Israel Impressions Part III: Dead Sea and Beyond

The Dead Sea has the world saltest body of water, with 34% salinity! It is 430 meters below sea level, which makes it the lowest elevation on Earth.  And today the water level is still reducing in an alarming rate, by three feet each year.  Dry land can be spotted especially at the southern portion of the sea.

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The fact that this extraordinary water may some day be gone is hard for anyone to stomach.  What can we DO?  We can’t just sit there blame on the climate change and global warming, right?

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Have you seen a picture of someone floating in the Dead Sea?  I used to roll my eyes, couldn’t imagine floating in the Sea until my own trip to the Dead Sea, yes, you could float, effortlessly!!  However it was recommended you keep the float time within 15 minutes and take a fresh water shower immediately after.

Driving along the west shore of the Dead Sea, we saw canals being dug, palm trees planted, and hotels built.  The people living in this salty land have definitely earned my respect and praise.  They are making history and changing the soil one section at a time.

Mount Sodom is a hill on the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea. The whole mountain is made of salty rocks.  Lucky us, we found a huge chunk of salt rock with beautiful layers.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. Matthew 5:13”.

Jericho, the oldest city in the world, is located at the northern border of the Dead Sea.  There we visited the ruin of Jericho, and from there overlooked the Mount Temptation where Jesus was tested in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 1-11). Can you see the Israelites matching in silence around the tall city walls daily? Can you hear their loud shouts at the seventh day which bring down the walls?

The story of Masada was about an epic battle.  In 70-73 CE, Jewish rebels took over the fortress (used to be Herod’s extravagant palace in the desert) against Roman siege.  The ending was a heartbrokenly sad one.  All 960 men and women chose massive suicide to keep their dignity, refused to be slaves of their enemies.  Today it is a tradition for young soldiers to come to Masada to swear in when they graduate from the academy.

At Qumran near the Dead Sea, the first ancient scrolls (manuscripts dated back two thousand years!) were discovered in a cave by a shepherd boy in 1947.  In the following years, more books in more caves were discovered one after another.  Up to now, pieces from every book of the Bible with the exception of Book of Esther were discovered, including a complete Book of Isaiah.  The cave #4 was the easiest one to access and provided the most scrolls.

If you just visit the Southern District of Israel, you may think the country is made of desert land! That is not true. Although the nation of Israel is tiny, only 8500 square miles,  the land is very diverse.

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When we were in the Northern District, Tel Dan Nature Reserve–the origin of the Jordan River, we walked along spring water and green forest.  And don’t forget the fresh water lake–the Sea of Galilee.

This trip has also left me everlasting impressions of the people in Israel.  Smart, tough, driven, they seem able to survive anywhere in any given situation.

Kibbutz is like the realization of communist ideal on Earth.  And currently they have more than 270 this type of communities in Israel.  In the Kibbutz we visited we were so impressed with their irrigating system–each banana tree was monitored electronically, watered and nourished according to its individual need! What about that!!

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A fruit stand by the street in Jerusalem.  Can you see the huge bananas and pomegranates the size of baby’s head?  Today Israel is the second largest high tech nation, second to US, and a fruit–exporting country.  The land has slowly and surely come again to her original state, flowing with milk and honey.  Salute!

One more thing before I let you go.  Young men and women serve in the army after high school for three and two years, respectively.  Only after the service they go to college with free tuition, of course.  They carry their weapon, OPENLY.  No comment…

Israel Impressions Part II: All About Jesus

One of the main purposes of our Holy Land trip was to follow the footsteps of Lord Jesus.  We visited Bethlehem, Jesus’s birth place, Nazareth, where he grew up, Capernaum, his hometown for 3 1/2 year ministry on Earth, and of course Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa and Golgotha where he was crucified and resurrected.  It was beyond amazing to visit those historical sites, where holy scriptures were brought to life.

The “little town” Bethlehem is six miles south of Jerusalem in Palestine. Thanks for the pilgrims and tourism, today it is a bustling city with 28,000 people.  From where we had lunch in Bethlehem we could see Jerusalem.  Although the Israel and Palestine relationship was complicated, visitors could get in and out of Bethlehem fairly easily.  Our tour company took care of the visa for us, it took us in no time to pass the security checkpoint.

The Chapel of Shepherd’s field and the Shepherd’s Caves

and the Church of Milk Grotto.

Of course, people from all over the world came to Bethlehem for the Church of Nativity, the very location where baby Jesus was born.  The entrance to the church was very small, I had to bend over to enter.  This design was to remind the pilgrims to be humble just like their king borne in a lowly manger.

Nazareth, the childhood home of Jesus, is the largest city in the Northern District of Israel, today known as “the Arab capital of Israel” with population over 75,000.

This grand Church of Annunciation was built on the grotto (lower level) where archangel Gabriel announced to virgin Mary that she had found favor with God, she would conceive and give birth to a son and He would save the people from their sins.  In the upper level of church there were collective displays of “Mary and Child” donated from all over the world.  The one from America was quite contemporary😉.

Photo Oct 27, 10 29 38 PMContrary to the Church of Annunciation,  the Church of St. Joseph was in the same complex, but much simpler.  It was built on top of Joseph’s grotto.  Mary and Joseph must had lived really close, almost like neighbors. 😀

The Nazareth Village was the re-creation of  first century Nazareth, away from the city on an untouched farm land with shepherds and sheep, olive trees and oil press, and a replica of first century synagogue.

South of the city stood the Mount of Precipice, it silently witnessed that the prophet was not welcomed by his own community.  Luke 4  told us how the people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, they wanted to push him off the cliff.  Since then he moved his ministry to Capernaum.

One of the highlights of this trip was the boat tour at the Sea of Galilee.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  Can you picture Jesus walking on this water (Matthew 14:22-33) and calm the wind and waves (Mark 4:35-41)?

During the three years’ ministry on Earth, more than 80% of Jesus’ miracles were performed around the area of Capernaum/Galilee.  Wow!

The Church of St. Peter’s Primacy in Capernaum.  Jesus restored Peter after he denied Him three times before a rooster crowed.  “Do you love me? Feed my sheep.” also three times!

An other absolute highlight of the trip was being baptized in the Jordan River (Yardenit).  Not exactly on the same spot where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he was in today’s Jordan across from Tel Jericho, but the proximity was still exciting.  We re-dedicated ourselves in the Jordan River, although symbolic, it was an equally emotional event.

Thank you so much for reading this far! I really appreciate you following my journey!  Hopefully I will finish this impression series this weekend.map4

The Great America Eclipse 2017

Unless you live in rocks, chances are you’ve heard about the Solar Eclipse that swept across America on Monday, August 21st, the day the Sun disappeared for more than two minutes, from Portland, OR all the way to Charleston, SC.  Probably you were one in the crowds with the solar glasses on and stared at the sky waiting for the magic moment of totality.  Yes, we were too!

It is being called the “Great America Eclipse” for a reason, it hadn’t happened in 99 years! Last time the total eclipse occurred on June 8th, 1918 crossing the States from Washington to Florida. Since this was my first time to witness a solar eclipse, I was determined to scratch this off my bucket list.

 

Thanks for the modern technology, an app, Eclipse2017, calculated for me the starting times of Partial Eclipse and Total Eclipse to the accuracy of seconds. After careful study, we chose Fort Loudoun State Historic Park in Vonore, TN as our viewing site.  The park was surrounded with lakes and it gave about two and half minute of totality, and it was within 200-mile radius, three-hour drive from us.

 

I was impressed by how organized and orderly the Park was in despite of the fact it was packed with people and cars.  People from all over the country came to see the eclipse, we met people from Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, even Connecticut.

 

The partial eclipse started 1:04, you would notice no difference if not looking at the telescope or staring at the Sun.  Everyone in the park put on their solar glasses and looked up to the Sun.  What a wonder! The Sun looked like a Pac-Man been eaten up a tiny chunk.

 

Then the rest of the hour and half went by eventless, people chatting and having picnic on the lawn, the sky slowly but surely getting grayer, it was kind of weird quer.  Even with 99% of the Sun blocked by the Moon, we still can’t look at the Sun with our naked eyes. Then it happened, the Sun was completely blocked by the Moon, all visible was the halo of the corona of the Sun!

 

This was the MOMENTS we’ve been waiting for, I took off my solar glasses, gaped at the Sun, the time seemed stopped! Loud cheer of the crowd, I joined them, screaming from the top of my lung! Excitement, yes! Fear, definitely! In awe, you bet!

 

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the Moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human being that you care for them?”

We got two and half minutes totality.  Before the Sun was swiped away, we heard loud chirping of crickets, we saw flock of birds frantically flutter by, i could hear my heart pondering as if to jump out of my chest! Theoretically i knew there was nothing to worry about, the sun would shine back in a minute, but I felt the unspeakable panic,  i could actually imagine the end of the world might look like this,  with no turning back…  I was on autopilot aiming my camera to the Sun and shoot; if it was not for the pre-set setting on my camera I would have missed the whole photographying, I was too dumbfound to think of anything!!

What an unforgettable experience!  Everyone should watch a solar eclipse totality at least once in one’s lifetime.  I realized how helplessly trivial and significant I was in His omnipotent presence!  Yet He loves me just the same!  The amazing grace!