The Last Day

For the team, Jonathan Cornell

Today is our last full day in the Holy Land. Words can't begin to describe what a profound experience this has been...and we're saving the best for last. The Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus pronounced the characteristics of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, Church of the Multiplication where he fed the 5,000 Jews then 4,000 Gentiles, capped off by a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. My deepest thanks to The Outreach Foundation and our wonderful leader Marilyn Borst for the experience of a lifetime.

The stones we've seen are good and worthy of remembering, but they are dead stones. It is the people here, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who witness to the risen Lord that are the living stones. And it is their story of hope and constant faith with which we return, and from which we draw strength for our witness and walk.

Jericho and the Jordan River

For the team, Marilyn Borst

A hot and exhausting but fulfilling day for our Outreach Foundation team! Headed into the desolate Judean desert, followed by a visit to the archaeological site of ancient Jericho. Took a cable car up to the Monastery of the Temptation. Waded into the Jordan River, where one of our team, Tracy Campbell, reaffirmed her baptism vows with Rev. Toby Mueller. Before ending the day with a swim in the Dead Sea, we stopped at Qumran. Here, a first century Jewish sect, the Essenes, withdrew into the desert overlooking the Dead Sea and spent their time copying ancient text.Some of their library, hidden in the nearby mountain caves, was discovered in 1947 – the so called Dead Sea Scrolls. Significantly, copies of the book of Isaiah found were 1,000 years earlier than the earliest manuscript of that book which had been seen to date – but matched up almost exactly, confirming how the Holy Spirit had guided the transmission of our sacred Scripture across the ages!

The Palestinian Bible Society

Doug Hollar, one of our Outreach Foundation team and a member of First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, Indiana, wrote this excellent summary of our day:

"In contrast to yesterday's noise and crush of people and cars, today started with a very quiet and somewhat eerie bus ride to the Palestinian Bible Society (PBS). Why so quiet? All the Palestinian shops and businesses were closed and hardly anyone was on the streets as part of a strike to support the more than 30-day hunger strike by more than 1,500 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They are not asking for release but rather for human rights such as improved family visitation and not being arbitrarily detained without any charges. 

At PBS, we met with Nashat Filmon, the general director, and were both disheartened and encouraged by all that he shared with us. He stated that PBS tries to be a continuation of that light born here in Bethlehem centuries ago and to facilitate the birth of Jesus Christ again in each of God's children. They "sow the seeds" and wait for God to reveal Himself. 

Instruments of Christ's Peace

For the team, Marilyn Borst

Highlights of this day for our Outreach Foundation team:

The Church of the Visitation which commemorates Mary's visit to Elizabeth; time spent with Outreach partner Bethlehem Bible College (we met with one of the professors there, Daniel Bannoura); a visit to the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem where Angie Saba shared about the ministries through which the church is seeking to bring hope and a future within its Palestinian context (Diyar Consortium) even while our drive in and out of Bethlehem forced us to confront the specter of an unjust Separation Wall...

At the end of the day, we met, as always, for devotions and prayer. So timely, given what we had seen, that Rev. Deena Candler would choose to have us reflect upon Ephesians 2:

Reconciliation

For the team, Marilyn Borst

We began the day with one of The Outreach Foundation's ministry partners, Musalaha: a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, based on the life and teaching of Jesus. Musalaha, which means "reconciliation," was founded in 1990 by Dr. Salim Munayer. 

Shoeless in Syria

For the Team, Marilyn Borst

We were five pastors and five lay leaders who came from Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, California, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. As the team leader, I was the only person who had actually met everyone before we gathered in Lebanon and then headed into Syria for 10 days and 9 nights to meet with congregations and pastors of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church. On either side of our time in Syria, we spent days in Lebanon meeting with Outreach Foundation partners who are doing ministry with Syrian refugees, or, as is the case with Near East School of Theology, training the next generation of leaders to serve the Church in Syria. The ten of us quickly became a family,

Impact: Divine, Human

For the Team, Julie Burgess

 

On our second to last full day on this most amazing of trips with The Outreach Foundation to Syria and Lebanon, we found ourselves in Tyre. You can read about King Hiram of Tyre in 1 Kings 5. Marilyn shared that story with us as we walked the ancient ruins of the place, but that is not the text that came to my mind for that day. What came to my mind was something I had read at the Nicholas Sursock Museum in Beirut at the beginning of our trip.

In a room filled with old photographs of Egyptian archaeological digs I found this explanatory sign on the wall. “The Human Scale: In the second half of the 19th century, photographic expeditions to Egypt multiplied, with a view to making an inventory of the Orient. Photography thus became a precious tool for archaeologists and scientists. 

Jesus Loves His Children

For the Team,  Ron Gatzke

The last leg of our incredible journey began as we left the oldest occupied capital city in the world, Damascus, behind us and headed back to Lebanon in our three-car caravan. Sadly, we left old and new friends behind. Looking back we see a people bruised physically and emotionally by the ravages of war, but expectantly hoping for better days ahead. The young especially struggle with their future and we saw how some seek ways to bring some semblance of life back through music and the arts. One of our members remarked that he was watching the faces of the young women at the restaurant yesterday while several from our group started dancing to the music – they enjoyed what they saw and soon joined in for a taste of life that has passed them by the last six years.

Loving One Another

For the Team, Rob Weingartner

“Lord, you are great, in your love, in your faithfulness, in your liberation,
and in your healing power as well.”

When a refugee from South Sudan leads a group of Americans in a Damascus church in singing in Arabic the chorus above, something very special is happening. It felt like a gift. The refugee is Johnson George, the name he gave to himself after coming to faith in Christ eighteen years ago. Active in Christian ministry in the Middle East, several years ago he was denied entry into Egypt and sent to Syria. When South Sudan was founded and Syria refused to recognize the new nation and his passport expired, he became a man without a country, one of hundreds of South Sudanese “stuck” in Syria. But how we were blessed by his testimony, the songs he sang, the hope he shared.

Spiritual Presence

For the Team, Allen McDonald

Today was a special day for me with new encounters beyond description. As usual we followed Assis (Rev.) Nuhad and his nephews Tariq and Bashar – who have been our gracious drivers, guides and protectors – into the old city. First we walked through souqs (markets) selling crafts and necessary daily items like food and spices. From there, we came to a destination for many for the past thousand years or so, the Great Umayyad Mosque of Damascus. It stands across the square from a Roman temple of Jupiter. Prior to its present expression of spiritual presence, it was a Byzantine basilica dedicated to John the Baptist. In the seventh century AD, it became the Great Mosque. It is clearly the product of countless hours of planning and execution.