Avril and I have just returned from ten days in The Holy Land, most of them working with a Christian kids camp. It was an amazing experience for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because we met some great people and learned a bit about what life is really like for Christians in Israel and Palestine.
The easiest way for me to write about it and make any kind of sense is probably to diary where we were, what we were doing and comment along the way… so, here goes:
Tuesday (day 1)
We arrived in Israel after a flight delay of a couple of hours and went straight to our hotel, the Notre Dame pilgrimage centre in Jerusalem. It was dark so the drive was uneventful until we reached Jerusalem when we encountered the deep divisions in the Holy Land for the first time. We passed through the edge of the ultra -orthodox Jewish area of town and although the subsequent riots hadn’t kicked off yet there was an air of tension that was apparent, even from the car.
Wednesday (day 2)
The camp started today so we were met by the team at 8.30am and picked up the 40 young people and headed off to our home for the next week, Beit Gemal, a former orphanage about 30 miles from Jerusalem.
Beit Gemal sits on a hill, surrounded by its own land where the resident Fathers grow grapes and olives and make wine and oil, as well as growing limes. It stands on the site of St Stephen and Nicodemus’ supposed tombs and was built as an orphanage.
We spent much of the day helping the kids get to know us and each other and trying to cope with 34Celsius heat! In the evening one of the resident priests, Father Jonny, entertained the kids with a brilliant magic show.
Thursday (day 3)
Camp starts early with wake up at 7am and breakfast at 8am. We’re in charge today with a full programme of activities, food, activities, snacks, activities, something to eat… Lots to do and even more to eat!
In the morning Father Antonio told the young people about St Stephen and the history of the monastery and church and dedicated a beautiful new outdoor worship area built with Jerusalem stones under some shade trees.
Today’s teaching sessions focused on parables, exploring the Mustard Seed and the Prodigal Son.
Later in the day we paid a visit to the Trappist Nuns who live nearby. They live in a beautifully simple convent and spend almost all of their time alone, meeting only for a short time on Sundays for worship, a meal and a walk. They are self-sufficient,making pottery and jewellery which they sell to visitors.
At night we had a bonfire and BBQ with a sing-song round the fire.
Friday (day 4)
The group went swimming on Friday morning but, given the heat and chance for a rest, Avril and I stayed at Beit Gemal, spending the morning reflecting on the programme so far and thinking through the rest of the week.
We spent the day’s two teaching sessions on a timeline of Jesus life to help prepare the group for their two major day trips on Saturday north to Galilee and Nazareth and to Jerusalem on Sunday.
The big tunes were broken out before the bonfire and BBQ and some of the group leaders were even seen to ‘get up and get down’ to Jump Around!
Early(ish) to bed for a big day tomorrow… and a very early start!!!