Today, we were up as early as we have been since our time in Israel. We loaded the bus and departed our hotel at 7:30am. This is proof that they (the kids) can wake up early in the summer. Our first stop was the iconic and amazing Western Wall. As we approached, having already gone through security, many of us initially just took in the site of all those already there that were praying. Easily, there were 3-4 generations at the Wall reciting their prayers. Many of the kids went up to the Wall and started praying. It is an extremely powerful thing to see when we get a chance to witness the kids taking it upon themselves to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. What was unique about the Western Wall was that we actually only saw a small portion of what used to be there. And though it may “only” be a retaining wall of what once stood, the power of so many there in pursuit of God helped us to dive into prayer with them.
As we left the Western Wall and went right to the Western Wall tunnel. We had a chance to see how the Wall was built and how the Temple Mount may have looked during the Second Temple Period. While in the tunnel, we were walking just below the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. We had the unique opportunity to see another portion of the Western Wall as it was excavated underground. It was completely insane to see all of the tunnels and arches and how they supported a vibrant community above us. As we navigated the tunnels, we had the opportunity to go through an underground Synagogue and to see many Jewish women praying at the Wall. This is just a small piece of the history that we have seen and know about.
As we came to the end of the tunnel we found ourselves at the heart of the Muslim Quarter. We made our way down a narrow street, dodging street vendors and many scooters, to arrive at Ecce Homo (Behold the Man). It was at this site, within what we believe was the Antonia Fortress, that Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus Christ before giving Him over to the Pharisees and Sadducees. Olivia Armitage shared about Christ’s suffering and how he chose that because of the love that He has for us. What is exciting about our time in Israel is to see how various parts of the country share so much history.
Here is one of the best things about this year’s trip: the kids do such an amazing job of being on time and enthusiastic that it allows for us to fit in other venues that were not originally scheduled. For instance, today after our visit to Ecce Homo, we were able to quickly walk to a nearby Swiss Hotel/Hostel with a killer view. We could see the entirety of the Muslim Quarter, as well as see much of the old city. Afterwards, we even had some time to spend sipping on some iced coffee and sitting in their garden area.
Next up, St. Anne’s Cathedral and the Bethesda Pools. Now, St. Anne’s doesn’t hold a ton of Biblical significance for us but the acoustics make it a fantastic place to sing some worship songs. Olivia belted out some beautiful melodies for us to catch onto and we lifted up a sweet aroma of music to God. Just outside the cathedral is the site of the Pools of Bethesda. This is where Jesus healed the immobile man, ailed for 38 years. It is interesting to note that this miracle is a little different from others in two ways. Firstly, Jesus heals the man before he even knows who Jesus is. This doesn’t seem to be a miraculous healing because of the man’s faith, but because of his desperation to be healed. Secondly, Jesus tells him to “take [his] mat and go,” and then goes and pursues him afterward. This is our God, is it not? Taking whatever we have to give – faith or desperation – and chasing us down with grace and compassion.
To finish the first half of our day, we headed to a very special site for sifting materials that were excavated from Jerusalem. We help archeologists sort through pounds of raw material in search of artifacts from up to 2000 years ago! We found ancient pottery, glass, and bone that match other findings dating all the back to the time of Jesus.
Then lunch, phew.
After a quick shawarma, we made the trek down to the City of David. It’s located just to the south of Jerusalem. The ruins are reliably dated to the actual years of King David! That is over 3000 years old! At the very top of the hill, there’s a palace, cleansing pools, and unique pillar that points only to one thing – this was David’s residence. Incredible! The recently excavated site also gives us a great insight into the passages especially that talk about David and Bathsheba. Joe Ruiz led us through the familiar narrative and beautifully laid out the unraveling of David’s decision-making. The message culminated with one simple point, forgiveness is always the best way back.
The bottom of the City of David connected to a dramatic story from King Hezekiah’s plight against the Assyrians. You’ll have to google the story but the short of it is that the source of water for the city was outside the town and not easily defensible. So, Hezekiah decides that they need to take the water and bring it into the city walls. This would mean that his men would need to dig a tunnel through a limestone hillside and channel the water. So they did. One team started at one side, the other team started at the other. By the sheer grace of God and the Assyrians bearing down on them, they met each other in the middle. Scientists and historians, to this day, still have no idea how they did it.
The tunnel ends at the Pools of Siloam and I (Drew) took the opportunity to read through the healing of the blind man in John 9. It was in this narrative that we find Jesus inviting the blind man into the process of his own healing. He doesn’t just heal the man, he tells him to, “go and wash.” It’s really amazing that God invites us into the process of healing even though it can be messy. Also, because of the long walk that the blind man must go on to be healed, he has a long walk back. On his way back, he looks so different to the people who’d known him as the blind man, that they question if that was even really him. So, not only does he get the chance to participate in his own healing, but he immediately gets the chance to talk about it. To me, there is some level of our trip that is so similar. Coming to Israel was no small journey, and after having seen and heard the things that we have, we really do have new eyes for the Bible and God. So, I am excited to hear about the memories that will be our stories to tell and the impact that those stories will have on the people who hear them.