Paul Gahan, one of the team members (also was a member on the 1998-9 and 2002-3 teams), has written this fascinating essay on return from our travels, that sums up his feelings about the Holy Land and our trip.
It was a great experience again to lead such a team, and I found them to be willing, happy and cooperative together. Many had been before but were happy to do the same site visits again for the benefit of the new-comers. I believe it is good to have a full itinerary so all get a taste of the important sites in the countries we visit and ‘get their money’s worth.’. I also believe we need to work hard in the 3 locations to show an effort in mission, and to repay the generosity we receive in terms of food and lodging. ‘Being there’ in solidarity is important, but so also is the work we do together.
I am sorry if at times I appeared too directive, but experience has told me that strong leadership is needed when the group is large and when there are security concerns and a tight program.
Anyway, that is my style, though ameliorated by the presence of my wonderful wife Merrill without whom this would not be possible.
I was stunned and gratified on three occasions when I met 3 middle-aged men at the Nazareth hospital who told me I had operated on them 35 years ago in Nazareth they were children. I was surprised they would remember me, but it made me feel old!
In terms of my contribution to Nazareth & the team in the medical/surgical field:
It was gratifying to be asked to share my experience in the management of Pilonidal Sinus – a painful condition that is common in the Middle East and disabling for young men. I spoke the gathered surgeons about it and was asked to operate on 3 patients and teach the technique I have been using, which works best for this condition, and to find out that the surgeons there are keen to adopt the technique in the future for the benefit of more patients.
In Greece, when half the team developed gastroenteritis, I missed the presence of Dr Gwen who was only able to stay with us as far as the end of our stay in Israel & could not be with us in Greece. It was a test of my medical skills used years ago as currently I handle a scalpel more often than a prescription pad! I was grateful for the following:
1. That I remained well enough to care for all the sick ones, and correctly decide who needed to go to hospital, and get them there
2. That the hotel manager and guide were so willing to help, even to the point of coming with us on a 45 minute ride to hospital and stay until all the patients were sorted out, which was until 2.30am. The hotel also allowed us all to stay another night at minimal cost
3. That although I then became sick, I had recovered sufficiently to make the journey the following evening to pick up those who were then ready to be discharged from hospital
4. That the chief physician agreed to let the two boys out of hospital who had been admitted for 24 hours. If they had stayed another night, it would have been quite distressing for them and their carers (2 other team members who had to sleep on the floor and found no-one to speak English) and would have meant the team would not have seen Meteora the next day, and would have had a long and tiring day on the bus with no site visits. As a surgeon, I was able to persuade the chief physician that I would follow up the two patients the next morning (especially one who at that stage could have had early symptoms of appendicitis).
5. That on our way back to the hotel, we ‘accidentally’ met the local pharmacist doing an evening stroll and that she agreed to immediately provide the drugs we needed for the team that night and so save precious hours the following day (the hospital was in a city far in the opposite direction to our planned route). That event in itself is evidence of God’s care for us as a group and affirming what we have been doing.
Nazareth Workparties are a labour of love for me, and absorbs much of my thinking and non-medical computer time throughout the year preceding. I enjoy that, and when the huge effort by many comes to fruition it is most satisfying, especially the painting days and fund-raising efforts. I am grateful for an enthusiastic committee, supportive base-church, and for the prayers of so many Friends of Nazareth.
Merrill and I love the people of Nazareth and love to visit and encourage them. It is so much better when we are able to take a group of friends to share that experience with. The combination of Work, Travel and Learning has proved a successful formula now on 10 occasions. It was especially rewarding to share this experience with several ministers of religion and theological educators on this occasion, because the benefit they received will surely be ongoing in their lives and ministry.
The Team From Many Churches
There was a movement in Australia
For the word had passed around
That a trip to Israel was under way;
And with leaders Paul and Merrill
As examples to us all
An amazing group was gathering for the fray.
Many tried and noted painters
From churches near and far
Had packed their bags all ready for their flights,
With brushes, trays and rollers,
And clothes and gifts and prayers
We were ready for the Middle East delights
Jerusalem the Golden
Awaited us first up
Her treasures took our breath and made us faint
The Sion Sisters blessed us
With hospitality and grace
But we heard Naz’reth calling us to paint.
Week two of work saw people swap
Between our projects three
For being Naz’reth villagers had claimed some
To play at being carpenters
And women by the well
And shepherds calling sheep to quickly come
Wards and windows, beds and doors
Were sanded, cleaned and stained
Or painted as our Malcolm led the team
The catering group was brilliant
And we completed all the work
But even so we’d not run out of steam (just paint!)
Security at Tel Aviv
Strained tempers and our bags
But reaching Athens soothed our tired bod
Eleni’s guiding wowed us
About the ancient world
And we sure know much more now about the gods!
Diarrhoea and vomiting,
Coughs and colds and falls
Have cramped the style of some intrepid souls
But combining work with travel
And education too
Has meant we fell that we’ve achieved our goals
And so the Naz’reth Workparty
Is coming to an end,
With lives enriched by what we’ve seen and done
Our thanks to Paul and Merrill
And to all who’ve played their parts –
It’s just been great – and lots and lots of fun!
(Mary Lou’s composition in the style of a Banjo Paterson poem)
Reflections from the group:
Lynette Leach – We walked where Jesus walked, now we are walking where St. Paul walked. The challenge is how will we continue to walk the journey of faith when we return home? I am grateful for Merrill and Paul’s care of the team when many of us have been ill. I have recovered, but Athol is still unwell. Our visit to one of the monasteries at Meteora yesterday was particularly interesting. Situated on top of a huge rock, one of many in the remote mountains, the site was amazing in scenery and in the icon paintings in the church. Our tour of Greece has rekindled my interest in the ancient Greek legends and plays. We have an excellent tour guide in Eleni, whose commentary is lively and informative.
Ian – I live in a contemporary world but this trip has focused on the ancient. Stratas of civilisations, frameworks of belief, military and political powers, and ruins of architectural achievements. All excite the mind, stretches the imagination and leave me drowning in data and eager to read when I get home. Thanks Paul (modern and ancient) for this experience of Greece.
Jayden – It’s been pretty trippy the whole time: the (Ibillin) school was so fun and the people are so nice.
Ashleigh – It has been a long yet enjoyable trip. The people have been kind and hospitable. We will miss our new friends but will never forget them. Greece has been amazing, unfortunately we haven’t seen snow. (Snow was spotted soon after this entry was made).
Bevan Marshall – The whole journey for me has been inspirational, rewarding and tiring. I’ve appreciated the friendly attitude of first the Palestinian people and now the Greeks. The cherry on the cake for me was the send-off by the hospital staff at Nazareth. It climaxed the effort made to complete the tasks allotted to us.
Mary Lou – I thought as we left Israel that I could quite happily have flown home, so huge had been the experience working with and being entertained by the Palestinians. But Greece, and weaving St. Paul’s second journey in and out ancient Greek, pre-historic and historic sites has added another huge range of experiences. I’ve been among the fortunate who have not been ill, but thankfully most now recovering.
George Warren – What clever people they were even in ancient times, and incredibly patient. Their architecture, engineering, art and crafts were much more sophisticated than we give them credit for, How simple monks could build their stone monasteries so high on rocks is a mystery. I appreciate the ancient world so much more.
Lorraine and Graham – We will be interested to get home and see how the media has been dealing with some of the issues in this part of the world. This part of the world has been very troubled for millennia. We feel we now have a much better understanding of the people, their cultures and their histories.
Lyn and Mike – We are now travelling through Greece where we have had sun and rain and fog. Greece has some very scenic coastal areas plus some very mountainous areas. People are very friendly. Looking forward to getting home and seeing our family and friends.
Malcolm and Theresa – have enjoyed Greece immensely. Detours due to road blockages have sent us to places where tourists do not usually go. A highlight was the monasteries at Meteora. Looking forward to a sleep in and catching up with family and friends.
Paul Gahan – Yet again Paul and Merril… great organization and wisdom, care and love. Best wishes!
Lynette Leach – I was inspired when visiting the site of Lydia’s baptism in Philippi, and to realise her pivotal role in introducing St. Paul to her business network. What a woman of influence! Thanks to her, Chloe, Priscilla… and all the other women and men who were co-workers with Paul in the spread of the gospel. Their commitment paved the way for the growth of the church and is a model for us of inclusiveness, relationship and faith.
Bill and Glynnis – it is hard to believe that we have been away from home for nearly four weeks at an end. We have heard and seen so much that we will need time to just reflect on our experiences. The people we have met along the way have left their fingerprints on our hearts and therefore have not only enhanced our worldviews but also enriched our inner lives and spiritual journey. Thank you to our wonderful guides in both Israel and Greece, and a very special thank you to Paul and Merrill for their wonderful leadership, organization, care and support.
Stephen – To have the opportunity to spend this time experiencing the world of the New Testament has truly been a blessing. To have my eyes opened to the true marvels of the past. To bring to life all that I had studied and see how it is pivotal to life in Israel, Greece and the wider world is both astounding and challenging. Many thanks to Paul and Merrill for all the planning, guidance and the support before and during the trip.
Trish Bevan – My thoughts and emotions are much too full at present to write coherently about all that we have experienced in the past month, however, my heartfelt thanks to Paul and Merrill for enabling me to broaden my knowledge of the beginnings of Christianity in the company of such a marvellous group of people; for exploration of Greece; and for the opportunity of working and living as a team. Sharing briefly in the pain of some of the Palestinian people during the turmoil in Gaza was a privilege never to be forgotten.
Isaac – The trip of Greece was an amazing trip. Seeing all of the wonderful sites, from the hot weather in Athens where the Acropolis is to the tomb of Phillip. There was a lot of travelling but it was all worth it. We travelled from one side to the other. The trip of Greece was a wonderful place to visit, and one day I hope to come back and see it again.
Anonymous - I finally finished reading Blood Brothers! For those who haven’t read it I suggest you read this one. It’s an eye-opener on the life of a Palestinian Christian, Elias Chacour, who has lived an amazing life.
The evening we expected to share our last group dinner together at a restaurant booked in downtown Athens didn’t come to pass as we had hoped it would because of unhappy Greek farmers.
During most of our time in Greece, farmers have been in disagreement with the government’s position over farming subsidies, and they decided to take to the street with their tractors… or rather, they took to the highways, and each day blocked off even more stretches of highway than the day before, so that by our last full day in Greece, we were forced to drive from Thessaloniki to Athens, via the scenic route, around mountains, instead of straight down the highway. A journey of four hours doubled, and much kudos goes to our driver for his exceptional professionalism.
So our dinner in downtown Athens was cancelled and we stopped for a quick bite at a tarverna, before continuing to our accommodation for the evening where we arrived at 10pm.
All was not lost on this day. On our final day of travel, we left Thessaloniki early in the morning, in the rain, and made a couple of stops.
First stop was to see a colourful mosaic monument of St Paul in the city of Veria (Berea), where Paul and his teachings received a warm welcome. Next stop was in the township of Vergina to see the amazing underground royal tombs, one believed to be that of Alexander the Great’s father, Philip. The astonishingly well-preserved decorated facades of the chambers and the magnificent treasures found within, include many items fashioned in gold, including delicate gold-leaf wreaths; decorative pins; markings on clothing, armoury and furniture. The artefacts found in this site dazzled the group, and became a late entry highlight for some.
The drive back to Athens meant retracing our path though Meteora, where the sun had broken through the misty clouds of our previous visit, displaying spectacular views of the unusual rock formations.
The list of gratitude and thanksgiving is very long. One evening in Thessaloniki, the group expressed their appreciation to Paul and Merrill for their leadership and guidance, passion and commitment. Also recognised were Graham and Lorraine for holding the fort in Ibillin; Malcolm and Theresa, works manager and on-the-road treasurer, respectively. We never went hungry in Nazareth thanks to the efforts of Theresa, Glynnis and Gwyneth. The list goes on.
Of course, we thank you the readers for being at the other end of the screen. If you weren’t there, we’d be sending communication to the virtual nothingness, which would have been terribly lonely. Thank you for taking this journey with us. And thank you for your prayers.
And so our journey as the Nazareth Workparty 2008-9 has been fulfilled, and our individual journeys continue into the future, carrying on the legacy of previous work parties to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
Today, we ran out of sunshine. For the most part in our travels, we’ve enjoyed mild winter weather, and when there’s been the expected cold winter weather, the sun was kind enough to make an appearance. In Israel, it only properly rained on us once as we walked about the Herodium/Herodion site.
Today, it rained with determination as we explored Lydia’s Baptistry, in Philippi. Lydia is the first European baptised by the apostle Paul – a further indication of how central women are to ministry. As a businesswoman, Lydia would have been well connected (networked) to other merchants, and no doubt would have been pivotal in introducing Paul, a tentmaker, to people she knew and worked with.
The wet weather blessed our time at the baptistry, and provided us a brief and yet vivid picture of what it would have been like for apostles (and other travellers) in ancient times walking from one destination to another… we of course had umbrellas, and waterproof jackets, and thermal underwear!
The wet only lasted for the duration of our visit to the baptistry, easing a few minutes later when we visited the ruins of the Roman city of Philippi. Here we walked along a small stretch of the Via Egnatia, a road which bridged Europe with Asia, and on which Paul travelled from Philippi to Athens.
In 49 or 50 AD, Paul visited the city, accompanied by Silas, Timothy and possibly Luke. Here he preached for the first time on European soil – first to Jews, and then later to Gentiles.
Ibillin wrap-up (apologies for late post):
Ibillin is a small town in Galilee, roughly half-way between Nazareth and Haifa. Much of the reputation of this town is tied up with Mar Elias College, a school of very high standing that was set up by Elias Chacour, now Archbishop of the Melchite church here in Israel. For each of the last two weeks, about 14 people from our group have stayed in the school and enjoyed the warm hospitality of the people of Ibillin.
We are getting quite an amount of exercise, walking around the village. It is SO hilly and steep, one thinks twice before heading to the shops! As well, we have been caught out several times with the shops not being open at the times we expected. This has caused minor problems with banking and postal services.
The nights have been quite cold, the days mostly sunny and windy. Washing is no problem – providing it stays on the line on the roof of the building! We have had a really friendly reception from the people in the local shops, and the students have been almost overwhelming with their desire to talk to us as we pass across the campus. Twice we have gone out for coffee at night. Twice we have had a BBQ, with delicious “white meat”, and met with local school people.
Each group has also been on an afternoon excursion to Haifa, where we have had Abuna (Archbishop Chacour) talk with us, visited Stella Maris church on the top of Mt Carmel, seen the impressive Baha’i temple, and visited a restored Melchite church where they have set up a series of caves to tell the Christmas story as it would have been with local customs, clothes and food. It is a wonderful display and they have had something like 10,000 people through in a few weeks.
All send their love to their friends and family at home.
Our flight from Israel to Greece was uneventful, thankfully … actually the only point that warrants mentioning is that we had to get up at 2am on a Saturday morning, be on the bus at 2.30am, and at Ben Gurion airport at 3am! Our two-hour flight to Athens took off at 6am (Israel and Greece are in the same time zone).
On Friday, our last full day in Israel, we travelled south from Nazareth to Tel Aviv, via the coastal route, stopping by Caesarea and Jaffa.
Caesarea has remnants of a magnificent harbour which Herod the Great built using wooden frames that would allow concrete to harden underwater. The three-acre harbour would accommodate 300 ships of its day, and was much larger than the modern harbours which exist today.
To solve the problem of lack of fresh water in Herod’s new city, he built a lengthy aqueduct to bring water from springs at the base of Mount Carmel, nearly ten miles away. In order that water would flow by the pull of gravity, the aqueduct was built on arches and the gradient was carefully measured. Even today, it’s a structure of wonder.
And it is here, under the arches, and by the Mediterranean Sea that the group ate a picnic lunch, and then took a group photo.
In Greece, our first day was spent in Athens, with guided activities in the morning, and an opportunity for self-discovery in the afternoon. Our guide, Helen, is a history and arts scholar who guides us through sites, weaving stories of modern, ancient, really ancient, antiquity and mythological times and characters.
In Athens, we visited the Parthenon and other main buildings on this Acropolis, built in the fifth century BC.
We viewed the Parthenon from a distance, up close, and also a few metres away from Mars Hill where the Apostle Paul found the inscription, “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,” and made God known to the Athenians.
Our journey in Greece is a bit like re-tracing Paul’s initial steps, but in reverse (with the exception of Corinth, which he visited last): after Athens, we visited Corinth, and we will go to Thessaloniki and Philippi. Of course history in Greece stretches beyond the Roman Era – when Paul visited these various towns – and each town has layers upon layers of history including stories of mythology which for many years has helped to pass on history, traditions, and morals.
On Sunday, five members of the group got a taste of what it would have been like to be an Olympian, racing down the original track of ancient Olympia. In the men’s race, Ian, Isaac, Ash, and Jayden sprinted down the length of the field; while in the women’s race, Janelle, Amy and Chris ran, defying the ancient order of the games being only for men. Of course, the original Olympics were run in the nude, and (fortunately) our modern competitors did not aspire to recreate the times exactly.
On Tuesday, only a smaller number of our group were able to visit the Delphi archaeological site, after almost half of the team became suddenly unwell on Monday evening, with gastro-related issues which made its presence felt after an extremely winding road brought us to our accommodation in Arahova (a small town very near Delphi). Five people went to hospital for treatment, and two (Nathan and Jayden) were kept overnight for observation (accompanied for support by Janine and David, respectively). They are both well.
The team spent an extra night in Arahova, and we have now (all) arrived in Thessaloniki, having travelled via Meteora to visit one of the monasteries perched on cliff edges.
We will be based in Thessaloniki for the next two nights, as scheduled, before returning to Athens and beginning our journey back to Australia. Some members of the group will continue on further personal trips, and one of us has already returned to Melbourne having planned earlier only to participate in the Israel leg of the journey.
Note: Hi Gwyneth, thanks for your message, which will be read to team on the way to Filipi/Philippi and Kavala/Neopolis this morning. Glad to hear you have arrived in Melbourne, and are safe and well. In spirit, we’re still travelling with you.
Tomorrow is our last day in Nazareth and Ibillin, and we will be very sad to leave. A conflict has escalated during our time here, and our presence has been accepted as an act of solidarity by the people we have met and interacted with.
In the last few days we have painted more classrooms in Ibillin (will add to this tomorrow).
In Nazareth, another five people from the group have taken part in recreating first century life in the Nazareth village (see picture of Ian below, and more to come). Fortunately, unlike the first five to work in the Village, the second set of five haven’t had to shovel donkey manure. The second group at the Village busied themselves digging and weeding, working in carpentry and sitting on rocks by the cistern pretending to be women chatting while waiting for shepherds – and other first century potential suitors – to come by to draw water.
At Nazareth Hospital, the team have had to work “small miracles” to complete painting the final wards in the medical section, working around hospital staff and patients. Each day, the group had to strip the floor, wash it, seal it, and polish. Simultaenously, they had to clip out and re-seal all the shower alcoves. And each ward was finished in a day, ready for hospital use. The team painted three wards.
In other work completed, the group cleared the slope next to the school of nursing, and painted: windows in the nurses’ upper corridor; all the external doors on the old residence building; the doctors’ room; and two senior staff offices.
Our previous leg of travel (mentioned briefly in the blog below), took us south-west of Nazareth to Yardenit (the baptismal site on the Jordan River). Our journey continued to Beit Shean, which sits at the junction of the Jordan River Valley and the Jezreel Valley. And then to Megiddo, which is on a hill made of 26 layers of the ruins of ancient cities in a strategic location at the head of a pass through the Carmel Ridge, which overlooks the Valley of Jezreel from the south. Megiddo was a site of great importance in the ancient world, as it guarded the western branch of a narrow pass and an ancient trade route which connected the lands of Egypt and Assyria (via Maris).
Greetings from Glen to Marg, with love:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
A word on the blog
From Margaret will do