A Georgia Baptist Institution
|ISRAEL ONLINE JOURNAL|
by Tracy Batchelor, Assistant Director, Student Engagement & Success
Wow, when I predicted my last email for awhile, who knew I could send another quick note. This morning's brief email is just to brag on this great group. They are inquisitive, enthusiastic, efficient and flexible. As I already mentioned, yesterday we saw 10 sites. The average Israel tour group sees 2-3 at the most. And as we cover many sites each day, we are not flying through the experiences. Our conversations and our questions are evidence that each of us are taking in the moments.
Now, this morning is another example of this ideal study abroad group. Our bus is a 20 person bus, and we have 18 people. However, 18 people brought 18 pieces of luggage, which is tricky to fit without spacious storage availability. So, we are now adjusting our suitcases, sharing space with roommates, minimizing our belongings and packing 6-8 of the suitcases to go straight to Jerusalem. So basically, we are prepping overnight bags for our stay tonight and at the Bedoin experience tomorrow night.
When faced with this challenge, the group rose to the occasion and as I look out the window they are thinking, planning and being the most flexible and resourceful students I know.
That's something significant about the study abroad experience. The academic conversations abound in the evenings after we have dinner and we're unwinding in the lobby area. The classroom-type questioning occur at each biblical and historical site. We are cataloging our photos to recall the significance of each location. (Some students have already taken over 400 photos. I'm having to be more selective because of the size of each photo and my limited memory cards.) But, another aspect of learning is very individual... very personally defining... very confidence-building.
I recall during our predeparture planning meetings the numerous questions about "what to pack..." now, in a matter of 15 minutes, many of these same individuals have condensed, discarded, and prioritized what of their "stuff" is necessary vs. what they can survive without for a mere 3 days. An overnight bag in Israel. An adventure for us all.
I'm so excited to start another day. When I get to Jerusalem in 3 days, I'll be sure to share more about our swimming at the Dead Sea this afternoon, our hike up En Gedi tomorrow , and our Bedoin experience tomorrow evening.
Day Five Links
We drove the entire length of the Jordan river today (about a 2 hour drive, probably about the distance from Rome, GA to Chattanooga) and visited Beth Shean, Jericho (a powerful stop for many of them as they witnessed first hand the plight of the hardworking Palestinian people) and then on to Qumran.
We finished the night at the Dead Sea. Everyone (except Dr. Pearson) went bobbing around amazed at this thirty-four percent salt solution that refused to let you sink!
Tonight we are at Metzoke Dragot, and unfortunately, I am (as the tour guide) the only one allowed to use the internet (dial up at that). It is amazing to be in the desert after the lush green just a few miles ago (it seems).
Tomorrow night is the Bedouin experience. I REALLY doubt I will have any internet, but I hope to update you with pictures when we get to Jerusalem.
It has been a long day. Tomorrow we climb En Gedi, so we need our rest tonight.
Email you soon as I can!!
Today's update begins with a recent conversation between our professors Dr. Wallace and Dr. Pearson:
Pearson: We are 4 days into Israel. That statement alone is blowing my mind.
Wallace: It always does. In 4 days it feels like we've done enough to fill 2 weeks.
Pearson: Well, yes, but it also feels as if we just arrived.
Because of our enthusiastic, efficient and flexible group, we have been able to tweak today's itinerary today and visit 10 sites. Yes, 10 sites from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. In addition to the spiritual significance, the historical importance and the current political stuff, I came to realize today another of the amazing aspects of this country. From the point farthest north to the point farthest south, it is only 325 miles... about the size of New Jersey. HOWEVER, every 60 miles the climate, the look of the land, and the geographical features are so unique. The variety of the mountains, the sea, the plains, the dry, the lush... It continues to keep my eyes peering outside the window of our bus.
The strongest moment of the day was travelling all the way around the Sea of Galilee. We saw the ruins of the hometown of 5 disciples. We saw Capernaum, and as I read the scriptural references to that city, I was right there. If you have your Bible nearby, go ahead and look up some of the things that happened in/near Capernaum. That reality was in my Day #4.
My mind is still racing (and it's in my handwritten journal), but unfortuantely the line for the computer won't allow me to write more at the moment. I hope you are enjoying my brief updates; there is so much more so please ask me if you'd like when I return next week. Do write back if there is anything to say from back home because I enjoy hearing from you, too. This is a wonderful experience of learning, relaxing, stretching myself and "taking it all in." And although I am speaking in first person, I know that this reflection is true for the other 17 on this trip as well.
Day Four Links
Monday, March 10
Good evening at 6:15 p.m. on Monday.
All I could do was breathe with laughter and adrenaline that I have not known in a long time, if ever. And I have an amazingly blessed life, so that's saying something huge.
From my spot on the cliffs, I could see Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala (hometown of Mary Magdalene), but even more important than those places on a map, I teared up to see so much of God's creation... the rolling hills, the mountains in the distance, the grasses blowing in the wind, the sea on the other side, and the sunset behind the mountains. In a humorous way, you could call it a "Simba/Mufasa" moment lookingout over the land, haha. I was blown away (literally almost because of the wind!). I am so energized by that view and the power of the wind around me. I was so taken by the beauty of the majestic cliffs. My photos of this site will be framed because they look cool, of course, but they will also be printed because they will preserve this moment.
So much of my journal to this point is filled with academic observations. But today, the classroom application evolved with our group into a much deeper learning and understanding. The students are now asking questions that truly push their understanding to a deeper level.
But my moment today on the cliffs of Arbel helped me understand myself. Crazy that I needed to overlook THE SEA OF GALILEE to reflect like this, but adventure truly excites me. I feel an energy from God that leads me in pursuit of things amazing... interest in this trip, climbing to see the views of these cliffs, etc.
I don't want to lose these descriptions of the Cliffs of Arbel. I was absolutely freezing (I left my fleece on the bus), and at moments I thought the wind may pick me up right off of the rocks, but that sunset in those surroundings was very possibly the sweetest, most majestic "good night" from our Loving Father that I can recall.
I am feeling very at peace about this trip. In this moment of reflection, I am content to ask questions and inquire about history that confuses me - about scripture that I have yet to read and absorb - about a land and a region that intrigues me more and more each day. And today is only Day 3!
What a day of learning, exercising, exploring, reflecting and "taking it in." I am unbelievably blessed to have this study opportunity.
Day Three Links
We had a great day today!
Sunday, March 9
Tonight, Sunday evening at 9 p.m., I am emailing from the hotel's lobby in Tiberias. I have a wealth of experiences and memories to share, but the space bar is sticking 50% of the time... so I honestly don't know how long my patience will last to fill you in.
The basics include: We are safe, we have had another wonderful day, and God is speaking to me as I study more history in this region than I ever imagined. As I journaled earlier on the bus... "I feel like I've been on a roller coaster of history today. I am now understanding biblical places through a brand new historical lens. What a rush am I having in my head and my heart right now." (And just to clarify, I adore roller coasters so that statement was meant in a very positive way.)
Oh, if I could just scan my journal into this email! Seven pages of journaling yesterday and seven pages today just don't fit smoothly into a brief email (with 8 other people from my group and then other strangers waiting on me to finish.)
We spanned the ages today... Crusader fortresses... Herod the Great palace... Ancient mosaics... Jewish sarcophagi (spelling is wrong!)... But I had a very meaningful moment on the bus this morning - I felt a brush of peace that all this history and all my LACK of biblical knowledge would be okay. This trip will impact me indefinitely regardless of the fact that I'm not the most studious scholar of the Holy Land. (Although I want to be, and this is a step!)
Remind me when I return home to share about the wide pass through the Carmel Mountains and the significance of the top three rules of real estate: location, location, location.
I will have email access for two more nights, and hopefully others won't hog the computer as I'm doing right now. Must go for now.
Day Two Links
To learn more about the places visited on Day Two, visit the following links:
Saturday, March 8
It took awhile for reality to set in that we were actually on our way. Even during security and loading the plane, it just felt like a group travelling together. But when we walked outside of the Tel Aviv airport and felt the warm sun... we knew we had arrived. Immediately the students pulled out their digital cameras. On our tour bus we looked left and right trying to figure out how to process and remember the interesting sites. Yes, Tel Aviv is a very interesting city. There is a great deal of new construction, solar panels on the tops of many buildings, and at the same time you see structures that have been around for some time.
While we were at Tel Qasile, Dr. Wallace mentioned something that makes a lot of sense... Sometimes we have trouble realizing that groups of people have lived in this area of the world since Jesus' time.
And for quite some time, "preservation" of important sites was not the priority - living, thriving, surviving - was number one on their list. So, ruins or sites often have soooooooooooooo much more history than simply "this is a Jesus thing." And that in no way is intended to lessen sites with extreme Christian importance - I have prayed since I boarded the plane that the Lord would bless us with spiritual growth by seeing the places that Jesus walked. No, this realization is more intended to show what an AMAZING journey the next ten days will be. To not only expand our faith by seeing biblical sites with our own eyes, but to also begin to grasp so much historical relevance... it's overwhelming yet addictively attractive.
So, yes, smooth safe travel is the name of the game thus far. Everyone is looking forward to a restful night's sleep before Day 2 - which I understand to be breathtaking. Just wait for the photos to agree with me.
Day One Links
To learn more about the places visited on Day One, visit the following links:
Our only problem has been . . . our bus driver doesn't speak English.
My Hebrew consists of short phrases and one word sentences. We have managed, however, he knew more English than he let on, and apparently I knew more modern Hebrew than I thought I did.
We were only able to do two sites once we landed. It is Shabbat
(Sabbath) in Tel Aviv and many of the places we could go (even the mall) is closed. :)
We visited Tel Qasile, the Iron Age/Philistine city. I had not been there since 1993, and I was AMAZED at the state of neglect and disrepair many of the reconstructions have fallen into. So, now we have ruins of modern reconstructions of ancient ruins . . . very existential. But, we got some nice photos of the Philistine temple complex there.
We went to Joppa, and had a few moments to take some pictures of this ancient port city significant to Jonah & Peter.
Everyone is doing well, but VERY very tired. We are going to eat dinner this evening, turn in earlier, and get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow is a big itinerary day. I hope our hotel tomorrow has wireless. :)
~ Dr. Robert Wallace, Team Leader
The trip started without a hitch. All the students were at the airport on time. All the students got through security with no problem. All the flights were on time. All the luggage got to Israel.
~ Dr. Robert Wallace, Team Leader
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