Just woke up. We (me, Andre, Tim and Jason) flew into Amman last night. Left LAX at 2:55 PM (PST) Friday. It was a 25 hour trip or so plus we lost about 10 hours so it was early Sunday morning by the time we arrived here. Jason, Andre and I met up with Tim in London. There are a few items we have forgotten to bring, but should not be a problem. Either John Vencer can bring them or they are not necessities. Tim missed his original flight to London. Worked out though as his layover was shorter as a result.
First miracle happened when we got off the plane. We were able to change money, get visas, secure all 12 check in baggage, get through customs, meet Todd and into a van all in about 15 minutes. We discovered the key to getting past officials is to act like a dumb tourist who doesn't understand what they are saying and has no clue what is going on. OK so maybe we weren't acting.
Today, we have most of the day to just relax and rest up. We are staying in a really nice hotel: swimming pool, fitness room, and room service. Should be able to get in some devotions, possibly a Bible study and hopefully a workout, maybe a little swim.
Since we lost a day here is a little something from Oswald Chambers—Sept. 23:
"The aim of the missionary is to do God's will, not to be useful, not to win the heathen; he is useful and he does win the heathen, but that is not his aim. His aim is to do the will of his Lord."
God has awakened me in the middle of the night. I have not prepared diligently for this trip. He is wrestling me into shape now. What a glorious God. Oswald spoke yesterday of preparation as being a continuous thing; that we should constantly be preparing ourselves. "…but preparation is not suddenly accomplished, it is a process steadily maintained." I was not prepared for a conversation with a Canadian girl at the airport yesterday.
"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains,
From whence shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is you keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
He will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever."
A Psalm from mom to her boys
Once again God has awakened me early. He is trying to get my attention to spend more time with Him. "I am sorry, Lord, for not seeking You more daily." He has given me a Psalm to bring in the morning:
"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by.
I will cry out to God Most High, to God who performs all things for me.
He shall send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches the one who would swallow me up.
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth.
My soul is among lions; I lie among the sons of men who are set on fire,
Whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be above all the earth.
They have prepared a net for my steps; my soul is bowed down;
They have dug a pit before me; into the midst of it they themselves have fallen.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise.
Awake, my glory! Awake, lute and harp! I will awaken the dawn.
I will praise You, O Lord among the nations.
For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, and Your truth unto the clouds.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let Your glory be above all the earth."
Today we will be having a press conference. We were supposed to leave for Baghdad today, but all our visas are not ready and some people would have to stay behind. We are now scheduled to leave Friday.
In a little while, Dre, Tim and I will be having a little prayer time. I look forward to it. I want to share with them the idea that God gave me that the only way that these Middle Eastern people will believe and accept Christ is through His power. Meaning, obviously, that only through the Spirit of God can man come to repentance and acceptance of the Atonement, but also, just as Jesus performed miracles to give proof of His authority, I believe, that God has called us to perform the same miracles to show the power that we have in Christ again proclaiming His authority, Deity and glory. I pray that our hearts will be prepared for Christ to work in us. "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us." 2 Corinthians 4:7
We moved from the relatively posh Amman West Hotel to the not so impressive Cameo Hotel today. We have done a lot of sitting around. Gained an hour for daylight savings. I have the itch to get this journey underway, but then challenged by an email from Carin Clary, "I miss how when I was traveling, I felt like I absorbed more of life every day, that I gained something each day." What have I gained today? Between that, Brennan Manning and Sarah McLachlan it has been a melancholy day.
"Soul searching... Is misery made beautiful right before our eyes? Mercy be revealed..." Why does God have us waiting here? To pray. Why am I so lazy, so disobedient? Brennan's book, "The Ragamuffin Gospel" nearly brought me to tears four times today. First out of disdain of my own depravity, then awe of God's love and mercy. I'm once again realizing how self-centered I am. I guess I am in a good spot for the "Gospel of Grace"
Well, here's my struggle to memorize:
"If then, you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above not on the things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life is revealed, you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore, consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passions, evil desire and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is on account of these that the wrath of God will come. And in them you also once walked when you were living in them. You then also, put these aside anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another; as you have put of the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him. a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Sythian, slave or freeman, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as those chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, forgiving one another. If anyone of you has a grievance against another, just as Christ forgave you, you also should forgive. And over all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts just as members of one body you were called to peace and be thankful. Let the Word of Christ dwell richly within you with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with hymns, psalms and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to the Father through Christ. Wives submit to your husbands as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children obey your parents in all things."
It is uncertain when we will enter Iraq, if at all. George Sada is on his way there today to find out what happened. One day everything was going to be all set for us to enter and the next we were going to have to wait at least a month. It seems this is the way things go here in the Middle East. The challenge and the goal is to trust that God has this whole thing planned out no matter how it appears and to do His will today where He has us. It seems the whole team is pretty much on the same page and seeking God.
Yesterday, Robin gave us each a copy of an article on the US conspiracy to destroy Iraq's drinking water supply during the gulf war. The report showed that the U.S. had even calculated what effects this would have on the Iraqi people. It was pretty accurate, as many people have died, mostly children.
At first I was sickened, enraged, hollow. Then God reminded me of the sin He has forgiven me of and that I need to pray not only for His saving compassion on the Iraqi victims, but also His sweet mercy on those that have caused this destruction. Not only that, but also to ask forgiveness for my countries audacity. "Therefore, as those chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another and forgiving one another if any of you has a grievance against another, just as Christ forgave you so also should you forgive." Colossians 3:12-13
Yesterday, Dre, Jason, Peter and I went to a mosque. Both it and the Christian church across the street had all kinds of trinkets for sale right at their doorstep. That bothers me.
I'm wrestling with this whole Islamic thing: Do they worship the same God as we do? Are these people subject to some demonic force? How can I share the light of Christ with them?
Hopefully this trip will give light to God's holy answers. One thing is for sure He is instilling in me a compassion for them. There is fighting going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians over the past four or five days. The last count was 37 Palestinians dead and over 700 injured. The fighting is likely to continue before it stops. I'm learning that the Palestinians are not necessarily the bad guys. We have been brainwashed with the whole Zionist movement idea. At the end of WW2 the Palestinians were basically kicked out of their homes to make room for the Jews. A gracious gesture by the powers that be at the time, but somehow twisted. I really want to learn more about this area and its history.
This morning Robin gave us the latest news from Bethlehem. There was more fighting last night. Sami said he could see the sky all lit up from his porch. Then Robin told us that he is sending the media crew down there to get pre-journey footage. Well, I guess it is time to step up the trust in Al-Muhaymin (The Protector). I am actually kind of looking forward to going there even though I have this feeling something may happen to me. All is in God's hands. I am not my own. I Corinthians 6:19, Romans 14:7-8
We are supposed to leave this afternoon. We are all packed up to leave the Cameo Hotel. Won't really miss that place. We will stay at the Bethlehem Bible College.
We are in by the hand of God. We arrived at the Israeli military checkpoint into Bethlehem after a trivial border crossing into Israel. All the agents at the border patrol were about 16. So the Israeli guards turned the cabbie back saying there was war further down. Steve (Jennings) told him to stop so that we could talk to the soldiers. We could here shots being fired in the distance. Within minutes a car pulled up from the other side of the checkpoint. Joseph, the Palestinian cameraman that is along with us, went and talked to the driver. Soon three of the four guys and Joseph were off into the war zone. 10-15 minutes later Steve, Peter Ryan and I were picked up by the same random guy who apparently was just making random runs across one of the worst possible strips of road you could possibly be on in the entire world literally... or he had been sent there.
The people here are very casual about the fighting. It has become a part of their lives. Sami Awad (Holy Land Trust Bethlehem office) said a few nights earlier he watched the tracer bullets fly back and forth across the valley below where we are staying. The Bethlehem Bible College where we are supposed to stay and the HLT office are even nearer to the concentration of fighting. We are curious to know God's designs for us. Today we are supposed to go to Jericho and shoot some footage. When the journey comes through this whole area it will be winter and we may not be able to get shots as good.
So far everyone we have had contact with over here that knows anything about the geopolitics of the Middle East is sympathetic to the Palestinians. Judging from what we have heard, rightfully so. I am interested to hear more sides of the story. In the meantime, I pray:
Lord, God be merciful to these people. Both the Israeli's and the Palestinians. Bring peace to this land... the peace of Christ. Lord, may we be a light for you. Show us, or at least guide us to what you have planned for us. May our actions, words and deeds be glorifying to You and promote Your grace and Your truth. Lord, give us understanding and compassion for this culture and these events. May we love the people and let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works and glorify You, our Father in heaven. Matt. 5:16
"O Lord, I have heard your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy." Habakkuk 3:2
Slept in today after one of the most interesting 48 hours or so of my life. Wednesday night, we sat in the Bethlehem Bible College and listened as gunfire was sounded throughout the area. There was even fighting just outside on the street next to the college.
Jason, Tim, Dre and I sat in our room and looked out the window, but could not see much of anything. We could see power cut in different areas of the city as lights went down, but not much else. Dre caught some of the sounds of battle as well as a tracer bullet that went over the building on the DV cam.
There was another group staying at the college as well and we all met in an inner room and prayed; a small light in a dark menacing place, but a bright light. That time of prayer was very encouraging. Again God is teaching me to love and accept being part of the Body of Christ. Afterwards Tim, Dre, and I practiced some worship tunes. I look forward to a guitar being on the journey.
This morning we went out to see the wreckage. We walked by some Palestinian soldiers posted down the street from the college. Then we stopped and talked to some employees of a recently opened hotel that lies almost directly in front of the war zone area. They said all the patrons had cancelled their reservations. We continued up the block after being assured that it was safe. A bunch of young boys were hanging around where there was all kinds of debris that had been thrown over the previous four or five days. Dre had his camera rolling which they quickly told him to stop. They frisked us and asked us what we were doing and where we were from. The older boys were OK with us and told us to continue on our way. The younger boys were a bit friskier, trying to steal our possessions and hurling a few stones at Tim, Dre and Jason as they continued up the road toward the smoldering fires and further residue of war. I, on the other hand, turned back toward the college. I had no intention of having to pass back through these boys.
As I walked back past the guards they stopped me and asked what I was doing and where I was going. I had a voice recorder in my hand, which made them more suspicious. Luckily when they played it an accidental recording of Dre playing a song the night before played. They asked me for my passport which I had forgotten back at the college. They told me to go get it and gave me back the recorder. I decided not to go back and show them my passport.
We decided to leave Palestine later today. Since our visas for Iraq have come through for this weekend we did not want to be stuck in Bethlehem.After waiting for Daoud for a number of hours at a restaurant in Jerusalem where Dre and I were able to enjoy a Guiness we hopped in a van and headed for the border crossing.
Peter Ryan had to go to a separate border crossing because he had already been into Israel and back and had to renew his visa. So I went with him on an two hour ride that took just over one hour with our cabbie. Everything seemed to be going very smoothly, too smoothly. We got on the bus to cross into Jordan territory and the Israeli customs girl said we needed to get stamped, next we needed to buy some other stamp thing and then the customs girl at the passport stamp window started asking us all the wrong questions: Where were you staying? How long will you be in Jordan? Where will you go after that? Will you be coming back to Israel? When? Her superior came and questioned us next. Mostly the same questions over again. Then she told us to come inside, x-rayed our bags, and then looked through them. Finally she gave us the OK to go. We quickly got through to the Jordanian side where they were waiting for us and anxious to close up shop. They rushed us through and got us a cab. The cab ride was about 90km over this super winding twisting uphill road. Finally, we reached our destination. The other two groups through the border that night had similar stories to tell.
God is increasing my trust in Him and Him alone. I felt safe in the shadow of His wings the entire evening, although I was getting a bit frustrated with the interrogation. The ride to the border in the van cab was a sweet time of rest in Jesus. We had lovely fellowship that was a great preparation for my soul.
Today, we slept in. Since the Muslims go to Mosque on Friday's, today is the one week aniversary of the violence in Palestine everyone was already calling this "day of rage" and much protesting and violence was expected. At one O' clock when I watched the news not much had happened yet, although one clash had broken out. There was demonstrating and protesting going on even here in Amman. As we walked down to the office from the Cameo Hotel we caught the tail end of a march. Todd and Keith said that it was 3 to 5 hundred strong. As Jason was on his way down later, he saw some guys with an American flag trying to get people to run over it in the streets. He opted to return to the hotel for a while.
I am interested to see the unfolding of events today in the critical areas. It is so strange to be so near to this whole thing. I think, a great experience, molding a new perspective of the world in me. So much different than our safe little homes in the good ol' US of A. To see the propaganda—or is it truth?—from the newspapers and media here. The actions of the US sure are portrayed in a way that embarrasses me. We are not the benevolent power that we have bought into. Which is too bad because there is so much more that we could do since there is really no major threat of opposition to us. Pray for our country.
We edited some audio clips of the gunfire of Wednesday night today. Still seems a bit surreal.
Well, my question for the day is, "Why did God have us go to the end before we could start at the beginning? Did He want us to have that experience of being in amongst the sounds of battle? To bring us closer, to make it real? What should I learn from all this?"
I have read most of one of Robin's papers on the Middle East and Muslims today. It continues to build my heart for these people. I need to get into the Word more. I keep reading all these other things. Just finished Brennan's, The Ragamuffin Gospel, which was a great taste of grace, but I keep getting the feeling that God wants to teach me from His word through His Spirit. Why do I ignore these promptings? Why do I avoid His Word? His love bruises me. Forces me to relinquish my life. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.
We are here for our second full day. Getting across the border a couple days ago was a little sketchy. Now being here is fine though. Edward, Albert, Solomon and George are the guys who picked us up. They are great. They gave us each a whole wad of cash that night and another one today. I have yet to spend any of the first one. We are staying in the Sagman Hotel. The service here is amazing. They treat us like we are some big important people. I don't really like it much. I want the waiters to just sit down and eat with us or something. We have a special dining room that they set up each meal just for us. It is strange that Robin sent what I have deemed the "eight jokers:" me, Dre, Tim, Jason, Keith, Prosper, Peter and Todd here on our own. We have started playing a new card game called Mouw that Todd picked up in Mexico.
Tim and I had a good talk last night. He was talking about getting engaged as soon as we get back then married in the summer. We also talked a little about gifts of the spirit and decided to study them a bit. Lord, I pray that You will direct and discipline us for I want to know You and Your Spirit more and be able to be used by You to the full. I am hoping and praying that during this journey God will move in a glorious way to glorify Himself in a tremendous way. In a way He already has, but I want to see more of His glory. Your will, O Lord, and none of Jake. Break me, renew me to Your image. Your grace is sufficient for me. In my weakness You are made strong. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty! Who was and is and is to come! I praise the God of love the Son of grace and the Spirit of wisdom. Amen.
The guys who are here are working so hard to get this journey under way and organized. I can't believe all the seemingly excessive things being purchased and that will be going along with us. To some extent, I think, us guys would be more comfortable if we just grabbed our sleeping bags and and hit the desert. But God is in control. This is His gig. It is actually kind of a great example of His kingdom because us low, mostly jobless goofballs are being served by these older men with many credentials and so much experience and wisdom.
I hope Dre gets a guitar soon.
We went to the church today and got fitted for our costumes. I will be a guard. The Magi for now are Prosper, John and Todd, a good mix. We walked up to the front of the church as a choir of children sang "We Three Kings".
Before we got fitted George told us that a US navy destroyer had been hit by a suicide boat that was loaded with some type of explosive near Yemen. Who is responsible is apparently undetermined as of now. He told us that we need to be careful and only do what he tells us. It is hard to calculate if we are in any sort of danger and if so how much.
Last night he also told us a story of a bombing mission that he was on several years ago. A kid didn't want to go because he was scared so George let him stay behind and the kid got killed when he hit his head after a bomb went off near the shelter he was in. So it doesn't matter where we are so much as our God is in control of life and death. "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death." Revelation 1:18
The past couple days we have been able to go to the Air Force club and play some indoor soccer in the gym there. Very nice to get out and get some exercise. John made it in to Baghdad safely last night. Robin and Nancy should come this afternoon or evening with Joseph and possibly another guy.
I really need to be praying more. It has been a struggle the last couple days to stay focused on my King, my Lord, my Master. I have begun reading Joshua.
Today we had an indoor game against a team of under-17s. We won 5-3. This was good game and good relationship is building. We have been playing at the Air Force Club almost every day now. We also played some basketball yesterday and the day before. Late tonight we are heading for a bomb shelter that was bombed in the war ten years ago. Nearly 300 civilians were killed. They were incinerated by two missiles that are capable of drilling through concrete ten feet thick and then set off firebombs. We will fast there overnight praying.
It has been hard not to have any contact with the outside world. The people here are incredibly gracious and have absolutely no hostility toward us at all. They seem to know that we have nothing to do with what our government has done to them. The team seems fairly unified. David Johnston, who is with us for a few weeks, speaks Arabic and has spent a lot of time in the Middle East. He has also been a pastor so he has done a good job of leading the corporate worship and prayer.
Inside Amerieh bomb shelter...
Lord, how can I have Your heart in me when this one night I hold a vigil for the lost, the innocent, the sick, the dying, the poor, and You alone keep such vigil nightly and throughout the day? I cannot bring tears for the death and evil that is represented here, though my heart is grieved; do You cry? If You do, it must be often. Lord, bring a prayer to my heart. My time on earth is short. Bring a prayer to my heart that is of some worth, that will move You in some way... Otherwise, what point have I here? Lord, show me what gift I may bring to my King, the King of Kings, God Most High, Jesus my Redeemer. I bring You a Psalm from Your servant David:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the Holy place of the Most High God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn.
The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Come behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth, He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalm 46
We went to the ancient city of Babylon. How amazing to be in the place where Daniel was. "But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies…" I could learn a lesson from him.
Today was pretty awesome. We finally got out and journeyed, rode camels, took a boat ride on the Tigris in full costume, and shot a Magi scene around the fire at Ctesiphon—the largest standing brick arch in the world. We also played a pick up game of soccer with the locals. As we walked with the camels kids came and watched. The camels crossed the Tigris over a pontoon bridge. If we could just keep traveling like this it would be great. Everyone received us graciously with a smile and a wave. O Lord, please let this continue.
The past few days have me in prayer often on the bus rides. Enriching times of fellowship and petition with God. A great answer to prayer—I'm praying!
We marched into a Christian celebration today near the sight of one of the oldest churches in the world. In full costume, with camels... we were heroes, if just for one day. Americans are so big and conspicuous. As we set out on our 24km day all the buses carrying people from the celebration passed by our entourage honking and waving.
The reception and wonder of this spectacle was excellent. I pray that this Journey will continue. Now that we have begun the journey, Robin's vision of eight years finally in action, this is amazing, I believe a great glory to God, may Jesus be honored. Already much has been accomplished.
I rode a camel today?! The Lord certainly blesses those who even attempt to be faithful beyond imagination. I pray that our team will be one. That kindness will increase (Ephesians 4:29) and cruelty cease.
Today was another great day of journey. My heart goes out to all the children that we pass. These are the innocents, the ones that this journey is for. So many tiny little boys and girls with their hair all awry staring at this absurd procession of camels and people traveling past their hut settled amidst the cornfields. O Lord, I ask You for a blessing for each one of these and the thousands more who live in humble circumstances, who maybe are starving or malnourished, who have no shoes, no good water. Your hand alone can lift the sanctions against these lives. Be merciful. Forgive my country for its fatness and greed. Oh, how I dream that these children could sit at a five-day club with CEF (Child Evangalism Fellowship), a CFM program (Childrens First Ministries), or be taught soccer skills by the Eagles. That they could know You to hear of Your great love and grace preserve their souls for eternity I pray.
Selukia is an ancient city. Its ruins lie under many hills of dirt. Some excavation has been done and broken bits of pottery can be found strewn around on the ground. I would really like to join Josh for a summer and spend some time on a dig.
We stopped in with a Bedouin tribe and had some tea in their tents. Robin wants to buy one of the tents. The bedouins travel a circuit each year that is longer than our journey, over 1000 miles. Just a glimpse of their lifestyle left me in want of more.
Todd was thrown from a camel, Tim's decided to take a dust bath while he was still aboard, and he narrowly escaped a leg crushing. We traveled between 25 and 28 km today, which is close to twenty miles. I expect that the next few days will be similar distances.
Our group seems to be getting along fine. We are making relations with the camel guides. David will be sorely missed when he leaves this coming Monday. He does a wonderful job of translating and ministering in Arabic. Phil should be joining us soon.
May God continue to put His blessing upon this Journey as He orchestrates to His glory. May live be touched and pointed toward Him. Seeds planted, peace made, chains of evil broken, love poured out, grace abounded.
Lord, You made me realize even more today that You and You alone can save these people. So I pray to the Lord of the harvest. Feed them; reap their souls send a spring rain in a time of dryness. Their souls are in need of water as much as their mouths and fields—living water. So many children, You know each one. How big and merciful You are. Lord, send laborers. Please nourish.
What another wonderful day. The landscape is beautiful; farmland, huts, cattle, donkeys, shepherds, harvesters, the river. Once again, we were welcomed with open arms. A shiekh's brother treated us to tea; a man who had seen us on TV excitedly entertained us with bread, yogurt, and dates. Another man could not persuade us to stop, but not for lack of desire. As we proceeded on, gun shots of celebration were fired into the air! No camel casualties today. Children and grown men love the cameras, not so much the women though. I took a picture of at least two of these dear, disheveled young sisters with huge, gorgeous green eyes set against dark brown skin.
Today we traveled about 30 km and reached Rhamadi before heading for the restaurant we went to last night as well. The smoked chicken and shwarmas were great. Tonight is our last night in the Sagman Hotel. David and Joseph leave tomorrow back to Amman. I think we will be camping out tomorrow night.
I think more and more people that we pass on the road know who we are because an interview with Robin has been shown on TV a few times. A fighter jet went overhead today. John said it was Iraqi, but it was another reminder of how our country continues to bomb here. I see so many children each day. Tiny little kids, young boys riding their bikes, teenagers hanging out and none of them know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. I pray that the Spirit of God will reach out a long arm to them. O God, be merciful to these people, bless this land with Your holy presence, make Your grace known to them.
Finally, we are out of the Sagman and "camping". We've decided to call it 4-1/2 star camping (1/2 star taken off because there are no carpets in the tents). We are not exactly roughing it. Water tanks, toilet (lighted), lighted tents, beds with mattresses.
The hike was good today over 30 km. I think my video shooting skills are improving. I pray for Robin—he wants to walk the whole way, but his feet and body are suffering. Dre played some songs on his new-used guitar tonight as we sat under stars and satellites.
Today I walked about half way with the group and then went back and walked all but 7 km with Robin, and then we played some football with some locals. Team Magi is now 3-0.
Robin is a very committed man. I am exhausted and can't think of anything to write. It is barely past 8:00pm.
Lord, you know my heart, the people I care for and the people I should pray for. I lift these to You and this Journey; the logistics and the people touched. All is in Your hands. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit that I may know Your will and give me the strength to obey. I love You, Lord. Carry me into Your arms of healing and love. Empty me of myself and fill me with Your Son, the Savior and Keeper of my soul.
A day of rest. Took my first shower in the shower tent. A nice breakfast of fried eggs. Had some more of the pickled Mango we discovered last night with the native fish. Peter, in-charge of the camp, is a cool old guy. He does a little of everything. Right now he's a crane operator, used to play football (soccer) for the Iraqi National team 40 years ago. He's a great chef.
Logged some video tape. A little interested to see some of my camera work.
We built a soccer pitch out in front of the campsite fully lined. The owner of the land we are on brought his kids and a team from Ramadi. We wore our Iraqi jerseys for the game. 0-0 at halftime then fatigue set in, they took us 8-2. Johnny, Peter's helper played goal for us. Another shower much needed from a dusty field and a rough opponent.
Tonight, chicken and rice. Then Abu-Galen (owner of the land) taught us this came called "the ring". 2 teams hide a ring and guess who has it and in what hand apparently they have tournaments with teams that have as many as 500 people.
I'm struggling to surrender, deny myself as a lifestyle. Why not rest in His arms? I am a fool.
There is so much to God's Word. I am concentrating on just a little portion of it—Ephesians 1, Psalm 121—and it overwhelms me. Only through a "spirit of wisdom" and "revelation in the knowledge of Him" given from God is it possible to fathom even portions of His greatness, of His plan.
Another day of the Journey, we left Baghdadi and walked through desert all day to Haditha. The group seems to be getting on fine. Robin is way behind the rest of the group. He had to stop early today; wasn't feeling well. Lord, heal his body.
Prayer was better today after a bout with lust and selfishness for a few days. I want to be around (just got water thrown on us from the Land Cruiser—Vencer will pay dearly!) women. I think about them often and how things will be when I get back. I think about it too much.
Sometimes I start praying for someone and it gets twisted. Sometimes vice versa. I hope, O God, the more I pray for women the more my thoughts of them will be pure. We hardly see women here and when we do they are all covered up, which almost increases their lure. Lord, I lift up women around the world who are oppressed by men and each other. Bring freedom. You alone are able.
Today we left camp for the last time. We will travel 10-15 km to the Syrian border. Well, it was actually like 4-5 km. We left the town of Quiam to the border, a great way to end the Iraq portion. Many goodbyes and some tears. I gave Driver a pair of pants. I miss the guys that did so much for us already: Uncle Albert, Edward, Abu-Dalia, George, Ishmael, Moses, the camel guys, Mohammad and Solomon.
We've only just gotten across the Syrian border and already we can see the effects of the sanctions—things are so much more accessible here: we had cheese! we are riding in a car made in the 90's; even the camels are like Cadillac's! It makes me realize and appreciate the extreme effort our Iraqi friends went through to accommodate us. Curse me, for every complaint I made and I cry out to my God, The Reconciler, give the Iraqi people freedom. Bless all those that helped us, be merciful to the children, I pray.
I've concluded that the Iraqi people remind me the most of my grandparents' generation. A great compliment I know. (Maybe partly because a lot of the people we dealt with were older men.) Anyway, I would liken them to those who struggled through a devastating depression, WWII and a great deal of change.
The Iraqi's have suffered similar tragedy in a blood bath war with Iran and now the economic sanctions that have dropped the Iraqi dinar from one equal to about three dollars, to between 1500 and 2000 dinar to one dollar. Despite these hardships these people have shown amazing courage and determination to carry on. They have been forced to use ingenuity and they live simply. They are able to forgive their enemy, as demonstrated by their gracious welcome and hospitable treatment of our group of pilgrims. Many certainly denied themselves to insure our comfort and well being. They have little, but give much.
Anyone could realize through simple observation that they are not a threat to us. They are a people battered and weary of war. Desiring only to improve the standard of living for their families. With any small knowledge of the culture one would know that the current political posturings and threats are merely adherence to unspoken expectation, and idle. No one wants to fight. Many are signing up to show support to their Palestinian brothers, but little is likely to come from it.
Today was our first traveling day in Syria. The new camels and camel drivers are be great. Robin turned 59 today. I found out that France got many of its beautiful women from Syria—Syria was a colony of France for about 25 years. We got online on the internet tonight for the first time since we left Amman for Baghdad.
Andre and I almost got arrested for disturbing the peace today. Robin had sent us ahead to set up the cameras in the center of town for when the camels came through thinking it would be some great footage. We found a corner in the middle of town where there were tons of people and these classic narrow Middle Eastern streets with vendors and goods. Dre even got up on the roof of this two story building, a perfect spot to catch the camels come around a corner down a street and turn another corner onto the main street where my camera was set up and a bunch of kids and some men were swarming me asking all these questions in Arabic. Of course, my walkie-talkie died, as well as the one I had given Robin who was leading the entourage. So we are waiting for the camels for 15-20 minutes and these kids continued to crowd me. Finally, this guy in plain clothes comes over and says 'police' and grabs my camera. I wasn't about to let him take my camera, so I held my ground until he said police again and pointed toward a uniformed man who was heading toward me. I went as slowly as possible asking them to wait and looking for the driver who had dropped us off in the crowded street.
Meanwhile Dre is shooting some footage from the rooftop and doesn't realize I have moved until I am halfway across the street where the police station happened to be. At this point they motion him to come down too. Luckily they didn't make me go into the police office right away and this man who had been standing near my camera position explained to them what I had tried to tell all the people who had been around—that we were waiting for camels to come through and were traveling from Iraq to Palestine. So while Dre was packing up his stuff Phil and Souhil come walking down the street around the corner. Dre tells them that I am over with the police. At this point, I am still expecting the camels to come round at any moment even though it seemed they were long over due. So Souhil talks to the police for a while and then we go inside. Phil tells me it was just by chance that they came through there because they were looking for a toilet seat cover. After a little while and a call to the mayor the police order up some shay (tea) for us because they realized that we were OK. Not sure how everything quite worked out, but the mayor somehow had a paper on his desk giving us permission to be there and take photos. Anyway the camel guys had lead the group down a street further down to the main street and had missed us all together. Typical Arabic communication.
Another case of God showing His ability to time things and show His faithfulness to His own. Dre and I are sitting here safe and sound in our tent back at the camp. Peter Thiep should come in tomorrow or even late tonight. Another answer to prayer. Another camera guy is coming too. This Journey should be all systems go by tomorrow night. Sure is nice to have Phil here.
We got up before the crack of dawn today, to shoot some video, after I was up late last night editing a video clip. We had to get all dressed up in costume. I'm wearing the soldier uniform that is basically a skirt and it was quite cold. We did about five or six takes near the ruins of Dura Europa with kings mounted on camels. I think the shots will turn out great, but I realized why it is better to be a rock star than a movie star.
Robin started walking at 6:30 and we followed at 7:30. I got a ride up to Robin and walked with him the rest of the day. About 1:10 we called it a day after walking about 36km total. All desert, flat, straight road, reminds me of Kansas. We have about another five days more of the same.
Getting back early to camp was nice. I went and checked out the nearby ruins. The city was huge. I wish I had brought a camera with me. There were some nice high walls looking over the Euphrates; nice farmland across the river; some neat looking birds. I finished editing the clip (Assyrian Christian dancers) and uploaded it onto the web. Everything seems to be in full swing as far as media and the web.
Peter Theip finally joined us yesterday, as well as a new cameraman, Ghassan. Peter seems like the nicest guy. He was singing some nice hymns at 5:30 this morning.
Tim has been sick pretty bad, started yesterday.
We move to our second campsite in Syria tomorrow.
Had a little discussion on Job tonight with Dre and Jason. Dre is writing a song related to our journey through Iraq.
O Lord I pray that You will give Jason a spirit of wisdom that he may know You more. Your kindness and mercy, Your love and gentleness. Thank You for the way he challenges. Amen.
Last night Prosper, Keith, John and I went with the chief of police at T2 (a petroleum plant) to watch Champions League Football. This guy at the plant let us come watch; he has Sky TV. He was a nice guy we, gave us chai (tea), oranges and bananas. He spoke pretty good English so we were able to tell him about the Journey.
I walked with Phil pretty much the whole day today. He told me about Paraclete Missions and Training. It was great talking to him. The thought of traveling around the world interviewing missionaries, a project he undertook years ago, is very appealing to me. I wonder what it would be like to do so with a wife. There are so many ideas of what I would like to do, but this one seems awfully strong in me. I feel very inadequate for the logistics that it would entail but maybe that is right where God wants to show Himself.
Right now it is raining. We had to abandon our tent because water was gushing in. Dre and I are in Robin's tent, sleeping bags covered by ponchos; heater is not working. Robin, Todd and Peter Thiep are at a hotel in Palmyra. They picked a good night for a hotel.
The last three days we have walked through barren lands and have about four more of the same. I actually kind of enjoy it. Easier to concentrated on prayer. Tim got a package from Cheryl, his fiancee; the guys Bible study (in Massachusetts) is going well. Praise God!
We have been traveling from T2 (a petroleum plant in the middle nowhere) to Palmyra. We still have about three walking days left to actually reach the city. Last night it rained all night; Jason, Dre and I had to leave our tent because of massive leaking. Today we had to traverse many small rivers that had overflowed onto the road. One of them had a bridge that was under construction but there was no way to pass for the cars and camels until a guy came with a bulldozer and plowed piles of dirt in between the concrete forms to complete the bridge while we stood and looked on. Ironic that in the middle of the barren desert the thing that stops us is water.
We are now staying in a hotel here in Palmyra, but haven't yet officially reached the city by walking. It was so nice to take a hot shower tonight. I had not had a regular shower since we left the Sagman, about three weeks ago. Peter, Jason, Dre, Keith, Vencer and I hit the bar later for a cold one. All they have is Carlsberg and Tuborg, but hey it was in my hand and now in my gut.
Today ended up being a rest day because Robin had a fever last night and couldn't travel today. So we got a tour of the ruins of Palmyra. There are many stone pillars still standing, a few nearly complete colonnades. Souhil's brother Mofuckh (yikes) gave us the tour. The ancient cities inner wall spans six km and the outer wall is over 20 km. The theater was very impressive. After our lunch of kabob in town we shopped. Souhil, Moufuchk, and their other brother, Jols, have little shops on the same street so we were able to pick up some nice trinkets. The hotel we are in is very nice, the buffet has some more Western style foods which is a nice change of pace. Mmm... mashed potatoes.
Time really seems to be flying now. We are 2/3 s of the way through November... amazing. It is so cool to be doing this Journey. Especially after my European summer. I mean, come on, I have become like a professional traveler! Its great acting all posh in these nice hotels and exotic countries... I'm in Syria! We met a group of four French people who had all this nice gear, corporate sponsors and Range Rovers. They had just begun a world tour that will last 15 to 24 months. That's what I am talking about! I want to put together something like that. God, could it be? What a way to share Your love. Interviewing missionaries, encouraging churches around the world. Have You given me this vision? I place it and my life in Your hands. Be merciful to me, a sinner. Guide me in Truth, and in the way everlasting. Thank You for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Today was another "rest day" at the Cham Palace Hotel. Actually, today was the closest thing we have had to a rest day in a while. We slept in and then got up and got fitted for some new sheep skin coats that Nancy is having made for us. They are so pimp-daddy! Then we came back to the hotel and chilled out. I worked on the "Rainy Day" clip for the website. Tim did the voiceover for it. Everyone went out to lunch except me, Tim and Dre and I guess Keith. We ordered room service and worked on the clip.
This afternoon we went out and shot in costume. I was cameraman three today so didn't have to dress up, but as I was shootingI backed into a rock and fell over backwards... broke the arm off the camera. Prosper got pulled off the camel.
Tim is sick again. I finished the clip, and we showed Robin and Nancy a bunch of the clips we have done. They really liked them. Pretty much everyone is set up for an AOL address now, but other computer/website issues continue to arise. Robin came in and read the a poem written by his sixteen year old daughter, Karissa.
Today was some arduous travel: mid-desert, off road, rocks everywhere, not 100% on where our destination, Halabut, was. If you looked up for a second you stumbled over some rocks; all there was is rocks for kilometers around. After walking through that all day we hurried back to Palmyra for a football match. Dre and I got some new shoes—"the canvas all-stars." We played some 15-16 year olds and with the help of some men, we handled them easily. A fun game. We got a trophy which we gave to Nancy, the General Manager of the Magi 2000 team.
We left the Cham Palace this morning for the last time. Gonna miss the posh life a little, but we'll be in Damascus in about a week. Later we met some reporters from Rueters, Associated Press and other agencies at our new campsite and took some photos and interviews.
We stopped early again today and drove four hours, getting lost, to a church in a Christian village where HLT is installing a well. We were late so many of the people had gone home. We ate dinner and drove 2-1/2 hrs back to camp.
I'm struggling a bit. Haven't been in the Word much, prayer has come hard. A bit disheartened, but trusting. Need to take the power of Christ and stop dallying in weak-sauce. Haven't had much contact or conversation with Syrians, but lift them up before the Master Planner in love.
We advanced over more rocks for about 20-25 km today. Oswald Chambers talked about focusing on Jesus and the work He did on the cross, something I had been straying a bit from. Was very nice to have that back in mind as I walked today. We actually didn't get started until nearly noon because we were waiting for Robin to come from the Hotel, but he said to take a rest day. We decided instead to walk today and take a rest day tomorrow so we could sleep in, relax the full day.
For the past 3 days we have been walking through this valley with beautiful mountains on either side with shadows of clouds on them... a reminder of the glory of God's great creation. Another reminder out here in the middle of the desert is that we can see a vast number of stars, so many it is impossible to make out the constellations.
Tim, Keith and I walked through a phosphorous mine a little nervous that dynamite would blow any second, or that we would get arrested. Instead we walked up to a guard for the place and he invited us in for some chai.
Our new camp is about 65 km from where we finished walking today so we hopped in the vans to drive back. Todd has a tape/CD adapter so he popped on some Third Day. It was refreshing and brought healing to my soul so that a tear came to each eye. A friend has recommended that I read over Elijah so I started in last night. He called down fire from heaven; brought breath back to a dead boy; fed the boy, the boy's widowed mother and their family as well as himself—all with short simple prayers to Almighty. His faith was great... at times. Other times he ran. He was a man. He served God. God heard his cries and ministered to his needs. James calls him a righteous man. This is my desire—to be a righteous man, used of God, faithful.
The media team had an "anti-media day" today, as Dre termed it. We realized recently that we really haven't had a day off since the journey bagan because even when we do have a rest day the media crew is usually filming, editing or uploading. Ghassan, Drake, Dre, Vencer and I rode with one of the van drivers into Damascus for a true day off. We had a nice relaxing day.
Today was the first day of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. They fast from sunrise to sunset for the 28 days of Ramadan. The fast includes both food and water. However, after sunset they usually eat, and eat well. We are trying to honor this tradition and fast with them although we would not be required to because we are on a hajj (pilgrimage), which exempts from the fast. Nevertheless, we want to honor the fast. I had previously decided that I would not eat during the day, but was going to drink water reasoning that walking 30 km a day it would be necessary for water consumption. After today I realized once again that I should never trust in my reasoning, but solely in my Lord for strength. I really did not drink much water and was fine throughout the day. We didn't actually walk today, but when will my faith accept His power? He has the power to revive. I have a feeling that this final month of the Journey is going to bring new horizons of God's love and grace to this little child.
Today I stayed behind at the camp to work on video clips and burned all the uploaded clips onto CD. I worked Dre's song, Deeper, and the ruins of Palmyra. I feel like I worked pretty hard and didn't get much done. Just tonight I worked on a clip of Keith feeding camels so hopefully those will get done soon.
The guys walked about 50 km today, which brought them all the way to the latest camp. Only three days camping this time around. Was a somewhat tough and dreary day. Harder to concentrate on prayer when I'm thinking about whatever else I'm working on. Got a bunch of e-mails written tonight. I sense that the overall getting along of the group could be at a turning point. I pray that God will bring us together in love, that I will humble myself in the way that Christ did as written in Philippians 2 as Todd read today. May I have that mind also, O Lord.
We left the camp this morning and cut across the desert toward Damascus. I started running and then Prosper and I walked together. We got about 25 k and it started to rain. The van came back and told us the media crew was heading for the Cham Palace, Damascus, early. We opted to go with them.
We got here and showered, ordered room service (mmm...double cheeseburger) and relaxed. I tried to fast water for the day, but was feeling very dehydrated and am now trying to fight off a cold.
Later we went to a church in the city and a choir sang for us. I fell in love at least twice. The singing was wonderful and Peter Theip gave a nice talk in Arabic. Afterward all the guys were eager to talk to the ladies in the choir. I found a particular girl, Dania, to be incredibly beautiful. She inspired me to learn both French and Arabic. We invited a number of people to the Cham for coffee. Some guys showed up, but didn't stay. We watched the different piano players and a violinist in the lobby and then a few of us walked around town for just a little while.
Today we went and had chai with his Holiness Patriarch Zakka Iwas the first of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch and all the East, and then with Sheikh Ahmad Keftaro, Grand Mufti of the Syrian Republic. Both were interesting. This portion of the Journey seems to be very organized: we actually have a schedule.
Later in the afternoon we went to the gigantic Ommayed Mosque. It used to be used both by Christians and Muslims and John the Baptist's tomb is located inside. Afterwards we walked to a church to attend an ecumenical meeting. Souhill bought some sweet bread off the street and I broke fast for the day. Representatives from different Christian denominations asked questions of the Magi, followed by some excellent fellowship. A few of the choir members from the night before attended as well.
We then went to dinner at a restaurant called the Casablanca and one of the choir members, Hanna, joined us. Jean and his sister, Lena, later joined us as well. Prosper and I rode with the three of them back to the Cham where we all hung out for a while. Lena is a beautiful girl. She is a pharmacist. Hanna reminds me of Charissa (my best friend's wife) and she works with handicapped children. Jean has just graduated college for civil engineering. We had a great time of fellowship with them.
Prosper, John, Peter, Dre, Ghassan and I tried to go to the discoteca, but there was no one there so we opted to try out some nargilla. It was my first time to try the "hubbly-bubbly."
Finally, around three am, after a few runs to the lodge I headed for bed. Dre came a little later and then we talked for quite a while. He told me about how he had been struggling with his attitude and how God had convicted him of his motives. He gave up what he was holding on to and received grace and renewal in return. Praise God! He truly cares for His own.
Each day I am thinking more and more about how HLT, Paraclete Mission Group and MAI all fit together in my future. We heard recently that the Charlotte Eagles are going A-league and both Los Angeles and Chicago will have PDL league teams, all of which I could be a part of. I give this all to God, but need to start discussing with Phil and Robin the possible options.
I almost missed the bus this morning. Dre has some kind of food poisoning or stomach virus—he has been puking and slippery all day. A doctor came and gave him a couple shots. Now he is passed out.
The group went to the church of Annanias, the man who met Paul when he received back his sight. Then some of us went to the Damascus wall. We saw where they think Paul was lowered over the wall in a basket. Then we went to Damascus museum. One of the most impressive things there was that they had transported the inside of a temple from Dura Europas. The last thing we did before heading back to the Cham for lunch (I'm still fasting so went without) was to check out a military museum. Actually, they wouldn't let Ghassan and I in because we had cameras, but outside was a mosque-type thing and people were gathered for prayer. In front of the mosque was a nice fountain and pool. Tim, Ghassan, Souhil and I had chai with the head guard at the museum because he was a guy Souhill knew from Palmyra.
We left the Cham Palace without Dre and Drake. Eight Sudanese fellows, friends of Peter Theipp, joined us for the walk and will carry on to the border. I am feeling much better from my food poisoning or stomach virus or whatever it was that had me down the past couple days. Walked most of the today, felt a little weak at times. Shot a lot of footage. Started to talk to Phil regarding the future. Somehow I couldn't say much about it. Tim is beginning to doubt my ever making it back to the east coast.
Broke fast with a brilliant creme filled wafer cookie; beats double-stuff oreos hands down. New camp is nice. Had post-dinner nargilla around the fire in the Bedouin tent. Now Todd, Keith and I are watching Les Miserables on the laptop—they bought the CDV in Damascus.
Was sorry to leave Lena, Hanaa, Jean and our other friends in Damascus last night
I gave the devotion this morning. Talked about Colossians 3:12-14, attributes of God that we should replicate. Verse. 13 specifically talks about forgiving as Christ forgave us. I also talked about how we should daily be meditating on what it cost God to be able to forgive. He had to sacrifice His Son. Tonight we will have communion to formally reflect on the work of Christ.
Rode a camel most of the morning. When we got to Sweda we went to the information office. From there we visited a museum and then a Catholic church and talked with the diocese. They have just completed building a Youth Hostel there. May have to come back and stay there. According to Souhil, Sweda has the most beautiful women in Syria.
Most of the group then went to a restaurant, but since we are fasting Dre and I went on to Bosra with Souhil. We originally got this sweet "media suite", but got booted into a regular room. Broke fast with a Twist cookie. Now waiting for a half chicken grilled in garlic sauce.
Today through the rain (in the morning) we crossed the border leaving Syria for good. Said goodbye to the camel guys and some of our Bedouin buddies. Most have continued on to Jordan with us, though and Souhil is still running the camp. Right now the tent is just outside our hotel—The Olive Branch Hotel. Jason is really sick; Vencer has something too. Good thing we are in a hotel or more might be sick after the cold rain. Rain that we prayed for hum du Allah! (Praise be to God!)
Met Daoud and Nancy at the border; his mom is walking with us. An awesome lady, very in touch with the Sovereign.
Tamara joined us last night and walked with us today. Got the OK from Phil for Mom and Bud to come on over.
Today the group split: some to walk from the border, others to a church. We hardly got walking until noon and then moved slowly. Stopped at lunch with a bunch of kids around. Got to play a little pick up ball (soccer) with them. Walked two hours and back to the hotel. Then left for another soccer game on real turf—good game, pretty fun. Afterward we hit McDonald's then Dunkin Donuts. Saw a news spot about the Journey on a TV in KFC.
Got a late start today and the walk was fairly uneventful. This evening I walked into the hotel and there was this incredibly beautiful girl standing in the lobby. When our eyes met there was that brief second of mutual allure or so I think. It could have been her shock at the intensity of my immediate reaction to her striking features.
We had dinner in the Bedouin tent just outside the hotel and were later entertained by some bagpipers playing traditional Jordanian music. The fellas really got into it dancing and Souhil's crew also played. The owners of the hotel joined us for the festivities, too.
Dre slept in the tent that night and Vencer and I had a good little discussion about the unity of the group and the need for us to be on our guard in the weeks to come. Then he talked for a long time about some experiences he had had with a really messed up girl and his ex-girlfriend, also messed up. The discussion made my heart heavy, just reflecting and pleading with God for the plight of women in this world. His greatest gift to mankind second only to Jesus Christ and we have so corrupted and abused her.
Seema and Deema joined us on the Journey today. We walked by a group of black guys who were excited to see Prosper and Peter. We also found three puppies on the side of the road and rescued them from probable death. Cleaned and fed them; fitting action on a day in which the name of God is The Gatherer. Entered the ruins in Jerash in costume and met the Mayor of the town. Had chai with the minister of antiquities. Seema wore a queen's costume—stunning. Peter Ryan got on a camel just cause she was urging him to (only the second time he has been on a camel the whole trip). Everybody is on him about that.
No plans for the evening left us time for some fun back in the hotel. After dinner in the Bedouin tent just outside the hotel we hit the game room and played slug (foosball) and pool all night. Flirted with Seema a great deal. I'm convinced she likes me... arrogant bastard. Todd, Dre, Tim and I helped ourselves to the snack shop where they had some awesome ice cream sandwiches...mmm. We played slug for way to long.
The past few days God has answered our prayers for rain. Ironic that we should have to struggle with walking through rain and mud when that is exactly what we asked for.
Today the media crew stayed behind to get some work done. Seema is walking with the group, but Deema had school. I was going to do a clip on the pups but there is no footage. Dre and Vencer are each doing clips and Tim is fixing something on the website. I'm sitting down here in the room being lulled by the melancholy of Actung Baby and sipping some kind of fruit cocktail drink—looks like every fruit in the world on the box. My mood is miserable and enjoyable. I hope God will consecrate this as mourning otherwise I'm a self-centered self pitying fool... Woman be still...
Earlier today we went to see this castle—extremely foggy on the castle's hill, cool castle though. Then to the place where Elijah used to hang out. Some church ruins there with lots of frescos.
Tonight we went to a local church. The pastor and a bunch of the congregation, almost all women or girls, were there to greet and feed us. After the formalities the girls sang us some songs. We later joined in with a few Christmas carols. Then the singing went back and forth for awhile. Some of the childrens songs they sung we recognized and sang along in English.
Cloudy and rainy again today, Praise God! Seema couldn't join us today—her parents were a little leery of her spending so much time with all us guys. I have a lot to learn about this culture still. Still, a good walk today. We entered the Jordan Valley, some beautiful landscape.
Went to a church; they fed us fried chicken and they had a Christmas show. Doesn't really feel like Christmas season yet, although, I sang some Christmas carols on the way home. Met a guy who had checked out the website.
Seema and Deema's parents had us for a second dessert since it is our last night at the Olive Branch. Then played Slug (foosball) with Dre, Tim and Todd until 2:00am. It's now three and we leave in about five hours. Goodnight!
From our new campsite we can see Jericho and Jerusalem in the distance
Shot "5 BC" footage at four different locations today: Elijah's church, an ancient olive grove, on a cliff overlooking a wadi and next to a dug out cave room on the side of the road. Went pretty well though some of the costumed guys complained.
I've really been trying to enjoy every minute and spend time with God especially on the down times. Driving or walking or, like today, running. Tim, Todd, Prosper, Keith and I ran almost the entire walk today, which was short, only eight to ten km, but a good run. We then drove to the new camp I can see Jerusalem lights up on a hill in the distance and Jericho in the foreground. I've been trying to get a hold of Cheryl (Tim's girlfriend) all night to see if she can come. It is a surprise for Tim. Got two clips uploaded tonight. A good day. Busy but rewarding. Praise God. Humduallah! Can't believe I only got a few hours sleep last night.
Ten days til Christmas.
What a whirlwind day! For a rest day it started slow and progressively picked up speed. We got to sleep in, lounged around the fly infested camp all morning... some nargilla and Dre playing guitar. Then we given a tour of the surrounding area by the archeologist guy who is running the excavations of four ancient churches and things around those historical sights.
It really is amazing: from our camp we can look out and see the lights of Jericho and, up above on the mountain, Jerusalem. After the tour we washed the hands and feet of the Bedouin guys and camel guys. A group of Sudanese showed up and sang this evening, then this choir from the Peace Corp or something, plus a bunch o f people who wanted to see us and/or the choir showed up. Most of them ate dinner with us. Then, right when the choir started we had to leave for a soccer match (poor timing and planning) Lighted match was fun and Sanjeev got to play; he got here last night. Post match Dre, Todd and I went and picked up Mom and Bud. They brought tons of goodies. So nice to have them here. Praise God. Hum du allah! Tomorrow we cross into Palestine/Israel, enshallah (God willing).
Today we walked through the Jordanian side of the Jordan-Israel border after loading all our gear from one bus onto another a few times. During some of the down time, as our visas were being processed, Vencer and I had a little "food fight," tantalizing each other with some delicacies that are not available to us here in the Middle East.
As it turned out, we weren't allowed to walk on the Israeli side of the border because a shooting had occurred in Jericho. The BBC and ABC and other press were waiting for us on the other side, but we couldn't get to them before they gave up and left. We were waiting as a group because they were still trying to get Prosper and Peter through into Israel. Finally Dre, Phil and I went through to try to meet the press. By the time we got there only one lady and a couple photographers were still waiting to interview us. They took about two minutes and left.The Chief Negotiator for the Palestinian Authority welcomed us. He was on his way to the US for peace talks.
The rest of the group got in later except Todd and Keith who went back and Prosper and Peter who weren't allowed into Israel at all; and Robin and Nancy. Robin has Giardhea.
Today we went sightseeing: the ruins of old Jericho; Temptation Mountain, a monastary built where, tradition has it, Christ was tempted; Quarintine Monastery, where Todd and Keith met up with us; Hirsham Palace, the ancient palace of sheikh Hirsham. We were suiting up for our match with a Jericho All-star team when the four Eagles guys showed up with full kits (uniforms) for us. It rained just enough to make the field a little muddy and the clay mud clumped onto the bottom of your boots every single step. We won 3-1 pretty handily. Our group is pretty big now and things are getting really exciting. We went straight from the match to break fast at Yassar Arafat's office in Jericho. Apparently he doesn't spend much time there, but it was pretty cool. Tomorrow we start walking, but just short walks.
Missed a few days here on the journal, not for lack of things to write about, more a lack of energy and motivation. The Journey has taken its toll on the dirty dozen, the ragamuffin crew that has traveled all or most of the way from Baghdad, Iraq. I think it is a good thing that so many fresh faces have joined us. They bring enthusiasm and energy to the group. Otherwise we would probably be a bunch of bowed-headed, scraggly, desert-worn fools traipsing into town eager just to be finished.
On the other hand, a few of the long-termers have pointed out that the closeness of the group has been lost. Also there seems to be a sense of anti-climax for those of us who have weathered four countries. We are used to traveling 30, 40 even 50 km in a day, always rushed, trying to make up for lost days, lost time. Now we are taking our time, only a few km each day. And now we have been to four monasteries in four days. Don't get me wrong, for the most part they were absolutely beautiful, in fact a few of us were nearly considering taking up the monastic life just to be able to live there. The real problem is after being these reckless adventuring Journeymen, when we visit the monasteries we are suddenly reduced to tourists—a virtual curse word at this point.
My personal despondency is actually of another concern. I feel all the building of prayer, discipline, soul searching and even this Ramadan fast have been all for naught. I have almost ceased to pray entirely save only to cry out over my sinfulness and lack of adherence to my Only Hope. It seems at this triumphal time my spiritual vigor should be reaching a crescendo. And now that my prayers seem more pertinent and necessary than ever I feel cut off from communication with His tenderness.
The sweet touch of His healing Word seems short-lived, possibly because of its lack in my life. Perhaps self-pity has crept in again, sorrow for my situation, longing for something different, safe, comfortable... Weak sauce.
Lord lift me to a place that is higher than I. To the harbor of Your great long arm of love. I've been pondering. Like a drummer boy—I have no gift to bring. What can I give these Palestinian people? What can I give my King? What can I give my family? My fellow Journey members? I can't even keep a beat. What do You require? Or is a gift something You don't require? I desire to give You a gift, not even something of great worth, simply something that will touch Your heart, bring You joy, but I have nothing, am nothing. So I need to ask You to give me something and help me wrap it so I can give it to You on Your 2000th birthday. I love You. Happy Birthday.
Christmas day! We started off the day trying to cross an Israeli checkpoint to get to Jerusalem to meet with Fasil Housenni, in whipping rain. I think God allowed that rain just to increase the effect of our experience somewhat, similar to the Palestinians daily struggle. I was apeshit (pissed) for the discomfort it caused me. Up until today I didn't think I had any hostility toward Israeli's for their treatment of Palestinians, but I realized today that I am as wicked as those whose opinions I disapprove of. I heard other guys slamming the Israeli's again today. That is not the answer. Love is. Sorry God for my prejudice. May I never forget that my Savior, my Holy One was born of Israel's race some two thousand years ago.
I broke fast early today to celebrate with Christmas lunch at the Bethlehem Bible College, an excellent feast. Then it was costumes and off to the camels for the final walk. We mounted up at the YMCA and started off. The usual amount of people stopped or came out of their houses until we took a left and at the end of a street. Thousands of people were gathering. A bunch of children had cut out signs with slogans in English and Arabic saying things such as "Christmas under siege". The number of people was incredible. The camels and Magi led the processional behind a van that blared Christmas music and other songs. Many held large candle torches so as it grew dark the street behind was spotted with tiny flames for a few hundred meters back. We passed by many in balconies and on street corners as well. Plenty of habibti's: women in black have a special effect on me. It was a truly amazing way to end the walking portion of the Journey.
I shot about 2-1/2 hours of footage tonight. We got to Manger Square too early and the muslim evening prayer prayer went long so we hung out for quite a while. I actually wandered around the square a bit and Vencer and I did some interviews.
The dancers for the Christmas pageant/celebration were very good and at the end of the first show the Magi brought their gifts and laid them down on stage. The whole team went up later and was introduced. There were 2000 olive saplings donated by HLT as well; sort of an attemt to help replace the hundreds of olive groves bull-dozed in Palestine by Israel.
After the pageant Dre and Mom sang He Comes in Winter and Tim and Prosper joined them on stage for the ending part. What a fabulous experience. Hard to believe the hajj is over. I trimmed up the beard tonight and Mom cut some hair off the back to avoid the mullet.
Humduallah! Happy Birthday Jesus!
We traveled around today to some different houses that had been shot up by Israeli gun fire. Visited a family where the father, a German man, had been shot by two Israeli missiles while he was going to help a neighbor who had been injured. We also visited a refugee camp, as they call them I don't fully understand, but I think all the Palestinians fled to these in 1948 when the Jews were given Israel. Again I don't know the history that well. Anyway, the conditions at this camp, which is actually more like a village, are not great.
The family of one of the martyrs who has died recently, invited us to break fast for the final day of Ramadan at their restaurant—a great honor. Great food. Afterward we went to their house. Nice house. The father spoke mostly while Nancy and Robin tried to speak words of consolation. It was interesting to hear him talk for he didn't display a lot of hostility toward the Israeli's, but he did challenge us to do something with the knowledge we have of the Truth. I wanted to promise him that I would.
Tonight half the group is staying with Palestinian families. I went for a couple hours to Ramzi's house (our tour guide since entering Palestine), where Todd and Keith are staying, to shoot some footage of the family and ask them some questions. It was really nice to be in a home for the first time in many months. They fed us a second dinner, really good stuff that looked like spinach, but tasted better, over rice and a really nice hunk of lamb that, believe it or not, had almost no fat on it at all.
I just told Phil I am interested in helping organize next years "Flight of the Holy Family."