Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Few Highlights from Israel

After returning from a long trip overseas I always find it difficult to decide how and what to write about.  We learned and saw an incredible amount in Israel, but it's impossible to condense it all into a few paragraphs.  I really want to share the highlights from our trip, so I think the best way is to do a few separate installments to detail our trip.
On the Temple Mount (No contact between men and women allowed!)
The first thing most people ask us when we tell them we went to Israel was did we feel unsafe.  Honestly, we very nearly decided to cancel our trip altogether due to the political unrest in Israel, but then we realized that there will never really be a good time to visit this particular area.  There has been and will continue to be unrest till the end of time, so we figured now was as good a time as any to go.  And to answer the question, no, we didn't feel unsafe at all.  We went up near the border of Syria for a few days when we visited the Sea of Galilee, and there we heard what sounded like a military firing range, but other than that, we weren't worried about our safety.
The border between Israel and Syria
We arrived on the first night of Hanukah, and our hosts live right in the center of Jerusalem, where the giant menorah was lit each night.  Every evening a crowd gathered to dance and sing before the lighting ceremony, all of which we could watch from the balcony!  One way the Jews celebrate Hanukah is to eat oily foods such as donuts as a reminder of the oil that didn't run out for 8 days.  This was by far Patrick's favorite part of the holiday, and he celebrated it with gusto.  Luckily for Patrick he burns calories just eating donuts, so he didn't have to worry about gaining weight.  (Must be nice.)
Patrick was in donut heaven
View of Zion Square from our balcony
We had a bit of free time in the late afternoons when we had a chance to explore the city and do some shopping.  I loved walking through the brightly colored markets and seeing all the beautiful scarves and tapestries for sale.  It was easy to get lost in the maze of tiny market streets that weren't even wide enough for cars to drive through.

Our tour guide was South African as were all the other people in the group, so we learned a few phrases of Afrikaans along the way.  We made some wonderful new friends, and enjoyed getting to know them over the course of our two-week stay.  One couple brought their 7-month old son on the tour, so Patrick and I got in lots of parenting practice.  It was encouraging to see parents who were willing to travel with their child, since most people we talk to tell us to "Get in all our traveling before we have kids" as if our lives will come to a screeching halt as soon as we have children.
New friends and their amazing traveling baby!
Another great thing about Israel was the food!  Everywhere we went there were delicious things to try, and generally lots of it!  My favorite was the schnitzel laffa, which is a breaded chicken with veggies all wrapped up in a giant laffa (or soft bread).
 Enjoying some shwarma laffas.
Our time in Israel was so much more than just a sight seeing trip, and I would love to share more of what the Lord taught us during this time.  I think my God was showing me that there is so much more he wants to teach me, and I've just barely started to scratch the surface with what I already know.  There's much more to come!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Israel: A Life-Changing Trip

All my life I've wanted to go to Israel.  I've wanted to walk where Jesus walked and see the landscape that carved out so much of Biblical history.  I always thought that it would be an experience beyond description to be able to stand in the places where so many divine events occurred, and I think I was right.
The Western Wall and Temple Mount
Our two weeks in Israel was much more than just a sight-seeing tour, it was more of a Biblical study trip.  Our guide was a South African pastor/Hebrew scholar and Bible teacher.  He encouraged us to learn how to read the scriptures through the lens of the Hebrew culture and language.  Generally we read the Bible with our 21st century American viewpoint, and it's easy to misinterpret things.  Much of the things Jesus said that we find confusing today were spoken in Hebrew idioms that would have made perfect sense to his audience of the time.  The teachings we heard helped us better understand the context of the Bible and allowed us to see how obvious it was that God has been at work in the lives of his people since the beginning of time. 
Mt. of Olives
The theme for the two weeks for me was all about going deeper -- really digging into scripture and experiencing God on a whole new level.  I know this is what the Lord is calling me to do, and I'm really excited to see where he leads me and what he reveals to me as I study.  There is so much more to the Bible than just words on the page.  There is culture, context, and language that hold insights into what we read and how we can apply the word of God to our lives.  I trust that God wants to reveal himself to those who are willing to seek him.  He is findable for those who look!
Sea of Galilee 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

When in Rome...

 On our way to Israel Patrick, Mrs. Mom, and I spent three days in Rome.  Unfortunately, our luggage was lost along the way so we ended up spending three days wearing the same clothes.  That certainly didn't stop us from seeing as much of the city as possible though.

Our first day we checked out St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican, which were impressive to say the least.  Every nook and cranny contained some of the most beautiful artwork and detailed architecture I've ever seen.  In fact, one thing we noticed throughout Rome was that you could walk into a building that didn't look like much on the outside and it turned out to be absolutely incredible on the inside.  What was sad to me was that, despite the beauty in the buildings, there was very little true worshipping of God going on.  We observed a strong emphasis on all the saints and relics, but the idea of having a relationship with the Living God seemed to be lacking.

St. Peter's Basilica
Inside St. Peter's
Walking the narrow steps to the Cupola
Incredible view of Rome and the mountains beyond
One afternoon we visited the Colosseum, and I thought it was crazy that a very busy street leads right up to it.  In Rome there is this interesting juxtaposition of ancient and modern.  We would be walking down the street and look to our right and see a city block worth of ruins.  It was always a bit jarring, but very cool.  I can't imagine living in a city so rich with ancient history.
Inside view of the Colosseum
Our friend John had told us to check out the Church of St. Ignatius, and we found it by chance as we wandered the winding streets of the city.  There is an interesting statue tucked away in the back corner of this cathedral.  It's a statue of St. Ignatius (holding the Latin Bible) stepping on Martin Luther's neck, who is holding a copy of the German Bible.  It's a sad but true commentary on the power-weilding of the Roman Catholic church.  It's hard for me to believe how far removed from following Christ the early Catholics really were if they couldn't stand the thought of everyone having access to the scriptures.  We took a picture of Patrick holding his iPhone which has about 100 translations of the Bible on it.  I'm sure Ignatius is turning over in his grave.

We did lots more sight-seeing around town including checking out Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and the Borghese Museum.  Patrick and I are by no means art history buffs, and we found it rather difficult to appreciate all the awkward nude paintings and sculptures.  Instead we entertained ourselves by coming up with funny captions for some of the more-embarrassing exhibits.  Unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures in the museum, so you'll just have to use your imagination.   
Trevi Fountain
Spanish Steps
Inside the Pantheon
Rome at sunset
Thankfully we got our luggage the night before we left for Israel.  We took a celebratory photo of the three of us in the dreadful white t-shirts the airline provided for us.  By that point we were just glad to have all our stuff back and ready to be on our way to Jerusalem!  To be continued....
White shirts and a bed full of luggage

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Container for Zambia is on Its Way!

For the past few months my amazing mother-in-law has been collecting items to send on the container to Zambia to help Holly, the missionaries, the students in the orphan school, and people in the villages.  While I was in Zambia I got to help Holly organize a huge wish list of all the things they need.  Holly sent that list to well over 100 people, and the response has been incredible.  I have been astounded by the generosity of so many people who want to be on board with what God is doing in Zambia.  During the whole collecting process Mom then was in charge of packing up all the items into 220 boxes!
Moving boxes out of our garage
Yesterday morning we loaded up a rented moving truck to haul all the boxes over to the shipping company that will palletize, shrink wrap, and ship everything on a container that will eventually make it to Mpulungu.  Though it will take several months, it is so good to know that everything is on its way!

I know many of you donated items that will be a blessing to the ministry in Zambia, and I just want to say a big THANK YOU!  It has been a huge blessing to see how God is working in so many people's hearts, showing them what a big impact they can have on the other side of the globe.  It's pretty powerful what God can do through us if we let Him!