Bethlehem. Day 2

Another busy action packed day. Up, breakfasted and on our way by 8.00. Once again saying morning prayer collectively on the coach. Something surreal about praying for Israel, Jerusalem etc as we wind our way through the streets, and yet it seems so appropriate.

First visit was to a Palestinian rehabilitation centre for children with special needs, a charity supported by McCabe travel. Quite moving to see the work done there, and the same in the afternoon when we visited another Palestinian rehabilitation centre in Bethlehem. In between we called in at a cooperative which helps Palestinians to find and have employment, in woodworking, jewelry making and so on. Bought some presents there, but Alison wouldn’t let me have the ¬£150 set of vestments!

We also went to the Shepherds field, where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. Interesting thought that the shepherds looked after the sheep in readiness for sacrifice and here they were being pointed to the greater lamb and the ultimate sacrifice. Again we sang in the Chapel in worship. The whole pilgrimage is being contained within the element of it being a spiritual journey.

As with yesterday many photos have been taken and gradually they’ll find their way to Facebook either in the Holy Land section or in the pictures section. Trouble is they’re on a variety of devices so I will need to collate them.

after the Shepherds field and the shopping at the cooperative we made our way to manger square and the church where the manger allegedly was. It was packed and we were pushed and jostled as folk all tried to get into the cave without waiting and so many wanted to touch the stone surrounding. I like to think that we brought some dignity for we refused to move until we’d had another act of worship in singing “Away in a manger”

disappointed with that area for it felt like a man-made area for the sake of attracting the tourists. Bethlehem itself was nothing like I’d imagined it to be as it was incredibly hilly, busy and bustling and like the rest of the day we were constantly reminded of the sad existence of the wall dividing the territories. Having seen the fall of the Berlin Wall in my lifetime it’s sad to know another has been erected, disrupting Palestinian lives and I suspect hampering peace moves thereby disrupting Israeli lives also.

oh how I’ve prayed for the peace of the whole region today. Part of our morning prayer as we sit on the bus each day has been for peace between Jew, Muslim and Christian, between Jew and Gentile, between Arab and Israeli. O Lord, raise up men and women on all sides who will have the courage to lay down arms, seek dialogue and find peace.

Today has been good, but again a mixture. The simple beauty of the shepherds field, the almost obscene splendour of the church in manger square and all surrounded by this hideous wall, representing how far we’ve moved from the one who came for ALL humanity.

tomorrow, earlier start as we have to be on the road for 7.00 am and heading for the Dead Sea, the Dead Sea scrolls caves, and the one I’ve looked forward to most, a visit to Masada with all of it’s fascinating history. It’s my birthday and what a fantastic birthday treat.

 

Jerusalem day 1

Well, we arrived in Jerusalem at about 11.30 pm last night after a long days travel. Israeli security, passport control and El-al airlines were absolutely first class. Best check-in experience ever and complimentary drink and meal on the plane, whilst watching “The Butler” on video !

And then we arrived at a very nice hotel, The Golden Wall hotel, literally facing the city wall, near to both Pilgrims gate and Damascus gate.

Today was our first full day and we’re both worn out from walking all day. We walked the entrance into Jerusalem on the route Jesus would have taken on what we call Palm Sunday. Very steep downhill descent but with a splendid view into the Kidron Valley, overlooking the Mount of Olives and facing the traditional view of Jerusalem.

Part way down we stopped off at Dominus Flevit Church, the place where Jesus is said to have wept over Jerusalem. Here we had Eucharist and I found myself using British Sign Language to the hymn during the worship. Recieving the bread and wine with the view (below) as a backdrop was very moving.

After the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Getsemane we walked up the hill and into the city through the Lions Gate (or St.Stephens gate, as it is also known; or St Ann’s gate……….). Here we first went to the pook of Bethesda, where Jesus healed the man waiting to go into the healing waters.
And then to the Ecce Homo convent to see the ‘judgement pavement’ where Pilate is said to have tried Jesus. Almost bizarrely, after this, we went up to the roof top restaurant for lunch ! Gloriously sunny and very warm.

Then we set off to walk the Via Dolorossa, the final walk of Jesus, with its 14 stations. Our guide, Rami, very honestly told us that over the centuries there have been various interpretations of this route so no guarantee we walked the same path as Jesus, BUT we were in the same area and the crowded, narrow streets brought home to me the humiliation and degradation of our Lord as he carried his cross through the crowds. Moving.

We eventually came to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site of the crucifixion and one of the alleged sites of the tomb of Jesus. For me this was the only disappointment of the day as the building with its splendour and majesty did not reflect my simple churchmanship and it seemed to me to be a mixture of superstition and hype. That’s probably unfair and I’m glad I was there; I just sat uncomfortably with it, in contrast to the simplicity of the Eucharist earlier in the day.
I did like the roof picture of Jesus which I was able to take by reversing the camera of my iPad (oooooh aren’t I good?)

Finally, via the busyness of the streets again we walked our way to the site of the Garden tomb, another possible site of Jesus’ tomb. This was much simpler and certainly more peaceful. Which one is the genuine tomb, if either, I don’t know but the peace and quiet of the latter was special.

After the garden tomb we walked back to the hotel for a coffee and the chance to rest our tired feet. In all we’ve been walking, climbing, standing from 8.00 this morning to 4.30 this afternoon. At about 8.00 pm Alison and I found the quiet peace of the roof garden (of the hotel) overlooking the walls. Lovely.

My hearing ? I didn’t catch everything but thanks to a microphone and an earpiece (everyone was given an earpiece) it was possible to catch most things without having to almost sit on Eami’s shoulder. And I must give special praise to Rami, our guide. His enthusiasm, zeal and passion, not for the city, but for Jesus was a joy to experience. His simple explanations and honesty (when casting doubt on the site of the tomb), combined with his knowledge of Scripture was tremendous. It’s been like listening to an 8 hour evangelistic sermon with the most dramatic visual aids of them all.

Tomorrow we travel to Bethlehem to the Shepherds Fields, to Manger square, and to visit the co-operative McCabe travel work in partnership with Palestinian Christians. Can’t wait but am going to enjoy a good nights sleep in the meantime !

What am I to make of it all? At one point we had received so much information it wasn’t possible to remember everything; it really was “information overload”, but as Alison said “it’s not about remembering all the detail” for its as if we’re being ‘marinated’ in the experience. I like that way of putting it for in cooking to marinate something is to completely soak it in a new flavour. Maybe that’s what the Lords going to do with us this week, give us a new flavour in our understanding.

“I ain`t finished yet”-Hearing update

Thought that it was time to give you all an update on the hearing front. It has now been confirmed that I have lost 40% hearing in my left ear and about 20% in my right ear. Little chance of it coming back and when you consider that I only had 70% in my left ear before you can begin to imagine how much it has dropped.

Another way of gauging the level of loss is to realise that last year about 6 months ago I was chairing a meeting of about 60+ people WITHOUT any aids in at all and now if I take them out I struggle to hear someone a few feet in front of me. To add to it the infection in my left ear has returned !

“Eeeeeh,¬† ain`t life grand ??” as the great philosopher Wallace would say to Gromit

I`ve got an appointment with the specialist on Monday 30th January and in the meantime the Ropewalk hearing clinic, in Nottingham (fantastic clinic with great staff) have increased the volume levels in my existing aids to make hearing a bit easier; trouble is I now whistle while I walk ! I think my career as a stealthy secret agent may be over.

How do I feel about it ? Frustrated ? yes. Angry ?  surprisingly, yes. Worried ? Understandably, yes. Downhearted ? I have had my moments and Alison will tell you that life with me is a roller-coaster at the moment but by and large I am not downhearted for I`ve come to a stage of realisation that somehow and in someway God is going to use this and I still have a valid Ministry.

Already I`m beginning to think about how I can take up the cudgels re disability issues within my Circuit, use of microphones, loop systems etc for the deaf; large print publications for the poorly sighted and other facilities for those with mobility issues. We still live in a world where there is unseen and hidden discrimination against disabled people. Maybe this has to be a part of my work.

A very big thank-you to everyone who has prayed with me and for me; thank-you to you all for your patience, understanding and tolerance and above all else thank-you to folk from every circuit I`ve ever worked in who have taken the time to make contact and offer unconditional love. When Jesus said to Peter “upon this rock I will build my church” Peter had no idea of what would ensue but Jesus knew that a tremendous community of people would arise in his name and share that unconditional love, of which I have been privileged to receive a part of it.

All in all I don`t know what the future is going to be like, but this I know “God ain`t finished with me yet !”

Hopes/Fears in 2014

Happy new year to all of my readers. I wonder what you are hoping for from this year?

We all step into 2014 with hopes and dreams, fears and anxieties, belief and despair. Like everyone else I too have my hopes and fears for this coming year.

Amongst my hopes I find myself looking forward with expectation to the coming trip to Israel, only 11 more days, and the opportunity it will bring spiritually. This really is a once in a lifetime trip, thanks to the generosity of the Bishop of Derby and the Borders Mission Methodist Circuit; the chances of us returning are not too high, so we want to make the most of it, and it will be good to go with a large group of Alison’s Anglican colleagues.

I hope for my annual reunion with good friends William Armstrong and Tim Wiley who I meet with each year around about May/June time to relive school memories. This has be come a special trip each year and combined with a visit to see Dad is an opportunity of ‘catch-up’

Hopes are high for my return to Romania in September. I couldn’t go this year, and I’ve missed the village and it’s people so much. Angela, Tante Lena, Sebi and others are in my thoughts and prayers each day, so I really hope to get back to see and help them.

On a world front I hope for a peaceful withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, but fear that the country will slide again. I hope that South Africa can rally itself to continue to build the state that Nelson Mandela himself hoped and worked for.

I hope that the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury will continue their drive to draw our Church back to what it should be, a community that reflects the life, values and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our own country I hope that this year we’ll see the Government take action which will reduce the necessity for people to have to rely on food banks; the evil of our day.

I hope for this Trent and Dove Methodist Circuit that they seize the God-given possibilities of spreading his Gospel message in an appropriate way.

My fears are that my current hearing difficulties may spoil the Israel trip for Alison and that it is a further deterioration towards almost total deafness which I was told 10 years ago was a possibility, hence my learning of sign language.

I continue to worry over my children (28 & 26 years old !) but show me a parent who doesn’t. It’s a part of parenting, wanting to protect, needing to provide but at the same time giving permission to fly the nest and make mistakes.

So as we go into this year there is a healthy mixture of fear and hope, as surely there will be for all of us.

image

 

The picture is that of a statue representing people. It was given to me by a Zimbabwean refugee who had to flee the country with her husband. She gave me this as a thank you for helping to find a house for them to live.

It speaks to me about the need for community togetherness and for family relationships; Jesus said “Father, I pray that they may be one, as you and I are one” John ch. 17. Of course he was praying about the disciples knowing the coming persecution they would face, but I think he would still pray it today about his world.

So my hope for 2014 is quite simply that the prayer of Jesus be answered and all people will see others as God created and equal; that all people would show respect and tolerance; that the live of God will bring people together for it is only his love that can truly drive away fear and anxiety.