First Day On The Ground: Bethlehem

November 19, 2012

Most of us slept 4-6 hours and felt rested and ready for the day. We woke for devotions and prayer. God was moving in our team before breakfast even began.

Our meals at the hotel have been quite Americanized- eggs and potatoes and cereal was available for breakfast; meat and potatoes for dinner. Every meal has had lots of bell peppers so far. Some found it odd to have pita bread and humus during breakfast. But, it was good and we were nourished and ready to go for the day.

After breakfast, we left for the city of Bethlehem. We walked the old streets of Bethlehem, where most tourists do not go. It was a privilege to be in the market where people shop. A few people tried strong Turkish coffee. There was a cultural feeling of hospitality and welcome. People were very friendly and many people stopped and talked with us. As we walked, we had to be careful of fast moving cars on the narrow streets, but everyone learned to stay out of the way. We visited the Church of the Nativity. It was incredible to see the history of this land. Even in this there is claims over who has this land. The religious differences here seem quite fragmented. We passed a few Armenian churches, Catholic churches, Orthodox churches and Mosques. Since we are in Bethlehem, a Palestinian territory, there are no Jewish temples. We then visited the Shepherd's Field, where we saw where Shepherd's would roam, caves thought to be where the Shepherd's lived, church buildings, and excavated land. We also saw a Jewish settlement that illustrated some of the conflict between the Palestinian's and Jews. The conflict is deeply rooted in the culture here.

We then headed off to a traditional Arabic lunch, with lots of vegetable type "salads" some mixed with yogurt, some with oil, and there was lots of meat- lamb, beef, chicken-- served with a side of fries! We tried this lemonade with mint, which was delicious. We all enjoyed it. The baklava for dessert was absolutely delicious.

After this, we were wiped out. We went back to the hotel and rested for about an hour before the nighttime prayer service and prepared for our service tomorrow visiting the church at Jericho and the hospital. Lupe and I slept until 10 minutes before the prayer service so we were pretty out of it during the service. I had to keep my eyes open so I would not fall asleep. The people in the church were passionately praying about the situation. Although most of it was in Arabic, the prayers were emotional and deeply rooted with the people. Some of us prayed in English for peace, love, and safety, but we cannot really fully understand the situation like the people here. The long history of tension and their love for Jesus brings out this passion that I cannot fully describe. They long for peace and love between the peoples. They long for conviction.

After the prayer services, we wrapped about 100 packages for babies, mothers, and children at the hospital, house visits, and the church in Jericho where we will visit tomorrow. They were grateful for the items our church has sent. Tomorrow is an early and long day of ministering with the people. It was good to get a feel for the city, hear the hearts of the people, and experience the culture today for the ministry tomorrow.

We are off to get some much needed rest. May God bless you this week. We appreciate your prayers and support as we are here and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to experience the Holy Land in this way. I continue to feel a strong sense of overwhelming peace.

Valerie, on behalf of our team, most of which is preparing for bed. Hopefully, you will hear from all of us at one point or another on this trip.