Archive for July, 2009

We packed into the last thirty-six hours, what some take a week to see – Explore Megiddo, Awe in Mt. Carmel, See Med Sea in Haifa, Dine on Fish and Walk in Tiberias, Worship at Mt of Beatitudes, Meditate in Tabgha, Reflect on Peter’s Restoration spot, Tour Old Capernaum, Cruise Sea of Galilee, Baptize in the Jordan, Visit Nazareth. Bookend those hours with a final morning of Bible Camp on Monday and an evening of Worship with the Baptist church in Ramla and  it’s been a blur of a journey.

So, it is now 1:00 a.m. Wednesday here. We leave in a couple of hours for the airport and will fly home for the next 19 hours. It has been great here. Without a doubt, our team from First Baptist Church of Palestine has done a great job representing Christ and our church. Already, they are asking us about next year. Until then we are headed home and will report some this Sunday AM, a little more in depth this Sunday evening, and a bit more on the next Sunday.

In closing, it has been more than a tour, a visit, or even a “mission trip” for our team. It has been a time to work alongside our brethren who are saved through Christ, and with us are headed home to Heaven.

Looking to Jesus…

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The past two days, our team has become more aware of the importance of water. This is a land where water is at a premium as the population has increased while the primary water sources (Sea of Galilee, Jordan) have, at best, remained the same.

Hiking the En Gedi and swimming in the Dead Sea in over 100 degrees made for thirsty folk. We would’ve paid almost anything for cool, clear water after our time in salty heat.

Here in Ramallah, the water has been off for three days, but came back on last night. It’s a usual occurance the Kakishs take in stride, but with a few extra houseguests the roof tank empties sooner, meaning dry faucets and dry mouths. (We’ve learned to brush teeth and wash hands with a tablespoonful of water.) Today (Monday) the water is back on, only a trickle, but we are so glad to have it.

I’m reminded that prophet Isaiah wrote: For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. (Isaiah  44: 3 NIV)

As I worshiped again yesterday in Ramallah, I felt as if I was among thirsty people. They knew their need for the presence of the Spirit of God and cried out in song together. During my sermon, I could sense they were being refreshed. When we are thirsty, we appreciate water and its source all the more.

Today, we finish our last morning of Bible Camp with a closing ceremony. Our team will reiterate some of the teachings, and share gifts with the children. Then, we head north to Galilee. We’ll tour for a day and a half, drinking in Nazareth, Capernaum, and Tiberius. On Wednesday, we fly home.

I hope I never drink water without appreciation again. And, I pray I help others drink from the well of the Spirit.

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The team had a break today (Friday, July 10). We don’t meet again for the Bible Camp at the Ramallah church until Monday. So, we  visited the Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem. I agreed with what I saw as the motivation of the Yad Vashem – remembering the past, so it isn’t repeated. At the conclusion of the tour I looked upon an occupied Palestinian city and prayed for that lesson to be learned.

Then we drove to Jericho, the oldest, lowest inhabited city on earth. It is over 1300 feet below sea level, making the drive from Ramallah to there an altitude drop akin to driving from Denver to Houston (but in one hour.) Jericho also claims to have been around for 10,000 years. Today, it could claim another record – it was burning hot . Like true Texans we fired up some grills and added a few more degrees in defiance of Global Warming.

One of the sites we saw was the Monastery of Temptation. (This isn’t on the usual tours.) Cut in to the side of the Mount of Temptation overlooking Jericho, this Orthodox site, claims it is the mountaintop where Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights before satan tempted Him. I can’t verify that claim, but the place does have an inspring view of the Jordan Valley and is near where Jesus was probably baptized by John the Baptist.

After a gondala ride and a steep climb we arrived at the door to the monastery and knocked. An old man let us in and an Orthodox Monk met us. He was kind, but I felt as if hosting tours wasn’t his favorite duty. He began by telling us all we couldn’t do (take pictures, wear caps, etc.). Our ladies’ ankles were showing in their capri pants (gasp) and he griped about that.  None of this was that big a deal, but then he looked at me and asked what I had in my hand. I answered, “my Bible”. (I had been reading to myself the passage on Jesus’ temptation). The monk said, “Put it away, it is not allowed here. Only the Orthodox can pray here.”  Well, if I hadn’t been with a group, that monk and I would’ve had an interesting conversation, so I could only sigh the ramifications of his command, and with slight protest put the pocket-sized Bible in my backpack, thinking, He might make me put the Bible away, but there was no way he could tell me when and where I could pray.

The monk told us that the building we where in was only 110 years old (though it contained much older items). One new item was the iconocast in the chapel. The large wooden structure which holds the icons had beeen built to replace the one eaten by termites (the irony wasn’t lost on me.) I walked over to an open book supposing it to be a Bible. Thanks to seminary, I can read Greek and could tell it was a book of prayers. I looked around and couldn’t find what appeared to be a Bible anywhere. (At least they were consistent on the Bible ban.)

After hurrying us through the rest of the structure our group departed through the door, except I engaged the monk in conversation. I learned he was Canadian. He learned I was a Baptist pastor. He seemed well versed in Orthodox history, only his perception of its value was markedly different from mine. I listened respectfully, praying all the while, as he explained how wrong he believed we are – how God doesn’t need lots of followers, how the church’s tradition should be upheld, how Catholics, Separatists, Reformers, Baptists “broke away” from the true faith, and so on. When he finally quit trying too hard to prove himself right, I thanked him for sharing his perspective and said, “God bless you.” Even this he seemed reluctant to receive from one he deemed apostate. 

I made my way out the gate, joined my team of Jesus-followers and walked into the real world where temptation can’t be escaped, but the Savior, Jesus Christ as overcome it.  It is a world where museums of oppression appear to justify lesser acts of oppression. A world where people look for ways to significantly divide us over insignificant differences.

I say it is a world where we don’t have it all figured out, but we believe Jesus is for everybody who wants to be saved. It is a world where the Bible can be read and prayers can be said by all.

One can choose to shut oneself up in a monastery or a nation and fail to see that the old ways are losing. The New has come.

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Bright Spot

I leave a light on in my house when I know I’ll be coming back home at night. It just feels better not to return to a dark house. The church in Ramallah reminds me of the light that is left on in the house.

Many people don’t know that until 1967, Ramallah was a predominantly Christian city. Since the occcupation of the West Bank, the number of believers in Jesus has decreased. Though it has dimmed a bit, the light of faith in this city is still on. Thanks to the work of this church it is even getting brighter.

The work of the Bible Camp was very successful. Our team has worked long, hard days. They rose early, worked long, slept little, accomplished much.  Each group (Bible Study, Recreation, and Crafts) found ways to engage the children and present the gospel. One measure of the good work were the six children that came to the church for the first time tonight because of Bible Camp.

Another bright spot I saw tonight was the large number of young people at the worship tonight. It was a vibrant time with joyous singing and (slightly biased) good preaching. After it was over, I visited with some of the friends I’ve made on previous visits here. I also met some new people. One young man shared with me that he a rather new Christian  and was visiting from Canada. Ramallah was his family’s home and was here seeing his sisters. He said he had asked around town for a church and was directed to the Ramallah Local Church. He came tonight and loved it. It says something good about the light shining from this church that he could find it in this town. He said he would be back Sunday, so I’ll see him again.

Good Bible Camp. Vibrant Worship. People drawn to the church. It is worth helping this light shine.

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Today (July 8) we had our third day of Bible Camp in Ramallah. It’s hard work teaching Bible stories and songs, playings games, and leading craft time through translators, but the team from FBC Palestine is great. They’ve been getting up early and staying up late, working like a fine machine. Of course the Ramallah Local Church volunteers are what makes our hard work go so smoothly. Dina who oversees the program and the young people who translate are what makes our preparation connect with the children. They are good enough to do this without us, so we feel like we’re stepping in alongside them to take something good to great.

Today’s teaching was about Zaccheaus. Since I lead the recreation time, I can only take it so deep, but the kids (especially the oldes group) understood well the core teaching: If you are a selfish, rotten person, you will wind up alone. Like Zacchaeus, when Jesus comes into your life, you will change for the good. (It is a simple, true lesson and good to use in the West Bank because Jericho is in the West Bank.)

This may be review, but Zacchaeus’ story is of a man who wanted to see the famous Jesus of Nazareth. His motivation isn’t stated in the Bible, but determination to see Jesus in spite of the crowd is revealed. Zach climbs a tree, sees Jesus, Jesus sees Zach, Zach feeds Jesus, Jesus fills Zach with a new life! The same Jesus can do this for you.

With Bible Camp done for Day 3, we did another afternoon trip into Jerusalem. The team visited the Garden Tomb where the docent reminded us that the site isn’t a church, because Jesus isn’t in the tomb, He is risen! It was a moving experience for all the team, even for me on my fifth visit to this beautiful garden. Next at the Garden of Gesthemane we saw olive trees that might have been here when Jesus walked through this place. Up at the top of Mt of Olives we saw the tombs cascading down the hillside toward Jerusalem. Then in fun fit of adventure, I drove through the narrow streets of the Armenian quarter of Jerusalem to the Western Wall. The amazing architecture inspired me. The belief that this is the place of God’s presence because the temple used to be here didn’t.

The contrast of this day (and this Holy Land) is that you can see lots of places where Jesus used to walk 2,000 years ago and where those of other faiths believe a temple housed God. But, if you are really watching, even climbing out on a limb to see over the crowd at these sites, you will see the Live Jesus there. I did and he changed my life!

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The “Little Fish” group after recreation

There are a lot of gates and doors here. The Israeli soldiers have their checkpoints. The Holy sites have their massive doors. Even the Ramallah church has a fence around its property. It isnt that I see a common purpose for all these gates. They all have their validity (or invalidity in the case of many of the checkpoints – even the soldiers don’t seem to take them too seriously) – you have to go through the gate/door to get where you are wanting to go.

We’ve been let in a gate here in Ramallah. Literally at the border and into the Ramalah church property. Figuratively we’ve been let into the hearts of the children. I noticed how much warmer they were around us today. Maybe on our first day of Bible Camp they were on guard. Today, they opened up more. The "Little Fish" group after recreationThe older children got into the lesson. The little children laughed and cuddled more. Especially the boys. They loved to play rough with Pat, Joe, and me (definitely earned the Aleve today.)  I think by Friday we’re all going to be very attached to one another.

Tonight some of our team travelled out of the West Bank to worship with the Baptist church in Ramla. This is the one that our congregation contributed toward a couple of years ago. That contribution helped them get a new door literally and figuratively. Two years ago, they moved into a facility on the main street of Ramla. With a lot of hard work, a run down flat became a beautiful place of worship. Last year I gave them a cross from our church. When I arrived tonight, I found they had placed it prominantly behind the pulpit. It was my blessing to preach to them once more. This congregation has a door of opportunity now in Ramla with their new visibility. They already have a base of young families and children, and are ready and willing to reach more. Perhaps some team could come and do a Bible Camp to help them reach out to more children.

Hearing the hinges squeak as the gate opens…

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Today we had our first day of “Bible Camp”. This is the main reason we came. It’s not that Ramallah Local Church needed us to put on a children’s outreach ministry (i.e. Vacation Bible School), they had already run just fine on their own for two weeks before we arrived. Certainly, we are making a huge difference and the FBC Palestine team is prepared. What is happening is what we came here for – children are being loved in Jesus’ name.

We have three teams of three persons each leading Bible Study/Song, Crafts, and Recreation. Today was the first day for our part and it went really, really well. We had over fifty energetic kids from kindergarten to 6th grade. Everyone worked hard from 8:30 until 1pm. (I believe they are all ready to begin again at 8:30 in the morning.)

The Ramallah church volunteers love these children and it shows. The older teenagers that worked with us and translated were gifted. I wish you could know the young man that helped Pat, Joe, and me with Recreation. Hanna (sp?) is a Junior in High School, first in his class, but has spiritual hunger and evangelistic gifts beyond his years. What moved me was his genuine grief that the Palestinian people were surrounded by so much evidence in the Holy Land of God’s work, yet they didn’t embrace the faith. (Here’s where I got convicted about how much we take for granted a church on every corner back home.)

We had a home-cooked meal at the church (some kind of rice and meat) and returned to the Kakish’s house about 2:30. After a brief rest, we went to Bethlehem for a quick visit to the Church of the Nativity. I drove again (this is another story). As it was late in the day, there were no tourists and we had the place to ourselves except for a few others. This structure is built over the site where, it is believed, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Down under the church is a little grotto that is a moving place to visit. Is it exactly where it happened? I can’t say with certainty, but that matters not. My belief that the incarnation happened is what matters. My Savior humbly became a child to complete a task no man could do.

While at the Church of the Nativity, a monk asked me if we wanted to go “upstairs”. That is where the entry to the Tomb of the Innocents is.  It is an excavated deep cistern/dried up well where it is believed the bodies of the children killed by Herod where thrown by the soldiers. Of course, I said, “yes.” The monk simply handed Kelle a key and pointed us to the steps. That meant we were actually going to get to go open the gate ourselves and go down into the tomb. We were very grateful and humbled by the experience. As I climbed the stone steps back up out of the tomb, I was deeply moved. So many children, so many grieving mothers. The scale of humankind’s cruelty and oppression has left terrible scars on our history. What made me sadder is that I am conducting a Bible Camp in a place where oppression still exists, and it is the children that suffer the most.

I hope our acts of love and the message of salvation move the hearts of these children.

Christ’s Child

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Yesterday I wrote that I didn’t expect a lot of memorable experiences. Let me be the first to say, “Whoops” on that. I knew what to expect as far as our schedule for Sunday, but God did more than I expected. (Isn’t that the way it always goes?)

Like a usual Sunday, I arose, prayed, ate, got ready, and went to church. Of course this is in Ramallah, but worshiping Jesus has similarities worldwide. We sang. We gathered an offering. We heard announcements. We prayed. I preached. Usual Sunday right? Nope. Unusual. Here’s how:

  • Singing – sounded like a thousand voices, but only fifty souls who understand their present grace and future hope. If we sang like that back home…
  • Offering – not a lot, but reminded me of the widow’s mite scene. These people could’ve done other needed things with the money, but they gave for the work of their church. This seemed more like home.
  • Announcements – a necessary burden in every church
  • Prayer – people with needs felt free to come forward. Pastor Kakish prayed over them.
  • Preaching – I preached, Kakish translated. Several responded that they would “enter in the narrow gate, and walk the path of righteousness.” Kakish and I were amazed at the way the Spirit moved. As a pastor, I relate. After you’ve been preaching to the same people a while, many get almost too used to hearing your message.

All told, great day in worship in Ramallah. Usually, the worship ends with lunch at home. Here, it was just getting ramped up.

We had the opportunity to take a quick trip to Jerusalem after morning church. (The preceding sentence isn’t one I usually type.) We would go see the Pool of Bethesda and walk the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Everyone seemed excited to go. Sound exciting? It gets better. Pastor Kakish had work to do, so since we had two vans and only one driver (Sharon Kakish), he asked me to drive the other van to Jerusalem. I got to drive from Ramallah to Jerusalem and back! Way cool fun for me. A real prayer trip for my passengers. Anyway, it made today’s journey far from usual for me. I had a blast driving in this traffic. Really!

Everyone (including me) had a moving moment or two in Jerusalem. Kelle said, “It’s so busy here, I can see why Mary and Joseph were worried about Jesus being lost and alone in this crowd.” Marty evoked a sentiment when he noticed the monk turn some ladies away from a shrine because they had on shorts. “They may have saved a long time for this trip, yet had their hopes crushed by a ‘gatekeeper,'” he said. I enjoyed listening to the way God moved each heart a different way. I’m so glad I’m not in a tradition-bound faith that dictates the moving of the Holy Spirit in hearts. I believe our people were so free to be open to God’s message to them today (all day). 

That makes me have unusually high expectations for tomorrow as Bible Camp begins.

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If you had told me just four years ago, that I would’ve been as familiar with the Holy Land as I am today, I would’nt have believed it. It wasn’t a dream or passion of mine. Nowhere in my experiences had I had a mentor who said, “you’ve got to go!” Of course, I’d always known of this place. There are the maps in the back of the Bible and the news stories every day. But, I hadn’t a desire to come and just tour a bunch of old sites and have some guide regurgitate his speech about “Jesus walked here…”

Things are different now.

Our church had the opportunity to host a missionary who grew up in Ramallah and for thirty years, has led a church there. I took the risk, had him come speak, and our congregation’s (and mine) heart changed. Quick recap: we’ve begun supporting prayerfully and personally this work (orphanage) in Ramallah. We also bring groups who visit and work to assist the church in their mission activities. I am here this week (July 6-10) to work in a Bible Camp (Vacation Bible School) with about 70 children from Ramallah.

In the midst of the work, we’ll have some breaks to tour and see the holy sites of Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Galilee. We will see “Where Jesus walked, taught, healed, and loved.” These will be memorable experiences for our team of nine (for all except me this is their first time here.)

What I’m expecting is that they, like me, will really enjoy and be touched by visiting the ancient ministry sites of Jesus and hearing the stories of how God worked in Old Testament times.  But, what’s really going to be amazing is when the realize they are in the Holy Land seeing where Jesus is walking, teaching, healing, and loving today.

Hope you see it too!

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