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First Step

December 14, 2008


It’s hard to know where to begin when you’re attempting to describe something of this magnitude. I mean, for all intents and purposes, two weeks in Israel is hardly a big deal, except for the fact that any time spent in Israel seems to be a big deal. We’ve spent the last three months studying Israel, and we have some idea of what to expect.

War. Expectation. Anger. Oppression. Hope.

It’s a disputed land, a land in turmoil, a land that is so holy to so many that it has become an ideological battleground upon which so much blood has been spilled. Some struggle for coexistence; some struggle for independence.  All struggle to be worthy of the land.

The 21 of us are walking into a realm about which we’ve read for years, and we still don’t know what to expect – even those of us who have been before, and will return again. It’s scary, and exhilirating, and scary, and we do it with hearts and minds as open as is possible.

I will say that this is the record of the journey of the group, though it is being filtered through a few. My name is Ryan, and my partner Daniel and I will be the primary chroniclers for our journey to, through, and from Israel. Along the way, we will have others contribute as much as they are able, for the more voices we have on this blog, the richer it will be. Two cannot speak for 21. 21 cannot speak for seven and a half million.

And so I ask: will you walk with us from afar? If you’ve been to Israel, we welcome your insight and comments; if you’ve only heard the stories and seen the pictures, we still welcome your interpretations and comments. If we’ve all learned anything this semester, it’s that the more participants in the conversation, the richer the dialogue will be.

We ask for your comments. We ask for your prayers. We ask that you join us as we begin a journey for which we have all been preparing longer than we can remember.

And we ask that the One who spoke into the darkness and created that land speak to us today.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel Escher permalink
    December 14, 2008 11:58 pm

    Well said – “Two cannot speak for 21” and “the more voices we have on this blog, the richer it will be.”

    In that spirit, I will add a brief thought. I am going on the trip, and I am predicting to encounter confusion. And I have always wondered what Christians do with confusion. Tension, contradiction, uncertainty, even mystery are all somewhat expected when studying theology or examining the Bible. But confusion is a new aspect for me to think about. Are we really no further past Babel than we human beings were 100 or 1,000 years ago?

  2. Judy Walker MDiv '88 permalink
    December 17, 2008 5:58 pm

    Will you be visiting Palestine as well?

  3. December 17, 2008 6:24 pm

    I was in the PTS class of 1959; before seminary I was a short-term teacher in a Presbyterian mission school in Lebanon, and have been involved in efforts for a just peace in the Middle East ever since, and have been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times. So I take great interest in your trip, and will certainly be praying for all of you. I hope your meetings with many different Israelis and Palestinians will not only provide you with deep insights into their lives, but will also let them know that we care for them, and will do all we can, especially with the Obama Administration and the new Congress, to facilitate a just peace.

  4. Ryan permalink*
    December 17, 2008 6:52 pm

    We most likely will not get a chance to visit the Occupied Territories – it’s been increasingly difficult to get past the checkpoints in recent years, and a group as big as ours would raise more than a few eyebrows. We’re supposed to have a chance to dialogue with both Palestinians and Israelis, though, while we’re there.

  5. Gordon Mikoski permalink
    December 17, 2008 8:25 pm

    Actually, Ryan, we are going to be in the Occupied Territory of the West Bank on several occasions – most notably in relation to Bethlehem, but also in the north. GSM

  6. Bob MacLennan permalink
    December 17, 2008 8:39 pm

    I saw this blog site and took a peak and I am interested in what you all see during your travels. I have been many times as pilgrim and archaeologist. I wonder if there is a non-biblical way to expereince the place. I wonder what your impressions will be of the “reasons” people give for that land being “their land.” I wonder if there is a way to talk to people living in that space non-confessionally. Some thoughts I have as I read your notes. Thanks for allowing me a word or several.
    RSMACL. O by the way, have a great time together.

  7. Ryan permalink*
    December 18, 2008 11:55 am

    I stand corrected – I haven’t yet seen the complete itinerary, so I assumed that Leslie’s note that she couldn’t get across the checkpoint was the end of it. So, awesome, West Bank!

    And Bob, to that end, over the next week – before we leave for the trip – we’ll be posting reviews of some of the material we read for this semester. The Lemon Tree, in particular, might be an interesting discussion point for you.

  8. December 18, 2008 4:46 pm

    Glad to hear that PTS students have this opportunity to take in the history as well as current political situation in the region. I am a PTS alum and just returned from a trip to Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan on Dec. 15th. I participated in a delegation with Churches for Middle East Peace representing the United Church of Christ. I know that this trip will have a deep impact on the travelers as it did on me. For information on ongoing advocacy efforts in Washington visit the CMEP website ( and sign the ecumenical letter: /petition.jsp?petition_KEY=173

  9. Elisa Owen permalink
    December 18, 2008 6:38 pm

    I’m a 2005 graduate and am a member of the Presbytery of Ohio Valley. We have a mission partnership with the International Center of Bethlehem. It is run by Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb. They do some amazing work there, peacemaking in the region, just remarkable. Mitri is extremely articulate about the historical reasons Palestinian Christians have a unique witness of bridge building both in the Holy Land and to us, their brothers and sisters in the West. He has two books that might be of interest to those going on the trips. One is Bethlehem Beseiged and the other is I Am a Palestinian Christian. They offer a unique and valuable perspective. If you are not planning to meet with him, or Rana Khoury, the assistant director of the center, while in Bethlehem — you might miss out on a great contact and a huge witness to the Christ. If you are interested in getting in touch with them, I’d love to encourage that, and even facilitate it. I hope, of course, you already know about them. I’ll pray for you all — have a wonderful trip. Elisa Owen

  10. Samuel Baez permalink
    December 18, 2008 9:46 pm

    Have been to Palestine/Israel 3 times: Feb. ’04, ’06 and ’08. Archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Catholic Catholic Church, headquartered in Haifa, a must person to visit and hear. He’s author of Blood Brothers and We Belong To The Land. Excellent reads, BB especially. He’s founder of Mar Elias Educational Institution (Mar Elias) 4500 students in Ibillin, near Nazareth, Galilee, Israel and student body is Muslim, Christians, Druze, and Jews (grades are kindergarten thru University. Pilgrims of Ibillin (U.S. support system has a newsletter -cf Internet).
    My trips have been through the First Congregational Church in Old Lyme, CT and are now called : Tree of Life Journeys. I volunteered to teach Tennis and English this last year and was well received (made 95 tennis racquets, 40 dozen tennis balls, a new net and tennis equipment and taught 50 high school students in their sports center. Raised $9,000 to help them build an outdoor tennis facility. The program was called “Tennis Network” and one person suggested they should have racquets and not rockets. Doing for me followed the two previous visits of observing oppression and humiliation of many Palestinians but also the hope and positive efforts by both Palestinians and Israelis to find ways to find common ground. If you want some good background reading, call the Rev. David Good at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, CT at 860.434.8686 (email: He is taking a group of about 25 and has a full itinerary set. He and his group will visit Bethlehem University, Mar Elias, Bishop in Nazareth and will stay in homes in Beit Sahour, suburb of Bethlehem, where the shepherds in the fields witnessed the announcement of Jesus’ birth. My number is 860.443.2422 and email: and I am a 1960 graduate of PTS and retired Navy Chaplain living now in CT. P. S. ABishop Chacour spoke at the last PC(USA) GA in San Jose.

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