July 3, 2013

A Journey to Israel: The Final Reflection

Greetings Friends and Family,

As promised, we wanted to share one last reflection on our amazing adventure to Israel. It has been almost three weeks since we have returned from our trip and we have hit the ground running...

It has taken us a while (and we are not done yet) to really process and internalize the many different places and experiences we had while we were on our adventure. The 10 day trip is so intense you reach a saturation level of emotion and experience each day. Then, when we returned, the demands (and joys) of life with three kids and ministry and summer have swept us back into the current of 'normal' life.

What is interesting to me, however, is that 'normal' is now different. For me (Ryan) every day when I sit down to read the Scriptures it is different. In my post-seminary recovery phase of life I have been trying to recapture a love for Scripture and not just a trained and analytical reading of the biblical text. Until our trip to Israel I was failing miserably. But something 'unlocked' in my heart and my mind when I was sitting or standing in the places where these stories took place and it has reignited a passion and love of Scripture and ultimately, a deeper love for the One who reveals Himself through all of these stories and teachings. Now, when I read Scripture, I can feel and see those places in my mind and I am there within the story, participating in the unfolding drama of God's redemption of the world. I will never read the bible the same way again.

For Kealy, she rediscovered that she was truly a person! After three years of selfless parenting and being willing to step out in faith multiple times in discovering God's will for our family, in Israel she was able to stop, reflect and simply enjoy life. It was remarkable to see the spark of vibrant joy and grace that is always there in my wife to fan into flame once again. I loved watching her interact with others because she has a unique way of bringing joy and encouragement to each person she meets, whether it was people on our travel team or random kids or adults in shops in the old city, Kealy was truly a light shining in the darkness and it was so meaningful to see her discover that she is still the same person she has always been.

We are so thankful for Educational Opportunities and for our tour guide and for my Dad and Dr. Larry Porter for making this trip possible, and for the many family and friends who generously supported and encouraged us to make this trip a reality. We had an opportunity on Sunday at our church in Corvallis to share with over 60 people pictures and stories from our time in Israel and it was so amazing to have so many show excitement and interest in our adventure there. Words can never express our gratitude for the many, many ways each of you has shown your love and support of us on this adventure. Thank you especially to family who loved and cared for our kids while we were away!

At the risk of going on and on for pages, I'll share one final thought. Our guide in Israel shared with us during our trip that the number '40' in Scripture is the number for purification. The flood in Genesis lasted 40 days, to cleanse the earth of its evil, the Israelites wander the desert for 40 years to prepare them to enter the promised land, Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days at the beginning of His ministry. All of these times of purification and testing were to prepare them for something that was coming. Our guide then shared with us that our trip, like the Israelites, like Jesus, was a journey of purification and that, as meaningful and amazing as it is to be in Israel, we are to wait and see what God is going to do AFTER we return home, what God is preparing in us through our trip to do for His Kingdom in the world.

So, it is with great anticipation and great hope that we step into our new adventure. After tasting, seeing, touching and being in the places where creation's redemption story was written on the hills, the valleys, the mountains and the cities of Israel, the promised land, we begin a new chapter in that story, becoming a living testimony of the amazing grace and incredible
salvation of God in our world. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

Ryan and Kealy

June 14, 2013

Our Final Day in Israel and Home, Sweet Home

Greetings Friends and Family,

We wanted to give you a recap of our last day in Israel before returning home. Currently we are at home with the kids! It was a long day of travel yesterday but we are thankful to be home and to be settling back in to normal life here as a family. Our trip to Israel was a life-changing experience and we are still processing the impact that it will have on our lives.

Our last day in Israel was a little slower paced, but extremely full emotionally. We had the morning to rest and pack before leaving our hotel. We tried to enjoy a slow morning and make sure we had all of the last minute souvenirs and gifts with us to take home.

Mid-morning we left for Ein Karem, a small town on the West side of Jerusalem that was the home of John the Baptist and where Mary visited Elizabeth when she was pregnant with Jesus. We were shocked at the amount of greenery and pine trees on this side of Israel because on the other side of Jerusalem it is desert and brown. But we enjoyed the smell of pines and a visit to the church of St. John the Baptist.

We thought this sign outside the church was kind of funny

Byzantine painting of John the Baptist

Inside the Church
 After lunch we visited 'Yad Vashem' the Jewish Holocaust Museum. We knew it would be an emotional experience but I wasn't prepared for what we would experience. The Museum does a phenomenal job of telling about the history and development leading up to the Holocaust and the Anti-Semitism and hatred of Jews that contributed to the eventual plan of the 'Final Solution', Hitler's plot to exterminate the Jewish people from planet Earth. Most of the Museum is told from the first hand accounts of victims and survivors of the Holocaust: letters, pictures, belongings, video interviews...all were gut-wrenching accounts of the pure evil that Jews suffered during that time. The most overwhelming part was the Children's memorial. We walked into a dark room full of candles with mirrors, a candle for every one of the 1.5 million children murdered during the Holocaust. In the dark room their names and ages were being read. I stayed in there as long as I could, to hear the names and honor those children who were lost, but it was admittedly very overwhelming and I wept.

View from Holocaust Museum
Our final stop on our tour was the Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb is a possible alternative location to the death and resurrection of Jesus to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It does not claim to be THE place, but the organization that cares for the area has maintained it as a garden and limits the amount of people who can be in there at one time. It was a welcome difference from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It has beautiful gardens and an empty tomb that very well could've been the tomb Jesus stepped out of. We had the chance to enjoy the garden, walk in and out of the empty tomb and culminate our trip by sharing communion together. It was phenomenal!
Sign for the Garden Tomb

Golgotha (place of the skull) can you see the face? 

Me and my Dad at the empty tomb

The Garden Tomb
Our trip home was long and grueling. There were about 9 layers of security at the Tel Aviv airport in Israel to leave the country. The first leg went ok. It was the longest and we were able to sleep a little bit. But we were only left with 90 minutes between our flights and the rest of our group didn't make it through customs in time, we were the only ones to make the flight. Fortunately the rest of our group caught a later flight, but it added quite a bit of stress to the trip. Then we flew from Philadelphia to Phoenix, the Phoenix to Portland. We finally made it home last night about 5:30pm and went to bed at 8!

The kids did great without us thanks to everyone who helped out and they loved the presents we brought home for them. We are doing laundry, dishes and getting back into a regular routine.

I will post one more summary blog next week sometime when we have a chance to process a little more our trip together. We are so thankful to have this experience and we know that we will never be the same because of what we have seen and experienced together.

Thanks for following us on our adventure!

Grace and Peace,

Ryan and Kealy 

June 11, 2013

2 Days of Israeli Adventures!

Greetings Friends and Family,

We have had two very full and wonderful days here in Jerusalem. I know I say it each day, but it is hard to distill and summarize all that we have seen and felt while here, it truly is a life-changing experience. Everyone here has been so friendly and we have seen some amazing things and have had a very special time together!

Yesterday morning we spent the day in the Old City of Jerusalem. We began at the Pool of Bethesda (where Jesus healed a lame man). Next door to the pools is St. Anne's church. Here we sang some songs and the acoustics were amazing.
the Pools of Bethesda
After St. Anne's we walked the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross). Most of the specific route that Jesus took on Good Friday is unknown to us but some of the spots we know for sure, and those we visited. It was a humbling experience to be walking the same path that Jesus walked on our behalf. The streets were packed with pilgrims walking the path as well and every so often we came to a 'station' where something significant that happened on Jesus' walk to Calvary took place. It was very moving to stop and read from Scripture in each of these places.
Sign marking the Via Dolorosa

Mosaic in the spot where Jesus was given His cross

the street today, lined with vendors

along the Via Dolorosa
Finally we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional place where Jesus was crucified and buried. I was expecting to be moved and overwhelmed with appreciation. Instead, I felt squished and sweaty. There were a ton of people in the church and so some of the spirit of what I hoped for wasn't there. However, I tried to remove the people and remove the church to visualize the scenes that are so significant to all of humanity. Kealy and I both took time to reflect and thank Jesus for His willingness to forgive our humanity and die on our behalf.
the Church of the Holy Sepluchre

Ancient pilgrims would scribble crosses inside the church when they arrived there

Huge domes inside the Church
And that was all before lunch...

After lunch we went to the place that I have most looked forward to on this trip: The Western Wall. The Western Wall is that last remaining foundation of the 2nd temple, the same temple that Jesus taught in and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Many people from all over the world have come here for centuries to offer prayers and petitions and I have dreamed of coming here to pray as well. It was an amazing experience. I spent time in prayer at the wall and put a written prayer in the cracks of the stones.
The Wailing Wall...3000 year old stones
my prayer is on the yellow sheet of paper
Finally we spent time on the southern steps on the Temple where Jesus taught. Some of the original stones that Jesus sat and taught on are still there today!
Southern Steps of the Temple Mount

Sitting on the steps where Jesus taught

Kealy and the Temple Mount
We came home exhausted from our full day of sightseeing. Not only are we active going from place to place. We are stopping to listen and learn from our guide, who is phenomenal. Then, on top of that, there is the emotional energy of trying to absorb and appreciate everything that God is trying to show us and teach us through this experience. I'm sure it will take a few months to fully process everything we have seen and done.

Today was a more low key day out in the desert again. We traveled to the mountaintop fortress of Masada, Herod's amazing desert fortress and the last spot of the Jewish Revolt in 73 AD. We rode a cable car up and down and saw amazing excavations and sites from 2000 years ago.
Store Rooms from Herod's Temple (2200 years old)

a Rabbi writing the Hebrew Scriptures in a room on top of Masada

The Cable Car and view of the Dead Sea in the background

Ryan and Kealy on top of Masada
We continued on to the Dead Sea for a chance to swim in its salty waters. It was AWESOME! The Dead Sea is so salty that you literally float in the water...not tread water...or bob...but float. It was so much fun...Kealy was laughing the whole time! The mud from the Dead Sea shore is also supposed to be great for your skin...so we rubbed it all over ourselves multiple times!
Mud Bath! 

at the Dead Sea beach, a cozy 96 degrees! 
Tonight after dinner Kealy and I went on a date! We walked the Old City of Jerusalem just the two of us, shopping and enjoying the light show that comes on at night here in Jerusalem. It is our last night in Jerusalem and we had such a fun and romantic time walking the streets together, people watching and soaking in all the sights and smells and experience.
beautiful lighting walkways and a beautiful woman

the Damascus Gate at night with light show
Today is our last day here in Jerusalem. We have some time in the morning on our own and then we are going to the birthplace of John the Baptist, the Jerusalem Holocaust Museum and the Garden Tomb. After dinner we leave for Tel Aviv and the long plane ride home.

We are so thankful for this experience and wish we could fully articulate what it has meant for our faith and our marriage. We hope each of you have an opportunity to come here someday...it will change your life.

We will post sometime on the trip home and perhaps once after we have arrived safely with our kids back in Corvallis.

Thank you all for your love, prayers and support.


Ryan and Kealy

June 10, 2013

Too Much To Take In

Greetings Friends and Family,

Today was a very full day with lots of walking and things to take in. At the risk of disappointing you all, I am going to keep this post very brief with no pictures because we are simply worn out. I will post a more detailed narrative with pictures tomorrow night summarizing the last few days.

We spent our whole day in Jerusalem visiting many different sites. We saw St. Anne's Cathedral and sang a hymn with its amazing acoustics, the Pool of Siloam, where Jesus healed a lame man, then walked the Via Dolorosa (the way of the cross) into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional place where Jesus was crucified and buried, and that was all before lunch!

After lunch we visited the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall. This place has been the one I have most looked forward to and I was not disappointed. It was a remarkable experience praying at such a significant place with people from all over the world. This afternoon we also visited the Southern steps leading up to the temple where Jesus taught. Some of the original stones from that time are still there to this day.

Again, it was simply too much to process in one day...lots of walking and pretty hot. But we are so thankful to be here and are having an amazing time. We love having the opportunity to experience this together and even though we miss our kids very much, it has been a time of renewal for us spirituality and for our marriage.

I will post more reflections tomorrow after we head down to Masada and have a chance to swim in the Dead Sea! Thank you for understanding!

Until Tomorrow!

Ryan and Kealy 

June 9, 2013

And the Spirit led Jesus into the desert...

Greetings Friends and Family,

We began our morning refreshed and ready for another day in Israel. Yesterday was a bit exhausting and overwhelming, as the pace of things was catching up with us...but this morning we felt great and ready to go.

Kealy got her morning mocha! 
 We headed over to the Armenian and Jewish sections of the Old City (the part of Jerusalem inside the old walls) and entered through the Zion Gate. In front of the gate, lining up for inspection were the young Israeli soldiers. Each Sunday morning, the soldiers visit various holy Jewish, Christian and Muslim sites so they learn and appreciate the history of the city. We walked through the Old City, visiting the Upper Room and King David's Tomb. The amazing streets and stone buildings were awesome and it was really cool to be standing in front of the tomb of King David, a man after God's own heart.
Church and street next to the Upper Room

Statue of David playing the harp for Saul

Phoenix column (a symbol of the early church)

the Tomb of King David

Kealy and a travel friend, Amanda, in the Armenian Quarter

the Jewish Quarter
From the Old City we headed down the hill of Mt. Zion, through the Kidron Valley towards the dead sea. There is a road that is built over the ancient way from Jerusalem to Jericho, the same road that the parable of the Good Samaritan takes place. It doesn't take long to get out of Jerusalem before the terrain changes and you are in the desert.

Our first stop was in Qumran. Qumran was built by a Jewish separatist community named the Essenes who lived in the desert from 150 bce to 68 ce. They purified themselves twice a day, studied the Scriptures, wrote them down as an act of worship, and waited for the coming of the Messiah. When they Romans attacked in 68 ce, they knew they would be overrun and so they hid their scrolls and writings in jars and placed them in caves. Almost 2000 years later in 1947 these jars with ancient scrolls in them were discovered on ancient by a young Bedouin boy. It is the greatest literary find of all time. This one cave pictured below had nearly 15,000 fragments of over 530 scrolls of all the books of the Old Testament, which confirmed that many of the biblical writings had been preserved over time. The desert was a balmy 97 degrees but it felt great!
a teaching of the Essenes (perfect for our home group)

Sweating in the desert at Qumran

the Desert

A Cave discovered in 1959 with over 15,000 scroll fragments
We continued onto Jericho, the oldest city in the world. Here there are ruins of a city from a long time ago and it is here where Joshua entered the promised land and conquered the city by trusting in God for the victory. When the city was destroyed by Joshua another one was later built next to it, and this is where Jesus heals the blind man Bartimaeus and has dinner with Zacchaeus...we even saw a 2000 year old Sycamore tree.
the walls of Jericho

Kealy overlooking the city of Jericho

Sitting at the spring of Elisha
This evening we also had a chance to attend a Christian worship service downtown full of people from all over the world. It was an amazing experience of God's kingdom to be able to sing songs of worship, in Hebrew, with Christians from all over the world, in Jerusalem. Knowing that you all are at home in our corner of the world worshipping the same God, the same Saviour, Yeshua HaMeshiacha (Jesus the Messiah) was extremely moving.

Kealy and I had a fun evening walk together to the Damascus Gate again and bought the kids some gifts. We enjoy talking with the vendors and everyone is friendly and we have felt very safe the whole time.

Thank you all for continuing to follow along! Tomorrow we are in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, walking the Via Dolorosa and visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the traditional city of the crucifixion and burial (and Resurrection) of Jesus.

Grace and Peace,

Ryan and Kealy

June 8, 2013

Oh Come Let Us Adore Him

Greetings Friends and Family,

What a full day we have had here in Jerusalem! It is a lot to process and a lot to take in, not only being in a place where so many significant things in our faith have taken place, but it is a different city with a different culture and lots of people.

We began our morning on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus would stay during His visits to Jerusalem, and we walked the same path He walked on palm Sunday for the triumphal entry. So often when I read Scripture before coming here, I would skip over the parts which talked about where Jesus was when He taught certain things, because I wanted to get to the content of the story or the teaching. But here I am finding lines like, "as they were sitting on the Mount of Olives looking at Jerusalem Jesus began teaching them..." because I am sitting where Jesus was sitting and seeing what He would have been seeing. It is a powerful experience.

View of Jerusalem through the chapel where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem
At the bottom of the road was the Garden of Gethsemane. We saw the olive trees and a beautiful church of the traditional place where Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but Your will be done." When we go into the churches here we are asked to be silent to show reverence and respect. It is pleasant to be in such a remarkable place and simply to be quiet, to try and be a sponge and soak up the experience of a particular place as best as we can. I have been looking forward to the Garden for a long time, and I found myself trying to identify with Jesus and what He must be thinking and feeling as He could see the torches of the soldiers coming down from the city to arrest Him. After kneeling in prayer for a while I prayed the same prayer that He did on that night long ago, "not my will, but Your will be done."
Mural at the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane
Mosaic tile flooring in the church

The Garden of Gethsemane
We continued on to Mt. Zion across from the Mount of Olives to the House of Caiaphas, where Jesus was taken after He was arrested and imprisoned before being taken to Pilate.
View of the southern wall from the house of Caiaphas, the high priest

Courtyard of Caiaphas, where Peter denied Jesus three times
After our stops in Jerusalem we continued onto the "city of bread"-Bethlehem. Bethlehem is currently in Palestinian territory so we crossed a border and our wonderful Jewish guide, Pilar, was not able to accompany us. It certainly felt different being in Palestinian territory but we felt safe the entire time and met a Christian Palestinian who gave us a tour of the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in the middle east as well as the Shepherd's Field where the angels announced the birth of Jesus to to shepherds...we even saw a modern day shepherd herding his sheep! It was fun in both of these churches to sing Christmas carols as a group.
Our delicious lunch in Bethlehem

Great coffee in Bethlehem

The Church of the Nativity (the bells were ringing when we arrived)

touching together the traditional site where Jesus was born

a mural above the manger where Mary laid Jesus

Statue of St. Jerome, who translated the bible into Latin in the 4th century A.D. and is buried here
When we returned back to the hotel after dinner we went walking through the Damascus Gate and into the Old City, through shops and bazaars and lots of people. It was wonderfully overwhelming, in fact, today was that way. We are trying to 'sponge' everything we are seeing and learning here, but there is so much going on that we do feel quite tired by the end of the day.
Exploring the city at the Damascus Gate
Tomorrow should be a little lighter, we are driving out to the Judean Wilderness where Jesus was tempted for 40 days, the dead sea scrolls discovered at Qumran and the ancient city of Jericho.

The food is really good here. It is very similar each day but there are lots of options. The desserts and the hummus and pita bread are Kealy's favorites!

Grace and Peace,

Ryan and Kealy