be in the glory of heaven with God. “You see, the short-lived pains of this life are creating for us an eternal glory that does not compare to anything we know here. So we do not set our sights on the things we can see with our eyes. All of that is fleeting; it will eventually fade away. Instead, we focus on the things we cannot see, which live on and on.” (Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 4:17-18).

As it is recorded in John’s gospel, Jesus assures us, “My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. You know where I am going and how to get there.” (John 14:2-4). This idea of pilgrimage extends not only to a visit of the holy land but of our entire lives. We are on a journey, and God, in his ultimate love for us, has shown us the way to live it and promises that he prepares a final home for us at the end of this long journey. What is beautiful is that, while the journey is often full of sorrows and intensity, he has given us fellow sojourners to share the burdens along the way. We have experienced that on this journey here in the holy land. Just a few days ago we were a group of strangers. Now, already, especially after a day like today, we are already starting to feel like family. We have access to so much in the Body of Christ if we only choose to open our arms and receive the love and life-giving support that is available. While my life has had its share of heartbreaking moments and plenty of loss, I am grateful for all the ways I have found strength through God’s promises and all of my brothers and sisters whom God has gathered around me on this pilgrimage; both this week and in the grander pilgrimage of life.

To start out this post, we take a trip up to the of the Monastery on the Mount of Temptation for incredible views of the areas around Jericho. After being baptized by John the Baptist, Jesus fasted for forty days and nights in the Judaean Desert, through which we journeyed today. The Gospels tell us that during this time, Satan appeared to Jesus and tried to tempt him. It is thought that he endured these temptations at this location.

From there we made our way to the Qumran Caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947. We learned that The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea between the years 1947 and 1956. The area is 13 miles east of Jerusalem and is 1300 feet below sea level. They have been called the greatest manuscript discovery of modern times. There are now identified among the scrolls, 19 copies of the Book of Isaiah, 25 copies of Deuteronomy and 30 copies of the Psalms. The Isaiah Scroll, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. In fact, the scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found.

We then headed to the Dead Sea where members of our group were able to experience the extremely buoyant properties of the highly salinated water. We learned from our tour guide Bassam that most seawater contains 5-7% salt, but that the Dead Sea contains approximately 27-33% salt.

We then journeyed west through the mountains that divide the dessert from the coastal plain and reached Jerusalem in just 30 minutes. Pastor Chris guided the group into the holy city through the Damascus Gate. We arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just in time to see the famous event many come to watch each evening: the locking of the church doors. The key is held by a Muslim family in a symbolic gesture of interfaith cooperation. There’s an interesting article about the key you can read here.

Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Mt. Precipice, Mary’s Well, Tulip Winery

Today we started our tour in Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We took a short hike to Mt. Precipice. It is believed by many to be the site of the Rejection of Jesus described in Luke 4:29-30 – The people of Nazareth, not accepting Jesus as Messiah tried to push him from the mountain, but “he passed through the midst of them and went away.” The mount is situated on the southern edge of the city and provides beautiful views of the valley below and Mt. Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration) seen as an isolated peak to the east.

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Next we visited Mary’s Well, which is believed to be located at the site where Christians hold that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear the Son of God, an event known as the Annunciation.

Found just below the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in modern-day Nazareth, the well was positioned over an underground spring that served for centuries as a local watering hole for the Arab villagers. The actual well-spring is difficult to see down a dark passage, but I did manage to get some shots of the beautiful interior of the Greek Orthodox church; Greek iconography is one of my favorite art forms.

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For lunch we spent the afternoon hearing the beautiful story of Tulip Winery. The Israeli winery employs special needs adults who make their home in the village of Kfar Tikvah where the winery is located, in the Haifa District. We met some of these wonderful people whose lives have been transformed through the healing of having a job they love, where they are appreciated and valued. We were treated to a delicious lunch and an unforgettable wine tasting. We were blessed by our host Lital who you could tell was very passionate about the cause behind Tulip, which employs 35 special needs adults who live in the village where the winery is located, a former kibbutz. The village’s name appropriately means “Village of Hope.”

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Lastly, we came back to our hotel where we enjoyed a dinner with wine pairings, hosted by the Scots Hotel’s resident winemaker, Denis. They have a beautiful wine cellar…

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