Sunday, June 29

We began today retracing the steps of Jesus from his condemnation under Pontius Pilate, his torture by the Roman soldiers, and his journey to the site of the crucifixion. We walked the key stations of the Via Dolorosa or “Way of Sorrows” in the Old City of Jerusalem. Before continuing on to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (built over the sites of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb), we attended the English language worship service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. The service took place in a chapel built by the Crusaders in the middle ages. The Rev. Fred Harms led the service, an old friend of Gordon and Nancy Mikoski’s from their days as pastors in the Grosse Pointe suburb of Detroit. Many of us found the prayers, hymns, Scripture, sermon, and Communion helpfully orienting after a whirlwind of activities and struggles with jet lag.

After worship with the Lutherans, we walked a few steps to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in order to pray in the most important church in all of Christianity. The feeling of awe at being in such an important place was mixed with some disorientation due to the different aesthetic sensibilities of the six Christian traditions that claim parts of the church and due to the crowds of pilgrims from around the world that seemed to grow with every passing quarter hour.

We got back on the bus to travel the twenty minutes from Jerusalem back to the Bethlehem area in order to have a traditional Arabic kebob lunch in a restaurant shaped like a Bedouin tent. Each table had eight Arabic salads from which to choose followed by chicken and lamb kebobs. We finished the meal by enjoying sips of Arabic coffee and bites of baklava. After lunch, we had the opportunity to do some shopping at a handicraft and gift store run by 36 Palestinian Christian families from the Bethlehem area.

We ended the afternoon with a visit to the Efrat Jewish settlement. A man named Ardie Geldman met with us and shared perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the vantage point of Jewish settlers or “pioneers” in the “disputed territory” of the West Bank. We appreciated his willingness to share his views and to entertain our questions. He had particular interest in the fact that we are Presbyterians and he knew about the recent decisions taken by the PCUSA General Assembly in Detroit two weeks ago on the issue of divestment. We had a frank and respectful exchange of views on this and several other matters related to the conflict. This experience gave us a radically different point of view that that which we heard while visiting with a young Palestinian man in the Daheishe Refugee Camp (also near Bethlehem). The views of these two men on the nature, causes, and future trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not have been more different.

Back at the hotel just before dinner we had a brief visit from the Rev. Kate Taber, the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker in Israel and Palestine. This 2009 graduate of Princeton Seminary (and one of Gordon’s former students) offered very helpful and clarifying perspectives on what we have experienced and heard over the past three days. Her husband works for the Carter Center in Atlanta and is an expert on Israel-Palestine policy. While we did not meet him, we could tell that the two of them understand in considerable detail the complexity, challenges, and possibilities of the situation here.

After another very ample dinner at the hotel, we enjoyed time for worship and group processing about the experiences of the day. Tomorrow we will begin the day at 7:00 a.m. with a visit to the Western or Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, followed by a visit to the two mosques on the top of the Temple Mount (one of which is the iconic golden dome). We will then go to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemene.

— Gordon Mikoski