Juxtaposition. That was the word Charles used to describe the two church services we attended this weekend.
The first was on Saturday evening. We headed through the security barrier to nearby Bethlehem. Our hosts for the evening were the pastors of a local house church. Both natives of the area, they have worked and raised their family (four children, with the youngest one finishing high school soon) in Bethlehem, a city that has seen its religious statistics flip right over in the past decade. Once a population of 70% Christian and 30% Muslim, Bethlehem is now 70% Muslim and 30% Christian. Add to that the huge tensions of the Palestine-Israel conflict, and life has not been easy for this family. Yet they press on, and they refuse to go elsewhere. This is home, and they boldly (I mean, BOLDLY) live out their faith in this place.
While the evening was “planned” as a chance for us to listen to their life stories and ask questions, the real agenda included a short worship service, a handful of impromptu speeches, a full-blown sermon with an altar call, and a delicious supper on top of the planned visit! Later conversations revealed that our group had varying responses to the very Charismatic nature of the worship and teaching, but as Charles pointed out: The global South is quickly taking over the global North as the center of Christianity, and most of the South’s Christian communities are of “flavours” similar to this. The world is a-moving, regardless of our readiness for it or not, and the passion and zeal of believers like these two is, no doubt, part of the reason why.
Our second service was on Sunday morning. We set out for the village of Abu Gosh, just west of Jerusalem. Truthfully, today one doesn’t even notice a break between the city and the “village”. Anyway, this “village” is one of a few proposed locations for the New Testament village of Emmaus, and that is a wild thought! We attended a Catholic service, which was connected to a Benedictine monastery in the area. Most of the congregation was made up of visitors like ourselves, with a group of monks and nuns leading. Most of the service was in French, and I was quickly enlightened that being able to conjugate a few verbs is not sufficient to follow a church service also sprinkled with occasional Latin. That said, the singing (more like chanting) was beautiful. Most of it was acappella, with a few pieces involving a small organ or a stringed harp-like instrument that I can’t identify. Lots of symbolism and ritual different from my own, but it’s funny how little discomfort I felt in either this morning or the previous evening.
Sunday afternoon was marked by a few hours at the Israel Museum. This place frustrates me! I’ve heard that it’s amazing—truly stunning! And I’m sure that it is. There’s certainly no lack of fascinating history and archaeological finds to fill a national museum here.
But it was closed.
The same renovations that were happening two years ago when we visited here!
For crying out loud, hire some more workers!
So the logical question: What did we do for a few hours at a closed museum? Well, there are couple exhibits that were open, and we hit them for all that they were worth. We were guided by Dr. Steve Pfann. He and his wife are both scholars who you may have seen at some point on a religious documentary, the kinds that air on A & E, or the History Channel, or the Discovery Channel. They are regularly consulted as new discoveries arise. She is a New Testament scholar with special attention to John the Baptist, and he is renowned for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls. These are not your average tour guides!
So Steve toured us around the open exhibits, one being the Shrine of the Book, the primary exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the other being a gigantic model of what Jerusalem may have looked like in 66 AD, before its destruction by Rome. That model was particularly interesting for me. Part of it was just my since-I-was-a-kid love of miniatures. But beyond that, he used it like an ultimate visual aid to show how life played out in that era and to show how various passages of Scripture (like Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, like the reign of Herod, like references to Temple life, like politics and military and expansion of the day) could be better grasped with a clear grasp of geography and city layout. So now I’ve done everything OUTSIDE the museum. The next time I come, I’m kicking in the doors and entering!
This evening provided time for a bit of reading and a much waited-for video chat with Shannon! Our morning itinerary begins at 6:30 AM tomorrow, so this day is done. Bed is calling! Good night from here.