Happy New Year from the Jesus Trail Team! – 2010 Reflections and 2011 Goals

2010 has been a big year for the Jesus Trail!  Thanks to all volunteers, friends and supporters of the trail who have helped to spread the word, come to hike the trail and offered words of encouragement.  We stand amazed at the way the Jesus Trail has been able to grow and be a blessing to a wide variety of people.

Highlights of 2010

  • February: We began offering self-guided tours on the trail to provide support and logistics for hikers and generate revenue for continued trail development.  Over 300 people from 17 countries walked the trail on a self-guided tour package in 2010, with an estimate of more than 1000 hikers using the trail in 2010.
  • March: The Jesus Trail Guidebook was published at the peak of the spring hiking season.  We have received great reviews and are currently reprinting more books for 2011.
  • May: Jesus Trail cofounder David Landis and guidebook coauthor Anna Dintaman were married in Virgnia, USA
  • October: The new improved Jesus Trail website was launched, including new public information on GPS tracks for over 300km of trails, comprehensive bus schedules for the Galilee and more in depth practical and historical information on sites in the Galilee

2010 News articles

Goals for 2011

  • Through tour packages and book sales, for Jesus Trail to become financially sustainable, with enough revenue to employ full-time staff and continue to invest in local communities on a larger scale.
  • To clean up garbage problems on the trail and promote environmental education and responsibility in local communities.
  • To welcome as many new hikers to the trail as possible; we anticipate that at least 2,000 will walk a section of the trail.
  • To partner with the global church and in maintaining and promoting the Jesus Trail.
  • To collaborate with university groups to use the Jesus Trail as an education tool.
  • To post weekly blogs on the Jesus Trail website on topics of interest in the region.
  • To build partnerships and connections to other trails in the region, and find ways to extend the Jesus Trail hiking network beyond the Galilee.

What about you? What are your New Year’s goals and resolutions?

Maybe 2011 could be your year of transformational travel! We hope to see you on the trail!

Christmas in Bethlehem

Asked to be Mary and Joseph at Nazareth Village, we donned first-century garb in the city where, two thousand years ago, the real Mary and Joseph began a journey towards a person who would bring peace on earth.

Looking forward to the celebration of Jesus’ birth, Betsy and I made our way to Joseph, Mary, and soon-to-be-born Jesus’ destination: Bethlehem.  Though we went the easy way by bus this time, we talked about what it would be like to do it again the “real way”—by foot on the 11-day, 160 kilometer Nativity Trail, from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  “Maybe we can borrow a donkey and some first century outfits from our friends at Nazareth Village….”  And as we thought further of how it could be as realistic as possible, the age-old question struck us again: “What must this epic journey have been like for a pregnant woman?!”

Crossing at a checkpoint, we walked along the wall—with messages hopeful for peace—and onto the main street, passing “David’s Well.”  What an awe-inspiring thing to be in the humble “town of David,” so close to mighty Jerusalem on one side and the mighty Herodion on the other.  Would the kings of the world ever bring peace to these lands?  The angels sang instead of a baby in a manger that would bring peace to all peoples.

Rounding a bend and climbing a hill past a mosque, we crossed a square and bent down to enter the massive Church of the Nativity, said to be “the oldest standing church in the country.”  I was fascinated by the story explaining its longevity:

When the Persians invaded in AD 614, they destroyed every Christian church and monastery in the land except this one.  Legend holds that the church was adorned with a wall painting depicting the Nativity tale, including the visit to the infant Jesus by the Three Wise Men of the East.  For the local artist, “east” meant Persia (modern-day Iran), and he dressed his wise men in Persian garb.  The Persian conquerors did not understand the picture’s significance, but “recognized” themselves in the painting and so spared the church. (Fodor’s)

As I pondered this story, I thought of how the Wise Men lead all of us who are seeking in a similar way for Jesus’ light from the far places of the world.  Like Betsy and I, many of the Jesus Trail hikers we have met here have also come great distances to be changed in the places Jesus first breathed, walked, and changed the world.

The Persian soldiers, in their turn, lead us to imagine ourselves in the midst of this world-changing event, with all its strangeness and bewilderment.  Perhaps they wondered, “Why would these respectable men from our land bow and bring gifts to a little baby in this land?  The circumstances of this story must have been very unusual!”  I wonder if any of them looked back to see the church still standing behind them on the hillside, a huge monument to a little baby.

Just below Bethlehem we sought out Beit Sahour, the place of the angelic announcements to “shepherds in their fields nearby.”  Unsure if we found the right place or not, we nevertheless found a genuine shepherd watching his goats and some farmers plowing and sowing on the terraced hillsides with a donkey, just as they would have done in the first century!  Waving to them as we hiked up through their fields, we left Bethlehem—like the Wise Men—by another route.

Back to Jesus’ childhood town of Nazareth to take part in local Christmas celebrations (see details below)…

(photos by Philip & Betsy)

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Photos from the Shepherds’ Fields in the town of Beit Sahour,
on the outskirts of Bethlehem

Nazareth Village Christmas Program

For ten years, Nazareth Village has invited those of all ages to delight in the wonder of Christ’s birth. We invite you and your family to come and celebrate the first Christmas with us. Walk with Mary and Joseph as they search for a room. Reach out and pat a donkey, sing carols of good news, feel the joy and longing experienced two thousand years ago. We welcome you to join us December 21-23 or 28-30, 2010 at 5:30pm or 7pm for a journey into the true meaning of Christmas.

TOURS BY BOOKING ONLY! – To book call 04-6456042 or email booking@nazarethvillage.com

Ticket prices:

  • 30 NIS per adult
  • 20 NIS per child over 5
  • 100 NIS per family

Nazareth Christmas Activities

Thursday, December 23

  • 18:00 – Annual reception hosted by the Tourism Ministry and the Mayor of Nazareth with the leaders of the Christian churches ambassadors and other public dignitaries in the Salesian Church. In the program: a special Christmas concert conducted by Imad Abu Sinai with guest singer Georgit Nofi.

Christmas Eve, December 24

  • 15:00 – Traditional parade of thousands of youth from youth movements, together with the leaders of the Christian communities, through Paul XI Street, Nazareth’s main street.
  • 17:00 – Fireworks display, sponsored by the Tourism Ministry, to announce the opening of the festive Christmas celebrations
  • 19:30 – The Christmas Mass in the Church of the Annunciation, in the presence of Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Patriarchal Vicar for Israel.

Christmas Day, December 25

Mass in all the Catholic Churches. The first Mass in the Church of the Annunciation will take place at 07:00. A festive Mass will take place at 10:00 in the presence of the Custodian of the Holy Land or Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo.

For Christmas events in Bethlehem, click here to visit this month’s events from Visit Palestine.

Hiking the Nativity Trail from Nazareth to Bethlehem

Hiking the Nativity Trail near ZibabdeThe Bible is full of epic journeys.  At the Jesus Trail, we often talk about the many walks Jesus took in the Galilee, but his first long-distance expedition took place before he wan even born.

Over 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They likely traveled with a caravan of other travelers, perhaps with others returning for the census for the safety and companionship of traveling in numbers.  We don’t know exactly what route they took—perhaps the shorter but more demanding walk along the trade route through the center of the region, or perhaps the flatter way through the Jordan River Valley.  Regardless of the route, the approximately 100-mile trip would have taken them 8-10 long days of walking.  This must have been a scary journey for young, pregnant Mary.

While we celebrate the birth of Jesus in December, some scholars believe it is more likely that he was born in September, so Mary and Joseph may have journeyed in the oppressive heat of July or August.

Today, visitors to the Middle East can walk this route for themselves, and encounter beautiful views, rural villages, olive fields, hospitable local people and, yes, even Samaritans.  This route is called the Nativity Trail, and was developed by Palestinians as part of the Bethlehem 2000 Project as a tourism and economic development project.  The trail began in Nazareth, hometown of Mary, and stretched straight down through the West Bank to Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth.

Sadly, shortly after the trail was inaugurated, the second intifada and subsequent closures and checkpoints made the trail almost impossible to walk from 2002-2008.  In 2008, the trail was revived with an altered route to avoid new settlement areas and other obstacles.  The trail also now usually begins in Faqu’a in the northern Palestinian Territories rather than Nazareth because of the logistical difficulties of movement between Israel and the West Bank.

Groups are now hiking this route again with guided tours co-sponsored by Siraj Center for Holy Land Studies and the Alternative Tourism Group from Beit Sahour.  The ten-day walk includes visiting ancient ruins, walking through picturesque valleys, taking in views of biblical landscapes, experiencing village hospitality with local families, eating delicious local delicacies and camping out Bedouin-style under the stars.

The trail also leads walkers to the famous city of Jericho, now celebrating it’s 10,000th anniversary, known as the place where Jesus was tempted in the desert and also home to some of the oldest ruins in the world.  Walkers visit Mar Saba and Nebi Mousa, two monasteries in starkly beautiful Judean hills.  The final destination is Bethlehem, where guests can visit the fields where the shepherds heard of Jesus’ birth, as well as visit the traditional site where Mary is said to have given birth.

We walked most of this route in 2008 and were amazed at the beautiful rural landscapes and the potential of the trail to economically support local villages.  The Jesus Trail team has mapped out a trail that connects Nazareth to the Jalame checkpoint in the northern West Bank (see J26 and J27 on the Jesus Trail website).  In the future, we hope to work together to assist walkers through the Galilee section and hand them off at the checkpoint to their Palestinian guides.

Nazareth is the point of intersection of the Nativity Trail and the Jesus Trail, and already some walkers have walked the two trails back-to-back.  In 2011, we plan to offer tour packages that include both of these remarkable pilgrimage trails, recalling to mind these epic biblical journeys and inviting modern sojourners to enter the ancient story and meet the modern people of the region.

This Christmas we remember Mary and her journey of faith, and the message of her son which continues to transcend borders and call followers to the challenges and rewards of the faith journey.

Links:

Mary's Journey of Hope

Artwork from Nazareth's Basilica of the AnnunciationBefore Jesus walked the trail between Nazareth and Capernaum, Mary walked around her small world of Nazareth. Around two thousand years ago, Christians believe Mary was given an important invitation at Nazareth. Mary was invited to give birth to the Son of God. In first-century Nazareth, Mary’s unexpected pregnancy would have been a great source of shame for her and her family, potentially even leading to execution. Mary chose to answer the invitation, however, with the words, “May it be to me as you will.” In a time soaked with political and societal fear, Mary made a decision that would send her soaring into history as a saint for thousands of years.

Today visitors from around the world come and visit the Basilica of the Annunciation to remember the amazing journey Mary chose to travel. Enormous beyond Mary’s ability to comprehend, the Basilica looms over present-day Nazareth. The whole world gathers to see unique mosaics donated by various countries, which line the walls of the Basilica and its courtyard. Pilgrims and worshipers, sightseers and historians, gather on the site that has been holy to millions for centuries. They gather to ponder Mary’s decision to trust God, to seek hope when there seemed to be so little.

Hope still fills the vaults of the Basilica as many gather to celebrate the Advent of Jesus. Many languages whisper awe and worship as visitors gather to contemplate the decisions of Mary and of Jesus. The immensity of the Basilica stands not only as a paradox to a young girl who chose to hope, but also as a memorial to hope itself.

Trash Fire Causes Worst Wild Fires in Israel’s History

Wildfires on Mount Carmel, a scant 25 miles from Nazareth, have been raging out of control for some three days.  We walked out to Mount Precipice on Thursday evening and could see the smoke curling up in the distance. Our friends living in Haifa fear evacuation from their homes.

Over 17,000 people have been evacuated from the Mt. Carmel area including the outskirts of Haifa, and 42 have been confirmed dead, mostly from a bus that caught fire en route to evacuating prisoners from a prison in the line of the fire.  While there have been rumors that this tragedy is a terrorist or arsonist attack, the latest reports suggest that the fire was caused by a routine (but illegal) trash fire from an improvised landfill.

We are saddened by this tragic event, and sobered to think how many more fires could be started by the problem of improper trash disposal, improvised land fills, and trash burning.  Along the first day of the Jesus Trail, we are working with local municipalities and volunteers to try to quell the spread of unsightly and dangerous trash dumps.  We can’t even imagine the devastating consequences if areas of the Jesus Trail would catch fire, not only endangering the environment of this area of global heritage, but also profoundly impacting the lives of our friends and partners along the trail who could lose their homes and livelihoods.

Donate today to support our efforts of trash cleanup and environmental education in the Galilee.  Join us and people of all faiths in the region in praying for rain.  View more information at: http://jesustrail.com/about/cleaning-the-jesus-trail.

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