Monday, June 21, 2010

Greetings! This post comes to you from Athens, Greece - our new "homebase" until Rome. So thankful we all made it here safely and healthily for the most part (though I am without a voice - random, I know - but the "illness" I would most prefer if I have to get sick, so no biggie). We are staying at a beautiful evangelical (the only thing like it in the whole country - most people are Orthodox) camp just outside Athens. Greece is absolutely beautiful. It is 70% mountains, and every one is breathtaking! I am also looking forward to a ferry ride to one of its numerous islands later this week - such an amazing country!!

A couple days ago we were awarded a glorious "free afternoon" which came a the perfect time as we were all tired and weary. I spent my afternoon swimming in the Agean Sea, walking along the beach picking up stones/shells while praying aloud, and laying out on the beach at the base of Mt. Olympus in the sun with my girlfriends reading and eating a double caramel Magnum bar (my fav thing about Europe thus far). After a nice dinner our group went out to the beach for a time of worship. Here's an excerpt from my journal that night:

"We sang a few songs and just marveled at God's glory as we looked to the Agean Sea on one side, the majestic Mt Olympus on the other, and an intensive lightning storm all around and over us as if we were nested in a giant stormy snowglobe. The lightning would flash and illuminate the sky - majestic and powerful. One line from one of the songs we sang was, "Lord of all creation, of water earth and sky, the heavens are your tabernacle, glory to the LORD on high". It was perfect - as I looked to the water, earth, and sky all SCREAMING the glory and holiness of God. Beautiful. Our professor asked us to pick up a smooth stone from the sand. We are each a stone - smoothed, molded, chiseled down by contact with other stones, by rough environments and situations. Though we have two weeks left on this trip, I want to make it a goal of mine to smooth other stones and be smoothed by them in my interactions in the coming days. May I not leave these holy lands unchanged. For it is impossible to experience God and not be altered - to come to the altar of God without alteration".

Other thoughts:

-One of the worst things I can imagine is life without hope
-Faith over fear
-I am God's workmanship - not flawed, though fallen. But redeemed. Thanks be to God.

God bless. Love to all of you from Athens, Greece. XOXO


Thursday, June 17, 2010

I am writing this post from the Capsis Hotel in Thesoloniki, Greece. It's a four star hotel. The Greek food is beyond description. Our room looks like an IKEA display, and the pool on the roof is an added bonus. : ) However, this is also the first time we have had air conditioning on this whole trip. It's kind of a big deal. There were a couple times I feared I would stop breathing. This is the hottest weather I have ever experienced. Israel was dry heat, but in Turkey and Greece it has been humid and stifiling hot. I have resigned myself to the fact that it is okay that I don't remember what my face looks like without a sweaty shine, and my skin feels like to be cold or even cool. : ) Oh well!

All joking aside, the past few days have been incredible. I wasn't able to write for the time we were in Turkey as the internet was as undependable as the running water and air conditioning. LOL. Turkey is a beautiful city! We stayed in Istanbul for 4 nights. It is a city that lies partly in Asia and partly in Europe, so it was neat to go back and forth between 2 continents over the course of a day. We visited the Haggia Sophia - THE Christian church for many years. It was later converted to a mosque, and then to a museum. That is a major trend around here. 99% of Turks are Muslim. The other 1% are Orthodox or Jews. Yet - the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church still resides there, and we were able to visit his church. I learned a great deal about Islam as we also walked through the Blue Mosque and were awoken at sunrise by calls to prayer.

I felt like a president or Oprah when we flew into and out of Ephesus on the same day. LOL. But visiting there was very special. Everything is so well preserved - the library to the theatre to the frescos and mosaics in the homes. At one point I was looking down at my feet on the marble road as I walked, and with the mix of voices all around me and the sound of excavation in the distance I felt myself transported back to the 1st century - I could picture the Ephesus Paul saw. We sat in the theatre and read Acts 19. SO cool.

We drove over the border from Turkey to Greece and will be traveling all over Greece till we settle down for a few days in Athens. Today we went to Philippi. We saw where Paul's cell may have been when the jailer asked him what he must do to be saved. I walked on a portion of the Via Ignatia where Paul carried the Good News. Later, I cooled off my feet in the river where Lydia was baptized after, "the Lord opened her heart to Paul's message" (Acts 16:14). As we sat there, we sang, "As the Deer". Jesus is LIVING WATER. He is what our hearts long and ache for. He is it. Everything.

This is experience is incredible. If you asked me what I did today - I would answer, Acts 16 - we have been to all the locations in that chapter in the last 24 hours. It is wild. Truly crazy. I am so blessed to be here. I am praying for all you back home. I miss you. Been feeling kind of homesick. It is rough being around people so often and for so long, especially when we are all drenched in sweat and sometimes kinda moody. But it has been amazing to see walls break down, and our group draw together as we experience these things in a community. I am so thankful for our professors. And for worship in community. They are both amazing.

If you think of it, please pray for our professor's wife (she is on the trip) as her father passed away yesterday, and for my sweet friend Abby who is currently asleep beside me with a migraine. As I watch these women who are hurting, yet still joyful, and think of Paul praising God while in prison, I am asking God to help me be joyful as well - always giving thanks. I also feel that I need to reach out more. The first thing Lydia did after being baptized was to invite Paul and Company into her home. And seeing the love and hospitality of our Greek friends, I want to become more loving and joyful - more like my Lord everyday. I pray that for all of you as well as myself. God bless. Love from Thesoloniki.

Always, Michelle

Friday, June 11, 2010

A wise man once said, "Coming to the holy lands does not make the Bible come alive. It is already alive. Rather, it makes us come alive".

Spent four days in Galilee, took a final exam, am now finishing up a paper (well, should be . . .), and then we're off to Turkey tomorrow. Wow. It's like a whirlwind (or a wild windstorm on the Sea of Galilee, if you rather). : )

During the Galilee field study we stayed at En Gev, a resort on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which the locals call the Chennerret. It was beautiful, and I loved the chance to swim in, and take a boat out on, the lake as Jesus often did.

I can feel the bonds between those in our group multiplying and deepening. A midnight starlit swim in the lake with a group of girls was so sweet, as well as those random deep conversations that arise . On our last night, we sang praises to God on the shore, and several group members really opened up with what was on their hearts. Beautiful.

I could go on and on about all the places we went these past few days - the cliffs we've climbed, trails we've hiked, ruins we've explored, but it all just left me speechless. Jesus saw that same horizon line (granted - things have changed since he saw it, but they were the same mountains and valleys). He walked in these places. His ministry was centered in this region. It brought me to tears. He came here. Willingly. Wanted to. So that his people might be redeemed. So I could be redeemed. At one point I stood on the shore of the lake and just prayed, "Well, God, here I am! I am so excited! It's just where you were. . ." and I was immediately hit with a response, "Yes, but you you know you didn't HAVE to come here. I will meet you where you are". I love that. It's not about this land, but what happened here, and the relationship I have with the LORD because of it. I am God's child, and He pursued me and saved me. I love that.

Alas, I will now return to my bag of pastries and half-written paper. Thanks for reading. God bless.


Friday, June 4, 2010

I know this is crazy - writing a new post within hours of my last one, but since I wrote that I woke up at 3:30am and climbed the Mount of Olives (y'all don't know what "workout" means till you've done this!) with a small group of classmates. We climbed as high as we could and watched the city as the sun rose over the mountain. I listened to "Lead me to the Cross" on my ipod, cementing that song in my memory with that moment. I journaled, wrote a poem, read scripture, took pictures, and just marveled at the beauty of the city, and the LORD that died for its people, and who created the mountain it stands upon.

I heard a rooster cry in at 4:15am and we passed nepheshs (whitewashed tombs) on our way up the mountain. The Bible is coming alive, but more that than JESUS is alive. I watched as light came to a dark and desolate city, seeing it both as the story of Jesus's coming (you can see the place he died from there), but also as the story of His coming to my dark heart as well. I just wanted to share that with y'all. Now I'm gonna do some reading and then some girls and I are heading into the city for lunch (shwarma perhaps?), shopping, and maybe a study date at our new favorite coffee shop. : ) God bless.
We just returned tonight from a 3 day trip to the south (of Israel). We did SO much in these past days. I have learned a great deal, and my eyes have been opened a smidge more. I think I'm just gonna list some things here as I am not entirely sure of the best way to organize my thoughts.

-I stayed in a youth hostel for the first time. I didn't know what the squeegee in the bathroom was for - until I showered that is - had a nice little reenactment of the flood thanks to that hostel shower!

-I swam in the Mediterranean Sea Wednesday at Ashkelon, and it was absolutely amazing and refreshing and beautiful, despite the onset of the jellies, and my minor stings (don't worry Mom, all is well - they weren't big)

- I floated in the Dead Sea today. It was seriously amazing. I could NOT touch bottom - my feet simply would not go down. You can float on your back, side, stomach, with all your limbs in the air. You can literally walk on water. Incredible experience.

- Climbed Masada today. It means stronghold. We sang "A Mighty Fortress is our God" in the cistern (huge and good acoustics) at Masada. Though this city fell, I know that GOD is my fortress, and He is always and He is strong. This used to be Herod's palace complete with swimming pools, mosaics and frescos ten miles from water, hundreds of feet up on top of a mountain. I am mad at Herod. He was selfish, and full of himself. Yet - thinking about it, I see how his cruelty and selfishness only serve to illuminate the true Kingship of Christ - his humility, faithfulness, provision, and love in contrast. Kind of like how Pharoh's hard heart and cruelty only served to do the same in showcasing God's power and provision and revealing his glory.

- We went to Qumran today. I saw the cave where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls.

- At the Springs of Engedi where David probably was camped out for awhile, we read a psalm drowning in water imagery as it is so scarce here. We then hiked to beautiful waterfalls and springs in the desert there (and got to go in!). After climbing cliffs in 107 degree heat I better understand what it means to thirst for God, to know him as living water. I then watched as an ibex deer (the same kind of deer David would have seen) panted for water, and then drank from this spring.

-A couple days ago I was up on Temple Mount where there is now a Muslim mosque and park, but it used to be the location of the temple till it was destroyed in the year 70. I stood with a small group of peers on this place of God's temple - his physical dwelling and residence and sang "How lovely is your dwelling place . . .better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere". It blew me away - singing this in the literal dwelling place of God, a place now in Muslim hands (we sang off in a corner and quietly - you are not allowed to take Bibles up there at all), and knowing that Jesus was in this temple, and knowing what this place was and is to God's people. AMAZING.

-We took a hike through a barren wasteland in the Negev. It was so hot and dry and we had to climb ladders up a cliff at some points, but I was in awe the entire time - reciting Psalm 23 over and over in my head, and knowing that the LORD leads us and guides our steps.

-God chose a weak people in a land with the lowest point on earth, where little grows, with a "poison lake" - a rough land - and He showed himself faithful HERE. He is the same to me and to all of us anywhere. Rest and find hope in that. God is awesome!!!!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wow - I must say that it is interesting to try to log into this thing, when the instructions are all in Hebrew, but I am glad I managed so I can get down some thoughts. We are staying in Jerusalem, just outside the Old City at Jerusalem University College. It is a beautiful building that was built in 1853. It has a garden with fruit trees and vines, roses, and a pretty yard. The building is just gorgeous, built entirely of stone, with courtyards and flowers. You can go out on the roof and look out over the New City of Jerusalem, and the view is incredible. White homes and buildings dot the rollings hills and sparkle with lights at night. It is hot here, but it is a dry heat, which is bearable if you don't mind feeling like a dead mosquito trapped in Vasaline (at least this is the best analogy I can formulate to describe it). But seriously - it is not bad at all, and we are required to wear skirts covering our shoulders and knees everyday, so it is pretty cool.

I am overwhelmed with things I could write because we do SO much each day - usually twelve hour days, mixtures of lecture in the classroom, and walks around the city of Jerusalem to various significant locations. I'll touch on the important things, most forefront in my mind as there is a line behind me to use this computer. : )

Yesterday we went through Hezekiah's tunnel, a really touristy tunnel set up by King Hezekiah as a way to bring fresh spring water into the city of Jerusalem. The way they carved out these tunnels, and discovered the shafts with such primitive tools is simply amazing. This is a quote from my journal:
"It was black, pitch black - probably the darkest dark I've ever been in. You couldn't see a thing - be it a person or a rock wall right in front of you. Ice water flowed at my feet and ankles. Though I was in a dark place and wasn't sure if danger or a low rock or a turn lie ahead, I was not afraid. I could hear my own voice mixed with others as we sang praise to God, echoing through the tunnel as we walked along. I know that no matter what comes, God is faithful. He cares for his people. I know this. I feel that the Israelites came to know this as well - they saw that when they clung to God, they were inm good hands, and under their own guidance, they fell. That has always been true in my life too. I love seeing and experiencing this place with all my senses."

Last night I was able to spend the night in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with 11 other students and the Armenian Orthodox priest, Father Sammie (Samuel). We were locked in the church after its closing and were able to talk to Father Sammie and get a tour of the church without the tourists and craziness of the daytime. I saw the tomb where they believe Christ was buried, touched the rock from Golgatha, kneeled at the foot of the cross at the Skull, and smelled the oil and incense on the rock where his body was laid. It is too much for words. I will need to process this for a while to come. I was moved, but at the same time I wonder how Christ wants us to approach these places. Some of the Greek and Armenians and Catholics that come to this church worship and kiss these things. How am I to approach them? After all, the angel told the women that Christ was not in the tomb. It's not about these THINGS, but why these things became imporant, what they remind us of, and about why they are remembered. It was a humbling experience for sure.

After we left the church we decided to walk over to the Western Wall of Temple Mount in the Jewish quarter of the Old City. The girls and I went to the women's side and were able to pray and then walk up to the wall, touch it, and leave prayers on paper in its cracks. You can not walk away from the wall - you must back away. It is such a holy and precious place - facing the Holy of Holies of the old Temple. It was beautiful to watch these women worship. I prayed to Jesus. He probably doesn't get many prayers at the wall. This is at 1 am mind you, and there were still so many people there in the cool and peace of night. BEAUTIFUL.

Okay - well I better go study and finish journaling before tomorrow. We have a busy day ahead of us - Bethlehem, Mt of Olives and then Jericho on Sat, among many other places. Thank you for your love and prayers. We serve a God who is GOOD. He is FAITHFUL to His people. Our help comes from THE Lord, the maker of heaven and earth - I was able to lift my eyes to the same hills the psalmist saw as I read that yesterday. He is God, here and there, always and forever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wheaton in the Holy Lands 2010

So I know I haven't left the country yet, but this trip has already begun, and begun to change me, so here I go. This summer I will travel to 4 countries in 40ish days with 50 people, my new family, the "Holy Landers". Before that, however, we have 30 hours of class in 5 days, and I have have the pleasure of taking 4 finals beginning at 8:30am on Saturday. Here is a random smattering of thoughts:

-Straight-up theological lecture from 8:30 to 4:30 is intense.
-Doing handstands with your friends (whom you met yesterday) will help you persevere through said long lecture
-I think I may have been approaching the Bible incorrectly in terms of searching for meaning and application amid a highly contextual and culturally-influenced text, and perhaps drawing from it things that were not meant to be drawn. It isn't about what I get out, but about what the author intended.
-I am learning sign language. There is a boy who is deaf on our trip. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to join a group of strangers who cannot speak your language, while you have no way to even try to understand theirs. He is very brave. He is teaching us signs every night. He is hysterical, and we are all growing closer during these sessions.
-God never turns his face away. The trinity is 3 persons in the Godhead. The Father originates, the Son enacts, and the Spirit empowers. Father and Son are names, and not relations. We should describe God, not define Him.
-Jesus was fully human and fully God at the same time. He was human in mind, body and spirit as all these had to be assumed so all could be redeemed. How do you kill God? He dies voluntarily.
-Job was not on trial in Job. God's policies (which deviated from the retribution principle) were on trial. God's way is good, and we can trust it. From suffering we learn to depend on Him.

Okay, I'll stop now, but that is a glimpse of what is going on in my head. My prayer is that through this trip, I will learn how to better understand the Bible, how to better describe God, and that I will draw closer in relationship to Him. I am so thankful for this opportunity. I'm gonna go do some homework now. God bless.