Over the weekend I came down with a cold. I took several naps during the day and tried to drink plenty of liquids. I knew I had to travel on Monday and speak in a church on Tuesday evening, so I wanted to be as strong and well as I could.
Monday afternoon Pierre, a Palestinian residing in Haifa, Israel and a teacher at the college, took me with him back to Haifa. It was a pleasant drive on major highways and freeways. Nothing like the roads I've been used to traveling in the West Bank. Even when we went through a checkpoint we barely had to slow down. We stopped at a gas station and Pierre bought us cups of coffee. I didn't expect it to be good, since I never like coffee in the States from anywhere but a gourmet coffee shop. This coffee was actually good.
As anyone knows who has ridden with me in a car, I love to talk one-on-one with people. I'm very quiet in groups, but you can't shut me up when I have someone captive in a car. I had a great time talking with Pierre. We have much in common. His father is a pastor, for instance, so we're both PKs. Pierre went to Korea for his seminary training. I was impressed with his knowledge of contemporary issues in New Testament studies. As a matter of fact, Pierre's father and brother all amazed me with their knowledge of the Bible. It made me feel like I need to start again to read the Bible every day.
Pierre, his brother Elias, and sister live with their parents in a very nice apartment in Haifa. Elias is a pharmacist, sings in the church choir, and is an avid reader of books about the Bible. Their parents are a warm, kind, and hospitable couple. I loved to watch their father listen intently to a translation of what I had said and then see his face crinkle into a big smile. I'm not surprised he is a pastor of an Assemblies of God church. His spirit is so visible when he talks with people and seems to get such pleasure from speaking about and to God.
After a wonderful dinner and some great conversation, Pierre took me to the guesthouse where I was to stay. I believe the name is Beit Yedidia Guest House connected with Kehilat HaCarmel (Carmel Assembly). I was only there to sleep and didn't get any chance to talk with people. It was quite comfortable and enjoyable. I was able to open large windows and look out over treetops. What made it rather special was its location next to a zoo. I only heard a few animals, nothing that was startling. I did manage to hold my camera out the window and take a picture of the tiger walking in his pen.
On Tuesday Pierre picked me up in the morning and we first had breakfast. To most Americans it would not be the usual fare for breakfast. We don't usually eat this healthy. Pierre ordered us each a plate of hummus, drenched in olive oil, and topped with spices, chick peas, and pine nuts. We ate this with our pita bread along with pickles, olives, tomatoes, and onions.
After a brief trip and long conversation we arrived in Akko (Acre). It was such a treat for me to be able to see the Mediterranean Sea. So much of my life has been devoted to the study of the texts from cultures that border on the Mediterranean. It indeed is a beautiful body of water. Blue is my favorite color and the blues of the sea and the sky were spectacular.
We walked around parts of the old city and saw where the Knights Templar had created a tunnel leading from their fortress to the shore. We visited a courtyard where a movie was filmed about Jesus. The synthesis of cultures was evident from a clock tower: the clock face had Hebrew characters, above it were Islamic symbols, and an Israeli was flying from the top.
From this vantage point we could look to the south and see the land jutting out into the Mediterranean where Haifa is located.
We returned to Haifa and went to several different sites to look out over the city. The mountain range runs parallel with the coast. This gives a tremendous view of the city of Haifa and of its shoreline.
One of the special places is the Baha'i Center and the shrine to one of its founders. When driving through the city we would come up a street whose view ahead was the stairs leading up to the shrine and then beyond. We went up and looked back down at the beautiful gardens. Nearby was another set of unique buildings belonging to the Baha'i's. To the north is the port and the city surrounding it.
Back at Pierre's home we enjoyed another delicious meal in the afternoon. His mother is a wonderful cook and hostess. I returned to the guesthouse so I could rest a bit before the meeting at the church. They have been studying the Bible by having a survey of the Old and New Testaments and then devoting a meeting each week to an overview of each book of the New Testament. I was asked to present my study of the book of Hebrews. I created a Powerpoint presentation to summarize the introductory points about the book and then a series of slides on the structure and content of Hebrews. Rather than rest in my room, I reread the book of Hebrews and went through my slides.
In the evening Pierre brought me to the church. You wouldn't recognize it as a church building, but inside was a nice auditorium with all the furnishings for a contemporary, evangelical church service.
For the first twenty minutes or so the choir led us in Arabic gospel songs with words shown on the screen through the video projector and laptop. The keyboard has music tracks for the right beat and the woman playing the music did a great job with the music. I did clap with some of the simpler tunes and followed the Arabic the best I could.
I had an interpreter for my presentation who did a great job working with me. I explained to the audience that I had written my doctoral dissertation on the book of Hebrews. And recently I had published a book in which I condensed my research into a three-hundred page book. I was also challenged by summarizing my work on Hebrews during the semester to students at Bethlehem Bible College. The presentation I was going to give to them on Hebrews within less than an hour was my greatest feat so far. I also joked about my sore throat. I said that they would have to forgive me for having a sore throat. "I don't usually sound like this," I said, "I usually sound more intelligent." I was very glad to finish going through Hebrews in about an hour. They were a great group and I was honored to talk with them about Hebrews.
On Wednesday morning Pierre drove me to the bus station. Even there I had to have my backpack and carrying case inspected. Because I have sleep apnea I travel with a CPAP machine. It looks rather suspicious, but most people who inspect luggage know what it is.
The bus was very nice. I enjoyed eating the two small pizzas Pierre had bought for me for breakfast. These pizzas are a very common type of snack from Arab markets.
Arab buses in the West Bank are not usually very new or clean. This bus was quite new and modern. On an Arab bus people are always talking with each other. On this bus people hardly noticed each other. Most sat alone and took up both seats, many by stretching out and sleeping. Several young women were in Israeli military uniforms.
It was a long ride back to Jerusalem. Only two hours, but long in terms of what I've been accustomed to. I watched the scenery, read the Hebrew and Arabic of signs along the road. We traveled through so many open spaces outside of Jerusalem. I couldn't help wondering why Israel doesn't settle people there instead of the cramped spaces of the western and southern borders of the West Bank.
At the bus station in Jerusalem I got a taxi to take me to the Arab bus station near the Damascus Gate. A large bus was about ready to leave for Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. I made my way to the back to observe the Palestinian culture one more time – maybe for the last time on a bus ride like this. Once again the bus traveled out of Jerusalem, through the checkpoint, stopped to let people off to catch Palestinian taxis, turned around, went up the hill and down through Beit Jalla, and turn up Hebron Rd. to let people off on the side of the road. By the time I walked back the few blocks to the college it was just 1:00 pm and time for lunch.
Thanksgiving Day in Bethlehem was like every other day. I waited all day for the opportunity to see my family by video through Skype. It was about 8:00 pm for me when my daughters contacted me on Skype. I had my video set up and so did they. I could see the dining room table with my wife and five daughters seated all around. They asked me to say grace. Just thinking about it chokes me up all over again. To me this is why technology is such a blessing. From thousands of miles away I could pray with my family and celebrate Thanksgiving together. After they were finished Emily and Tabitha got out their violin and cello. First they played some traditional Thanksgiving hymns. Then they began playing some Christmas pieces. I can't describe how I felt to hear my talented daughters play "O Little Town of Bethlehem" for me while I am in Bethlehem. They played "Hark the Herald Angel Sings," and I said, "That's just down the hill from here in Beit Sahour. What a wonderful time that was. Only 16 more days and I will be home with my family.
I had a great class time today. I used my Powerpoint presentation on Hebrews to finish going through Hebrews. Next Friday we will spend the class period focusing on two passages with more in-depth study and discussion.
Tomorrow, on Saturday, we are having a Thanksgiving Dinner at the college. I heard a guy from the UK say it was going to be his first Thanksgiving Dinner.
Although I said Thursday was like every other day here, implying that they did not have Thanksgiving, what I also mean is that every day here is a day of giving thanks to God for family, for friendship, for faith, and for the land that gives the food to sustain life.