As usual we started our day with a 7:00am breakfast, preparing for the 8:00am work session which began with Michael Chacour (Micha), the executive manager at Mar Elias. He met with our VIM team and divided us into several groups.
Group A: Archeological diggers hauled rock from a lot in the back of the school to fill a hole about 75 yards away. We used heavy bags to fill rocks and hauled them with a discarded Fred Meyer grocery cart! Hundreds of school children had the opportunity to watch this slow-going effort. (Shirley, Maxine, Marge, Richard, Leif and Phyllis worked on this team!)
Group B: Cathedral workers helped clean and move heavy church benches so the cathedral floor could be cleaned…some called this ‘pew pushing’! (Frey, Doug, Barbara, Sandy, Frances, Cally, Pat, Betty, Linda, Helena and Mark were on this duty.)
Group C: Consisting of three VIM members wrote more than 75 thank you and progress postcards to friends in Portland who have supported the VIM effort by buying shares for this trip. (Liz, Sue and Larry were the note writers!)
Group A had a delightful interruption when several hundred students spoke with Richard Colgan and Leif Terdal, the two guys who hauled rock into the grocery cart to fill a hole. Richard showed them how to do ‘high fives’. Leif took a picture of two students and showed them their image in the back of the camera. About 200 students came over as Leif took 28 photos of between two and six students per shot. The children stayed with this team until their class restarted after the break.
Group B had the pleasure of Micha’s singing Hallelluah for them, around the beautiful altar, under the newly painted dome.
We had our lunch break at the usual noon time; and then refueled from morning tasks we headed to the bus for our1:00pm departure. Our first afternoon stop was the beautiful, large city of Haifa. We stopped for some photography opportunities at the stunning Baha’i Botanical Gardens on the steep Mt Carmel hillside in the city. Haifa is a major port city on the Mediterranean. Intel has a major plant in this city, as well as other hi-tech companies. Several of us were mesmerized by the beauty of this port and the vista from the top of the hill, looking across the huge Haifa Bay to Akko, with cruise ships in port, tankers and barges out in the bay and gorgeous buildings and plantings up and down the hillside. Haifa is considered the industrial capital of Israel.
While in Haifa, our tour guide, Rami, told us that six different religions are represented in the city and they get along very well…Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Baha’i, Druze and Sufi. Rami also pointed out Mt Carmel where the prophet Elijah set up a contest between the ‘true God’ and the pagan gods. The account is given in I Kings, chapter 18. In the Biblical story 450 prophets of Baal are executed after Elijah’s true God sent fire to consume the sacrifice on the altar Elijah had constructed and the Baal gods received no fire on their altar. Elijah was then chased by pursuers and the story says he likely hid himself somewhere on the mountain, perhaps in a cave, so this mountain is associated with the prophet Elijah. (‘Carm’ means Vineyard in Hebrew, while ‘El’ means god, therefore Mt Carmel means the Vineyard of God.)
Our next stop was the fabulous Caesarea National Park in a beautiful Mediterranean coastal location, about 20 miles south of Haifa. King Herod built this large, planned city with a temple, theater (an amphitheater that could seat 4000), markets, residential quarters and Roman baths. (Herod named the city for Caesar Augustus, and gilded the city with marble.) The city also has an aqueduct that brought water from springs five miles away and a sophisticated sewer system. It was of interest for our group to be on site of the powerful Roman presence during the time of Jesus.
Back at our guest house at Mar Elias, Betty Cobb-Colgan lead a group session for us to reflect on spiritual insights while touring the Sea of Galilee religious sites as well as our travels today. We met in four groups of five each and shared our personal perspectives, reported out several thoughts from each group and then discussed common experiences.
After dinner, we enjoyed some dessert and coffee with local families. Our conversations continued for at least an hour. One educator in this group was Ahmad Fawaz who teaches history and civic studies at the high school here at Mar Elias. Some of his students have travelled to Germany on student exchanges. He would welcome such an arrangement with a school in Portland, Oregon.
Tomorrow we will stop in the holy sites of Nazareth on our way to the West Bank for our stay in Bethlehem.