Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Climbing Sinai

Back in the USA

Got back in late last night. I heard a couple of our West Virginia travelers were hung up in New York overnight, but I haven't heard anything else about flight complications.

Overall, this has been a very, very good trip. The program of the Society for Biblical Studies isn't just about tourism. It's about getting to know people--what they struggle with, what they hope for, how the live. The holy sights were incredible, but the best part of the trip was the human aspect. We got to see many different perspectives on life in Egypt and Israel and became more aware of the enormous complexity these cultures, complexity that is not often shown to us in the media. If you go to these places and see the tourist sights, you'll have a great time, but if you don't interact with people beyond the surface level, something important will be lost.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winding Things Up

Great day in Galilee yesterday: worship on the Sea of Galilee, then over to Capernaum, the Mount of the Beatitudes, the traditional site of Peter's house, and the River Jordan. Late in the day we made our way down to the Dead Sea because a couple of people wanted to float.

Today we're going to Tent of Nations and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. We have a meeting with a Zionist this evening, and after a quick few hours' sleep we'll be leave the hotel at 3:00 a.m.

It's been a great trip, but it's time to get back home.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

North to Galilee

We left Bethlehem this morning and went to Qumran. After seeing the sights there for a little while we had lunch in Jericho. Jericho is the lowest city on earth, and perhaps the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth. And they make good falafel.

After lunch we made our way up into Galilee and finally into Nazareth. We went to the Church of the Annunciation and were given a special tour of the museum there. This church is perhaps the most beautiful I've ever seen. It is an incredible blend of ancient and modern. Within that church is the site at which the incarnation is said to have taken place. There is an altar table there with the inscription "Verbum caro hic factum est," or "Here the word became flesh."

Tomorrow we go out the Sea of Galilee first thing in the morning. Everyone is feeling a bit tired, but the trip has been a great experience.

Friday, January 14, 2011

An Israeli Settlement and a Palestinian Refugee Camp

Today we went to an Israeli settlement where we met with two rabbis who spoke with us about Zionism and the function of settlements within it. Their presentations were rather different, as one seemed much more militant than the other.

From the settlement we went immediately to a Palestinian refugee camp in Hebron. We spoke with people who have lived their entire lives there and visited a women's center in the camp.

Needless to say, we heard very different perspectives on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the involvement of the United States. The issues here are exceedingly complex. There are not just two sides to the conflict. There are many different voices and ideas among both Israelis and Palestinians. In the United States we often don't see this. Our media tends to oversimplify things, perhaps in the interest of creating a manageable story, perhaps in some other interest. When you come here, though, if you take the time to talk to people, you can begin to realize the vast complexity of the issues, and it can be very difficult to envision any type of feasible solution. It became clear to me that if citizens of the United States want to help to work for peace in this region, we have to start by educating ourselves and moving beyond the popular ideas that come to us via the mainstream media.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Out of Egypt, Into Israel

I couldn't blog for a while because there was not easy internet access at St. Catherine's monastery. (Go figure.) Regardless, St. Catherine's was incredible. Many of us climbed Sinai, attended the Greek Orthodox service, and took a brief tour of the monastery sanctuary.

We made our way into Israel yesterday and spent the night in Bethlehem. Today we went to the old city of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethesemane, and the Church of the Nativity! Needless to say, we didn't tarry in any one place.

Everyone is pretty tired but in good spirits. We're dealing more with Palestinian/Israeli relations tomorrow. So, more to come....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ministry to the Deaf in Cairo

We had a great meeting today with Jesus the Light of the World Church deaf unit in Cairo, a ministry of the Anglican Church (technically, the Anglican Diocese of Egypt with North African and the Horn of Africa).

 About 10% of the population of Cairo is hearling impaired. This church ministers to Christians from all over Egypt, some of whom travel over twelve hours by train, who have serious hearing impairments. This ministry, run by Clair G. Malik and Rev. Faraj Hanna, teaches basic school subjects including reading in Arabic and English, and offers speech therapy to the children. Egyptian sign lanugage is a big part of the curriculum, as is Christian religious education.

There are also sign language courses for parents. Getting the parents educated is almost as important as educating the children. There is considerable discrimination against the deaf in Egypt, and many people consider deafness a punishment from God. The vast majority of deaf children in Egypt have no support network at home.
Apparently (and I don't understand all of the ins and outs of this) it is illegal for Muslim children to enroll in a Christian program. Therefore all of the children in the program are Christians.

They're running this ministry on a shoestring budget but doing incredible work. They ask for your prayers. If you have any interest in finding out more about this ministry or offering financial support, email Rev Hanna at farajhanna at, or Ms. Malik at deafunit at

I took a lot of video footage, but the editing and whatnot will take a lot of time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bent Pyramid, Red Pyramid

We went to Saqqara today outside of Cairo. We saw the Step Pyramid, which is very impressive, and later we went to Dashur and saw the Bent Pyramid and the Red Pyramid. You can go into the Red Pyramid, which was interesting, though it had its challenges. For lunch I had flatbread and considerable amount of something called halawa, which our guide told me was extremely fattening after the fact. Later in the afternoon we had devotions and debriefing, and Peter gave a talk about the origins of Islam.

Tomorrow we are working on issues directly related to Muslims and their relationship to Christians.

Cairo, Day 2

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cairo, Day 2

Morning came really, really early today, but it was worth it to see the pyramids and sphinx at Giza. These are massive structures that demonstrate incredible skill in engineering.

After leaving Giza we went to Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and met with Dr. Dina Shehata. Dr. Shehata discussed with us some of the pressing issues today in Egyptian culture and politics, from the recent elections to Muslim-Copt relations to Egypt’s relationships with Israel and the United States. She is extremely knowledgeable and it was a very informative and enlightening discussion.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the Nile. No further comment on this restaurant.

After lunch we went to the Egyptian Museum. The museum holds a massive collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts such as statues and figurines, elaborately decorated coffins and sarcophagi, pharonic masks, tools, and weapons. There were a few portrait paintings that were ca. first century. There were quite a few artistic works on papyri and a few literary papyri written in Greek, Coptic, hieroglyphics, Arabic, and a script that looked like hieratic or demotic (I can’t tell the difference by looking). I suspect that they have many more papyri that were not on display. Many of the pieces had no label or explanation, however, which made them more difficult to appreciate. The museum itself is in a state of significant disrepair. One gets the impression that there is a considerable amount of deferred maintenance.

A note on driving in Cairo: don’t do it. It amazes me how every few feet people seem to walk out in front of our bus with no apparent regard for the oncoming vehicle. Lanes are sometimes painted on the streets but as far as I can tell no one uses them. Cars and mopeds weave here and there missing one another by inches.

Tomorrow’s another big day, so it’s time to get some sleep.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


We arrived safely at our hotel in Cairo today. We're all pretty tired after a long day of travel, and we have to be up in about five hours for breakfast and the next day's activities.

Cairo is an incredible city of about 20 million people (including the surrounding area). It is massive and an incredible place to be, but the air pollution is intense.

More to come. We have a full day planned tomorrow so there should be much to blog about.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Off to Egypt

I'm having a wonderfully exciting time sitting in DFW airport right now. I'll fly to D.C., then to JFK, then to Amman, Jordan, and then to Cairo. The flight to Amman is overnight, so hopefully I'll be able to sleep a bit. At least I can get some good reading time in.

I'm going to try to blog this trip, although internet access maybe limited at times. Regardless, for anyone who's interested I'll post updates on this blog as I'm able.

Please pray for smooth and safe travel.