Friday, November 28, 2008

A Gypsy Engagement Party

I just got back from Marwa's engagement party...what a cultural experience!

When I first arrived, I was hustled into a tiny back room of the house where all the other women were waiting. Marwa had her hair all curled and was wearing very heavy, elaborate make-up. Most of the other women were wearing brightly colored dresses with silk headscarves, lots of gold jewelry, and heavy make-up as well. All the children waited with us in the back room too. The small house was packed with at least 100 friends and family members, and it was fun to try to figure out who was with who.

Me, Marwa, and Katia at the Domari Center (bottom)

Marwa and I at her engagement party (top)

After a short wait, we heard the men started to read the Qur'an in the other room. All us women crowded near the door and tried to listen. After the recitation, all the men shot off guns into the air outside. Meanwhile, we women went even further back into another small room and crowded on small stools. Marwa's sister-in-law started the Arabic party music pumping, and Marwa started to dance while we all clapped. Different people--her mom, her grandmother, her cousin--got up and took turns dancing with her. I've never seen so much hip-shaking in all my life, and was certainly not expecting it here! Inevitably, Marwa pulled me up to dance with I did, laughing all the while. When one of the elderly veiled women saw me dance, she immediately called me over and asked if I would marry her son. I politely declined.

During the dancing, different food was served along with Arabic coffee, including baklava and some sort of pesto-type sauce on pita bread.

After the dance warm-up, the time came for Marwa's fiance to enter. She squeezed my hand and shot me a nervous look right before he came in. She barely met him last week. They danced around each other without touching for a few songs. Then, we stopped the was time for the engagement "ceremony." Zaki (her fiance) carefully adorned Marwa with gold jewelry: two necklaces, three rings, three bangles, and earrings. Two of the elderly women shrieked and made a tribal-sounding noise with their tongues--a joyous celebration sound. Then Marwa and Zaki danced again, this time cautiously holding hands, now an officially-engaged couple. After about an hour, he left the room, and we women got to have the floor again! One of the women handed me her three-month-old baby to hold while she danced. I couldn't stop smiling as I watched these beautiful women of all generations freely celebrate together.

After several hours of dancing, it was time to go. We took a few pictures, kissed each other on the cheeks, and said goodbye. I will never forget this night!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hey everyone -- Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you all had a restful day with family and friends.

Thanksgiving in Israel was a little strange, since it's not a holiday here. I had a final exam in the morning, and then I ran in the first annual JUC 5K Turkey Trot. I had Arabic class in the afternoon. As I entered Bethlehem, I was shocked to see tons of Palestinian Special Forces vehicles speeding down the street, tires squealing and everything. Men with the guns pointed out the windows stared me down.
When I turned onto the street that the college is on, there were armed soldiers with their guns locked and loaded on both sides of the street, about one every twenty feet or so. It was quite intimidating to walk through. I laughed to myself and thought, What a Thanksgiving parade...I mean, really, who needs Macy's? Later, I found out it was because the president of Palestine was coming to meet with the prime minister of Italy.

Anyway...when I got back I talked with my family, which was good, and then it was time for dinner. The dining room was decorated really nice, and I couldn't believe all the good food we had! We had all volunteered to make different dishes, and people were so thoughtful in modifying things so that they were gluten-free for me. :-) It was so refreshing to eat a slow dinner and enjoy talking with each other.

The past few weeks have been pretty busy here, full of studying and writing term papers. In the Eastern world, education is very self-motivated; your whole grade is usually based on one huge exam or term paper at the end of the class. However, I have still managed to have some adventures. Ashleigh, Naomi, and I visited the Dome of the Rock (see pictures below). Last Saturday, I went to Hebron (south of Bethlehem in the West Bank) and visited some friends who run an Arab school. I sat in on some English classes and some classes for hearing-impaired children. They were learning their numbers and colors in Arabic, so I learned right along with them! :-)

In other news, my friend Marwa (who I teach English to at the Domari Center) got engaged last week! I am going to her engagement party this afternoon. She is 17, and her brother helped arrange the marriage to one of his 27-year-old friends. This seems so strange to us, but in this culture it is the norm.

The countdown in 17 days I will be home! I'm looking forward to see you all.

"For I know that my Redeemer lives..." (Job 19:25)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hazy Horizons

Day 4: Central Transjordan: Medeba Plateau, Moab
Sites visited: Kir-hareshath, Arnon River Valley, Dibon, Medeba, Mt. Nebo

This morning I woke up in Kir-hareshath (modern-day Kerak), next to a Crusader castle! Last night, Ashleigh, Naomi, and I walked around the town after dinner, popping into stores to chat with shopkeepers. I have been continually impressed with how friendly and talkative the Jordanians are.

Of course, the first thing we did this morning was explore the Kerak Castle. Cold desert wind caused us to huddle close together whenever we stopped for a lecture, and Dr. Wright reminded us that this desert land reaches over 120ยบ F in the summer yet also plummets below freezing in the winter. To live in this desolate land, people must develop strong survival skills. Interestingly, the Bible often speaks of the desert wilderness as being a place where true wisdom is found. For instance, this is the land of Job, who learned after his testing here, confessed to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (42:2).

From there we headed to Medeba and Dibon, where we discussed several Biblical events: Elimelech and Naomi (Ruth), Ehud and King Eglon (Judges 8), and Mesha’s rebellion (2 Kings 3). At Medeba we also saw the famous map on the floor of the Greek Orthodox church.

Finally, we headed to our last stop of the last field study: Mount Nebo. This is where Moses stood with the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness. During their time in the desert, God had given them “skills for living”—Torah—and they had grown in true wisdom, just as Job did in the desert. The Israelites became acclimated to life in the desert and became comfortable and skilled as Bedouin-type people. As they stood on this mountain and surveyed this new land, I wonder what they felt. Not knowing what lie ahead, many probably felt anxious or maybe even fearful. Thinking back on the past, I bet some of them felt frustrated. Remember how easy we had it back in Egypt, where we owned sheep and cattle and could grow food by the Nile? Remember how tough the wilderness was at first? But we worked hard and learned how to survive, and now we’re quite comfortable as desert nomads. I don’t really want to settle down and learn how to live in a new place all over again. Why do we have to go to this “promised land?” Why not just stay where we’re comfortable already?
On the brink of yet another major life change for the Israelites, Moses the leader reminded the people of their past and of their renewed covenant with God. He read the law, which contains instructions specific for this phase of life. He reminded them of the blessings and curses of the law, and sang some songs (Deut. 29-34).
As I stood on Mount Nebo staring off at the hazy horizon line, I could relate to the Israelites because over the past few years I have often been in transition. Sometimes it’s frustrating, because just when I get comfortable, God moves me again! Currently, in just four weeks, I will be leaving Israel to finish up my last year and a half of college in the States. After that, I have no idea what lies ahead. Will I get married? Will I go overseas? Will I continue my education? I have dreams and plans for the future, but they are uncertain, and I know that the journey ahead will not always be easy. Sometimes, like the Israelites, I feel anxious, fearful, or frustrated when I look to the changes in the near future.
However, Moses’ words reminded me of several things as I stood on Mount Nebo. First, I must remember that my future is rooted in my past: who I am, where I came from, and all that Jesus has done in my life. Second, I know that when I go through periods of “wilderness wandering,” God will meet me, give me more skills for living, and teach me true wisdom. Most importantly, the story of the Israelites is my story, and however hazy my horizons might be, I will trust God with my future.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Last Crusade

Day 3: Exploring the southern seam
Sites visited: Petra, Wadi Dana, Bozrah

Today we woke up in Petra! ☺ We left bright and early for seven hours of awesome hiking. As we entered the site, turbaned men with horses trotted around us, and we marveled at the sandstone formations. As we went “further up and deeper in,” we entered a narrow passage with huge sandstone cliffs on either side. Through the narrow passageway ahead we could see glimpses of something BIG, and I started humming the Indiana Jones theme song (this is where “The Last Crusade” was filmed). When we finally came out into the clearing, we were stunned by the site of the treasury—majestically carved right into the cliff.

Ashleigh and I hiked off the beaten path and encountered two young Bedouin women making tea in a tin pot over a fire. The older one was 23 and the younger one was 15. We stayed and chatted with them for a while. The older woman spoke English quite well, and told us that they lived just over the mountain but come over here to sell jewelry to the tourists. They were quite friendly and invited us to have tea. Eventually we had to leave, but as we walked away, the younger girl ran after us. “Wait! A gift—for you!” She handed us two beaded bracelets with a smile. “Ma es-salaame!”

After that point, we broke into smaller groups to hike around more. Ashleigh, Brandon, Liz, and I started the long trek to the Deir (monastery) one of the highest points of Petra. On the way we made friends with two little boys riding donkeys. They followed us along most of the way. Along the way, we stopped at several more amazing structures carved out of sandstone. After a couple hours we came to a sign that said, “Warning! Hiking beyond this point without a guide is dangerous!” We continued past it and started our ascent to the monastery, and after many steps and much climbing, we made it! It was well worth the sweat. Words can’t even describe it—this was the biggest carving we had seen yet.

We climbed even further past the monastery and saw a hand-painted sign that said, “This way to the end of the world.” Well, who can pass that up?! We hiked to the edge of a cliff where we could see for miles over the mountains into Israel. Beautiful. We met a girl there named Maria who is from Spain but married a Bedouin man, so she lives here now. She seemed lonely. I wished we had more time to hear her story.

It took us several more hours to hike back, but we enjoyed more of the sites and explored the huge Petra temple. When we finally made it back, we were ready for lunch and a little break for our feet!
After a short rest, we boarded the bus and started down the King’s Highway. On the way we stopped and looked over the Wadi Dana, and talked about how the Nabateans relate to the Bible. After a while we stopped at Bozrah, the capital of Edom in the Bible. We stopped at a beautiful lookout over the wadi again and read many prophet passages in the Bible that describe Edom and Bozrah. When you look past the theology, it is amazing how much accurate historical information is in the Bible. We enjoyed the sunset at Bozrah and wandered back to the bus.

I got to the bus a little early, so I talked with two of the village women that were nearby. They only spoke Arabic and one of them had seven kids—five boys and two girls. The youngest boy had fluorescent green eyes the curiously peered at me from underneath wild curly brown hair. They were very friendly and invited me for dinner. Sadly, I had to decline to rejoin our group on the bus. I wish I could have spent more time with them.
Now we are back on the road, and the girls behind me are singing Disney songs. One of them says, “I want to be where the people are…” That’s how I feel! As much as I like learning about history and archaeology and exploring all these amazing places, more and more I realize that I am way more interested in the people and culture of this country than in its rocks. However, as I realized yesterday, the historical story of the Bible is very much OUR story, and relevant to people today. This is a season in my life devoted to better understanding that story so that someday I can live life with these people and share it with them. May I be faithful to learn all I can now, and patiently wait for the future.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Day 2: The Interior of the North
Sites visited: Rabbah, Jerash, Jabbok River, Tyre

Today’s sites were full of impressive archaeological ruins that were fun to explore. Rabbah, the capital of Ammon in the Bible, has a beautiful royal palace; Jerash, the “city of a thousand columns” is a magnificent site, and Tyre is home to a palace with giant carved lions. Each was impressive and I enjoyed them very much; however, what stands out to me most today does not have much to do with rocks. It has to do with people and their stories.
The first highlight of my day came at Jerash, where a young Muslim woman approached me and struck up a conversation. Her name was Amal, which means “hope” in Arabic. She lives in a small town nearby but is a junior at the university in Amman where she is studying physics. She was visiting Jerash with her adorable younger cousins, and all of them had beautiful green eyes and brightly-colored head scarves fastened securely by trendy jewel pins. Even though we only talked for a few minutes, I loved hearing her story.

As we drove through the dome of Gilead, I thought more about the story of humanity as bits and pieces of the past came alive outside my window: cave dwellings in the sides of cliffs; tiny, well-kept gardens; hens pecking the dirt with their chicks nearby; women harvesting crops in the fields, a group of young boys amusing themselves by throwing rocks into a hole; a man settling down with his sheep under a tree for the night. “Every man under his vine and under his fig tree…” (1 Kgs. 4:25). Here in rural Jordan, the Bible seems so relevant. Parables about shepherds and harvesting make sense, and it’s easy to recognize the reality of Bible stories in this land. But do we realize how relevant they are to us Americans as well?

These were my thoughts as we sat by the side of the Jabbok River, where Jacob wrestled with God and came away limping. This story is a familiar one, but here’s a quick recap: Jacob had always been a wrestler—the Bible tells us that he even wrestled in his mother’s womb with his twin, Esau. As he grew up, this “mama’s boy” lived up to his name, which comes from the Hebrew noun “heel.” Where do you hit someone if you want to trip them up without anyone else noticing? You snag their heel. (In the Middle East, they call this “clever,” but really it means doing whatever it takes to make sure you come out on top). Therefore, Jacob’s name really takes on the meaning, “deceiver,” and it was a name he certainly lived up to. Remember how he “cleverly” traded a bowl of lentil stew for Esau’s birthright? Or how he tricked his father to receive Esau’s rightful blessing? Eventually, Jacob ended up fleeing to a different land to escape his brother’s wrath, where he got married and became quite wealthy.
However, as an old man, Jacob was forced to move once again. As he made the risky journey with his riches spread out in a caravan behind him, he heard that his estranged brother, Esau, was nearby! This could have been the end of Jacob and his family.
The story comes to a climax as Jacob is standing next to the Jabbok River one night, perhaps wondering what will happen next. Will he make it out of this land alive? Suddenly, someone attacks Jacob in the dark and wrestles him until daybreak. Could this be Esau? Or maybe his hit man? Finally, the mysterious being touches Jacob’s hip and he is instantly defeated. Clearly, this was no man, but God Himself. After this experience, God gives Jacob a new name: Israel, which means “one who strives with God.” God chose to save Jacob that night, but didn’t change his personality—only his direction. Now, instead of striving against God, he would strive with God. In time, Jacob fathered the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people.
Jeremiah tells us that “the heart is desperately sick and deceitful above all things.” That word deceitful comes from the Hebrew word for “heel.” Essentially, Jeremiah is saying that all humanity—you and me—are just like Jacob. We are deceitful, selfish, naturally inclined to do anything to come out on top.
For this reason, the story of the Bible is our story. If we say the Bible is not relevant anymore, it is only because we are uncomfortable when we gaze into it and find a shockingly accurate reflection of ourselves. We are just like Jacob, terribly deceitful and deserving punishment. God, by His grace, chooses to redeem us.

This story of redemption in the Bible is the ultimate story of all humanity, past and present, East and West. It is your story and my story. Yet millions today live around the world without ever hearing it. Someday I want to live with women like Amal, be part of their story, and introduce them to the ultimate story of redemption told in the Bible.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Off to Jordan!

Day 1: Exploring “the seam” of the Rift Valley
Sites visited: Deir ‘Alla (Succoth), Pella, Gedara, Ramoth-Gilead

This morning I awoke to the patter of rain on the roof and soft thunder in the distance. When I reached the bus for our 7 am departure and opened my backpack, I found that all my maps had been soaked through. I attempted to dry them by hanging them over the bus seats.
We crossed into Jordan via the Jericho crossing, and the whole ordeal took a couple of hours. Passport control, scanning our baggage, switching busses, waiting in line…finally we were on our way. As we started our drive, the differences between Israel and Jordan became apparent. Ramshackle dwellings surrounded by dirt and garbage, run-down shops, and children running barefoot on the gravel road strewn with shattered glass. Even though it seems very crowded and dirty here, Dr. Wright says that it’s much better than most Arab nations. In fact, many Egyptians migrate here to find better jobs. The Jordanians seem like very friendly people; everywhere we drive, they smile and wave and seem excited to see us. I feel welcome here.

Our first stop was at Deir ‘Alla, which is most likely the Biblical site of Succoth. Here the famous “Balaam text” was found, as well as smolten metal, which is evidence of Solomon creating items for the temple here (1Kgs. 7). There were not many excavated ruins to see, but we pulled out our map and discussed the crossing points in the Rift Valley. The main one in Bible times was from Beth-Shan and the Jezreel Valley.
As we drove to our next stop, Pela, we looked out the window and noticed the “pre-modern” lifestyle of most Jordanians—harvesting crops from the fields, riding donkeys, wearing headscarves, and hand-washing clothes. Pela was a Decapolis city in New Testament times.

Our third stop was Gedara (modern-day Umm-Qais), whose ruins are distinctive because of its basalt rock. I thought it was interesting that this unique feature was a source of civic pride for the Hellenistic, urban inhabitants of Gedara. “Don’t lose the human feeling in the midst of all the stones,” Dr. Wright reminded us. From the basalt theater (which had quite comfortable rock seats—why don’t they build pews like that?!) we could see Mounts Tabor and Moreh. We also admired the black columns of an octagon-shaped, Byzantine-era church. It is one of several octagaonal-shaped churches in the region built to commemorate Jesus. How interesting that the Muslims chose to build the octagon-shaped Dome of the Rock as a memorial to Muhammad—perhaps a subtle suggestion that Islam was comfortably overriding Christianity? We ended this site with a look into both the Tiberias side of the Sea of Galilee (Israel) and modern-day Syria. As we left this site at 3 pm, we grabbed bag lunches to eat on the bus.
We ended the day at Ramoth-Gilead, an important Biblical site (see 1 Kgs. 22) that Israel was never quite able to conquer. This tel stands in the middle of expansive open plains…we are definitely not in the hill country anymore!
As I type this we are driving to Amman, where we will spend the night. Today was a tough day for me, because my sore throat and headache felt a bit worse, and none of the food provided at lunch was gluten-free. However, God keeps on giving me just enough grace to make it through, and I am still thankful to be here.


Tonight after dinner we went to Starbucks. On the way there, our taxi driver pointed out the procession in front of us—it was King Abdullah! Starbucks was a comforting taste of home. Josh bought me a grande decaf vanilla latte as my wages for cutting his hair earlier this week. ☺ We discussed theology and enjoyed relaxing as we sipped our drinks.

After that, we found a grocery store so I could try to buy some food. Unfortunately, the selection was limited, and I didn’t bring much money. However, I did buy some canned tuna and a can of peas for Amy and I to share. I am thankful for what God provides, just as I need it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yad Vashem

Today I went to Yad Vashem-- the Holocaust Museum. It was a sobering day--definitely good, but not always enjoyable. Images, videos, music, voices, and salvaged items from murdered victims all worked together to allow our senses to experience one of the greatest stories of suffering in human history. As I walked in, I was struck by this quote on the wall: "For a country is not just what it does — it is also what it tolerates." I remember standing and staring at a huge pile of shoes--some so tiny they could only fit a small child-- all of which were stolen from Jews before they entered the gas chambers. I read stories and saw pictures of the grotesque medical experiments done on Jews, and saw videos of emaciated concentration camp victims being thrown into mass graves. Survivors told their stories on film, fellow visitors around me cried, and I walked around in horrified awe of total human depravity. My experience at the museum helped me understand why so many Jews want to call Israel is part of reclaiming their identity after such a tragedy.

Tomorrow we leave for a four-day field study in Jordan, which in Bible times included the lands of Bashan, Gilead, Ammon, Edom, and Moab. This is our last field study before going to Egypt in December. Where has the time gone?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Church in Bethlehem

Last Sunday Naomi and I went to a Palestinian Christian Church in Bethlehem. The whole service was in Arabic, and our friend Lily (who had invited us) translated some of it for us. There were sixteen members in the congregation, including the two of us visiting.

After the service, we had some refreshments and enjoyed fellowship with the people there. They invited us out for lunch, and we enjoyed talking with them more over a meal at a local restaurant.

For the first time since coming here, I felt like part of a community outside of JUC.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

My Trip to the Mental Hospital

I just returned from a mental hospital in the West Bank. I went with a couple of friends who live and work in Bethlehem. We visited with the women there--some suffer from non-psychiatric problems such as epilepsy or past abuse, and others suffer from various mental disorders. As I walked through silent halls with paint-peeling walls and entered the first room in the women's chronic ward, I was greeted by nine surprised women, all in beds lined against the walls. Some were sleeping, but several woke up when we entered. They were so excited to have some company! We sat with them on their beds and tried to communicate with them in "Arabish" (Arabic/English), held their hands, sang songs, laughed, and prayed with them. When we first entered I was so shocked by their condition that I felt kind of awkward and unsure of what to do, but then I started thinking about how beautiful these women are in God's eyes. They are created in His image and are valuable to Him, so they are valuable to me. By the end I was reluctant to leave, and now I'm looking forward to visiting them again.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tea, Basketball, and a Whole Lot of Walking!

Yesterday I had a GREAT day. Naomi and I went to the Domari Center in the morning, and tutored some of the little kids. We also taught Amoun, Katia, and Marwa how to make an "American" dessert-- brownies from a box. They think it's so funny that we make things that come from boxes. But they sure loved eating them! Meet my young friend Fatima:

From there, I went to Marwa's house to hang out for the afternoon. I met her 20-year-old sister-in-law, who is expecting her first child. They are amazed that I'm not married yet. We had traditional Gypsy tea and talked (I really got to use my Arabic!) As people in their apartment heard that an American was visiting, they stopped by to meet me. It was really fun.

After that, I met up with Ashleigh, Naomi, and Matt, and caught a bus to Bethlehem. We went to our friend Jared's house-- he is here with Athletes in Action playing on a semi-pro Palestinian basketball team. His roommate is a YWAMer working here, so it was fun to meet him and exchange YWAM stories. That night we went to the championship basketball game-- what a cultural experience! Almost no women were in attendance, so we attracted some attention. Before the game started we stood for the Palestinian national anthem and had a moment of silence for everyone who's been killed by Israeli soldiers. The Bethlehem team was playing a team from a nearby refugee camp, so the game itself was rough; many players ended up on the floor. Other than that, most of the rules were the same. The fans were quite rowdy, and banged on drums and blew horns and whistles as we cheered. Unfortunately, Bethlehem lost by one point. It made for an exciting game! Jared played well.

After the game, it was too late for any busses to be running, so we walked from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. (I thought about Mary and Joseph making that trek on the same route!) Other than some trouble at the checkpoint, the walk back was very enjoyable. When we got back, I was exhausted and fell asleep right away.