Sunday, June 12, 2016

Bethlehem, The Christmas Church, Lunch at the Bannoura FamilyHome, and The Herodium

Sunday, June 12

Today, we drove to Bethlehem in Palestine and attended morning worship at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church
We arrived a bit early so decided to walk through the old part of town and the open air markets. It was a beautiful morning!

The market was bustling, but perhaps not as much as it normally would because of it being Ramadan and almost all of the cafes and restaurants being closed down. Still, we had a great time and saw a ton of interesting things! There was such a friendly atmosphere and everyone smiled or waved as we smiled and walked by.
When it was time for the service to begin, we arrived back at the church. The service was in Arabic, but the minister did summarize his sermon for us in English. We sang both familiar and unfamiliar tunes and the music was both contemporary and traditional. The church itself is the oldest Lutheran Church in Palestine and one of the six Lutheran churches in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan. It was built 1886-1893 and the 1890 Berlin organ was restored in 2000.
After the service, we stayed for the coffee hour and made some friends. Then, we drove to the Bannoura family's home where we had a delicious lunch and a super fun time together. It was the young son Jiha's eighth birthday today so we all sang him "Happy Birthday" and he was SO EXCITED and HAPPY! 
We observed the seasoned chicken and potatoes being put into the family's hot stone oven.

Fr. Rob and Ed sealed the oven with wet mud. David got to unseal the stone oven when it was done. It seemed that it was only in the oven fr 20 minutes and it was amazingly delicious when it came out. Traditional salads were served wile we were waiting on the chicken to cook and a cool refreshing drink which was a mix of lemonade, bergamot, and mint. 
There is so much to be said for forming a community and this trip has really done that for our pilgrims. In addition to making new and lifelong friends with the St. James Episcopal in Hendersonville group, our own Louisiana group has bonded well and deepened relationships with each other. Helping each other, laughing with each other, seeing each other's amazement and/or emotional reactions to holy sites, these things have all sown our threads of friendship together. It is such a blessing to be with one another. Here we are pictured with our guides and the Bannoura family.
After lunch, everyone was full and sleepy/goofy as we drove to the Herodium. Once there, most in the group hiked up to the top of the mount to see Herod's structures and then hiked via extremely steep steps through the system of cisterns to the level of Herod's tomb. The mount provides a wonderful view of the surrounding countryside and gives one a sense of how wealthy and strong Herod was. He had built a fortress, a palace, and a small town here, 2487 feet above sea level. 
Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of his time and was not afraid of geography so a small mountain was just fine. We saw ruins of a Roman bath house with the separate rooms (caldarium, tepidarium, and frigidarium) and a theatre which Herod used to entertain his guests.
It was extremely hot and everyone seemed quite spent so we headed back to St. George's Cathedral. The NC group leaves tonight and the LA group will walk the via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) tomorrow morning. We will be leaving at 5:45 and there will not be any photos or videos from that event. It is purely a worship experience. 
Above: Woman holding taboon bread
Below: The figs here are GIGANTIC

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