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.
August 3, 2015. Today we visited 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 chapels of the Franciscan Wedding Church at Cana.
Later we drove through Nazareth, Jesus’ childhood home, to visit nearby Mount Precipice. 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. 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.
First, some images from The Franciscan Wedding Church in Cana…
Next we made our way to Nazareth where we visited the peak of 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 views were quite stunning. We could see Mt. Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration) in the distance.
By then, after walking in record-breaking heat, 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.
Finally we wound up back at our hotel in Tiberias on Galilee, where we ventured out for a night stroll in the market. Even at the late hour it was still hot and we were exhausted, and the whole day was a blur…
August 2, 2015. On our first official tour stop we made our way past the security checkpoint into the West Bank to visit Nablus. It is very rare for tourists to come to this area. We were certainly a spectacle, but were received with warm welcomes by all we encountered.
Our first visit was to Jacob’s Well at The Greek Orthodox St. Photini Church. How fitting that our first site is recognized as a significant location for Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions.
We were able to draw from the actual well that Jacob dug by hand to a depth of 41 meters (135 ft). Pastor Chris Seay shared with us from the passage of John’s Gospel, Chapter 4 about the conversation of the Samaritan woman with Jesus.
Next we visited a soap factory in Nablus run by Palestinians. The soap is made purely from olive oil and is cut by hand from large sheets poured onto the floor of the factory.
Our tour of Nablus then took us through the market where were able to visit many shop owners who were kind enough to let us sample their fresh sweets, breads and snacks. Everyone was so friendly and embracing.
Next we visited a Palestinian women’s volunteer center where women are trained in cooking and catering, and enjoyed a very generous, authentic Palestinian meal that was a true feast. We were able to hear from two local leaders their perspective on the region’s tensions.
Some of my new friends from the group, a family traveling together…
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. This is Chris with his daughter who is traveling with us, greeting the Samaritan priest…
Next we were able to hear a Jewish perspective, from a winery owner on Mt. Gerizim who allowed us to sample his award-winning wines…
And finally I was able to photograph a horse! One of my favorite animals…
Then we drove on to Galilee where we’re basing out of for three nights… managed to a get a few shots along the way. The scenery is breathtaking.