I’ve just returned from my fifth trip to Israel– the land that is holy to many religions. The sights, sounds, and even smells of the place speak to the unique ways that people worship here. The Christians praying over the traditional anointing stone of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre– touching scarves, special tokens, and even their children to it for blessing, the Jews on their way to the Kotel (Western Wall) for prayers, and the excitement as the sun goes down and the Muslims are able to break their Ramadan fast. The fervency with which each religion worships and believes is part of what makes this city so unlike any other place.
For me, the draw of this place is being where Jesus walked. To sit in the area of the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that Jesus prayed there, watching the guards coming for Him. To visualize how Jesus could see the soldiers with torches coming for him in the dark of the night, from the Antonia Fortress, down to the Kidron Valley and up the Mount of Olives to the Garden where He often prayed with His disciples. And to realize that He stayed there to fulfill the sacrifice required by God so that we could become right with Him is emotional and makes the Mount of Olives my favorite place to be.
And to sit in the garden at Gordon’s Calvary, listening to the worship of people from around the world, an overflow of gratitude for an empty tomb, I get a glimpse of heaven. Different backgrounds, languages, and ethnicities, and yet, family in faith.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land four times with a tour group on a spiritual pilgrimmage, traveling from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem, following Jesus’ footsteps. But this trip was different.
I spent 16 days in Jerusalem on an archaeological dig outside Zion Gate. I rented an awesome room in the Jewish Quarter from Airbnb, and set out to find something awesome. Recently having watched the Indiana Jones series for the first time, his adventures were fresh in my mind. Visions of the Ark of the Covenant and the Holy Grail danced in my head when I boarded the flight to the Middle East.
Here’s what Indiana Jones doesn’t tell you about archaeology: the hours are LONG (5:30am-2pm), there are no boulders chasing you (but I did have to jump out of the way of some heavy, swinging buckets), and the work is HARD (think pick-axing, hoeing, and carrying buckets). You can watch us do some some light pick-axing here.
A few more things I didn’t expect going into it:
1. The adrenaline rush at discovering something new (I found a coin! Not a huge discovery, but for me, it was the highlight of my dig!). After I found the coin, I also managed to find every other coin-shaped piece of dirt, rock, etc. I’ve got coins on the brain!
2. The beauty of the early mornings– watching the sun crest over the Mount of Olives is quite possibly the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Watch the Sunrise over Mount of Olives time-lapse video here.
3. The incredible people I would meet. It takes a different kind of person to give up time at work, home, and with their families to come to Israel and dig for 2-4 weeks. I had some of the most inspirational conversations with people from around the world– physicists from the US (one who also happens to be a novelist), a pastor from England, a pastor from South Carolina, teacher/professors, students in PhD and Masters programs, a Floridian, a high school student converting to Judaism, quite a few Canadians, a retired police officer… the list goes on. Each one had a unique reason for being there, and I loved finding out what led them to this small patch of land outside Jerusalem’s walls.
4. The dig tools chain. OK– so while we were carrying every. single. piece. of equipment used that day, it didn’t sound like a dig highlight. In hindsight, learning about the different areas of the dig, and about my co-diggers, during this time was invaluable. You can see the time-lapse of us moving dig tools here.
5. The mystery– not knowing what lay under the packed dirt at your feet provided ample incentive to continue pick-axing, knowing that any moment, we could come across something that would tell the story of a people from millennia gone by.
6. And speaking of stories, the pottery shards and animal bones made the concept of a people who lived in Jerusalem centuries ago a reality. Realizing that people cooked, ate, and used lamps to light their path in this very spot was an “of course!” moment, but it gave me an expanded view of civilization.
8. Remember all that hard work? The best fitness bootcamp I’ve ever attended! Also… none of the bootcamps I’ve attended have provided popsicle breaks. So I’d consider this one a win.
And last… did I mention I found a coin!?