Day 1: Netanya Travel Recovery Day, Welcome Reception

I’m here in the holy land to document another group from Ecclesia Houston embarking on a Breaking Bread Journeys tour. 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.

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 and Lisa Moed, co-owners of our tour company, Breaking Bread Journeys. Pastor Chris shared with us why the holy land is such a meaningful destination for him and shared these moving quotes with us:

“To go on pilgrimage is not simply to visit a place to admire its treasures of nature, art or history. To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendor and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe. Above all, Christians go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to the places associated with the Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection.” — Pope Benedict XVI

“There never was a pilgrim who did not come back to his village with one less prejudice and one more idea.” — 19th-century French writer François-René Chateaubriand

After the reception, we enjoyed a group dinner at an outdoor cafe near the hotel. The views of the Meditteranean Sea from Netanya are breathtaking; we enjoyed walks on the beach, explored more of the town. The weather has been absolutely perfect. The official tour kicks off tomorrow bright and early.

Day 5, Part 1: Sea of Galilee

We had a very long day with many stops so I’m breaking Day 5 into different parts. Here are some images of our sunrise sail on the Sea of Galilee. Around 6am we embarked upon a boating excursion on the Sea of Galilee with our guide David of Galilee Sailing. 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. We experienced first hand how quickly the weather can change, with a rainshower appearing suddenly on our excursion.

I stopped to ponder the events accounted in Matthew’s Gospel describing Peter’s struggle as our guide David explained to us how bad the storms can get on the sea, with waves recorded as high as 12 feet. I love the metaphor that a boat, a vessel, provides us with, in parallel to the journey of life. The storms of life will come, there is no question about that. The question is what is my anchor, what is my constant when I’m feeling lost and tossed about when I’m feeling that everything around me is unstable? For me, it’s the grip of Jesus much like Peter felt when he began to sink on the water in his attempt to walk in faith.

We will all find seasons in life when we feel we’re sinking. We can either reach up with an open hand or clench our fist in bitterness and just keep sinking.

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

Today we made our way to Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus. We made a visit to one of my favorite churches in the world, the Church of Mary’s Well, a Greek Orthodox Church. We happened to discover that today was Christmas Day on the Orthodox Calendar! So our tour of the church was very limited due to the fact they were holding a Christmas Day mass. 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.

We then took a short hike 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.

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 a 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 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.