Monday, June 20, 2011

Holy Land Trip: From the Mediterranean to the Galilee

Our first day on the bus ended as we ventured to the northern border of Israel with Lebanon. That stop combined a typical tourist attraction with a reminder of the geo-political realities of modern Israel.

First, the tourist attraction:

This beautiful blue grotto is formed by the rocky mountain and the Mediterranean sea. You find it by riding a cable car and then descending down a slick ramp to view the grotto. More poetically put by one of the signs there, it is "the love affair between mountain and the sea." It reminded me of the blue grotto at the Isle of Capri which my mother and I visited many, many years ago. We had to get into a boat to see that grotto and I was grateful that wasn't required here!

Just outside the exit to the grotto is the border between Israel and Lebanon. We went up to the border wall and could see the station where Israeli troops are on guard. Our guide told us that the soldiers are rotated every 6 weeks in order to guard against both boredom and the temptation to bond too much with the local residents.

Although this area has been relatively quiet, our guide recounted the recent return of two Israeli soldiers by the Lebanese--in body bags, their bodies having been cut up by their captors--to their families. This was a sobering reminder that the seemingly peaceful country we had just traveled through is struggling with conflicts with neighboring states as well as with the Palestinians within its borders. There would be more reminders to come.

The last stop of the day was Tiberius and our hotel, which would be our base of operations (so to speak!) for the next several days. 

This first day was so chock-full of experiences that it was hard to sort them out, and that was a feeling that became commonplace as the trip continued. This first day did set the tone for our tour which was more of a pilgrimage than a trip.

Pairing visits to Jaffa and Caesaria emphasized for me the importance of the conversion of Cornelius and the bringing of the gospel message to the Gentiles in the midst of the powerful Roman empire. What a powerful transformation! The visit to the Lebanon border reminded me that the Christian faith must be lived out in the real world where natural beauty exists alongside intractable human conflicts.

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