Holy Land Pilgrimage 2007
Pilgrimage group outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem.
HOLY LAND PILGRIMAGE 2007 - Some recollections by Celia Markham.
Our journey began in the early hours of Tuesday, 16th October, when Alison, together with very prompt taxi driver, arrived just after 2am, to pick us up and take us to Rawson Avenue, where we assembled with the rest of the party at Judith and Paul's. We were all given books and information folders, which we used throughout the holiday, and we set off in two minibuses, heading for Terminal 2 of Manchester Airport. Check-in was fairly uneventful, and we left England behind at 6.35 am, arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris at 8 am (9 am Paris time ). Time between flights seemed to be spent walking and waiting for buses, to travel what seemed like miles around a sprawling, concrete airport, where much construction work is going on. After shuffling around changing seats, we finally got settled, and the flight from Paris left on time, arriving at Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv, at about 3 pm. Having been prepared for an onerous immigration check on arrival in Israel, we were pleasantly surprised - no soldiers, queues, or immigration forms to fill out, and we were soon welcomed by the Maranatha Tour Manager, also our guide for the holiday, Khadar (known to us as George), and our driver Johnny. We were to travel around Israel in air-conditioned coaches belonging to NET (Near Eastern Tour Agency) - a Christian Palestinian company. As we headed north, Judith led us in prayer, thanking God for our safe journey thus far, and asking for his blessing on our time together. We travelled for two and a half hours, arriving on the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee, at Ein Gev, a holiday village attached to a Kibbutz, at about 7pm. We were welcomed with drinks, -and the heat - fantastic! Time for a quick "scrub-up", then over to the restaurant for dinner. Some then went to bed, others to the bar - and I'm not saying which!
WEDNESDAY 17TH OCTOBER.
6.30 wake-up call, and our first daylight view of the Sea of Galilee from our bedroom window. Date palms, eucalyptus trees, swallows and egrets flying around - and peace! Breakfast at 7, before setting off at 8, Judith again leading us in prayer as we journeyed. All the sites we visited on the first day are around the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus spent most of his time during his ministry. The first stop was at Bethsaida, the home town of three of the disciples; the fishermen Andrew, Philip, and Peter. We saw excavations of houses of the time of Jesus, and also had our first sighting of olive and pomegranate trees - and it was hot! On from Bethsaida , to the Mount of the Beatitudes, where Jesus preached The Sermon on the Mount. We visited the Church of the Beatitudes, with its beautiful surrounding gardens and mosaics. We found a relatively quiet spot in which to reflect on the significance of this special place. George recited The Lord's Prayer in Aramaic, and as we sang "How Great Thou Art", the words were particularly poignant. Then on to Nof Ginosar, on the western shores of the Lake, where, in 1986, two brothers who lived on a nearby Kibbutz, spotted the outline of a boat in the mud as they walked along the shore. (The water level was low at the time due to a drought) Members of the Kibbutz, together with the Israeli Antiquities Authority, and volunteers, excavated the boat, and after ten years of testing and conservation work, the boat was identified as first century, and was ready to be displayed to the public. We watched a short audio-visual presentation of the "Jesus Boat", took our photos, then, after some souvenir shopping, on to our next appointment. Our next experience was possibly one of the most moving. We boarded a reconstructed wooden fishing boat of the kind the disciples would have used, and sailed out to the middle of the lake. After the"touristy" raising of the Union Flag and playing of the National Anthem, the boat's engines were stopped, so that we could experience the peace and tranquillity of this awesome scene. These were the same hills that Jesus and his disciples would have seen, all those years ago, and it was impossible not to recall the words "O Sabbath rest by Galilee, O calm of hills above….". We had a short communion service, and shared the Peace with each other - very special. Then, back to the shore, and off in the coach to Capernaum. This is the place significant for being the town in which Jesus primarily stayed during his ministry. Here we saw excavations of fourth century remains, including a synagogue, farm implements, and an oil press, before spending time at nearby Tabgha: The church of the Multiplication. This unusual church is traditionally the site of the Miracle of the Multiplication of the loaves and fishes, which we read of in St. Matthew's gospel. Inside the church are decorative mosaic floors, including one mosaic depicting a basket of bread, flanked by two fish. In keeping with this theme, we were then taken for our pre-ordered lunch, consisting of numerous dishes of salad as a starter, followed by a huge plate of "St. Peter's Fish" and chips. Fresh dates and strong coffee completed the meal. Our last visit of the day, was back at Capernaum, and a short walk down the road from Tabgha, where we stopped at a small, outdoor worship area, for readings, and a time of reflection on the Miracle, and just had to photograph the sign which read NO PICNICS! A short walk then brought us to the lakeside, where is situated The Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, commemorating Jesus's post-resurrection appearance to Peter and six of the other disciples, as they were casting their fishing nets. Judith invited us all to collect a pebble from the shore, and focus on "new beginnings" in our lives. We returned to Ein Gev, going straight to the lake for a swim. This was an amazing experience - the water was calm and warm, with neither salt nor chlorine to contend with. We also had the company of fishes, dragonflies, and egrets , and someone even spotted a kingfisher. After we'd cast our pebbles (along with our prayers) back into the lake, we returned for showers, evening meal, then the bar.
THURSDAY 18TH OCTOBER.
Off to Nazareth today. As we were travelling every day, George would give us loads of background information, backed up with constant biblical quotations - I wish I could remember it all. On arrival in Nazareth, the narrow streets were very busy, so we had to leap off the coach quickly, and we stepped straight into the busy market streets, hurtling up the hill after George, who took us to the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth. Sister Margaret welcomed us, showing us around the excavations underneath the convent, pointing out remains of houses, streets, tombs and so on. She made no claims to this being Jesus's house, but pointed out that, as there were only about forty houses in the village at that time, and Jesus lived there for thirty years, he would almost certainly have known and visited all the family homes. We stayed a short while at the lovely, peaceful courtyard at the convent, before descending the hill, and visiting a synagogue on the site where, traditionally, Jesus would have worshipped. The wonderful acoustics in the synagogue made our singing sound brilliant! Then a short walk to the spectacular Basilica of the Annunciation. This church is dedicated to Mary, and amongst its many beautiful features, are massive murals, depicting Mary as seen through the eyes of different nations. We spent quite some time here, before travelling to the outskirts of the town for lunch (with Mount Tabor in the background). After lunch, we spent a couple of hours at the Nazareth Village reconstruction, where we saw examples of village life as it would have been in the time of Jesus. Local people dressed up, and demonstrated things such as shepherding sheep and goats, carpentry, weaving, an oil press, also showing us a synagogue and watchtower. We were each given a small pottery oil lamp at the end of the tour (not to be mentioned to airport staff on the way home!). Back to Ein Gev, via the lakeside town of Tiberius, and, once again, we headed for the lake, and our last chance to swim. This time the water was cooler, and it was breezier, whipping up some waves. It wasn't difficult to imagine just how quickly storms could brew up - there could be a story there! We left the lake, to go and pack our cases, and after dinner we were joined in the bar by several of the others, including George and Johnny.
FRIDAY 19TH OCTOBER.
After breakfast, we loaded the cases onto the coach, and set off for Jerusalem. We left Galilee with some reluctance, wishing we had more time there, but Judith assured us we would have just as much fun in Jerusalem - and she was right! Once more, she led us in prayer, giving thanks for the time we had had in Galilee, and asking God to travel with us now to the Holy City. Judith had also received best wishes from home, from Rev Ruth Gee, and we laughed about people scraping the ice off their cars at home! First stop on the journey was at Beit She'an, where excavations had unearthed a fantastic Roman city, with evidence of streets, a synagogue, ornate baths, communal toilets, and an amphitheatre, where we listened to a male voice choir - impressive acoustics again! Some of the group walked up to the top of the mount (the "tell"), at the top of which is a single dead tree, which features in the film Jesus Christ Superstar. Time for a drink to help cool us down, before heading off into the desert region, travelling down through the Jordan, the hills of Gilboa and mountains of Samaria, eventually reaching Jericho, glimpsing the "fallen walls", and Zaccheus's tree, as we approached the city. Then, off the coach, and on to our first cable-car ride, up the Mount of Temptations. This wasn't Alison or Peter's favourite moment, and they spent most of the ride head down, eyes shut - but at least they made it! At the top, the views over Jericho were spectacular, as was the Greek Orthodox Church, which clings to the edge of the mountain, and is hewn out of the rock face. Jericho is the oldest, and also the lowest city on earth - even at the top of the cable-car ride, you are still below sea level. Just had to photograph Al and Peter again on the way down! Next, a short walk to a souvenir shop, specialising in glass and pottery, where we also had lunch - falafel and a drink. (falafels are pitta bread containing deep-fried chick-peas, salad, pickles etc.) After lunch, we travelled on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem - an area of spectacular scenery known as the Wadi Qelt, where we stopped for half an hour or so, to allow us to experience the solitude and intense heat of the desert, and have some time of reflection on our own. As we arrived, however, we were met by a man and his donkey hurtling down the road towards us, trying to sell us scarves and headdresses - the sight of tourists galvanises them into frantic activity! More amazing views here, including another Greek Orthodox Monastery built into the mountainside - the monastery of St. George. We could all feel ourselves dehydrating in the short time we spent there - unthinkable to imagine forty days and nights. I think everyone agreed that this was a very spiritual experience - an amazing place. Onwards, then, and as we were making good time, and being good little tourists, getting back on the coach when we were told, George decided we had time to visit Bethlehem, specifically Edward's shop, where Judith and Paul met up again with their friend , and owner of the shop, Edward. He gave us drinks and a short talk, and asked us to pray about the problems facing the Israeli and Palestinian people,and for the peace negotiations which were due to take place soon. This is also the shop where Paul, Alison and I bought our "gift" for Illingworth Moor. I'm sure we all have our cosy little images of Bethlehem, so the sight of the concrete wall which is being erected to separate Palestinians and Israelis, is sad to see - an outrage really - especially with a sign saying PEACE BE WITH YOU on the wall just outside Bethlehem. We had to pass through guarded check-points here, armed soldiers boarding the coach to check passports on the way out. We finally made our way towards Jerusalem, stopping at Mount Skopus. Here we had our first view of the Holy City, as the sun was setting, and we arrived at the Ambassador Hotel just after sunset. It took a communal effort to unlock our hotel rooms, but we finally managed, and we opened our balcony door to the sounds of the city, and the first of many Islamic calls to prayer, broadcast over the whole city. Time to unpack and shower, followed by dinner, then outside, to relax, on Bedouin-style settees, with a drink. New sights -New sounds -MAGIC!
SATURDAY 20TH OCTOBER.
Breakfast at 7am.( Judith and Paul came down to the lobby in the same lift as Boris Johnson, who was also staying at the Ambassador hotel.) We began our day, entering The Old City via St. Stephen's Gate, which led us to the Pool at Bethesda. This is where sheep would be washed, before they were sacrificed at the altar, and is the location where Jesus had healed the man who had been crippled for 38 years. I remember us discussing this story, with Rev. Lisa, at a bible study at the manse, and I found it quite poignant as we listened to the bible reading, feeling the atmosphere of the place .Here, Judith asked us to focus on healing, and we each lit a candle, in recognition of a person or situation we felt needed healing at that time. We then began our walk through the city streets, to follow The Way of the Cross, beginning with the location of Pilate's headquarters, where stands the Convent of the Flagellation. Then to the Convent of the Sisters of Zion, where the steps lead down to the Lithostrotos (or pavement), where Jesus was mocked, and soldiers played games. The Ecce Homo Arch here marks where Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds, saying "Behold, the Man". From there, we made our way up the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows), making sure that we didn't lose sight of each other in the busy streets. Although we were moving quite quickly along, we had time for a quick pomegranate juice at the Holy Rock café!- before walking up ,passing through the building commemorating the Room of The Last Supper, to the site of Calvary, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here we had a group photo taken on the steps in the courtyard, before pushing our way through the crowds, trying to see as much as we could inside the Holy Sepulchre. Although this is the Christian "Holy of Holies", and the place is magnificent, most of us had the impression that it was a little "over the top", with groups jostling and almost competing with each other for position. We were relieved to sit back in the courtyard, and reflect on the real significance of the place. We were then driven to a Kibbutz, just outside the city, where we had lunch - the souvenir shop was closed, it being the Sabbath. First stop after lunch was at the church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the "Church of the Cock Crowing", which stands on the eastern slope of Mount Zion. This recognises the place of Peter's denial of Jesus. Excavations near the church have revealed a prison, a "pit", and possibly the house of Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus's trial. As we looked around this place, and stood together in the "pit", Paul Satchell read the words of a psalm, which would have reflected some of the despair Jesus must have felt at the time. We tried to imagine Our Lord, as he endured the trial, condemnation, and imprisonment - difficult to describe the emotion. It was also very poignant to retrace the steps Jesus would have climbed, following his trial, as he began his final journey. From here , we visited Bethphage, and the chapel associated with the events of Palm Sunday. I will particularly remember this place , as I was asked to read St. Matthew's account of Jesus's journey down the Mount of Olives on a donkey. Whilst here in the chapel,, we sang "Ride on, Ride on in Majesty" - Wow! We then continued on foot down the Mount of Olives, to the church of Dominus Flevit, or "The chapel of the Teardrop", where we remember Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. At all these places, we had magnificent views over the city, with, at one point, the Jewish cemetery in the foreground. Our final visit on this busy day was to the Garden of Gethsemane, with its ancient olive trees, and The Church of all Nations, which I remember having a lot of purple stained-glass windows. Again, another beautiful church, with tranquil gardens, evoking yet more powerful reflection. We returned to the hotel (and spotted Boris Johnson being interviewed in the grounds!) and after dinner had a drink outside, before coming back up to our room to watch the rugby World Cup Final. - Yes…..Well!!
SUNDAY 21ST OCTOBER.
Early call this morning, at 5.30, to give us another opportunity, and more time, to walk the Via Dolorosa. The streets, of course, were much quieter, with lots of feral cats rooting around in the bags of rubbish, the odd barrow-load of bread being delivered to the markets, and various children stopping to watch us. We had noticed that, when some of the groups were walking The Way of the Cross, they carried a large wooden cross with them (then when they reached the top, Arab boys would run back down with them to the beginning, ready for the next group!). Judith had a better idea, though - she gave us each a tiny wooden cross to carry with us, and to keep. This time, we had a short time of worship at each Station of the Cross, each of which are identified either by a plaque, mural, shrine, or a chapel or convent hidden behind doors or down little passageways. When we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and went inside, hoping to have a scripture reading and prayers, we were ushered out by a priest or monk, as there was Mass going on inside! We were not so much offended, as amused, that we'd been thrown out of the "Holy of Holies"! I don't know - these Methodists!!! We returned to the hotel for breakfast, then set off south-east, to a village called Ein Karem (meaning Spring of the Vine), the home of Elizabeth , and thereafter John the Baptist. Here we visited the beautiful Church of the Visitation, which is dedicated to the meeting of Mary with her cousin Elizabeth, when it had been revealed that they were both pregnant. On the walls outside the church, were plaques, with the words of the Magnificat, in many languages from around the world. I felt that both the village, and the church, had a lovely atmosphere. We then moved on to one of the buildings of the Israel Museum, which contained The Shrine of the Book. This is where they keep documents and objects from Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, and we viewed some of the Scrolls on display there. Outside the building, was an impressive model of ancient Jerusalem, showing the city as it would have appeared around the gospel period, and George helped to explain the layout of the city, particularly the location of the walls, which have been destroyed and rebuilt over the centuries. Lunch was at the same Kibbutz as yesterday, and this time some of us managed to part with money in the gift shop! From there, we visited Yad Vashem, the incredible Jewish Holocaust Museum, which we all found extremely stirring and moving, subduing us somewhat as we drove back to the hotel. After dinner, some of us decided we would like to try the "Hookah pipes" - as seen in a lot of Middle Eastern countries, and which a lot of the other guests were smoking. Needless to say, this caused great hilarity, and goodness knows what the locals thought of us!
MONDAY 22ND OCTOBER.
A few minutes walk up from the hotel, is the Jerusalem Eye Hospital, and this was our first appointment today. This hospital, founded by The Order of St. John of Jerusalem, is the main provider of eye care in the region. After a short talk and DVD about the work of the hospital, we were shown around the wards and departments in groups, and met some of the staff and patients, learning of some of the problems facing people in this region. We were meant to bring some equipment with us from the U.K. but, because of the postal strike in England, this had not been delivered to Judith's house from the London headquarters, so a donation from our group was given instead. We then walked back to the hotel, to pick up the coach. Johnny (our driver), had a day off today, so we were to be transported around by different drivers, in various different coaches. We were dropped off first of all, outside the Old City, to visit the Temple area. We had to pass through security, before walking on to see the Temple Steps, Herodian Way, and Temple Gates, all of which Jesus would have known well. Our guide had also arranged for us to see the "secret" tunnel, by the Western Wall, at the centre of which is a shrine, where women are able to pray in the nearest place that they are able to get, to the most holy of places in the Jewish religion, The Dome of the Rock. Once outside, our time at the Western, or "Wailing Wall", was brilliant. Lots of hustle and bustle, including a Bar Mitzvah celebration taking place. Paul took some video of this, and was then invited to go to the wall - by a Jew from Edgeware! - who instructed him what to say, and when, and then asked him for a donation! At this point, he managed to off-load a couple of dollars we were wanting to get rid of! The courtyard area was busy, with an atmosphere of celebration, but women had to stand on plastic chairs, to look over the partitions, to see what was going on near the Wall area! Back to the hotel for sandwiches, then we walked down from Mount Zion, through the Kidron Valley, to the Pool of Siloam, where we heard the account of Jesus healing the blind man. Next time I hear this story, I'll be able to picture where this took place. Then, briefly back onto the coach, to be dropped near the Damascus Gate, from where we walked to the Garden Tomb. Although this is almost certainly not the site of Calvary and resurrection, it is a wonderful place in which to focus on the amazing significance of these events, and, although it was (unusually) quite busy, we managed to find some space in which to share communion, and the Peace, and we returned, uplifted, to the hotel.
TUESDAY 23RD OCTOBER.
Our day began with a visit to the Temple Mount. Before entering this extremely sensitive area, you have to pass through a strict security system, and there is a notice, prior to passing through the metal-detector, to say that this does not contravene the laws of the Sabbath! We were advised not to have crosses visible, shoulders and knees had to be covered (as was the case in all the churches we visited), and we had to behave appropriately (e.g. not holding hands, or showing any sign of affection) and to stay together as a group. This area, in which are situated The Dome of the Rock, and the Mosque of El Aksa, is sacred to three faiths, and people are closely observed whilst visiting. After we had seen and photographed these spectacular buildings, we went to sit on the steps below the Temple walls. Here, as George read scripture readings to us, I tried to picture Jesus sitting and talking to his disciples, and teaching. On to the coach again, setting off to Bethlehem, to our second "hospital appointment". As we were approaching the Bethlehem Arab Society Rehabilitation Centre, at the top of a steep, narrow road, the coach came head to head with a car, and there followed a heated argument about who should give way. The Palestinian car driver, (who was apparently a patient at the Centre) then took a car jack from the boot of his car, and boarded the coach, brandishing the jack at Johnny! This was somewhat unnerving, and staff at the hospital told us they often see similar displays of aggression. However, it didn't spoil the visit, and , once again, we met staff and patients, and were shown around the wards, the Physio and O.T. departments, and then we had chance to buy items, made by the patients, from the hospital shop. We were also able to deliver the items we had brought from home, including sheets, pillow cases, toothpaste, soap, and fluffy toys, many of which had come from "the shop". (Slightly anxious moment when we noticed pink pigs in the bag!). We then had a rather rushed visit to the Shepherd's Fields, in Beit Sahour, as they were due to close for lunch, but still found time for a short service at the Chapel of the Angels. It was here, also, where Rachel spotted a snake on the path! From there, on to the Christmas Tree Café, for a "fast food" lunch- falafel's and a drink - and onwards, to Manger Square, and the Basilica of the Nativity. Here, we sang again , and descended the marble steps to the Grotto of the Nativity, which marks the birthplace of Jesus. In yet another wonderful environment, we had time to contemplate, both as a group, and individually, the meaning of this momentous event. Because of some reorganisation of visits during the holiday, we had some spare time on our hands, so most of us were dropped off at the Jaffa Gate, where, in small groups, we walked around the Old City, visiting the markets, and haggling for goods, before walking back up the hill to the hotel. The evening meal tonight was a barbecue, which made a nice change, followed by drinks in the Bedouin area - Judith and Paul joining us for the hookah pipe tonight!
WEDNESDAY 24TH OCTOBER.
Our last day!! We had a new driver, and a new guide today. I can't remember the driver's name, but it translated as "tiger", and he belonged to the Druze race of people. The guide was called Joy, and she lived up to her name, being very enthusiastic and passionate about her country and her job. We set off to the Dead Sea area, and, as we travelled on the coach, we could feel our ears popping, as we descended through the desert area. As we looked out of the coach windows, we noticed many Bedouin communities, but I didn't manage to spot any of the gazelles or hyenas, which apparently are found here. We stopped first at Qumran, where, after an audio-visual presentation, Joy showed us the excavations of a desert community settlement. These clearly demonstrated the skill and ingenuity of craftsmen and engineers of the time. There, we had a view of the cave in which a Bedouin boy discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, whilst searching for a lost goat. We continued driving down, along the western shore of the Dead Sea, arriving at Ein Gedi Spa. Here, we had the time of our lives, first bathing in the hot sulphur pools, then walking to the "beach", where we plastered ourselves with the mineral- rich mud. Led by John Filsak, we sang all three verses of "Mud, mud, glorious mud", much to everyone else's amusement and entertainment! When the scorching sun had dried off the mud, we washed it off in sulphur and fresh water showers, then rode down to the sea in a little train. Flip-flops were essential, as the sea-bed of solid salt crystals was extremely sharp. What an amazing feeling, to be at the lowest point on the earth, floating with no effort (due to the high salt and mineral content of the water), the magnificent mountains as a back-drop, and the Mountains of Moab, just visible through the haze behind us. We were assured that our skin would feel great, and we would feel very healthy afterwards, due to the healing properties of the mud and water! We were also told that it was unlikely we would get sunburnt, due to being shielded from the harmful rays of the sun, by the extra layers of atmosphere, ozone, and evaporation. All the same, Alison's hat stayed firmly on her head, even in the sea! After more showers, we swam briefly in a "normal" pool, where we watched birds, peculiar to the Dead Sea area, drinking from the pool. We had lunch at the Spa, before travelling a few miles south, to our final destination, Masada. Here, we watched a short, explanatory film, before boarding the cable-car, which took us to the summit of the flat-topped mountain. Peter and Alison were thrilled, especially when Joy stopped us on the walkway at the top, to enthusiastically show us the views from the narrow platform!! Masada was the site of an elaborate "hanging palace", built by King Herod, as a winter home, and later taken by Jewish Zealots, who held out against the Roman siege, for three years. Joy guided us around the excavations and reconstructions of an entire community settlement on top of the mountain, and told us of the mass suicide of 900 Jewish people, on the mountain, preferring this to becoming slaves to the Romans. We were quite tired and hot by the time we finished, but , as we got off the cable-car at the bottom, were welcomed by an amazing display of fruit, and we bought massive glasses of fresh fruit juice - very welcome! On the journey back, we had a five-minute stop at a service area, where Judith led the group in our "end of journey" service. We once more shared the Peace, and , as we left the car-park, we noticed the sign at the exit -( as always, written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and English ) - GO IN PEACE……Perfect!! For our final meal together, we decided to eat "a la carte", seated outside in the Bedouin tent. We literally had a feast, and it was a fitting way to spend our last evening, before finishing our packing and going to bed early.
THURSDAY 25TH OCTOBER.
Wake-up call at 2.15am. Drinks and cake provided by the hotel, prior to leaving at 3am for Tel Aviv airport. The check-in procedures were understandably thorough, each of us being questioned, and most of the party having their cases checked, but again, it was not as lengthy or unnerving as we'd expected. We took off for Paris on time, but on arrival at C.D.G airport, things went a little haywire, mainly due to the Air France strike. We knew we would have little time between flights, and it seemed to take an age to travel across the airport by bus and on foot. After one and a half hours, we finally boarded the plane, to be told they were still awaiting our luggage being boarded - and there was also a technical problem! After another hour on the plane, we finally took off, arriving at about 3.45pm English time, at Manchester airport, where we said our goodbyes to Vera and Stephanie. Because of the delay, the coach which was meeting us, had been diverted around Manchester, so it was another two hours before we left for Halifax, arriving at Judith's at about 7pm., tired, but completely unperturbed by the delay.
This was truly the trip of a lifetime for me, and the experience will remain with me for ever. The weather, the food, the travelling, was fantastic. The fellowship and dynamics of everyone in the group was wonderful, and we were superbly led by Judith and Paul. We fitted a huge amount into the time, and were given masses of information - it was almost too much to take in at times! In one way, for me, it has given me a sense of completion, in that I've seen, and briefly experienced, some of the places where Jesus spent his earthly life - places I have heard and read about all my life. Yet, in another way, it is just the beginning for me. The flood-gates have now opened, and the Bible has been completely brought to life. I have learned so much about the roots of my faith, and also witnessed some of the traditions and practices of people of the Jewish and Islamic faiths. It was far more important to me, to appreciate the significance of the places we visited, and how they speak to me , rather than being concerned whether or not this "was the actual place where Jesus stood". I feel very privileged to have been a part of this trip, and, to quote some words from our booklet - "The real journey is not across the ocean - The real journey is within"…….How cool is that!!!