Finally! =) I don’t know about you, but I’ve been dying to write (I hope you’ve been dying to read.) I guess I need to manage my time better so I can do this more often. It comes down to priorities (Doesn’t it, Mom =) ?) So, here, I go.
Before I go on to write about Jordan, I have to recall something I wrote during our Land and Bible trip to the Negev. At one point in our travels, we stopped in the Wilderness of Paran. There we all got off the bus, which was shut down to aid in the silence, and split up and went off to find a place to sit and spend some time reading Deuteronomy 8. My friend Steve who had been here last semester told me this was one of the most life-changing parts. I don’t know how I forgot this when I was writing before, but this was such a key, insightful time for me. I read over Deuteronomy 8, then went on to journal some thoughts: (You might want to read over the passage to know what I’m talking about.)
When I look back at the times in my life that have been what I would consider times in the wilderness, I can agree with Deuteronomy 8. Everything that God has done/allowed has been with a purpose and that often being to allow me to see Him even just that much clearer.
Vs. 7 – His plans for my future are good! He is planning for my future abundance – IN HIM! O, self, do not forget where you’ve come from or what you’ve experienced; do not forget your own unworthiness and God’s mercy. Keep Him ever before you so that when God brings you to the fruitful, peaceful place, you will not forget Him.
Remember, O soul, how He allowed you to know nothingness, emptiness, hunger, pain, fear, thirst, and loneliness so that you could truly know how He fulfills all your needs.
What a sad and horrifying thought! Verses 19-20 talk about what would happen if I turned from the Lord. I would be destroyed. Honestly though, reading that, all I can see is the pain that would cause Him. He’s given me so much – He’s shown me so much of Who He is. How could I deny Him? How could I hurt the One Who has only ever shown love to me? Yet I do, don’t I? Every time I show no interest in loving or getting to know Him, every time I choose myself over Him, my own will over his divine plan.
This all gets very wordy, very much like I seek to somehow be profound…. I’m sick of revolutionary moments with no lasting change. I‘m sick not really caring, of lying to myself, of propping myself up to look alive and eager when my heart is not in it as it should be. Lord, give me the heart to love You first and foremost.
Jordan added to this heartfelt cry to go deeper with the Lord by taking the lack of luxury we have here in Israel to a completely different and deeper level. We couldn’t drink our tap water. We couldn’t always use the bathroom for a lack of toilet paper, and when we could, the bathrooms were “squatty-potties” or they reeked. The bus reeked too, as the bathroom we “conveniently” had there had not been emptied since who knows when and the smell only grew worse with each passing day. We were parched. Neither the restaurants nor the hotels provided water with meals – it’s a scarcity in such a dry land – and we were often too cheap to buy more than a cup-worth for each person. We couldn’t eat. The stomach flu that ravaged a good number of us stole our appetites, drained our fluids, and replaced it all with nausea and weakness. We couldn’t stop for that. The trip went on, the hiking too, and we made it work. We had to. We got blisters. We got cuts. We got bruises, and we ached. We continued walking and although right now, to you, this trip may seem like the last thing we could ever enjoy doing, I can honestly say we would all look back on this time with fond and pleasant memories.
Yes, it hurt. Growing often does. You can tell when a child is growing because of growing pains. In the same way, Jordan stretched us in new ways that challenged us individually in areas we needed to grow in. They were growing pains.
For myself, it’s when I’m taken from the luxuries of what I would normally call necessities, when I’m taken from my normal state of health that I so easily take for granted, and when I’m thrown into situations where I lack the essentials – just some decent food, a drink of water, a real shower – that I’m forced to acknowledge my priorities or lack thereof.
Day One: We began our trip to Jordan in Israel at the edge of the Red Sea in Eilat. We packed up our bags, loaded the bus still wet from snorkeling, and headed to the border. After a good long wait and a trip through customs, where the guard stopped Tiffany just to flirt with her, we made to the other side, where we split into taxis, and enjoyed an exciting trip to the mouth of Petra and to the Edom Hotel. When I say “exciting,” I mean “completely foreign.” Randomly, as we drove the hour plus to the hotel, we’d see the other taxis from our group pulling over to the side of the highway and everyone piling out and piling back into a different taxi. We stopped at a gas station, and after Bill haggling for a cheaper price, boarded 10 people into an 8-person bus. The taxi driver’s wife was there and rode with us. She wore a complete berkah so even the tiny slit just for her eyes was covered and the front of her face was easily mistaken for the back of her head. However, when the taxi began to move, the cloth was moved away and pinned back so her whole face was showing. Our taxi driver insisted on blasting his music and to our surprise, his wife danced (as much as you can sitting down). Bill remarked later that he’d never seen such an affection Muslim couple. It was rather interesting, rather foreign, and rather confusing. An hour later, with our hotel.
Although we weren’t with an official guide, we dropped off our bags and went to Petra, where we spent a few hours walking around, experiencing a little bit of Jordan and Arabic-speaking people (amongst a great number of tourists like ourselves) and gazing in wonder at the temple fasod and the “monastery.”
Although we didn’t talk then about Petra and its historical particulars, Petra was the Nabatean capital. Carved from the rock, this place formed a wonderful defense against attempted invasions as the rock bottle-necked into what is called the Siq (crack), not allowing for an army, no matter how large, to make its way to the center of the capital except by slow and almost single-file walking through twisting corridors of no quick retreat.
We didn’t discuss the Biblical stories involved with Petra, but later I read that it is known that some people believe Petra to be the location of Old Testament Sela. This is only based upon the root of the word “Sela” which means, “rock” or “cliff” and with that reasoning, it could just as easily be placed somewhere else.
I really liked Petra. This seems like an obvious reply to such a well-known historical location that most tourists seek to visit. However, in honesty, it wasn’t the rocks that made me enjoy our time there. It wasn’t the temple fasod or the monastery, although both were amazing works of architecture that boggle my imagination. It wasn’t the Siq, which towered high above with reddish rocks that made it a photographer’s paradise. I loved the culture that spilled into the canyon and followed us up the path, offering us rides on carts, donkeys, and camels for only one dinar; that asked us to buy postcards as they held them in their teeth and snuffed in their runny noses; that sat selling goods they couldn’t even name yet or tried to talk to us as their ripped pants fell off their tiny bodies; that sat on the edge of the road in the dirt as if the area was not dirty and rocky but a nice patio where they could sit and enjoy their hookah; that fought training a stubborn donkey to walk on in obedience to commands; that stared and spoke about us and to us in their rolling Jordanian language; that chased runaway donkeys barefoot across the rocks and dirt and down the stairs we labored upon. Suddenly, I was learning how uncomplicated life really was once removed from our advanced technology, materialistic pursuits, and perfection-minded and germ-conscious societies.
Our hotel stay went well. Although we ran into a minor complication with one of the girls’ rooms’ sliding door not locking and a man in the lobby showing too much interest in finding out which room those girls were in (Jared and John took that room instead), we were able to enjoy a peaceful evening. We watched Indiana Jones (the one dealing with Petra, of course) that night – it was my first time ever (okay, go ahead…laugh) – and I laughed all the way through. Somehow I had thought that the Indiana Jones movies, no matter how unrealistic I was expecting them to be, were atleast supposed to be serious. I was wrong, and I got a good number of laughs from watching the ridiculous movie. My favorite part is when Indiana and his dad are tied back-to-back and going around and around on the rotating door between a room engulfed in flames and a group of armed Nazis working on a secret mission. Classic.
Day Two: There’s a lot I could say here about the exact course we took – the King’s Highway – and why that was key to the narrative of the Israelite’s trek to the Promised Land. However, to most of you, that would be nothing more than a boring recitation of facts, so I shall spare you that drudgery. The best parts are often the least academic anyway. =)
We stopped at multiple places throughout the day but some of my favorite memories (minus the smell, of course) were the moments we spent on the bus. The view was amazing. As we slid through the Jordanian towns, we passed open-air markets selling fresh vegetables, good fruit, and raw meat hanging with the head, tail, and even some fur still intact. *gulp* Welcome to a third-world country. We made our stops along the way, read the Bible passages, and felt the personal excitement of walking in the shoes of the patriarchs, of Ruth and Naomi, and of the millions of other Israelite people rescued from Egypt and now headed to the Promised Land. We stopped for pizza. What a joke! LOL…. Okay, it was okay. Not really. To me, as a part-Italian girl raised in New York, the pizza was awful, but it was a nice break from the kosher life we’d been living (I had chicken on my pizza.) I ate only a little bit, then fed my second stomach (Jared).
Some of my favorite stops that day were Bozrah, capital of Edom (directly mentioned in Psalm 60:6-12, Deut. 2:13-15, and Numbers 21:11-12); Bab Edh-drha, where we talked about Abraham and Lot’s separation as each chose an area of land to call their own (Gen. 13:10-12); the Arnon Canyon Mouth, a short stop just to take pictures; and last but not least, the Wadi Zarka Ma’in. There we hiked up the river in the warm water that came from Herod’s hot springs at Callirhoe. That was quite the experience, as ‘The Three Musketeers” (…even though there were four of us…) (Corey, Clara, Rachel, and I) climbed rocks, jumped from place to place, and trudged through mud to avoid getting too wet.
We stayed at the Black Iris Hotel that night, and it was a rather interesting experience. We arrived at the hotel in shorts, having come directly from the hot springs; however, from the moment we walked into the hotel, it was clear that our dress needed to change. I had forgotten to grab my bathing suit and towel in the bottom, storage area of the bus, so Peter and I ran out to grab it. As Rachel later said, I should have just sent Peter or one of the other guys. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in shorts and a t-shirt. Apparently I have hot knees! LOL…just kidding. I was wearing long basketball shorts, so I strategically made them longer – suddenly ghetto shorts didn’t seem so bad – but nothing kept the eyes of the Arab men from looking me up and down like I was some sort of merchandise. Gross.
We had chapel that night in my room. That sounds strange but let me explain. Rachel, Noel, Clara, and I shared a room. First of all, let me describe this room. We had four beds. That was a plus. However, we had full-length mirrors on one wall, and somehow I don’t feel like the paper-thin curtains did much to conceal what happened within our room. We had a bathroom, but the shower head had no way to hook to the wall, so you had to hold it up above yourself to get wet. I was third to shower, and the hot water was gone by the time I got there, so I enjoyed a refreshingly cold shower…. with no bathroom light. That decided to die right before I turned the water on. So, with the door (which was really just an accordion-style separation-thing) cracked and freezing water, I experienced another “We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto” moment. Another adjustment: no electronic device we had for drying, curling, or straightening of our hair was worth risking to see if the power current in Jordan was the same in Israel (which is double the power of those in the US). Thus began our weekend of reprioritization, humility, and focusing on the internal rather than the external. I’m telling you; when you come to a place where fixing the external is either pointless or impossible (we felt like it was both), it’s much easier to narrow in the root of a lot of prideful, vain, and self-conceited motives behind our actions. Suddenly, all you can see if your intention because the circumstance that makes you uncomfortable is unfixable and your attitude must either rise above the situation or dwell on it.
Back to chapel in my room. Because our room was big enough to house four people, we had a lot of space for the 20 people in our group to merely sit and do chapel (We also had a balcony outside we could have used if need be.) Bill spoke to us, and one of my most fond memories is turning out the lights and letting Jared (who’s a little camera-shy when doing serious stuff but not when he’s being ridiculous) and Deborah (who has an angelic voice) to serenade us with solos.
Day Three: We were packing up in the morning when Clara made a discovery. My bathing suit and shorts, which I’d hung on the thick balcony the night before had been blown off the wall and onto a smaller roof. I thought they were both lost. However, by hanging out the window and using a lamp (yeah..don’t ask), Corey thankfully was able to retrieve them. From the hotel, we went to the Madaba Plateau, stopping first at Machaerus. There we read the account of John the Baptist being beheaded (found in Mark 6:14-29, Matt. 14:1-12, and Luke 9:7-9) as well as acted it out. This was hilarious. Bill asked who wanted to reenact the scene, so I offered to play Herodias, Herod’s evil wife. Bill chose Corey to be Herod, and I picked Clara to be my daughter Salome. John Glass was, of course, John the Baptist. We laughed a lot, and afterward, for a long time, Clara, Rachel, and I enjoyed calling me “Mother,” Clara “daughter,” and Rachel ”the Nabatean woman” (the Nabatean princess and Herod’s wife before his adultery with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife – Wow! What a soap opera!)
We made a good number of other stops along the way including Dibon where discussed the Mesha Stele, which was found there in 1868, and Mt. Nebo, where Corey read to Chelsea about the pools of Heshbon from Song of Songs 7:4.
We took a walk that night from our hotel as we waited for dinner (in Jordan, we ate dinner around 7pm every night). I remember specifically that Noel and I did not want to go. Of course, we did; but honestly, I wasn’t sure I could make it the full 2-mile walk to our destination without getting sick. I was so hungry, so thirsty, exhausted, and nauseous, but we figured we’d give it a shot. We walked towards the Ammon Citadel, but we didn’t make it. The walk was longer than we thought, and after a quick bit of shopping for a cheap Coke, the group turned and headed back. We almost got lost (I actually wasn’t lost! I knew where we were! Lol) and overall enjoyed a pleasant walk back, during which we passed a high-security, White House-looking building (about which the security would only tell us it was “government”), during which we almost got to go inside a mosque (but didn’t…rats!), and during which Peter and I had a deep discussion on the random topic of the moment (I leave it out to protect the innocent). In case you didn’t know, Peter and I butt heads a little and enjoy pushing each other’s buttons – bad combo…lol.
Day Four: Day four began where the night before had attempted to reach: the Amman Citadel. Ammon was the capital for the Ammonite people and is a present-day museum. This citadel is remembered as the place where Uriah the Hittite was sent by David to his death after David and Bathsheba committed adultery. There I read 2 Samuel 11 for the group, and we discussed how David’s sin resulted in more deaths than just that of Uriah and David’s baby. It resulted in the many deaths of Israelites soldiers who were also serving with Uriah.
From Amman, we entered the region of Gilead and continued to the city of Jerash. At Jerash, we looked at and discussed the temple of the false god Artemis, goddess of nature and hunting. Called Diana by the Romans, her deity was threatened by the true authority and deity of Christ. There, we paused at the oval piazza, walked down the South Colonnade Street, looked at the cathedral and the Nymphaeum, and went into the sanctuary of Artemis. We finished off our visit by sitting in the amphitheater and listening to bagpipes and drums.
Sukkot, also called Deir All, was another key point in our travels. Here we discussed various events including what is found in Genesis 33:1-17, when Jacob and Esau are reunited. Jacob built booths there – thus the name “Sukkot” – and Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh built an altar there as a memorial in order to remind future generation of the part the Jews living on this side of the Jordan had as chosen people We attempted to travel to Penuel/Mahanaim but ran into some trouble with a narrow road, an unhappy bus driver, and a lot of water under the bridge (literally) over which we needed to pass. Proceeding from there on foot to the edge of the stream, we paused and read Genesis 32 about Jacob wrestling the Angel of the Lord as well as acted it out (with Bill as the angel and Corey as Jacob).
From here, we proceeded to the Jordan/Israel border crossing, where after two-plus hours, we made it safely back into the country of Israel. We went through customs and passport control rather quickly, actually, but for some reason, we sat on the bus (or rather, goofed off on the bus) for two hours while yet only 50 feet from being inside Israel and on our way back to Yad HaShmonah, still 2 hours south of the border.
John and I had a lot of fun at the border crossing. We were sitting on the bus on the Jordanian side – you first go through Jordanian passport control, etc., then the same thing on the Israeli side about 250 feet away – when John asked me if I’d try something. The guard, fully armed with some sort of automatic, was making his way down the aisle checking passports. Quickly, right before he got to us, John and I switched passports. I was in the aisle seat, so the guard took “mine” first. He flipped through the pages to get to the identification/picture page, looked at it, looked at me and John, then chuckled and handing John his, took mine from John and checked it. He proceeded down the aisle still chuckling at our antic. That went well on the Jordanian side, but we were warned against doing it on the Israeli side where things are much different and security is tight and unwavering. When we finally got through all the checkpoints, we said goodbye to our plush, reeking bus and hopped onto a cramped bus that fit exactly twenty of us and left some luggage sitting in the aisles between the small rows. We had a great ride back, as Corey, Praus, and I discussed our families and our various upbringings (Cornelius “Corey” is Russian, and Praus is Brazilian) and as John and Bill joined us in playing “Two Truths and A Lie.” My favorite round was when I said something to the affect of “I’ve trained racehorses,” “My relative was killed by the mafia,” and “I have a tattoo.” There was quite the discussion on this one as each argued that various ones seemed improbable. Praus said, “There is no way Miss Bricks has a tattoo.” John thought that at first but was then convinced by the other two that that was actually a possibility. He eventually decided that the lie was the death of my relative by the mafia. His reasoning: how did I know? Corey and Bill decided that I did have a tattoo and chose one of the other options as my lie. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which ones (I think the racehorse “fact” was from another round actually, but…) I had a lot of fun with that one…. Which is the lie? You tell me.
Arriving back at Yad HaShmonah around 9:30pm, we ate dinner in the reception – it was so good to see good rice, schnitzel, and cucumber/tomato salad. Scattered around the floor, filthy from our travels and not bothering to even wash our hands, we dove in, and as I looked around I began to notice how much this trip had really changed us all. There we were, still dressed in the same clothes we’d worn a few days ago and a few days before that and pulled crumpled from our bag that morning; donning the same sandals we’d worn every day through mud, water, and dust, the blood from our blister joining the other stains there; our hair in dire need of a washing; our hands dirty and gross yet handling the food we now ate; ourselves, scattered around, sitting on the dirty floor – it seemed clean to us in comparison – amidst bugs and ants and random spiders we would have avoided before, leaning against tables, walls, each other; exhausted yet perky and smiling.
As perhaps you are beginning to see, Jordan was an amazing trip, about which I had heard much from former-IBEX’ers and during which I learned more than I ever could have anticipated. Throughout the trip, God allowed me to learn not just more information about Biblical events and characters but also about my own life and His amazing character. Various times I was tired, sick, thirsty, and hot; but we went on as if unaffected by our circumstances. It was amazing to see firsthand what one can put up with when one must, but it was also neat to learn what is important – truly important – versus that which we might consider necessities but which we can truly live without. Accommodations, food, clothing, medicine, cleanliness – it all takes on a new light after our trip to Jordan, as we personally dissected it all to discover what is eternal and what is not. Suddenly, lines of “I’d never do that,” “I could never live that way,” or “that’s disgusting” were left behind, replaced by a overall desire for common comfort, needs met, teamwork, and corporate growth. Besides the individual passages we studied at the actual locations of the events, verses like 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for thee”, have come to mean something a little more personal after this trip, during which I was reminded of just how perfectly God’s promises fulfilled all needs. Called “stretching” by multiple members of the Regional class, the Jordan trip confirmed for me once again the Truth of the Bible and helped me refocus on what is truly important and focus on the heart instead of the exterior.
P.S. In case you didn’t already know, maps in Israel are East-oriented. In other words, as our maps in the US would be held so North is facing up or ahead of us, in Israel, we hold the map so East is facing forward. We’re all used to it now, so that it’s hard to even look at an Israeli map if it’s not facing that direction. My mind has adjusted to the “move right on the map = going south” instead of going East as we would in the States. I only hope this directionally challenged mind of mine will fix itself when I return the US, so I won’t think we’re going west from Syracuse to Binghamton. Oi Vey!