After a last-minute flurry of activity, one u-turn to go back for something left behind, and realizing I never retrieved my sunglasses which fell behind the couch, we departed LAX with great joy and anticipation for what God is going to do in these next two weeks. After a short transit in Newark we took off for our long leg over the Atlantic and Europe into Tel Aviv. 16 hours in a plane is simply a lesson in patience, but we did enjoy reading, watching movies, and some dozing--Luke and Taylor even managed to play some cross-aisle cards.
As we made our way off the plane and up the jetway into Ben Gurion International Airport we were struck by the unseasonable heat wave hanging over the Holy Land right now. Our transit through customs was surprisingly quick, but picking up our reserved rental car was a bit tricky when we found they had lost our reservation and had no extra cars! We were praising God as we finally drove out of the airport in our sporty white Mitsubishi and headed for Jerusalem. Driving across the coastal plain, through the hill country, and up into the mountains, it took less than an hour to get to the Old City where we rolled our bags through the ancient gate in the city wall. Psalm 122 was certainly on our minds: I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the Lord!" Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem."
We checked into our temporary home at the Christ Church Anglican Guesthouse and then joined the just-arrived Rasmussens and Eppersons for a lovely rooftop dinner overlooking the city with the gold Dome of the Rock in the background. This Sunday is Orthodox Easter (who can keep track of all the different religious calendars?) so there was a major military presence overseeing the throng of Greek and Russian pilgrims gathered around the entrance to the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the site of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.
Realizing a visit to Christianity's holiest church was futile, instead we strolled down to the Western Wall Plaza, Judaism's holiest site, where we caught the end of the Shabbat eve festivities. There is something inexpressible about standing at those massive Herodian stones, placing your palms on the cool limestone, and realizing that over the twenty centuries since Jesus and the disciples walked by this wall, countless millions have traveled from every corner of the globe with the simple desire to draw closer to God. It's amazing to be here, but even more amazing still to realize that the infinitely holy and powerful God who created the universe draws near to all those who would draw near to him, no matter where we are!
Tomorrow we are going to be up early to scout some possible new sites to take the group in Nazareth and Bethlehem. Thanks so much for your prayers and encouragement as we prepare for this journey in the footsteps of Jesus!