Day 8: Pre-dawn Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Holocaust Museum, Farewell Lunch

Our final day of Ecclesia Houston’s tour with Breaking Bread Journeys started before dawn at 5am. We made our way into the old city via the Damascus Gate to find nearly empty streets surrounding the Via Dolorosa. Only one or two eager shopkeepers were out opening their shops. As we journeyed through “The Way of Sorrows”, Pastor Chris led us in a solemn progression through what is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred.

At each Station of the Cross, Pastor Chris read us the corresponding scripture describing what happened at that station. As we had taken a sort of “vow” of silence while we followed the path, the words of Scripture rang a bit louder in void of any other voices at the early hour. We ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a little after sunrise.

Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

Next we arrived at the The World Holocaust Remembrance Center (Yad Vashem). It was my sixth visit and I still have not been able to fully process the deeply horrific and saddening events of the Jewish Holocaust as represented in this unfathomable museum. It is always a profoundly disturbing experience as we acknowledge one of history’s deepest wounds.

Overall this day of the tour is quite a heavy one spiritually and emotionally. I will close my last blog post of this tour with an equally simple summary of what I’m feeling. This scripture sums up the day quite well. We are besieged with many sorrows in the reality of our fallen world on this side of eternity (Via Dolorosa, Yad Vashem), but we have a hope in the resurrection (Garden Tomb, Spring, flowers that blossom from apparently dead seeds).

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
Mourning no more, crying no more, pain no more,
For the first things have gone away.
Revelation 21:4

To beautifully celebrate the official closing of our journey, Christina Samara, one of the founders of Breaking Bread Journeys, shared her farewell with us at lunch in East Jerusalem. We are grateful for the vision of this bold and wonderful tour company.

Not documented: Friday night we enjoyed the experience of a Shabbat dinner ceremony in a local Jewish home (thanks to a group called “Shabbat of a Lifetime”). We learned so much from our gracious hosts. They patiently answered our endless questions about their faith and traditions. Needless to say, the food they generously served us was out-of-this-world delicious.

And thus the bookends of our tour were incredibly fitting: Day 1 of our official itinerary we were served a beautiful and sumptuous meal prepared by Palestinian Muslims in Nablus, and for our final meal together, we were served an elaborate and festive meal by traditional Israeli Jews. It underscored how much we leave the holy land realizing there’s much more that we don’t understand about the deep tensions of this land than we thought we did when we arrived. We depart with a renewed burden to pray for all of God’s people who reside here; the vast majority of whom long for peace.

Netanya: Travel Recovery Day, Reception

This is day 2 with Ecclesia Houston on a Breaking Bread Journeys tour of the holy land. I won’t write much today as it was basically a free day with the group taking it easy to recover from travel and jet lag. We enjoyed a small reception for the entire group to meet each other where we also met Christina Samara, co-owner of Breaking Bread Journeys.

We then enjoyed a group dinner at an outdoor cafe nearby the hotel. The views of the Meditteranean Sea from Netanya are breathtaking; we enjoyed walks on the beach, explored more of the town (there are cats everywhere, so I had to include a token cat-portrait impression or two), and took in yet another gorgeous sunset. The weather has been absolutely perfect. The official tour kicks off tomorrow bright and early. Here are some photos from the day. I could not decide on my favorite sunset shots, so I’m just throwing all of them on here– hope you enjoy!

Netanya: Arrival day!

Hi, I’m here in the holy land to document another group from Ecclesia Houston embarking on a Breaking Bread Journeys tour. It’s really late and I’m still recovering from the 8-hour jet lag. But I wanted to try to get something up before I sleep to commemorate the arrival day for an amazing group of new friends who have all come together to discover the beauty, depth, history, and diversity of this magical land. Here are some images from this first day together in Netanya, Israel, a simple beachside town with many beautiful, serene scenes to welcome even the most travel-weary sojourner.

Mount Precipice, Tulip Winery, Cana

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. The beautiful views provided for some great shots of the group…

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After that we were ready for lunch and a wine tasting at Tulip Winery. 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 means “Village of Hope.” We were also able to meet the winery’s founder, Roy Itzchaki.

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From Tulip Winery we made our way to Cana, where, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine for a wedding celebration. Married couples from our group took the opportunity to renew their wedding vows in a very moving ceremony in one of the gardens of the Franciscan Wedding Church.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Via Dolorosa, Garden Tomb, Garden of Gethsemane, Holocaust Museum, Ein-Kerem, Razzouk Tattoos

On our final day of the tour, we started our morning early with a predawn visit to the old city to walk the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa. Pastor Chris Seay and Pastor Greg Holder led us through the scriptures that match the traditional Stations of the Cross, on “The Way of Sorrows” which ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa is traditionally believed to be the actual path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion, and the stations there, the actual places the events occurred.

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Next on our schedule was a tour of the Garden Tomb, a rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by many Christians to be the more historically accurate site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The site has some of the most beautiful gardens in Jerusalem, in my opinion. That’s why you’ll see me sharing several photos highlighting the garden in addition to the empty tomb itself. Pastor Chris led us in a very contemplative communion at the completion of the tour.

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After the tour of the Garden Tomb we took the bus up to a scenic overlook of the old city from the vantage point of the Mount of Olives. From there we made it to the base of the mount for a visit to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed with his disciples the night before his crucifixion. The olive trees in this garden are well over 2,000 years old.

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Next we arrived at the Holocaust History Museum which is always a profoundly moving experience, acknowledging one of history’s deepest wounds.

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Next we took a break in Ein-Kerem, “Jerusalem’s Ancient Village” … I managed to get a few context shots of the neighborhood where we had lunch.

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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 read more about the fascinating history of the Razzouk family business, you can read an article here.

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Ecclesia with Breaking Bread Journeys: Magdala, Sea of Galilee, Mount of Beatitudes

After breakfast we headed to an active archaeological site called Magdala, the site of at least two places in ancient Israel mentioned in the Jewish Talmud and possibly a location mentioned in the Christian New Testament. They have discovered an ancient Jewish Synagogue which would have been active during Jesus’ time. Pastor Chris told us is almost 100% certain that Jesus would have visited this Synagogue. A chapel is also located at the site with a beautiful view of the lake.

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We then embarked upon a boating excursion on the Sea of Galilee where our guide showed us how fishing was done in the time of Jesus. Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the account of Matthew’s Gospel describing Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s struggle with his faith to follow Jesus onto the water. The sunny but hazy conditions created for some interesting light for photography.

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We then made our way to lunch at the Villa Hart restaurant with its gorgeous overlook of The Sea of Galilee. The restaurant is situated above a small beach that has spring-fed pools at its shore. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery and were surprised to see schools of fish coming right up to the water’s edge.

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We then took a break back at our beautiful hotel, the Scots Hotel.

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Later we enjoyed an extravagant meal at the Auberge Shulamit.

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After dinner Pastor Chris led the group in an after-hours visit to the Mount of Beatitudes where he read us the entire Sermon on the Mount at the location it is traditionally believed to have been preached by Jesus. It was an unforgettable evening.

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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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