On January 7th, members of our Ramallah, Jerusalem, Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour congregations each boarded a bus and headed north. Our Gender Justice Program Coordinator, Ranan Issa, worked hard to create a wonderful experience for all our interested participants, including many who were able to receive special permission to pass the checkpoint just for this trip.
The group first reached Tiberia, where they enjoyed a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. The group was filled with so much joy as they soaked in the sun and the sea, danced together, and celebrated being in such a holy place. After the boat ride, we traveled by bus to Old Nazareth, where we learned about the historical village of Nazareth. Our group walked through a hillside farm, listened to actors talk about life in the Nazareth of Jesus’s days, and the children loved feeding olive branches to some new wooly friends (the local sheep!). Upon viewing a beautiful sunset from the hillside of Old Nazareth, the group bussed to their hotels for the night. We enjoyed a warm meal together before a small and sweet chapel service. Bishop Azar spoke to and prayed with the group. After the official end to the service, members stuck around to sing hymns together, accompanied by Bishop Azar on the piano.
The next day, the group visited “Ras Il Naqoura”, which is the northernmost point along the coast, bordering Lebanon. The group was ecstatic to spend time oceanside, some of whom for the first time in their lives. After viewing the coast, the group traveled to the seaside town of Akka. Here participants had free time to explore, some choosing to board small boat trips on the ocean, others dining on some fresh seafood. Our last stop was Caesarea by the Sea, which are ancient ruins of an aqueduct system on a beautiful beach. For some of our members, this was the first time they were able to touch the ocean in their lives. Though it was cold and the sun was setting, some removed their shoes in order to step into the sea.
Members had an amazing time, and Ranan’s excellent coordination certainly served its purpose of providing our families with a much-needed break from the stress and craziness that life throughout COVID-19 has brought. For many, this trip was the first chance to step away from everyday life and breathe in the safety and fellowship of our faith community. We are so thankful for the memories and friendships forged on this trip, and look forward to more time spent together this year.