The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and the Jordan Valley

Staying at a Kibbutz (Haon) on the Sea of Galilee

Thursday, October 31-

Pastor Nabors (in regular type): Awakened early and packed for the bus ride out after breakfast.  Very early, I walk down to the Sea of Galilee and notice the sunrise, shimmering just above the distant mountain caps sending rays across the undulating motion of the water, and adorning the surface with silhouettes of light.  This is an extraordinarily beautiful region- water, seashore and mountains literally surrounding us in every direction.  This is my most meditative moment so far.  In each of the many other areas, there is such a multitude of people.  But here in this early morning hour, there are only one or two others walking about.  While this is a gated community, it appears easy for anyone to simply walk around the gate and enter the area.  As I walk out on a dock to its end and look out- I surmise about the wonder of it all.  Not that I am focused on myself at all.  Really, my surmising has nothing to do with me.  Rather, I wonder about it all.  Especially Capernaum and later down by the Jordan River where Jesus is baptized.  How is it possible that my own faith is so strong in the one who lived so long ago, who walked these very areas, preached on this very shoreline, ate and laughed in this very area?  Imagine the veritable power that must have emanated from him, that caused his followers to talk and teach about him…generation after generation after generation!  It is hot here, with nothing less than desert winds blowing everywhere.  This is not Jerusalem with its awe and beauty.  It is not Tel Aviv with its modern flavor and amenities.  It is not Haifa and its ancient beauty in the hills.  Here- there is an earthiness, a gritty, earthbound ruggedness about the terrain, and a million tiny flies that only multiply the more you try to brush them away. 

It dawns upon me that the message Jesus offered, the gospel that would come to reflect his core teachings, was a message intended to resonate with those who live on the edges and in the cracks and crevices of life.  This is surely where he lived himself.  While the Word eventually made its way into palaces and cathedrals, it began in this area.  This is an area where folks swatted fleas all day and often suffered in the heat of the day.  This is an area where people worried about Empires clashing; like the Egyptians and Assyrians of the past, and the Roman Empire in their day.  This is the area where people longed to find some meaning in their lives, and then pass that meaning on to their children and grandchildren.  This is the area where people were born, grew up, had children, grew old and died as among the least and the lowest, the unlucky and left out.  This is where Jesus lived, where he taught, where he preached and performed amazing acts. 

Rabbi London: Being in the Galilee takes me back to my first time in Israel in 1986 when I came as a volunteer for the year. My first three and a half months were spent at Kibbuta Hanita on the Lebanese border. I worked in the banana fields and studied Hebrew during that time. It was my introduction to Israel and Israeli society. It was a magical time for me, immersing myself in the Hebrew language and Israeli culture. Whenever I’m in the Galilee, I remember the challenge and excitement of learning Hebrew, the backbreaking work in the banana fields, and trying to understand the gruff, but also warm Israelis I met. I also have a fond memory of this particular kibbutz where we are staying. In 1992, Danny and I did a tour guide educator course at an organization called, Melitz. As part of the course, we learned how to guide sites in the north and stayed here for Shabbat with our group of 100 of us young people (all in our 20s at the time!) learning how to guide for teens who are visiting Israel. I remember learning a tune to the words “blessed is the one who trusts in God, God will trust in them” that we sang on that Shabbat.

Pastor Ruen: We stop in Beit She’an which is a small town on near the Jordanian border that has the ruins of a Roman city called Scythopolis there. Earlier, it was also the site from the Book of Samuel after the battle of Jezreel where the bodies of Saul and his sons were displayed. There’s a valley with springs which is why cities developed there. Moroccan Jews were sent to settle there. Excavations began in 1948. They found an amphitheater for gladiators and a theater for plays. There are major street they also unearthed and other structures with marble that had been imported from Turkey. In the years 369 and 749, the entire city was demolished. By 749 it is a Muslim city.

A Palestinian Settlement, al-Auja Zone

We stop is a bona fide Palestinian settlement on the West Bank.  When we enter the area, school children are just getting out of school and line the roads.  They are everywhere and look so beautiful.  When we near the compound we will be visiting, many of the children make hand gestures.  Our Israeli guide Amit said it was like giving us the finger.  Alaa is off for the day, so this can’t be confirmed for me.  I rather think they are smiling and nice.  I catch eye contact with one boy.  I smile and wave.  He smiles and waves right back at me.  We enter for a vegetarian, home cooked meal of rice and yogurt,  mixed vegetables with corn, green beans and carrots, and a tomato stew dish, with pita bread.  We eat on the 4th floor of a community center building housing a water organization.  No elevator and no air conditioner.  It is literally about 100 degrees.  We eat with our host and enjoy warm laughter as he and Amit ask us about the tradition of Halloween.  It is totally foreign to them and I’m not so sure any of us did a good job trying to explain it.  I assume they think we are all heathens by now. 

After lunch we go down to the first floor to a conference room to hear a lecture and see a slide presentation on the power of water in this region and the very dangerous power maneuvers happening over the years regarding the natural waters of the Jordan, Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  The organization is called EcoPeace Middle East.  It brings together Jordanian, Palestinian and Israel environmentalists whose primary objective is to promote cooperative efforts to protest the shared environmental heritage.  Due to the conflict in the Middle East, the Jordan River has seen 95% of its fresh water diverted, a great deal of its water polluted and its biodiversity nearly lost.  No doubt, the one who controls the water in this land, controls life itself.  Dam, Dam, Dam I think to myself in a James Evans’ voice! 

We board the bus and head towards the Jordan River, to the place where Jesus was baptized.  The specific name of the area is Qasr-al-Yahud.  We are so close to the country of Jordan, that our phones lose their network connection saying, “This country is not included in AT&T International Day PASS.” 

The Jordan River

We arrive at the tourist area of the Jordan where Jesus was baptized.  As soon as we near the water we are bombarded with flies.  A great many tourists have bought baptism gowns for $9 and are walking into the water…baptizing themselves.  I have the opportunity to offer words about Baptism to the group and cite scriptures regarding the importance of the Jordan and then share the ritual we practice at Second.  Rather than sing our traditional Baptist song, I choose Wade in the Water so everyone can sing.  “Take me to the Water” I am sure, would have been a solo and there are too many people out here.  I need our SBC Music Ministry here!! 

The Jordan river is very narrow, not more than 12-15 yards from one side to the other.  Amazingly, just on the other side is another tourist area for baptism, with people being baptized in another country.  There is a warning sign that says, “International Border.”  The other side is Jordan.  Folks getting baptized in the same river and water, but divided by geo-politics.  Lord have mercy.  We talk to two Israeli soldiers- young women about 18 years old.  They are fully decked out in their gear with AK47’s, bullet proof vests and more.  At the place where Jesus came to be baptized, and to begin the greatest revolution the world has ever known, the revolution of love…guns abound.

Rabbi London: I’ve never been to this site before. I didn’t even know that the place where Jesus was baptized is also the spot where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to enter the land of Israel. I’m moved learning that this site is important in the origin stories of both of our faiths. On the last day of our trip, we will go to the Israel Museum, where I will see a painting of Moses looking into the Land of Israel from the eastern side of the Jordan River. The final verses of the Book of Deuteronomy are painted on his back. Moses will never enter the land; he will only look at it from north to south, east to west, and then he will die and be buried there. The question the end of the Torah always leaves us with is do we ever arrive in the promised land. I feel the irony of standing at this spot where we are physically close to the fulfillment of the journey of our ancestors, but still so far away from the goal of our journey which Abraham learns when he is told to venture forth from his homeland. Our first ancestor, Abraham, is told by God—Heyeh Brachah—be a blessing. Like Abraham and Moses, the Jewish people has been contemplating how we can fulfill this directive in order to enter the promised land of peace, justice and harmony. How can we live blessed lives? How can we do this in the Land of Israel and wherever we live? The questions are still essential and the journey is ongoing.

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