A Travellerspoint blog

Israel, Part 3

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. The sea is more than 1,000 feet below sea level and is one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world. On the Friday after the last day of camp, two team members and I decided to make it our destination.

Through some connections, we were able to get a nice discount for one day at the Ein Gedi Spa on the Dead Sea. I do not believe that I have ever felt more relaxed in my entire life. It was a wondrous way to end our camp.

The spa had many hot pools filled with water composed of sulphur and other minerals. The water provides numerous health and skin benefits for humans. Unlike the air-conditioned interior, it was 110° F outside with 30% humidity. We laid on lawn chairs before a big pool and the enormous mountains in the background. I felt like a super duper millionaire, relaxing in my lawn chair, and eating juicy grapes and peaches. I was so relaxed, in fact, that I was too lazy to get off my lawn chair to get my camera from my locker.

No trip to the Dead Sea would be complete without actually going to the Dead Sea. We sat on a tractor that drove us from the spa to the saltiest sea on Earth. I mustered enough energy to get my camera before we left.

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Because of the salinity, it is impossible to sink in the Dead Sea. Everything effortlessly floats to the surface. Little streams of water around the sea create basins of dark mud. The Dead Sea mud is full of rich minerals that are good for human skin.

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The water was surprisingly hot. If felt as though I was swimming in some hot tea, or something. I remember whenever I would wade into a freezing lake or river, I would wish the water was warmer. This is the first time in my life I wished the water was cold. Even though I went home with a sunburned face and shoulders, I was glad for the experience. The Dead Sea is an amazing place - there's absolutely no other place like it!

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Posted by DanPan 12:09 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Israel, Part 2

Jerusalem

Unlike in Western Nations, the day of rest is not on Sunday in Israel. The Jewish day of rest begins at sundown on Friday and lasts until sundown on Saturday. This time is known as "Shabbat" - which means "the sabbath". On Shabbat, all stores are closed, all transportation stops, and the Jewish people rest.

For this reason, we had no day-camp on Friday and Saturday. I had Friday morning and afternoon all to myself to leave Tel Aviv and explore Israel. On our first availible Friday, Alex, a team member from Kiev, and I took a bus to the old city of Jerusalem.

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The old city is divided into four quarters; the Muslim Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter. It seems like foreigners are scared to go into the Muslim Quarter because I rarely see tourists there. I, however, am my own tour guide and I go wherever I please. We were dropped off outside the Muslim Quarter, so that's where we began our Jerusalem Journey. We walked from Damascus Gate to Via Dolorosa, the street through which Jesus carried the cross. From there we walked into the Jewish Quarter and to the Western Wall, a remnant of a wall which surrounded the Temple's courtyard.

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It is interesting to see Orthodox Jews praying at the wall, while Muslims pray in the Dome of the Rock Mosque on the other side. I wasn't allowed to go the mosque because it was Friday, the holy day for Muslims. Only Muslims get to go to the mosque on Fridays. The guards check whether you are a real Muslim by making you quote scripture from the Qur'an. I don't know any Qur'an scripture because I am a good Christian boy who only reads Bibles.

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We walked out of the old city and into the City of David;
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to the Kidron Valley;
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to the Garden of Gethsemene;
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and then to the Mount of Olives.
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Surprisingly enough, two golgothas exist in Jerusalem. The orthodox golgotha is in a church called the "Church of the Holy Sepulchre" inside of the old city. The church is said to be built on top of the actual golgotha and Jesus' tomb. Everything inside the church is pimped out in Orthodox bling.

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The protestant golgotha, known as the Garden Tomb, is located outside of the Old City in the Muslim Quarter. The Garden Tomb is in an actual garden with pretty trees and flowers - much more peaceful than the orthodox. From the garden, you can see "the skull" on which Christ was said to be crucified. The tomb where Jesus was buried is nearby.

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Before leaving Jerusalem, we climbed on top of the steeple of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. From the top, we could see a panorama view of the entire old city of Jerusalem. It was amazing.

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Jerusalem is truely a remarkable place. The roads in the old city are too narrow for cars. It is a maze of people and cultures. Religion is everywhere. There is no other place on earth with so many mosques, churches, and synogogues conjested in such a small area.

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Posted by DanPan 08:02 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Israel, Part 1

The Holy Land

I was granted the wonderful opportunity to visit the Hoy Land for a third time. I participate in a yearly camp that takes place for the children of Russian-speaking believers in the Tel Aviv area. In order to get there, however, I needed to pass obstacle #1 - the Israeli airport.

The Israei Airport has one of the most intimidating security systems in the world. As soon as you step out of the plane, security personnel ask you where you are going, how long you will be staying, and what your purpose is for travelling to Israel. If you do not have an answer ready for any one of those questions, you are taken away for interrogation. It feels as though the entire airport security suspects you are a terrorist. Because I didn't have a copy of my ticket OUT of Israel, the passport control person sent me into the airport jail room, regardless of the fact that I have been to Israel twice before. In the jail room, the woman behind the desk wrote some stuff down, handed me my passport, and I was free to go. I don't understand the reason behind their actions - perhaps it's all psychological. I guess they get away with all of this interrogation stuff because they are Israel and tourists will come anyway.

I don't remember Israel being as hot as it was this year. Although temperatures were around 80-90 degrees F, the humidity was killer. Whenever I went out in the sun, I was automatically wet from sweat and the creases of my elbows were sticky. But the heat was good for me. I was able to sweat out my sickness and I was well by the third day. Goodbye food poisoning. I quickly regained all of the weight that I lost by eating white-bread pitas and oily hummus every day.

I joined up with a group of 10 missionaries from Kiev who also came to serve in the camp. All of us stayed with at the pastor's house in a suburb of Tel Aviv called Bat Yam. We slept on his roof, from which we could see the entire city.

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"The Best Street in Israel" was also very close to where we lived.

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From the first day, we had difficulties with our camp. It is really hard to organize Israeli children. If I had to describe Israeli kids, I would say loud; insubordinate; and very independent. I met an elementary school art teacher who explained that because Israel is in a constant state of war, parents attempt to give their kids the best life possible by spoiling them. It is also against Israeli law to punish children. Kids are taught in school to do what they want. Children are even allowed to yell at the teacher, resulting in a generation no respect for authority.

From a Western perspective, these kids would automatically be labelled as "undisciplined". However, it isn't lack of discipline as it is a different way of disciplining. Service in the army is mandatory for every 18 year old boy and girl, and it is there that the kids are whipped into shape and the independence is stripped from them. They then belong to the state of Israel.

Working with these kids was unexpectedly difficult. Often times, we would organize a camp activity and half of the kids would say "we don't wanna play this game", get up, and leave. When there is one problematic child, there are ways to get them back in line. When 15 kids simultaneously decide not to listen, there isn't really anything you can do.

Another huge problem was the location of the camp. In previous years, whenever we did camps with Israeli children, we would divide them into smaller groups and work with them in seperate rooms. This year we had to do the entire day-camp in one big room. All the activities, games, stories, and food had to be prepared in one location. If one child went crazy, all the rest of the kids could see and follow.

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We had an event during the second week of camp where a boy climbed on top of some dumpsters and began yelling Hebrew profanity at a random Israeli woman. The woman complained to the landlord, who kicked us out of the building and caused us to spend the remaining four days at a park in the Israeli heat.

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The problems we had lead to constant arguments between the team members. Almost every night I would watch the team quarrel with each other. I didn't participate in any arguments myself because the huge patience muscles I grew in Mongolia kept me from losing my temper.

All of the problems that we faced made me realize how hard the "enemy" works in order to stop the work we were doing. Isreal is God's chosen nation, the place where he himself walked among his people. The moment we began to do God's work in this land, the enemy immediately retaliated through misbehaving children, location problems, and disunity within the team. What amazed me was the reality of the situation. The closer you get to God, the moment you begin his work among his people, the harder the enemy tries to make you fail.

We were able to finish the two week day-camp even though it drained us of our energies. But beside our suffering, I couldn't help but feel joy.

God told Abraham in Genesis 12:3,
"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

We planted the seed in God's nation. We blessed God's people, and now there is nothing left to do but to be blessed ourselves :)

Posted by DanPan 16:51 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Instanbul

In Turkey

Natasha, Natalie, Monica, and I were picked up from the Omsk Bible College in the wee hours of the night to be taken to the airport. The girls, along with the rest of the construction team, were flying back to America while I had a flight to Israel with a 13 hour layover in Istanbul.

The night of my flight, I only slept for two hours. Beside that, I was sick with food poisoning, weak, and fatigued. To add an extra cherry on top, I spent the last four days sleeping in a car with 10 other people. I was literally exhausted. I couldn't eat anything that I would find in the airport because my stomach couldn't digest it. The only thing I ate were the Fiber One and Nature Valley energy bars that the girls gave me before we parted. They saved my life.

When I arrived in Istanbul, the first thing I did was look for a storage room for my huge backpack. For some bewildering reason, the Sabiha Gokcen airport in Turkey has no storage room. I was forced to carry my heavy backpack on my weak little fatigued back. I threw away my towel and 2 dirty T-shirts in order to lighten the load.

I felt horrible in Istanbul. My fatigue, sickness, weakness, and the heavy luggage on my back made me want to die. But I decided to go explore Istanbul regardless. It was hard to walk, so I took a picture of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque from a distance, which sufficed me completely.

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Because I had so much time, I decided to push myself and go to the Grand Bazaar. Unknown to me at that time, the Grand Bazaar is situated on a big fat hill. By the end, I was sweating like a pig and was ready to collapse. I did not mind paying a taxi driver 30 Turkish lira [15 dollars] to drive me to the bus station so I could go back to the airport, even though I enjoy figuring out how to orient myself in unfamiliar cities using a map and asking locals for directions.

Although I was in low spirits in Turkey, I was able to make some interesting observations. Turkey, Istanbul in particular, just blew up my mind.
First of all, Istanbul is a city of 15 million people. Places get really crowded, really fast. Also, Istanbul is the only city located on two continents along a body of water called the Bosphorus Straight.

On the left side is Europe and on the right side is Asia
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From my past experiences with Turkish people in Germany, I expected to see a traditional Muslim nation with Arabic people and lots of head scarves. Not in Istanbul. Half of the people in Istanbul were blonde with blue eyes. And everyone looks American. Their facial features and clothing style made me feel like I was back home. Even the language sounded like English. The signs are even written in Latin letters, though I do not know what they mean. However, almost no one that I spoke with knew a word of English. Becuase Turkey is secular, wearing head scarves and practicing Muslim religion is not required. People are free to live as they desire, just like in America.

I was also shocked by how clean Turkey was. I realize now that, although Turkey is a Muslim nation, it is nothing like it's Arabic neighbors.

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Posted by DanPan 15:36 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Mongolia, Final

Mongolia, cont.

After spending the night inside of our cars, we awoke to find a huge truck in front of the Hyundai. The kind Mongolian man inside pulled us out of the mud with a rope, and guided us back to Tsuganuur.

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In Tsuganuur, we regained our energy and began our drive through Mongolia. Because we lost a day during our Kooka adventure, we decided not to go to Ulaangom but straight to Hovd. The journey was full of dust, rocks, mountains, multiple popped tires, discomfort, and lots of pain. Because of our less than prefereable conditions, our team expirienced occasional arguments and lost tempers. We drove through the treachery of Mongolia for an entire day, spent the night in our cars again, and finally arrived in Hovd the next morning.

In Mongolia, we did a three day "plashyadka" [day camp] for the Mongolian kids. The three days were full of games, Bible stories, songs, and lots of fun. I was surprised by how cooperative Mongolian children were - they probably don't expirience these kind of day camps often. Although there was a language barrier between us and the children, kindness and love were enough to get our message accross. I am glad that I was able to do my part in planting a seed in this nation. I am excited to see how it will grow in the future.

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After spending four days in Mongolia, it was time to drive back. The return trip from Mongolia was just as problematic as the trip to Mongolia. Many of the guys in our group, myself included, did not have the opportunity to shower for an entire week. We were dirty, tired, crowded, and uncomfortable. We would constantly bicker with one another. The Lada and the Nissan would expirience constant car troubles. If I remember correctly, the Lada suffered six popped tires and other engine malfunctions. We lost lots of precious time sitting around and waiting for the cars to be fixed.

The entire expirience taught me a lot about patience. I read somewhere that the development of patience is like the development of a muscle. When someone excercises, a point is reached when the muscle rips. Then, when nature repairs the broken fiber, it overcompensates and the muscle grows in strength and power. In the same way, our patience muscle grows. At times, there were pressed situations where I wanted to explode. But then, I would think about how much bigger my patience muscle would become if I kept my cool. Now, I feel like I have patience muscles of steel.

Whenever a situation would get heated, to grow my muscle and not lose my temper, I would just go outside to play with my camel friends.

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The biggest test for my patience muscle came on the border of Mongolia and Russia. I ate a Truebar energy bar with a subheading that read "I am a coconut cashew bar with nothing to hide." Apperently, it had a lot to hide - like that fact that it would give me food poisoning. For the rest of our ride back, I was sick with an upset stomach and digestion problems. I couln't eat anything and I lost a lot of weight. I was weak and fatigued. We spent the night in some cabins in the Altai mountains, and I got up during the night 5 or 6 times to use the rest room. The wooden outhouse bathroom became a second home to me. I had to say goodbye to 2 pairs of underwear and thousands of baby wipes.

But, when I looked at my situation from another perspective, I found reason to be happy. I was able to rid myself of excess body fat without dieting or exercising. I was skinny and I didn't have to work for it. The only thing it cost me were 2 pairs of boxers. Sweet deal.

When we finally arrived back to the Bible College in Omsk, I was able to wash, clean, shave, and rest my poor little skinny dirty self.

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Though I was suffering, I was happy. Happy to be done with another chapter of my journey.

Posted by DanPan 14:57 Archived in Mongolia Comments (0)

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