Monday, April 26, 2010

From Rome to Home

Hey y'all.

Well... Europe has successfully lived up to the majority of the expectations I had for it.  It's almost funny that it's included in a middle east cross cultural considering falafel shops, head scarfs, and the call to prayer are almost the direct opposite to quaint cafes, mini skirts, and the American rap found here.  But following the Christian movement along the Mediterrean was enough of a segway for me.

Greece was beautiful.  We spent our time in Athens and Corinth looking at ancient temples and taking in the scenery.  I hadn't realized how revolutionary the gospel was to Greeks and Romans until our studies here.  People obsessed with pleasure within the present life, building pagan temples to several different gods - these were the people Paul came to and asked for them to imagine not only life beyond this one but also belief in ONE God.  I wonder what I would have thought of him if I lived during that time.

Next we took a ferry to Italy and I quickly realized that even 4 full days in Rome is barely enough to put a dent into the city.  The colosseum, vatican, Roman forum, sistine chapel, Constantine's arch, Pieta, St. Peter's Bascillica... so many sites!  I'll just have to come back sometime so I can admire them longer :).  Our program concluded on Friday and I gladly took my final exam of college!  For our 4 days of free travel Matt, Janelle, Drew and I spent our time in Florence which was a great way to celebrate.  We saw a few more renowned sites (Michaelangelo's David, the old bridge, the Duomo) and even got out into the countryside to admire beautiful Tuscany.  It was a perfect end to our journey.

Currently I am counting down the hours until we return!  I have so enjoyed every bit of this trip and being away has reminded me just how blessed I am for the wonderful family and friends in my life.
Thanks for jumping on this adventure with me.  If you want to hear more about it I'd love to talk with you middle eastern style (a table, lots of time, tea, treats, and laughter).

Peace, Salam, Shalom,

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blisters and Bye-byes

In just over an hour I'll be headed to Tel Aviv to catch a plane to Greece.  It's hard to believe our time in Israel has come to a close.  This beautiful land has sustained me for 2 months - It's given me food and water and air to breathe.  It's people have opened their doors with welcoming arms, they've taught, enlightened, and explained.  I've seen examples of intense love as well as painful injustice.  This country begets questions from answers and is full of people dying to live.  It's also given me a front row seat into the Biblical narrative. Just this last week our group had the opportunity to walk the Jesus Trail.  The trail took us from Nazareth to Capernaum on foot.  It stretches over 40 miles and winds through fields, orchards, and villages.  Our time on the trail has definitely been one of my highlights of the whole trip.  What takes up 1 verse in the Bible, "Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum" took us 4 days!  It's safe to say my feet are tow-up.  But it was great following a route similar to the one Jesus would have traveled.  Also, our time hiking allowed for some serious processing of the things we've seen since coming here.

In talking about the Jesus Movement Linford has emphasized that like any other movement it should have died down following Jesus' death.  Clearly it didn't.  Something about His message has a third of the entire world's population on board.  As we make our way around the Mediterranean Sea we'll now be focusing on Paul's journey and the spread of the gospel.  If anyone knows Linford, you know that he has a few things to say about Paul.  I can't wait to soak up all that is left to learn in these last 2 weeks.

Thanks for following!

Saturday, April 3, 2010


 I'd love to give you just a few snapshots into my world over the past 2 weeks...

Last week our grouped stayed on a Kibbutz (more or less a self-sustaining Jewish community).  We offered our services in return for food and shelter.  Me and some other friends worked with the cows which consisted of a 6am wake-up call and a can-do attitude.  Much to our surprise the first day working around the farm we were whisked away to witness the birth of a calf.  Ow.  The Kibbutz members fittingly named the tiny heifer "emu."  Pretty exciting aside from the fact that it was a male cow which loosely translates into beef, better than veal I guess.

Shabbat is no joke around these parts.  Shabbat is the Christian equivalent of the Sabbath.  Unfortunately our Sunday's don't end up looking too different from the rest of the week.  But here, Jews (both observant and non observant) begin preparing for Shabbat (Saturday) on Friday night.  They cook all the meals they will need for the next day and once it's sun down they aren't allowed to drive, write, or even turn on a light.
We also are currently in the Jewish festival of Passover.  Passover is when the Jews remember being brought out of slavery in Egypt and into the promise land.  Tradition holds that no sliver, crumb, or even morsel of leavened bread is allowed to be within the house, alluding to their ancestors rush to leave Egypt.  Jews all over purge their house of pita, cereal, crackers, anything with yeast.  They completely clear out the house and sweep every corner, wash windows, clean in between books. It's nuts.  Observing the Jewish lifestyle has taught me just as much as being lectured on it.

We are now currently living in Nazareth.  Our studies are now talking about the Jesus Movement which is cool because Jesus spent 90% of His life here.  We are volunteering in Nazareth Village which is a mock town of 1st Century living.  It's complete with a well, wine press, watchtower, oil press, synagogue, and 1st century home.  And best of all, when we work there we get to dress is 1st century garb.  I don't have a plug to upload pics here but you can check out Nazareth Village Photos if you're dying to see.

We also have a photo team on the trip that uploads pictures to the EMU website if you want to check them out - EMU Cross Cultrual Albums 

Our trip is definitely on the downhill.  I still have a lot to see and learn but I'm already so looking forward to seeing everyone back home and talking face to face.  Love y'all!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The more I learn the less I know!

I'm back in Jersalem safe and sound from free travel.  Top five most memorable moments of spring break include...
5-Staying with a Jewish family in a settlement
4-Renting and driving a car in Israel, enough said.
3-Swimming by a huge waterfall deep in a valley
2-Sharing life with Ruthie, Becca, and Janelle, and playing foolish amounts of cardgames
1-Snorkeling in the Red Sea!

Right now we're staying at Ecce Homo, a convent within the old city.  We live about 100 ft from the Dome of the Rock.  So, we're staying in a Christian convent in the Muslim quarter and learning about Judaism, hmm...

The more I learn the less I know!  Each question that professors, historians, rabbis, and the like attempt to answer simply raise several more questions.  There's so much to learn here, unending amounts of information regarding history, land, modern conflict, and religion.  Beyond the education I'm getting just from being a cross cultural "local" our lectures this week have been ridiculously interesting.  We're talking about Jewish identity and roots.  We visited the Israeli Holocaust museum which was definitely an experience going through it alongside Jews.  We've also been taking a hard look at the old testament attempting to sift through it with a Jewish lens and then seeing it with the perspective of Christ.  Last night we explored the underground walls of the temple mount and talked about the importance of the temple within Jewish life. 

Because our faith is derived out of Jewish traditions and identity I naturally have so many questions.  My Dad said to me once - life has a lot of grey, our role is to sift through it the best we can.  Whether all my questions are answered or not I've fallen in love with the rabbonic way of teaching.  All the rabbis we have met this week engage us in the lesson by asking us questions and forcing us to think and react to knowledge.  In contrast to being spoon fed and later regurgitating we are having conversations and internalizing what we see and hear.  We're learning a small bit of Hebrew - one of my favorite words so far is "havruta" more or less it means studying in pairs (the root "haver" being friend).  The way the rabbi explained it was that it's the opposite of a library.  When Jews study scripture they get together in pairs and question/argue/challenge the text and each other.  It gets loud and heated and interesting. Very fun.  I hope I keep questioning, not that I will live a lifetime in doubt, but shoot I have a lot to learn.

After Monday we're headed back to the Galilee region to work on a Kibbutz.  I'm hoping to get the job of milking cows.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sea for yourself!

Our time at Jerusalem University College has come to a close.  We spent the last 4 days in the Galilee region looking at some Old Testament and several New Testament sites.  Since pictures say a thousand words I'll let you take a look at some of my adventures from the past week...

Amanda watching the sunset over the Sea of Galilee

 Nimrod's castle on top of a mountain peak
(ideal location for a game of hide and seek)
Basalt ruins of Korazin - An ancient Galilean city
Mount of Beatitudes - 
Where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount
(Matthew 5-7)

Typical scene, studying maps and history
What I do when I'm not studying

 We just finished our final exam with JUC which means it is Spring Break baby!  Janelle, Ruthie, Becca and I will be renting a car and heading back up to the sea.  We'll be staying in a cabin near Arbel and hitting up the hiking trails nearby.  About mid week we'll go to Eilat which is all the way at the southern tip of Israel along the Red Sea.  We're hoping to snorkel; it's boasted 3rd best in the world!

It's hard to believe I'm already halfway through our program.  Thanks for jumping into this journey with me.  And thanks for all the support and  encouragement you've given me.  Y'alls emails and notes keep me going!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I hear Jerusalem bells a ringing

Hello Jerusalem.  I'm now studying at Jerusalem University College atop Mt. Zion.  We've turned our focus from the conflict of the land to it's historical geography.  I literally am sleeping right outside the old city walls of Jerusalem.  We spend our days exploring the land on foot, learning it's twist and turns and seeing how it has changed over time.  

The city of Jerusalem (I'm living just to the left of this picture)

We spent a day visiting Old Testament sites of Jerusalem including David's city, Hezekiah's tunnel, the Western Wall, and the temple mount.  We also looked at New Testament sites like the pools of Bethesda and the church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Even with the month of time we will spend in this city we could never get around to exploring all it has to offer.

The rest of our week we have spent studying the southern Levant (Israel).  One of my favorite moments of our packed week was while we were looking over the Elah valley.    "Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Socoh in Judah. They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Socoh and Azekah. Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them."  I gazed up from the Scripture to see the hill of Socoh on my right while we stood on Azekah.  Where I'm standing overlooked the actual site of the epic battle between David and Goliath.  All those little details in the Bible that I used to skim over are now being anchored to land.  This same scene has happened over and over this week with Samson in the Sorek valley and Joshua in Jericho and David at En Gedi.  Very sweet for a visual person like me.

  Janelle and I reenacting David and Goliath by the Elah Valley

We just got back from a 2 day trip down to the Negev.  Ironically for the desert, we've been poured on almost everyday of our field studies.  It's funny seeing all of us covered in rain gear with nothing but our eyes and nose peeking out of our hoods, hugging our notes to keep them from getting wet.  But we're keeping our spirits high!  
Well.. it's time for me to go study for our exam tomorrow.  Yeah, I'm still in school, I forget sometimes too.

Overlooking the Judean Hills 

By the Makhtesh canyon in the Negev

 Some friends and I by the Dead Sea, after a float!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Saturated.  I feel complete immersed into culture here, which is exactly what I was hoping for.  I'm speaking broken Arabic with locals, eating delicious Palestinian meals in a home, building relationships, and getting dust all over my feet.  And amidst all this I'm feeling the sorrow and pain of these people as much as I'm able. 

A typical day here involves Arabic class at 8 followed by lectures which range from Palestinian literature, to history, to Isalm.  We've also taken several fields trips this week to the cities of Hebron, Nablus, and East Jerusalem.  We visited refugee camps, Herodium, and some local universities. We even took a whole day to hike the Wadi Qelt valley to Jericho.  But everywhere we go I'm reminded of the reality of these people.  Checkpoints, road blocks, walls, Israeli soldiers demanding ID...  These people try to live their lives as normal as possible but from what I've witnessed, it seems near impossible.  Things we never give a second thought to are huge obstacles to daily life.  Will we have water this month?  Will they stop importing food or health supplies without reason?  Will we hit a checkpoint that may hold us for hours?  All these are valid questions asked everyday.
Graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem

Our trip to Hebron was eye opening and devastating.  Hebron is the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank.  Although it is very much within the green line dividing Israel and Palestine, Israeli military has taken over the heart of the city.  Settlers (many of which come from America) will perch themselves on top of a home and slowly take over.  A place where half a million Palestinians live appeared to be a ghost town.  Hebron is known for placing curfews on the Palestinians.  Not a curfew as in be home by 12, or even off the streets by 10, but a 24 hour curfew requiring everyone to stay in their homes at all times.  No working, no schooling, no shopping for basic needs. A man named Hashim was gracious enough to let us enter his home and hear his story.  Hashim's house has been attacked several times, yet the only form of resistance that he uses is to stay put.  He refuses to leave his home and rightfully so.  For this reason Hashim has experienced violent retaliation in ways I cannot fathom.  Just a few years ago it came time for his pregnant wife to give birth.  Because of the destruction surrounding his house he is forced to snake through beaten pathways to enter or leave his home.  He carried his wife down to the street where he was approached by a soldier.  "Why the hell are you outside?" the soldier demanded.  Hashim explained that he was taking his wife to the hospital because she was in labor.  "Stop messing with me, you Palestinians are always lying."  He begged and pleaded with the soldier to let him pass to which he responded, "go home, and let your wife die there."  Hashim's wife miscarried their child, this is the second child she's lost, the first she lost when she was beaten by local settlers.

In light of my time here, I would rate this story low on shock value.  Many of the things I have heard and seen are too raw and painful to even put into words.  All of us on this trip are finding it hard to know what our role is as young Americans.  And in many ways all we are asked to do is tell the truth.  Let people know the things we are seeing and hearing.  Let people know that there are educated, beautiful people living in this land.  People that laugh, joke, cry, people with skin, with beliefs and thoughts.  I passed a wall the other day where a settler had written, "Gas the Arabs."  I didn't know if I should cry, yell, or get sick.

I understand that I am very much immersed in one side of the conflict.  And please understand that I am in no way generalizing the Jewish or Israeli population.  These attacks on Palestinians are coming mainly from a much smaller minority of extreme Zionist.  I will have a long time to talk and hear about the Israeli stance while I spend the next month outside of Palestine.  But what we need here is a call for humanity.  On a more personal note, I've been challenged to ask myself if I see all people with untainted eyes.  As equals, as brothers and sisters.  Disregarding ethnicity, ability or disability, class, personality.  I think we judge and react irrationally a lot more often than we'd like to believe.  All people deserve to love and to be loved.

On a lighter note... we planted 200 olive trees the other day.  And it was awesome.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Beit Sahour - "House of Shepherds"

Silent anticipation built as we left Jordan and entered Israel. We curved and climbed and went through a tunnel and then there it was, the old city of Jerusalem. We stopped near the Mt. of Olives and overlooked the land. Olive trees, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock, palm trees, sheep, the garden of Gethsemane, and in the distance beyond Bethlehem was Beit Sahour. This would be our home for the next few weeks. We loaded the bus again to travel the 4 miles from Jerusalem into Palestine. As we crested a hill our eyes met the wall. A 26 ft high, grey, concrete wall separating states, religions, and cultures. We had a rather effortless entry due to a push for international tourism. But we watched on as the adjacent checkpoint was lined with Palestinians attempting to enter back to their homes by foot.
We arrived and were met with open arms into our host families. I am living in Beit Sahour with a wonderful family that gives a whole new meaning to hospitality. They have 5 girls - quite a difference for someone with 3 brothers! Life goes on here as usual: homework, sports, laughter, whining, sibling rivalry, meals, bedtimes... I feel so privileged to get a glimpse into something Americans often hold so private. These people would open their house to all of EMU if we could fit.

It's been less than a week since we've arrived, and Beit Sahour has quickly become to me a place of paradox. This land is full of questions and answers, pain and joy, belief and struggle.
Among lectures and Arabic lessons we made a trip to the Church of the Nativity, the traditional site of Jesus' birth. Speaking of paradox; the creator of the world came to us as a baby! My view on the character of Christ continues to expand. There is something special about this land and there are no easy answers to the conflict that saturates it. The more we learn the more complicated it seems. But I'm reminded of Isaiah 55:8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. My trust is in the Lord and His ability to reconcile all things.
Overlooking an Israeli settlement in Bethlehem.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Playing in a Sandbox

Hello Everyone!

It's been a while since my last update because I have been in the desert!  And the desert is a desolate, dry, beautiful place.  After visitng Luxor, Egypt we crossed from Africa into Asia and headed toward the Sinai wilderness.  We arrived early afternoon and geared up to climb Mt. Sinai.  This needs to be said; Moses was a stud.  I naively thought that my sherpa and backpacking days would have prepared me well for a day hike, but it was hard.  And to imagine Moses didn't have a well laden path to follow.  One thing is for sure, our God is a God of adventure.  Climbing to the top was a dangerous, captivitating adventure.  If God had chose He could have handed Moses the ten commandments while he was safely on the ground, but no, He called him to the very top of a rugged mountain. 

After singing at the top and watching the sunset we came down the moutain and spent the night near Saint Catherines monastery (the oldest in the world).  The following day we crossed the Red Sea (by ferry, not foot) into Jordan.  We spent a day in Petra and then went into the Wadi Rum desert.  And when I say into I mean literally into the middle of the desert.  We stayed at a Bedouin camp, sleeping under the stars in Bedouin tents.  This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip I was most looking forward to.  Our first day there we took an off roading jeep ride through the desert making a few stops to climb rocks, run over sand dunes, and explore caves.  We ate delicious Bedouin lamb cooked by burying it with coals and allowing the sand to conduct its heat.  Yesterday we rode camels nearly the whole day.  My inner thighs can attest to it.  I have a whole new outlook on the Israelities!  Although I didn't complain, after a week of camel riding, hot sun, and limited water, you can bet I'd be tempted to whine.  To think that the Israelites spent 40 years in this desert...

Saturday, January 23, 2010


When we got to Egypt we hit the ground running and haven't stopped.  The days are filled with visiting sites and stuffing our brains full of knowledge and insight.  This clearly is the most touristy portion of our time in the middle east.  I'm reminded of that everytime we pull up to an ancient excavation and Samir our tour guide exclaims, "LOTUS, shall we go now?"  (Lotus being our affectionate signature name he uses to rally the group).  Don't get me wrong, I love following our guide who permanately holds up a small Egyptian flag to lead the way as we push our way through crowds of Chinese women in visors... but as our time in Egypt winds down I'm deifnitely looking forward to settling in with a host family in Palestine where I can be treated more like a human. 

After visitng ancient catacombs (underground tombs) and a Roman theatre in Alexandria we headed back south for Anaphora.  With what I had already seen I anticipated another city bustling with people and incessant horns.  Much to my surprise Linford anounced we're here as we pulled up to a secluded dirt road with a gate reading "Anaphora."  The gate opened and we followed the dusty road past beautiful flowers, olive trees, orange groves, and rounded tan buildings.  Oh, aparently Anaphora is a monastery and a piece of heaven on earth.  Instantly when we stepped off the bus a sense of peace enveloped us.  We spent the next 48 hours drinking gallons of tea, watching sunrises and sunsets, listening to Bishop Thomas share, and eating delicious organic food.  Not too shabby.

Our two days in the coptic orthodox haven was exactly what we needed before we took a sleeper train to Luxor.  Our group is beginning to feel the wear of so much travel but we're also starting to rely on each other as a support system and meshing really well.  Thanks for the prayers. 
Sarah Dem

Monday, January 18, 2010

Walk like an Egyptian

Hello Friends and Family!

We've safely arrived in Cairo, Egypt.  And you'll be happy to know I passed my first exam, which was crossing the 6-lane street.  Life is wild here! It's similar to NYC except it's been around since 3200 BC. 

Yesterday we visited the ancient pyramids and sphix.  I'm so strong I could hold it up with one hand.  The desert here is beautiful, miles and miles of sand.  Egypt has 95% of it's population living on 5% of the land, it's amazing how bold the difference is between the green near the nile (where everyone lives) to the sand of the desert 

Today we went to Coptic Orthodox (ancient Egyptian Christian) part of Egypt.  We visited several chuches and even saw the place where Mary, Jospeh, and Jesus fled for a while after they left Bethlehem (Matthew 2).  After that we went to the Egyptian History Museum.  Egyptian civilization is only 5000 some years old, so they didn't have too much to tell us.  haha.  yeah right the museum was FILLED with huge stone statues that were from 2700 BC and on.  We learned all about the Pharohs of the old, middle, and new kingdoms.  The most impressive part of the museum was the room of the mummies.  I saw a dozen or so of ancient Pharoh mummies including Ramses II and Merenptah both of which Moses likely encountered.  Their hair, eyelashes, and fingernails were still intact.  Super creepy... and absolutely incredible. 

We're headed to Alexandria tomorrow and then down to Luxor. Thank you so much for all your prayers.  The Lord is already teaching me wonderful things about Himself. 

Sarah Dem

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Follow M.E.

In 8 days I'll be boarding a plane to take me halfway across the world.  I'm studying abroad with 30 others students from EMU all around the Middle East.  The first stop is Cairo, Egypt where we'll explore the pyramids, Islamic & Orthodox Cairo, the Nile, and Mt. Sinai to name a few.  It's still a little unreal that this trip is happening, especially after having been so blessed to visit Israel this last May.  When you got to this site you may have asked yourself, what is Sarah doing in the doorway of that stone building?  You probably didn't ask that, but I'll tell you anyway... that pic was taken at the Garden Tomb which is a claimed site of Jesus' burial.   It's been slightly renovated since Christ's time, but inside you can see the place where Jesus' body would have lay and as you exit a sign that says, "He is not here - For He is risen."  

If there is one thing I learned from my 2 week stint in Israel it was that Jesus does not reside in buildings and monuments but is just as real right HERE as He is there.  Although, my knowledge of the Lord has changed and I'm sure will be rocked again on this trip.  My hope is that you who decide to jump on some or all of the journey with me will be blessed as well.  We'll be traveling a lot, so I won't know until I'm there how frequent I'll be able to post, but if you'd like to stay in the loop my Dad will be sending an email out whenever I update.  To be added to that list just email

Love y'all so much!  Thanks for your support.