Day 9 - Samaria

I am thinking back on this day, and it is difficult to put my thoughts into words. The sites and towns we visited this day were Samaritan. Samaria is now in the West Bank, so really, for most of the people living there, nothing has changed much since during Jesus' time. They are still the outcasts. Since the Intifada (1987) and Second Intifada (2000), these Palestinians are still cut off from the rest of Israel in many ways.

We were still in Bethlehem, and it was another beautiful sunrise. I can't see these very well from my house in Norman, so I tend to take lots of pictures of sunrises and sunsets when I am away.

I took a few pictures on the way. These are blurry, but give you some idea of what the countryside looked in the area.

 Our first stop of the day was Taybeh. Taybeh used to be called Ephraim. Taybeh is the only all Christian town in all of the Holy Land. There are three churches there, and we visited the Latin (Roman Catholic) one. There we met Father Raed Abusahlia, a funny, dynamic, amazing man of God. He talked to us a bit in the church. This day I left my notebook on the bus, and was quite sad to miss the opportunity to write down even just a bit of all that he shared with us.

This is Father Raed and Marty (Dr. Michelson).

Next Father Raed took us to a 4th century house that was relocated to the church property. Although it dates from the 4th century, it is apparently quite similar to a 1st century house. Father Raed took about 15 minutes to show us the house and talk through many of Jesus' parables and other biblical stories, showing what they meant in relation to this house.

For the final segment of our time in Taybeh, we relocated to a common room. There Father Raed spoke to us about his work in Taybeh and the political situation there. These of course are interrelated. His parish built a hospital because people in the area had great difficult getting to the hospitals. They have to cross the checkpoint to do so. Women in labor had babies while waiting to get through, or died, or the baby died. Something needed to be done, so they built a hospital. The parish also has a school for area children, both Christian and Muslim alike. Father Raed stated that it is very important that all children can come to the school so that they can learn that Christians and Muslims can work together, and will be able to do that when they are adults. He spoke about the need for Christians to be bridge builders, not wall builders. And he asked us to pray for them. There are no easy solutions. Marty recorded his message to us, and I will repost it here if he provides it.
He has also launched a Peace Lamp Initiative, and I plan to purchase one of these lamps for my own church.

More countryside from the bus, including shepherds and sheep (click on the second picture and you can see it better).

After a short drive we made it to our next town, Nablus (formerly Shechem). Here we visited Jacob's Well, the site where Jesus stopped in the John 4. It is now within a Greek Orthodox Convent. No pictures were allowed of the well, but I do have some of the church and courtyard.

We reboarded the bus and traveled to Sabastia. This town contains a another area of ruins of Canaan and later civilizations, including Omri's gate. Our bus squeezed up a narrow road to get to the site, as the other road had been blocked off. We were the first tour group there in ten years, since the start of the Second Intifada. I think that was the last time our bus driver had been to the area too. The elements of the ruins were similar to what we had seen elsewhere. But there did not seem to be any archaeologists working at this site, and no reconstruction as in some of the other areas.

The storekeeper scrambled down to the main part of the village to prepare food for us, while we walked up the hill to view the ruins. The whole event was so much like in the movie Cars, like Radiator Springs waiting for the tourists to come back after the interstate was built. We had the best falafel of the trip. Several members of our group played soccer with local boys. We all tried to buy what we could, even if it was just a couple of bars of olive oil soap. The shop owner (pictured below) shared with us that an older son of his is a professor at University of Texas.

Our final stop for the day was at Mt. Gerizim. This site, like Sebastia, was a site neither of our leaders had been to, and had little information on-site to help us interpret what we saw. According to this website, I took pictures of the remains of a fifth century octagonal church, a mosque, and a castle. We were free to roam, so that was fun. Until the Israeli jets started circling off in the distance.

With the help of Mike the driver and our leaders, I was able to make one last stop so we could get a tasty treat for Jen. It was her birthday and we needed to celebrate. We found some yummy cookies that were chocolate dipped and covered in sprinkles. As an added bonus, they had fruity filling.