Staff Blogger: Gretchen Colón, Vice President of Advancement & Communications
*This blog was written by Gretchen Colón on Monday, Feb. 12 local time.
As we prepare for our first group outing, we are thankful for the abundance of good food and strong coffee for our breakfast before the trip.
Today, we are boarding a charter bus and our first stop will be the Jordan River.
Our morning began with a reflection on Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the Good Samaritan. As we drive through the desert and find ourselves in the actual topography of the land, the Gospel stories of Jesus really began to come to life.
When we arrived at the Jordan River, the Rev. Dan Drew invited us to remember our own baptisms and we celebrated as some were baptized for the first time.
“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.
Many of us were surprised as the size of the Jordan River at this specific location, as we had imagined it much to be much wider based on our readings in the Bible. Nonetheless, it was a special day as we gathered as a Lakeside community for this sacred moment.
Jericho is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. At the excavation at Tel al-Sultan, more than 23 civilizations have been found here by the famous archeologist Kathleen Kenyon.
From here, we stood in front of the Mount of Temptation. This was the traditional “high mountain” from where Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” in Matthew 4:8. The group gathered under the shaded area and reflected on this scripture passage.
Many of us remember the children’s song about Zacchaeus up a sycamore tree so that he could see Jesus above the crowd. Before leaving Jericho we made a stop in front of one of the older sycamore trees in Jericho and we sang the song on the bus as we drove away.
Qumran National Park
At Qumran National Park, you can stand and see across the horizon to the Dead Sea. A Jewish religious sect called the Essenes lived at Qumran. This very place, in the caves of the mountains at this park, is where they first discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are considered to be the library of the Essenes sect.
The Qumran community of Essenes was much smaller than other sects, such as the Pharisees, and only grew to more than 300. They were priestly and were obsessed with rituals like bathing and eating together. They spent their afternoons engaging in scholarly activity such as studying and copying the scrolls.
Our guide EJ explains to us that there are exactly 11 caves in the mountains at Qumran National Park. EJ has been a tour guide with EO for more than seven years, and his knowledge and passion for sharing the history and culture of his country is so evident. We are so thankful for his hospitality and his gift of expressing history in an engaging way.
Across the mountains, the desert was very still and had vibrant colors. You could smell the dust in the air and feel the peace across the land.
In front of Cave 4, EJ instructed us to “be still and you will feel God.” This very cave is where they found some of the glass bottles with the books of the Bible.
We stood at a mountain peak and overlooked the Dead Sea from afar. The view was awe-inspiring.
We ended the day at the lowest body of water on earth, the Dead Sea. It’s more than 1,300 feet below sea level, which is hard to comprehend.
The Dead Sea is a therapeutic and healing body of water, but because of the high salt content, we are careful to avoid getting the water in our eyes. We can feel the salt crystals and mud, which is good for the skin, on the floor of the sea and we let it smooth our skin as it washes over us.
As we board the bus back to our hotel after a full first day of traveling and learning, we end the day in prayer and invite you to say it with us before we spend our second day of the trip in Bethlehem.
We give thanks for this day, oh Lord, for the experience we have had as a Lakeside community in the Holy Land or right here in our own home. You are a magnificent God and we are grateful for your mercy as we experience the story of your Son. Standing on the hillside, overlooking where the shepherds have tended their flock, we ask you to continue watching over us as we carry on our spiritual journey, learning together in love. Amen.