Holy Land Day Ten

Holy Land — Day Ten

Our trip is quickly coming to a close. But first – another work day. We packed so much into our previous day, it’s hard to believe it all had started at the three school. Today…our groups rotated, so I headed with my group to Bethlehem Bible College.

A pastor at our church has been coming to Bethlehem and this college for nearly two decades. He’s met all kinds of people and was a catalyst in bringing our pastor here in the spring of 2016…which led, of course, to this group coming on this trip.

Bethlehem Bible College

So…I was excited to see this campus! I am such an American. I naively expected to walk onto a campus with all sorts of buildings and tons of students milling about. As it turns out they have three buildings (I think) – I know for sure they have two because I was in them.

We met the man who started it all. His heart was to open a college where Christians could be taught theology and all sorts of biblical knowledge and other collegiate skills. Bethlehem Bible College has grown over the decades and continues to grow.

This morning we left our hotel earlier than usual so all 18 of us could participate in the staff devotion time at the college, which included a time of worship. I’m pretty sure we outnumbered the staff, but they welcomed us and allowed us to jump right in with them.

On the way to the college, we practiced a song on the bus in case they asked us to lead one. As we rehearsed, I pictured us standing on a stage, “leading” all the college staff in a praise song – much to my relief, we actually led from our chairs that sat in a simple circle with our new friends. Their leader played keyboards and ALL of us sang together. It was fun.

Then one of the staff, who turned out to be a missionary from France, gave an extraordinary devotion that included her testimony and an encouragement to put our hope in Christ.

A beautiful mural at Bethlehem Bible College

When we dismissed, our teams split up and left for the other two campuses. My team split as well – two went to the kitchen to help, two went to help the facilities guy, and a friend and I went to work cleaning all the windows in the staff offices. Doesn’t sound too daunting till you realize that at least one whole wall of each office was glass. But we got it done.

In fact, as we tried to be as non-conspicuous and non-intrusive as possible (remember…it’s all glass), we were able to observe the comings-and-goings of these faithful teachers and were even able to talk with a couple of them as we cleaned. Maybe because it was the academic atmosphere or maybe because we were all Christ-followers, I found I was pretty comfortable. In fact, I decided it’s a place I could fit in, a place I could work. And that surprised me! (I’ve never pictured myself working in a foreign land).

After cleaning the glass entry way, as well, we were ready to meet up with the rest of our crew for lunch. We didn’t have far to go…all 18 were coming back to the college for lunch. You guessed it, rice with some veggies and meat in it with a salad and yogurt. It was tasty!

After lunch we were led to a lecture-style classroom that had theater-style seats – so comfy, maybe too much so after lunch. A young professor came in and talked to us about his experiences with the oppression of the Palestinians. He was extremely smart and articulate. He had a great PowerPoint presentation with maps and statistics. And he drove down into the ways the US was aiding in the oppression – namely the BILLIONS of dollars we give Israel every year that goes toward building highways that only Israelis can drive on.

He also offered some great biblical facts that helped me understand the theology behind Zionism and where in the New Testament we find some truths that don’t support it. One example was the verse in Genesis 15:18 where God tells Abraham that He will give Abraham’s offspring the land from Egypt to the Euphrates. This is a key verse Zionists use to claim the land for Jews. Our instructor had us look in Galatians 3:16 where Paul quotes the very same Genesis verse above then goes on to say, “it does not say ‘and to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, ‘and to your offspring,’ who is Christ.”

Another verse that also references the Genesis 15:18’s use of “offspring,” is Romans 4:13, “For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” The “of the world” part of the verse is key in showing that with the coming of Christ, God’s offspring are no longer JUST the Jews, but ALL who believe in Christ.

I came away feeling like I understood a little more about Zionist theology and how it bumps up against Covenant theology, which is inclusive of all believers under the new covenant. But I’m only just beginning to understand…

Church of the Nativity

After we got back to the hotel, we had some time to do a little shopping in the market just off Manger Square!

shops in manger square day nine or ten

All week we’ve been walking past the Church of the Nativity every time we went to Manger Square. And finally, after our shopping, we met up in the hotel lobby to walk over to the Church of the Nativity to actually go IN it.

The line to see Jesus’ birthplace was really long, so we started in the Catholic part of the church, which was a beautiful cathedral-style building with beautiful artwork and a series of caves underneath it that are believed to be Joseph’s family home.

If you remember the Christmas story, Joseph had to take a very pregnant Mary all the way from Nazareth, where they had been living at the time, to Bethlehem, where Joseph was originally from, for the great census. These caves underneath the Church of the Nativity represent that ancestral home.

These caves now hold the tombs of St. Jerome. Jerome created the Vulgate Bible, which is the Bible translated into Latin. He used Greek (the Septuagint) and Hebrew translations for his work. – a huge feat! The tomb of St. Catherine, who challenged a philosopher in her day, which apparently shamed her family enough to kill her, is also located among the caves. She is now the patron saint of philosophers. Huh.

Our guide told us some very interesting things about the Christmas story I’d never heard. One, is that when you consider the way homes worked back in Joseph and Jesus’ day, they were mostly caves cut into the bedrock of Bethlehem. Sometimes families added an “upper room” to the cave. Here’s the twist. When Mary and Joseph were told there was no room in the “inn,” it might have been one of these upper rooms. In other words, Joseph’s family’s home was FULL, so they had to sleep with the animals. Something to consider…but who knows!?

The other fun fact is that the “swaddling clothes” Jesus was wrapped in would have been very well-known to the shepherds to whom the angels said, “go find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes,” because they (the shepherds) used those very type of cloths to wrap a lamb’s legs in to keep them from being injured or marred in any way. These little lambs needed to be perfect for the sacrifice. In fact, our guide thinks these shepherds, upon finding Baby Jesus, would have made the connection immediately that He was the Lamb of God! Wow! The things we don’t know about the first century!

We did finally make it to the other part of the church, which is shared by the Greek Orthodox and Armenian churches, and to the grotto where Jesus was born. We entered this grotto by way of a few descending steps that led us below the church into one of the caves. On one side of the cave was an elaborate area designating the spot where Mary delivered Jesus. And on the opposite side, the place where Jesus would have been laid in the manger.

Quite the crowd of believers descending into the grotto, or cave, where Jesus was born.

As we walked out of the church, we came upon a curious statue of St. Jerome. His left foot stood upon a skull and his right hand held a rock. We asked our guide to explain what we were seeing, and it went something like this, “Jerome was a man known for his short temper, and he wanted to be better than that, so he developed what is sure to be the first anger management program. Any time his temper would start to flare, he’d pick up the skull in his left hand and bang the rock held by his right hand to his chest and say, ‘Jerome, Jerome, calm yourself down. For if you don’t, you will make yourself sick and end up like this guy,’” pointing to the skull.

st jerome statue

We roared with laughter in this very holy spot. Not very sacred of us… So, we gathered ourselves back together and headed to the hotel.

We managed to squeeze in one more lecture before dinner. A man spoke to us about his ministry of reconciliation (Musalaha.org) – how he brings together Muslims, Jews, and Christians in a special way that facilitates healing, forgiveness and ultimately reconciliation. He’s been at it for 25 years and has really seen some fruit to his labors.

Here is another well-educated, articulate Palestinian who is doing one small thing to try to chip away at a big ol’ problem. He was very inspiring, as was reflected by the number of people in our group who bought his book.

I didn’t go out for mint lemonade or a gelato this night. I was just too tired…physically and emotionally. Tomorrow would be a new day!


Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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