Why yes, the corner of my room does have a section of the Mediterranean painted on it.

It is a lazy Saturday afternoon, of the very best kind.  The heat of the day stifles movement and energy.  A cold cup of coffee sits to my right and a good book is on my left.  This morning, I cleaned my room, so a little order has been restored to my life.  It has been two weeks since I stepped foot back in this land.  There have been some rough moments, but those have been by far the rarer kind.  More often than not, I find myself surprised by how much I am enjoying this new adventure.  So what exactly am I doing?

Officially, my position at JUC is Administrative Assistant to the President with Special Duties and Responsibilities Related to but not limited to the Short-Term Studies Programs.  A.A.P.S.D.R.R.S.T.S.P for short.  Since abbreviating things like that leads to so many more questions, I usually tell people that I am the on-campus Short-Term Studies Coordinator for JUC.  Ok, so now that titles are done with, what does an average day look like?

The bells of the neighboring church usually pull me from my slumber at 6am every morning.  After an attempt to punch ‘snooze’ on the church bells, I roll out of bed and find the showers.  Then I go searching for food in the dining hall.  The students are served the usual three meals a day.  As I live on campus, I can join them whenever I like, but I also have a key to the main kitchen.  Occasionally 6:30 sees me using the industrial-sized kitchen to cook myself a simple little omelet.  At 8 I open my office and turn on the computer.  There are usually a dozen emails from our stateside office that I try to answer as quickly as possible.

Can you see the bell tower that wakes me up each morn?

My inbox often functions as my to-do list for each morning.  Most of these emails are related to upcoming 3-week study tours that I am putting together.  The first study group that I will see lands in the middle of October.  Then we’ll have several more in January, one each in February, March, and April.  At this moment, I am confirming reservations for hotels, buses, and the sites that the students will visit.  While I am finalizing this next half year of programming, I will also be making first reservations at different places for 2012.  Many hotels are fully booked 18 months in advance.  Even if I finish up with the immediate concerns, I can always dive deep into the future for upcoming trips.

So that is most mornings.  I try to get most of those details worked out before lunch.  Once noon hits, I lock up the office and join the students in the dining room for lunch.  We have an Arab cooked named Suleiman who takes care of breakfast and lunch.  Today he made a great garlic buttery chicken thing.  Soon I shall be fat.  At 1pm I head  to the main office where I get to run the front desk.  This means I get to answer the phone, play with the copy machine, talk with students passing by, sell things out of our bookstore, and whatever else comes up.  During these afternoon hours, I also look after my semester duties.  I am responsible for the work-study program and the community volunteering projects that our semester students participate in.   Each semester we have a group of 40-60 students who live on campus in the dorms.  Many of these students are taking a study abroad semester as part of their undergrad studies back in the states.  A few of the students are here for the two-year programs.  There are two students from Oregon here this fall, so sometimes we get together and reminisce about things we miss from home.

Somewhere between 5-6pm, we close up the office and join the students for dinner.   The evening hours find me rather lazy and unadventurous.  Usually you’ll find me joining a game of Settlers of Cataan or a movie or a stroll into the new city.

First Shabbat in Jerusalem is always a perfect excuse for an evening BBQ in the garden.

In the cool of the evening Dr. Wright kicks off the semester by bringing the Psalms to life with short but powerful observations, connecting the written word to the land which we stand upon.

In all, I am really enjoying this new role in Jerusalem.  Being a student was great, but this is something different…sometimes better, sometimes harder.  I am sad to be away from home, but I am glad to be here too.  Such are the paradoxes of life…

Already in-tune with the world of suitcases and packing, my niece helped me pack last Thursday.

I too have landed back in Israel.

It’s overwhelming to think about.  In some ways it is very odd.  Things are much more familiar than I was expecting.  It feels as if a lifetime has passed since I was here as a student, but at random moments during the day, it’s almost as if I was never gone.  This was most noticeable as I walked into the city yesterday.  At different times I was asked questions in Hebrew or Arabic.  Without thinking, I answered in the appropriate language.  Only a few steps later did I realize that it didn’t even process in English.  It was just a reaction.  Weird, eh?  To be truthful, that only happened a couple of times.  Most of the time I had no clue what the question or phrase actually meant.

I’m still a stranger here.

Fortunately my secret stash of caffeinated treats reminds me of home.

I have been home since Christmas Eve.  That was just over seven months ago.  Before eight have passed, I will be far from home again.  There is some type of wanderlust that has gripped my soul, right down to my very being.  Yet, it’s grip is tenuous.  I love life here…the people, the countryside, the mountains, the fields…  This is me, but now I head back to my other home.  The one I never expected.

I’m not sure at which point Jerusalem settled into my being, but it stuck its foot out and got it lodged into the closing door of my heart.  When I said all my ‘goodbyes’ last December, for the most part, I thought it really was forever…and I was only somewhat sad about it.  I needed some time away to see family, to find some roots, to rediscover bacon, to wakeboard faceplant at top speed, to drink decent coffee ‘till my heart overflowed in contentment….simply said, I needed time at home.

For the past four months I have been intentionally creating memories, seeking out specific moments, storing up my reserves so that I can venture out into the familiar unknown once more.  On August 19th I begin my trek back to Israel.  For two years I studied and lived at Jerusalem University College.  This time I am returning to work as a coordinator and administrator in their Short Term programs.  It is an awesome opportunity that will see me working with students and instructors as they explore the ancient Holy Land in its current landscape.  I have a basic understanding of the job and I know that it will be challenging and stretching in so many ways, but it is very exciting at the same time.

In two weeks I leave for another two years.  Oh the swirling emotions, they come and go by the minute.  At the moment I’m pretty excited, but there’s a healthy dose of anxiousness mixed in also.

I’m coming back.

Yes, it’s true.

In less than two weeks

I’ll find Oregon beneath my feet once more.

I’m fighting my way through comprehensive exams right now.  My goal is to finish up by Friday.  Then I will only have the last pieces of my Final project to finish up.  It’s a lot do, but it can be done.  It will be a huge release when it is finally handed over to be graded.

Just one week ago my family was here with me in Jerusalem.  I have been fortunate enough to have several sets of friends and family come visit me while I’ve been here.  The most recent adventure took me along for a five week tour of Israel, Jordan, Egypt and back again.  I had amazing amounts of fun!  It has been absolutely great to share this part of life with so many back home.  Here are some of the things we saw and did.

The second night of our adventure was much more pleasant than the first. I slept in the second tent we brought along and it kept the mosquitoes away. Being more exhausted than the first, we also slept in a little. We rolled out of our sleeping bags around 7:00am as the sun peeked over the cliffs and instantly turned the valley into an unholy furnace. We all broke a sweat just packing up camp.  Yet, there was still time to pause and enjoy the beauty of it all.

Some of us were just more ready than the others.

The previous night we had left behind the flatter, higher country and descended into a steep valley.   Our trail followed this valley out between the Cliffs of Arbel and eventually to the Sea of Galilee.  These cliffs were made famous by Josephus’ account of a Jewish rebellion during the time of the Romans.  Apparently several families hid in the caves of the cliffs.  The Romans could not reach them from below, so in a very dramatic re-telling Josephus informed the world how a soldier was lowered from the top in a basket.  When level with the caves, he would throw a grappling hook in and snag a rebel.  He would then pull them out and kill them with his sword when they got near.  At a last ditch effort at dignity, many of the remaining rebels threw themselves out the caves to the ground below.  Yes, it is gruesome…and we walked below those same caves.

After we left the confines of the canyon, we found civilization once again.  We filled up on green tea and kosher chicken schnitzel at this gas station.

Although we were quite close to the lake at this point, we were still far from Capernaum.  Our trail then had us wander along the edges of mango orchards and over moderately, not-so-ancient bridges.

With several miles of orchards behind us, we climbed our last hill and took a look back at where we had started that morning.  Can you see the Arbel Cliffs in the background?  They are right below the ball on the powerline.

With only a few more miles to go, our pace quickened and we took off down the last part of the trail.  It emptied us out on a busy highway that we walked along for awhile.  Eventually we found a sidewalk and scurried down it until we found the ancient site of Capernaum.

We soaked our blistered and footsore feet in the warm waters of this historical lake.  During the three years that Jesus was a public figure in ancient Palestine, his base seemed to revolve around this busy port on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Not too far from here, he gave his Sermon on the Mount, and just down the beach his disciples hauled in a couple miraculous catches of fish.  However, it is only now after a week of recovery that I am really appreciating all those things.  At that moment, I was just glad to be off my feet with a pack no longer weighing down my shoulders.

Goodmorning, world!  I think we might be ready for Day #2.

Day Two of our Jesus Trail adventure dawned promptly at 12:30am. So I guess that really isn’t a dawning of a new day, but it is when the mosquitoes woke me from my slumber. I had packed plenty of repellent and it kept them from piercing me and sucking my blood, but it did not keep them from buzzing in my ears and skimming my eyelashes. Fortunately, sunrise was only five hours away. Needless to say, when the real dawn did come, I was extremely ready to begin the active part of my day.

The instructions we had for the Jesus Trail broke the whole thing into 3 nights/4 days. We were on track with that for the first day, but then we reached the end of Day #2 at 11:00am. We rested for a bit, and then decided to head out into the unknown Day #3. The first part of our adventure took us through a forest of sorts and along a couple of highways. We refilled our waters and food supplies at a gas station that Jesus stopped at 2,000 years ago.

After a bite to eat, we crossed under a tunnel and then made our way uphill to an ancient Roman Road. Now, this is a place that Jesus definitely would have walked over during his life in the Galilee area. It was a major highway of the day and not too far from his hometown.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the weather. August is the hottest and most humid time of year in the Galilee area. During most of the day the temperatures hovered around 95 degrees with a pretty heavy layer of humidity. We were constantly drenched in sweat and covered in dust, making a nasty muddy skim on our arms and legs. In this state we left the forested areas and trekked over harvested wheat fields and along the edges of farmers’ corn fields. Feeling the ick of the sweat and dust, we came up to an old Jewish cemetery that had a wonderful fountain out front. I’m sure what happened next was not kosher in the slightest, but it was necessary to keep our spirits up. By this point, we had already covered 10-11 miles.

After about an hour resting in the shade at the cemetery, we climbed a hill and then headed back out into the open fields and blazing sun. We walked along the outskirts of a kibbutz and looked longingly through a fence at their delightful swimming pool. We entertained the thought of hopping over the fence and stealing a swim, but none of us really wanted to be shot at.

As we left the kibbutz behind we came out into a field populated by tasty looking cows. We had to walk through the middle of the herd and then in the distance we saw the Horns of Hittim (sometims Hattin or Hattim).

The fields that are farmed today once were an epic battle field that altered the course of human history. In the 12th Century, European Crusaders controlled most of the Holy Land. Their initial successes came because of their better training, overwhelming weaponry, and the disunity of the opposing forces.

Autumn got stung by a honeybee on the forehead here, but fortunately we had toothpaste handy to soothe the sting.

By the 1180s, Salah ad-Din (Saladin) had united the Muslim armies against the Crusaders. He initially met with military losses against the Crusaders. Their strong points were in their castles, heavy armor, and cavalry. In a long series of events, all of the Crusader soldiers were brought out to confront the Muslim armies. The deciding battle took place over the fields we walked. Under the intense July sun and lacking water, the Crusaders succumbed to the more numerous and quicker soldiers of Saladin. In that battle over 1,200 Crusader horseman and around 10,000 footsoldiers lost their lives. This was a scene that was seen in Orlando Bloom’s geographically inaccurate movie Kingdom of Heaven. These somber thoughts filled our minds as we climbed Mount Hittim. Here is Hollywood’s take on the battle.

From the top of Mt. Hittim we got our first look at the Sea of Galilee. Below us spread more farm country and the cliffs of Arbel. It was an amazing view, and we rested for another hour or so. With only a few hours of daylight, we shouldered our packs again and then headed down the hillside toward a massive Druze mosque. We were warned that we needed to get water here because there wouldn’t be much along the next section of the journey. Emily and I tried to enter, but only those wearing pantaloons could go in. I attached the bottoms to my zip-off pants and wandered into the center where I purchased another six liters of water for the three of us.

After hiking away from the mosque, the blisters on Autumn’s feet needed some care. We did our best with bandaids and tape, but in the end she ended up wearing my running shoes that I had packed along for a backup. It is one of the few moments in life that I have been glad that I have small feet.

With only about an hour left of daylight, we split off from the trail markings and took a shortcut through another farmer’s fields. Our shortcut rewarded us with some splendid shots of the sunset and the Cliffs of Arbel. After soaking in the sight for a few minutes, we scurried down the sloaps and found a great spot to camp in the Valley of the Doves between the cliffs. It was a great spot…except for the hyenas. Yep, that’s right, hyenas! Their howling and laughing added a spookiness to our second night, but fortunately they never bothered us. Just occasionally through the night they would wake us up with their eerie voices.

In all, on Day 2 of our adventure, we hiked about nine solid hours and covered nearly twenty miles…all under the blazing August sun. Both the girls suffered from blisters and I ripped my pants, but we think it was worth it.

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a city hidden within a hill. His ministry was centered on Capernaum, a city nestled up along the Sea of Galilee. Between the two lie forty miles of fields and forests and paths that weave among it all. This past weekend I trekked along these trails with a couple of good friends. The adventure began early Friday morning.

DAY 1

I have been housesitting in the Beit Jala area for most of the summer. The family arrived back last week, and I moved back to Jerusalem early Friday morning. I scattered my life’s possession into my new apartment in Abu Tor, which is a neighborhood of Jerusalem.  I then quickly stuffed my backpack full for a three-night adventure along the Jesus Trail in Galilee. I met up with Autumn and Emily around 10:00, and then we caught a bus to the Central Bus Station where we bought tickets for another ride up to Nazareth. We boarded this bus at 12:45.

I brought a book along to read during the ninety minute ride to Nazareth. It’s called The Heavenly Man and is about the underground church in China. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It will transform your understanding of suffering. But on this bus ride, I didn’t have a chance to open the cover. Emily and Autumn found two open seats together, and I chose to sit down next to a guy who looked about to be my age. I said hello and soon found that he was a native English speaker. His name is Sa’ad and he was born in England, and his parents are from Pakistan. He is a modern British Pakistani Muslim who works as a hematologist back home. Since most of his studies were in the sciences, he knew little about the history and politics of the region. Along the route to Nazareth I was able to point out all sorts of historical sites and give him some updates on what is happening in those places today. It would have made my JUC professors proud to know that I haven’t forgotten everything they taught me.

We hopped off the bus in Nazareth around 15:00 and then wandered through the Old City in search of the Fauzi Azar Inn. Through the jesustrail.com website we learned that this hostel gives advice and directions for the Jesus Trail. When we found it, though, we quickly discovered that they give more than just advice. There are volunteers who are available to help the random backpackers get started each morning. Since it was afternoon, I called the Jesus Trail number and Linda answered. I was just going to ask her where the trail started in town, but she quickly told me that she would run down to the hostel and lead us to the start. Five minutes later she walked through the door! Along the walk through the city to the start of the trail she gave us all sorts of advice on where to sleep and which routes to follow. She even gave us four sheets of printed directions for the places where the trail isn’t clearly marked. With her blessing and instructions, we started down the Jesus Trail.

The first leg is four hundred steps straight up through a Nazareth neighborhood. When you break out on top, the skyline opens up and you realize just how great the distance between Nazareth and Capernaum really is. The Sea is nowhere in sight and neither are Mount Hittim or the Cliffs of Arbel. With an afternoon breeze flowing from the Mediterranean we re-shouldered our packs and began our descent out of Nazareth. We reached the bottom and walked along a field until we entered Zippori National Park. At the far edge of the park the trail took us up a hill and into the Arab village of Mashad around 18:00.

Israeli trails are marked by stripes of paint, so while in the village we were always looking for the white-orange-white marking that signaled the direction we needed to go. It felt almost like we were on some type of epic scavenger hunt. Hiking like this is completely different than anything I am used to back in the States. The great thing about hiking through Arab towns, though, is the hospitality. Three different times people saw us walking by and invited us in for tea and coffee. We accepted just one of the offers because of the setting sun, but it was the perfect choice. They brought out a type of fried bread dipped in honey that was ideal for a quick burst of energy. After about fifteen minutes, we said our many thanks and goodbyes and with a revived step walked down the road to Cana. The trail took us next to the church that commemorates the place Jesus performed the miracle of changing the water to wine. Sadly, though, the water in our Nalgenes didn’t change at all. The shadows were quickly turning into night’s darkness, so we did not linger in Cana, but followed the trail markers up another hill and into a orchard of some type. We made camp under the starlight around 20:00 at the first flat ground we came to.

That’s Nazareth in the background…or day was only halfway done by this point.


On this first day of the hike, we covered about fourteen kilometers, which is just around nine miles. With aching backs and sore legs we stretched out, ate some dinner, and quickly rolled up in our sleeping bags. I slept outside on a mat, but the girls slept in the tent they brought along. All of us suffered from the heat throughout the night, but the mosquitoes were the worst part. I did bring along mosquito repellent, which kept them from biting me, but it didn’t keep them from divebombing my ears all night long. When you are weary and half-alseep, you don’t always remember that they won’t bite you. So I spent much of the night swiping at the mosquitoes and never really falling into a deep sleep. All this added up to a very interesting second day.

Here Emily and I are stretching our tired muscles