Kicking off another Holy Land tour with Ecclesia Houston and Breaking Bread Journeys, today we took a day of rest to adjust to jet lag but we managed to get out and see Tel Aviv and Jaffa. More to follow!
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!
On a recent trip overseas I was able to stop over in Italy on my way home. I had the incredible blessing of returning to what is perhaps my favorite city on earth, Venice. The scenes of this enchanting city of water provide a limitless potential for photography, with an abundance of light, atmosphere, and water as the backdrop for waterborne vessels, classic architecture, weathered doors, and untold mysteries waiting to be discovered around every corner. These are a few of my favorite photos from the visit.
Continuing my tour with Ecclesia Houston… Today we woke up at the crack of dawn to begin our journey back to Managua to visit a Compassion International program. There we met 20 children that members of our group sponsor for education and nutrition support through Compassion. It was a very moving experience that neither the sponsors nor the children will soon forget. Compassion staff had several activities planned for the group, and all involved had a great time. There are over 46,000 children sponsored by Compassion donors in Nicaragua alone. It’s an absolutely impressive operation, making an exponential difference in the lives of an entire generation.
Then we made our way back to the coastal village we’re basing out of just in time for a spectacular sunset. Pastor Chris Seay led us in prayer before our evening meal. This group of 60 has already begun to bond and all are having a great time getting to know each other and the local culture.
These trips are always very challenging for me as a photographer because of the vast amount of subject matter, shooting hundreds of images, coupled with having to narrow them down and speed edit on a daily basis. Learning to let go and just release these as they are. Soooo hard! But I love it!
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I’m traveling with a group from Ecclesia Houston (“Houston’s Holistic Missional Christian Community”) here to tour Nicaragua. We will see some of the villages that have been transformed by safe water wells and hand sanitation projects Ecclesia has installed in rural villages in this Pacific coastal area of the country through a group we have partnered with called Living Water International. Today was a long day of travel by air and road. It’s quite hot and humid here but the pools at the homes where we are staying have already helped to cool us off. Today was arrival day so there wasn’t much on the agenda other than a meet and greet and dinner, followed by a teaching shared by Pastor Chris around the beachside campfire. I managed to get a few long-exposure shots of the beach and star-filled sky after sunset. Much more tomorrow!
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Our first official day on the tour itinerary was a very full one. After leaving Tel Aviv-Yafo, we drove to Nablus in the Palestinian Territories. We started out the day with a visit to the Greek Orthodox Church that houses the biblical site of Jacob’s Well. Since we’re traveling with the CEO of Living Water International and several of the organization’s board members, it was an especially meaningful visit to such an historic well.
We then made our way through the old city of Nablus, toured the spice markets and were treated to various samples of delicious street foods and sweets. At every turn in Nablus there was an initial confusion triggered by our presence, yet once they realized we were tourists (very rare for Nablus), we were greeted with smiles and enthusiastic welcomes by very warm people.
Then we met up with a Sufi imam who invited us to tour his mosque. You’ll remember that part of Breaking Bread Journeys’ purpose is to build bridges of peace through dialog with real people on both sides of the issue of the Palestinian/Israeli tensions. From what I understood today, the local Sufis are moderates who are against the use of violence and want to see two states living peaceably side by side.
Next we made our way to an Islamic women’s empowerment cooperative known as the “House of Dignity” which aims to show the community how women can make a positive impact in the local society. Women in the program learn to make traditional meals from scratch using only locally sourced ingredients. This style of cooking is known as “slow food.” They are also working to improve conditions for the children of the community— we were saddened to learn that there are no playgrounds in the old city of Nablus. The organization is currently working on converting an old garage space into a garden and playground for neighborhood children. The Sufi imam from our mosque tour also joined us and we discussed several viewpoints involving the challenges of his community at large. We were immensely blessed to be the recipients of their hospitality— we were served a delicious home-cooked meal of traditional Palestinian cuisine, prepared lovingly by the women of the organization.
Next we visited The Samaritan Museum where were heard about this distinct religion from a Samaritan priest. We learned that the Samaritans have lived in the holy land for over 3,000 years consecutively. At their peak, there were more 3 million Samaritans, yet today there are only 875, mostly living on Mount Gerizim. To underscore the diversity of this region, a Muslim woman introduced us to the museum, teaching a Christian tour group about the Samaritan religion.
After this we visited a nearby Israeli settlement which is home to the award-winning Har Bracha Winery. The owner of the winery allowed us to sample many of his best wines and shared with us some of his vision behind his business as we snacked on fresh olives and apples. The settlements are at the crux of the deepest tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet the Israelis of these settlements firmly believe they have a right to be there, and their beliefs are fueled by deep-seated religious convictions of which he briefly shared a few of his. Again, remember that the tour is designed to help build bridges through dialog and sharing of meals with real people from both sides of the issue. Pastor Chris shared with us on the bus, “We love Palestinians, we love Israelis, we love Samaritans and we love peace.”
Bonus section: for those who share my obsession with doors, here are some of the fascinating doors of Nablus.
I’m here with a group from Ecclesia Houston led by Pastor Chris Seay and Breaking Bread Journeys on a not-your-average tour of the holy land. Breaking Bread Journeys is the first joint Palestinian-Israeli tour company; they aim to build bridges by “breaking bread.” As you follow along, I’ll take you with us to many places the average tourists do not visit, such as Nablus in the West Bank. But not to worry, we’ll be visiting some of the usual spots as well. However, thanks to Breaking Bread’s desire to take their groups on a “local’s view” of the holy land, even the most usual spots will be revealed in unique fashion. And of course, as their name implies, much our of touring is woven around the dining table as we taste various cuisines and hear from the locals who prepare the meals.
Today the group arrived a bit tattered from the transatlantic journey, but they were back in full force in no time. Before we officially gathered for our first event, I had the chance to walk down to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and grab a few shots before the weather turned quite stormy.
We started the evening with a cocktail reception at which we heard from the founders of Breaking Bread Journeys, Elisa and Christina.
We then made our way to Cafe Jessica for dinner, the food was delicious and the service was fantastic. Chris shared with the group a little about what to expect in the days ahead.
After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and Chris presented us with special gifts he encouraged us to wear as a mark of our pilgrimage to the holy land. He explained that it’s a tradition which has been practiced for centuries by pilgrims making their way to this special land.