day 2: the beginnings of the falafel tour

An explanation of the title.  We ate falafel pretty much everyday.  Falafel and hummus.  Hummus and falafel.  IT. WAS. GREATNESS.  So, the trip got dubbed “The Falafel Tour” and rightly so.  What is a falafel you might ask?  It is a ball of deep-fried goodness (made of ground chickpeas) that you can stuff in a pita, slather with some hummus and enjoy everyday of vacation…if you so desire!

Before this trip even started, we resigned ourselves to the fact that there wouldn’t be much time for sleep.  When you haven’t seen some of your greatest friends in around nine months, there will be lots of late night convos!  The lack of sleep was totally worth it.  Each day was crammed full of seeing everything we possibly could see.  For our first full day in the country we hit the ground running!

It would be hard to put this day into words.  So, for the most part I will let the pictures do the story telling.  I’ve been here before, but it will never get old.

Standing on the Mount of Olives and taking in the view of the Old City is pretty incredible.

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“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray'”.  (Matthew 26:36)

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From the garden, we walked the Via Dolorosa.  This is said to be the path that Jesus walked, with his cross, to the site of his crucifixion.  It takes you by the sites of his condemnation and flagellation.

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“And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take.” (Mark 15:24)

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This is the traditional location of Calvary and the tomb where Jesus was laid.  The church is home to Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism.

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These crosses were carved into the walls of the church by the Crusaders, during the First Crusade.

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This church marks the traditional site of the birthplace of Mary and the home to Jesus’ maternal grandparents.

**Side note: this church is known for its awesome acoustics.  Anyone can sound awesome singing.  So naturally we sat down, made sure no one was singing and then proceeded to sing Amazing Grace.  We hadn’t gotten two words out before the monk came over and chewed us out for not waiting our turn!!  Apparently the folks taking pictures at the opposite end needed their chance.  Needless to say, some members of our group were quite bitter over getting reamed by a grumpy monk that day!**

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Next to the above church are the pools of Bethesda.  This is the place where Jesus healed a man laying beside the pool.  “Jesus said to him, ‘Get up, take up your bed, and walk.’  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” (John 5:8-9)

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The Garden Tomb.  This was one of my favorite spots.  At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, it is really hard to imagine what things would have looked like because you are overwhelmed by the gaudiness of it all.  This is a quiet place where incense isn’t being waved and people aren’t kissing all of the possible places Jesus may have stood.  It was peaceful and gave you a chance to reflect.

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My little buddy and me at the Garden Tomb.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Word really comes alive when you get to walk in the places where the events actually occurred.  As the day came to a close, two things really hit home.

First, many of the sites throughout the Old City are incredibly touristy and gaudy.  There is so much incense burning and candle lighting and kissing of objects that it is really hard to focus on what took place there.  There just seems to be a lot of extra hoopla.  And, it is easy to find yourself really annoyed at the sight of it all and even critical at the groups that have control of the various sites/churches.  These different religious groups may view worship very differently from how I view it, but they have preserved these locations and enabled us to still be able to visit the various places that were significant in the life and ministry of Jesus.  And for that I am thankful.

The second thing pertains to the fact that there are several locations that are up-in-the-air…no one knows for certain where they took place.  While at the Garden Tomb, I heard a tour guide make this statement: it does not really matter if we know for sure where certain things happened; what matters is that we know for sure they did happen.  Whether Jesus Christ was crucified and buried at the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or at Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb doesn’t matter.  What matters is the fact that he lived a perfect life, died for us and rose again and conquered death.  What matters is that he is no longer in that grave.  He is alive and he is coming again!

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

**Just so you know…the pomegranate juice is Chuck Norris approved!**

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day 1: just to the left of the middle of nowhere

It all started at a truck stop.

Well, that’s not exactly where it all started…but close enough.

Back in March of 2012, three friends and I began to throw around the idea of doing Christmas together.  And what do ya know?  All of the logistics came together…minus the small detail of where exactly we would need to be picked up.

Getting across the River really took no time at all.  Things went super smoothly (that should have put me on alert!).  As we were going through immigration on the other side, that’s DSC03648where the fun started.  I made the mistake of not saying “Good morning” before asking for the visa form and was reamed for my lack of manners.  Nothing says “Welcome to our country” like tearing into a few tourists for their manners.  Because of this first rough encounter, I was questioned extensively about why I was in the country (always a good time).  After verifying our story we passed through security and into the Promised Land looking for E in the parking lot.

Remember that small detail of a pick-up location that was never quite nailed down???  Well, that led to a bus full of strangers deciding where we should be dropped off.  Yes, we sat back and let the group decide for us.  There was really no choice in the matter.  The consensus was to drop us off at a truck stop outside of Jericho and hope E knew which one!  So, we grabbed the first of many falafel sandwiches and hunkered down in the cold to await our ride.

Our first couple hours were spent hanging out just to the left of the middle of nowhere.

DSCN0827Once the Fantastic Four were reunited, we set out to see some sights.  First stop: Masada. It was an incredibly cool place.  Herod the Great built it way back in the day as a fortress/palace.  It is a huge complex built on the top of a mountain plateau and overlooks the Dead Sea.  There was an intricate cistern system, old thermal baths, the remains of a Byzantine church and synagogue.  A scribe actually sits in the remains of the synagogue and copies the Torah onto scrolls.  We didn’t get to see him working because it was Shabbat.  My nerdy history side really came out and I was reading every sign (I am my father’s daughter).  There is just something cool about getting to see these places with my own eyes and not just in a history book.  See…I’m a nerd at heart.

I was blessed to spend Christmas vacation with friends who found the humor in all of our crazy situations.

* The next few blogs will be about my awesome Christmas vacation through a land filled with an incredible history. *

2012: The Recap

This last year was a big one.  I made a pretty big move, started learning a new language, learned to drive a stick-shift on the crazy roads of West Africa, made new friends and got to roam the earth quite a good bit (collected stamps in my passport from 9 different countries!).  A friend asked me last night if my nine months here have felt long or short.  My response: “Depends on the day”.  Though there have been crappy days and incredibly awesome days, I would trade none of it.  The Lord has been good to me.

DSC_0476The first of the year, I packed up all of my life into a giant wooden box.  It was chaos trying to figure out how much space I needed, what was going where and making sure EVERYTHING was catalogued.  It was an awesome and sad realization that everything I owned fit into 200 cubic feet plus 4 pieces of luggage.  I was blessed that Mom was there to really keep things moving.  She saran and bubble-wrapped the heck out of everything (which made for fun times 9 months later).

At the end of January, I packed up the winter clothes that didn’t make the Africa cut and headed to Virginia for a couple months of training.  Being the 2nd time through, I found it a bit more relaxing thanIMG_4852 the first go-around!  You learn a lot in all of the classes, but the thing that really sticks is always the friendships.  To be surrounded by so many who share your heart is incredible.  In those two months I drank lots of coffee, played lots of Settlers of Catan, fellowshipped with folks headed all over the world, heard the stories of many and set tentative plans for a Christmas vacation of a lifetime!  It was a fun time back at the Farm.

Easter weekend I moved to my new home, Burkina Faso.  It was a whirlwind of an arrival with only a week spent in my city before heading to Zambia for a month-long training.  IMG_358340/40 was an experience that I enjoyed immensely.  I got to experience a little of the African life and what the work might look like in my context.  The highlight of the month was getting to spend two weeks in a bush camp.  It brought back good memories of my time in the jungle.

The months following are kind of a blur.  Most of my time All of my time was focused on language learning.  It was and does continue to be a humbling experience.  When I go to communicate with anyone in Jula, I’m once again reminded that it’s never going to be what I can do here…it’s only going to be the Father working through me that will accomplish anything of significance.

564558_10100286283572474_1010209591_nIn August, I finally received my crate!  It was a happy day in West Africa for sure.  The box made its journey across the Atlantic and made it to my front door with no damages.  Unpacking it definitely made my place feel more like home.  So, if you’re ever in Burkina come on over!!

The year wrapped up with lots of travel.  In October, I traveled to Niger to play in a softball tournament.  The ex-pat team from Ouaga played the team in Niamey.  Yes, I travel internationally for sports.  I think it’s crazy too!!  In November, I had the opportunity to travel to North Africa for a conference and got to see some pyramids while I was there.  DSC_0236    DSCN0730    DSC_0445_2 2And remember those plans for the Christmas vacation of a lifetime?  Well, it all came together and it was an incredible time.  After nine months on the field, catching up with friends in the same place in life is always good for the heart.  While we traveled all over the place, saw a million sights and hiked up some extremely steepy (you’re welcome fellow travelling buddies!) hills, the Lord used it to encourage and refresh me…as well as giving me an excitement for this coming year.

When I look back on last year I can’t help but think how the Lord has indeed been good to me.  I am blessed.

another stamp in the passport…

“I am not the same for having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

I read this on a friend’s blog a while back. And as I process my last trip, this continues to come to mind. My life has been radically changed through the trips I have taken to other countries. My heart has been stirred countless times by the things I have seen. And I am immensely grateful for the opportunities I have been given to experience life in another context.

This most recent trip was no different. And while I cannot go into much detail here on the world wide web, I can tell you that I saw and learned a great deal. I saw hopelessness in the eyes of youth, and it broke my heart. I saw determination in the faces of those with extreme disabilities, and it challenged me. And I saw joy and excitement on the face of one young teenager who had lost both of his legs, and his attitude and outlook on life convicted me. These youth taught me more than I could have ever tried to teach them in a lifetime.

I never thought I could grow to love a certain group of people so deeply and in such a short amount of time. They are impressed upon my heart forever. A friend of mine recently wrote about leaving a country she’d been living in.  She put into words exactly what I have been feeling. She said:

As usual, I came to give, work, help, and love and I’m leaving with so many memories, wonderful blessings, special friends, exciting stories and a deeper perspective. I’m also leaving behind another piece of my heart in another precious country, and again, wondering why I do this to myself and when I won’t have any more pieces left to leave behind…but I love it and doubt I’ll stop anytime soon.

To interact with and do life with people in a different context is life changing. It is one of those things that is not easy, but so so worth it. The people I just left have a chunk of my heart. My perspective has once again been broadened. My heart is full. And I cannot wait to go back…no matter the cost.

When border patrol looks at my passport, they see the stamps and visas of the countries I have visited. When I thumb through those pages, I see places that have shaped me and the faces of the people that have poured into my life in spite of the barriers of language and culture.

Those stamps are more than mere ink. They are stories that have shaped my life.