The instructions: " If the bus goes off the road, or the driver has a heart attack and the bus ends up on its side, DO NOT get out of the bus! Stay inside, no matter what, until Israeli police arrive to help."
These are land mine warnings. On both sides of the road leading up to Mt. Hermon, the yellow triangles warned us about the land mines in the side is the road that were placed to deter Syrians from crossing the border into Israel. Mt. Hermon, covered in snow, is the place where the transfiguration is believed to have taken place.
Were we ever really in danger? Absolutely not, as long as we obeyed the signs. When we got to our destination, a lookout point into Syria from the side of the mountain, it was sobering to look over the distance--200 yards?--and see the border with Syria just ahead of us. As my son said before I left, we hear about Syria and read about it every day, but I now stood close enough to see it, close enough to see people walking about. A UN compound marked the spot where the border began, and on this day, no gunfire, but we were warned that it was an active area.
Most commonly, badly injured Syrians are passed across the wire to get better quality medical help from Israeli doctors. Once healed, the injured have to be driven back to the border at night where they are lowered over the boundary and have to head back to their homes to fully recuperate. It is nearly impossible, if not illegal, for a Syrian person to become an Israeli citizen because of the terrible history between the two countries.
So as we stood at the bluff, looking over the places where a complicated history of violence runs deep in the blood on both sides, we stood together and prayed the impossible/possible prayers for peace, for protection, for healing. Holy ground.
We also had fun today, though. One side trip was to visit the Olea Essence factory and store which is an olive pressing/processing facility. We tasted freshly pressed olive oils, learned that taking a reason of oil every morning will improve hair quality and digestive health and bathed our hands in an olive mash left over from the pressing that is now a patented cleanser. We were all touching each others' hands and exclaiming about a whole new level of softness! Let's just say the marketing strategy worked, ok?
Lunch was a stop at a Druze cafe where they specialize in flat breads cooked over a fire. Many roadside stands advertised the bread for sale with fire pits and people in traditional Druze dress sitting by the road all day, waiting for customers to buy their fruits of flatbreads. Mine was a goat cheese and olive oil flatbread, grilled, and served with a small cup of olives. Such good stuff! (You can research the Druze people on Google--they are a small sect of people with very unusual ideas. The men, for example, wear baggy black pants with the crotch down at the knees because they believe the Messiah will be born to a man, and the pants prevent the Messiah baby from just falling onto the ground if he is suddenly born. The pants are called 'Messiah catchers'. You can't make this up.)
We also saw the oldest existing archway in the world at Tell Dan, an archway called the Abraham Arch because it is believed that he traveled to this community on his way to the Promised Land, and then again when he rescued his nephew Lot. It dates to 2000 BCE. It felt impossible to me.
And then our final stop overlooking the Sea of Galilee on our last night's stay here. We stopped at a bluff where the demon came out of a man (the demon called Legion--see Luke 8:30) for they were many and they then rushed into a herd of pigs, who then down a hill and drowned. The site was formerly in Syria, but is now part of modern day Israel, so there were more land mine warnings all around.
Much like Northern Ireland, this is a land torn by many forces, religious, economic and emotional. The Jewish people take seriously the belief that this is their promised land, but others who have settled there disagree. It is a complex topic not easily covered in a blog, so I won't try.
This trip is far beyond my expectations, and it can be tough to absorb everything we are seeing. But I know this is only my FIRST trip. There will be more trips to explore the complexities, the beauty and the history. Israel is a harsh country, but I am drawn to spend more time here, and I pray you are already thinking and praying about coming with me the next time I go.
And now I am aware that the great blizzard of 2016 is about to settle in over you--Snowmaggedon, which combines both your experience and mine (snow+ Armageddon). Weirdly enough, I will miss being with you as we dig out together, but you will be in our prayers over here for safety, for comfort and for the blessing of family time spent together while the blizzard rages outside.
Pray for me, as I am praying for you,