Tuesday was a really great experience – one I’ve looked forward to since I came here in fact! We were able to have a field trip to Bethlehem and visit the sites surrounding the area Christ was born.
We started off the day with crossing through one of the Israeli checkpoints in to the West Bank where Bethlehem is located. Unfortunately, even though it’s only six miles from where we live, we’re not allowed to visit here by ourselves – the center takes great care of us and doesn’t want us to be in any potential danger at all. They expected that to take between half an hour and an hour, but we got through quickly and soon met up with our Professor who teaches Modern Near Eastern Studies of Arabs, and were able to have a lecture by a few of his colleagues about the Palestinian-Israeli problem and the history surrounding that. It was very interesting and I was grateful to be able to attend that, but the next part was even better. Our Professor teaches at Bethlehem University, and so we got to attend a lecture by him at his home school, with some of the students in his classes! We were shown a film about the resettlement of many of the Palestinian people during the 1960’s, and learned a lot more about that. We were then able to ask a panel of students questions about the anything we wanted – the conflict, their schooling, social life, etc. It was very interesting to be able to relate to these people who are doing the same thing as I am right now, just in a very different context.
We ate lunch at “the tent” and that’s really what it was. A large tent situated in Bethlehem where we had pitas for appetizers, and then French fries and kabobs for lunch. It was neat to socialize with everyone in this kind of a setting, because we don’t get to “go out together” much in the same way we might at home. It was also fun to see how happy our Professor was to be able to take us around his home town and give us a tour of his favorite sites and places to eat.
After lunch we went to manger square and the Church of the Nativity. This was really neat because it is the oldest church that is still in tact, in the world. It dates back to the 4th century AD, and was built on top of ruins of another church built even earlier. Because of how old it is, it is considered by many to actually be the birthplace of the Christ child. The church was beautiful, the only downside was there were lots of people visiting and so it was hard to be able to see everything. We got in a line to go down to the grotto, the place where Jesus would have been born, and only got to see the spot for a few seconds before we were herded out of the room by a nasty mean Priest who kept yelling at everyone to be silent. Ok...you tell me…where’s the irony in that? I was kinda mad after cause I didn’t even get a good picture of the inside! And let’s face it, how many times am I going to be able to go to Jerusalem in my life? That’s right…probably never again! Stupid priest guy…some dude in a robe on a power trip…yeah.
After that we got to wander around the square a bit, shopping is always a good thing right? Actually I kept myself under control pretty well if you ask me! (Running out of money always helps this problem). It was interesting though, cause the hot item everyone was looking for was Bethlehem Blankets, and they were no where to be found! We were able to see an exhibit of many nativities from all over the world, this seemed rather appropriate considering the location.
The rest of the night was definitely the best part of the experience. We were able to go back across the borders to Shepherd’s fields – a place where in ancient times the shepards would have likely dwelt on night’s like the night the Christ child was born. Considering it was only a few weeks before this event would have occurred – the weather is even similar to how it would have been then. We were able to go as a religion class which was neat, because we had a devotional there. Several students prepared a small biographical sketch of Herod, Joseph, Mary, The Wisemen, The Shepherd’s and Elisabeth – it was really neat. We were also able to hear some Christmas Hymn’s on the Guitar from Mike and Annie – and I was even involved in a small sinigng group of six people who sang Mary’s Lullaby. It was a night filled with the Christmas Spirit more than I’ve felt in a while. Truly something I’ll treasure and take home with me.
As for the rest of the week – I’ve just been studying for tests and finals! Today we had our last one – Musallam’s class. It was such a relief and you can sense the drop of tension and stress in the building. After the test was over we all ran outside and yelled for joy – and then decided to go down the road and pick up an ice cream at one of the local shops. On our way back we met some of the young local boys, who showed us the small cage filled with puppies right near to where the center is! We had fun playing with them and then spent the rest of the night relaxing and preparing for Galilee! It’s been a great week overall.