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In the middle of a Holy Land spice warehouse, I learned a lesson

October 13, 2017

j10It is a wee bit past six in the morning and we are in Haifa.  We zipped in here late  yesterday after taking in yet another whirlwind of sites.  The momentum of the week is now showing on our students; more than one nodded off in the van and when we arrived at the hostel last night, and some could barely keep their eyes open as they had their passports checked and rooms assigned.   But what a day it was. 

Capernaum’s weather was hot but beautiful.  We walked through the ruins and sat next to the chunky Roman-style columns while Christian and Brooke both read passages from the Bible concerning this boyhood home of Jesus.  Could Jesus have walked on this particular pathway I’m stepping on?  Certainly He would have gazed on those same hills as He moved throughout His ministry here…  The mind boggles, as they say.  We moved into the remains of a second century synagogue that was built, Dr. Hudson informed us,  most assuredly over the foundation of the very same synagogue where Jesus and His disciples attended.  From the pillars to the threshold, you saw a Biblical timeline teasing your thoughts.  Could He have passed by this…?

Yesterday was a series of sites that threw us back to Jesus’ family life.  We trekked through Magdala, snapping photos like stereotypical tourists, yet not without asking and seeking to know as much as possible.  Is it true historians say Jesus would have assuredly walked down this narrow main street?  Funny thing about archaeological sites:  you can’t hurry past them.  You get an itch to re-route yourself at another angle, take another look, ask another question, take another picture, reach out and touch what you can.  It’s a great alternative activity to the average American manic/electronic pace.  You’re forced to slow down, and it’s a good thing, especially for a Christian.  We need time to incubate more of this great faith we follow.

We had a quiet time at the site of the Sermon on the Mount.  The setting is beautifully serene, with small plaques of the various teachings of Christ embedded at the side of the walkways among the fountains and flowers of the estate.  We looked over the hill and saw what probably was the very spot where Jesus stunned hundreds – thousands? – with the greatest sermon ever preached.  We moved quietly (there is an unwritten rule of silence) over to a small benched area and sat in the sunlight while Simon, Morgan and Ethan each read a selected passage from Jesus’ words found in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of Matthew.  We reflected and discussed a bit before moving on. Our next stop was the church dedicated to the site of the Loaves and Fishes, where Jesus miraculously fed the thousands on the hillside.  We reminded ourselves that the fish served had never spent a moment swimming in the Sea of Galilee, nor had the bread been baked in any Hebrew oven.  This food came straight from the pantry of Heaven.  I wonder what the best food on earth would have tasted like?

We got an idea of the kind of fish it might have been.  We went to St. Peter’s restaurant and had a meal of the “Saint Peter’s fish” – yes, eyeballs and fins and tail and all right on our plate- in order to get an idea of the cuisine of the first century.  For the record, Ethan ate the eyeballs and Ron, not wanting to be outdone, swallowed them as well.  Simon informed us that the eyeballs had a rubbery/plastic taste to them, and proceeded to eat the fish’s brain.

We dined on arosa in Haifa and sipped mint lemonade in a plaza as the sun went down.  We reflected back on Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the White Mosque, the impossibly intertwining traffic, the winding inner-city pathways with delicious aromas, and even the stray cats that took immediately to our group despite the fact that Brooke kept yelling that she didn’t like cats. But…

… what was my strongest memory of the day?  That’s easy.

Dr. Hudson had taken us down a side street in Nazareth that led to a nondescript bland building embedded within an alleyway.  We crouched and entered through a tiny doorway into a magical little warehouse filled with boxes, crates, bags and barrels.  This was Elbabour Galilee Mill, and the jovial owner Tony greeted us with a huge smile, open arms and a tiny cup of delicious Arabic coffee.  We moved about the bins of ginger, cinnamon, coffees, teas and dried fruits.  What a grand smell! There was a side room for candies – chocolates, dates, figs – and huge scoops and bags to get us started with our shopping.  The atmosphere was fascinating.  Tony kept up a waving-arm narrative as our students and sponsors brought sweets and spices to the counter for purchase.  His joy was genuine.  He waved off my purchase.  “You’re their teacher,” he said, shooing away my shekels.  “No charge.”

We gathered and sang for him.  He pulled out his phone and filmed us while he beamed.

And then he spoke.

“I welcome you any time; you are my friends.  But I also  ask you to pray for us Christians here.  We are a minority in this land, and we need your prayers.”  When we assured him we would, he continued.  “I find it my ministry to share Jesus every day here – right here – to everybody that comes in this shop.  My family for many years has owned this store and we serve the community in this 250 year-old building in the city of Jesus, and this is what I want to do:  to tell Jesus every day, every time I have the opportunity.  I want to reach out to all people, all kinds, and let them know of Jesus’ love.”

And that may have been the greatest part of this trip to me.

A simple man in love with Jesus and in love with the people around him.  A simple man with a simple message of Jesus, made easy because the love of Christ exuded from him.  A man who was in the minority of the beliefs of the land, yet so filled with a passion for outreach that his active ministry was in a 250 year-old spice warehouse while he worked.

He was blooming where he was planted.

I think I am taking a very, very big lesson from the Holy Land.


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