We had a great day today scouting some more new sites for our pilgrimage in the footsteps of Jesus. We drove east from Jerusalem down into the Jordan Rift Valley and hiked into the desert wilderness. This is the area where Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tested by the devil. Our goal was to explore the hike up the Wedi (dry river canyon) to an ancient spring which almost certainly would have been the place Jesus went to get water during this time. There is a rugged beauty this this place, but you can well understand how the harsh, unforgiving environment would provide a serious test even if you weren't famished and being attacked by the devil!
Next we visited the site of Jesus' baptism on the Jordan River, which has only recently been opened to the public. Because the Jordan River is the border between the country of Jordan and the West Bank which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, it is still considered a military zone and is very sensitive. When Israel and Jordan were technically considered "at war" with each other, this area was strictly off limits. Pam and I discovered 23 years ago when we tried to hike down to the site of Jesus' baptism. and were picked up by an Israeli military patrol and "removed" from the area! The new visitors site there is really nice and allows access into the river itself. It will be a great add to our journey in Jesus' footsteps!
After returning the rental car and picking up the rest of the arriving group members, we gathered at the Lutheran Guesthouse, our home for the remainder of our time in Jerusalem, for dinner and our initial orientation. Tomorrow we will be exploring the city on foot as we begin to reflect on the world into which Jesus came, particularly the role and impact of the Pharisees and Sadducees. It is great to be together and we are all looking forward to what God has in store for us. Thanks for all the prayers!