Sunday, February 12, 2012

Holy Land Trip - part 5, Madaba, Mount Nebo, Jordan River

Dear Readers of this Blog – please know that this is only my personal account of the trip.  I’m sure that all other 16 members have different viewpoints and remember things in other ways than I do.  There are surely moments that my fellow travelers found more memorable or more poignant.  My thoughts, feelings and memories are just that, mine, and have no reflection on what others may feel or remember.
Picture of the Mosaic Map.  The blank areas on the map indicate where the mosaics were destroyed by earthquake and time.

Monday, January 16, 2012 –

We had to be up, have had breakfast and checked out of our hotel in time to be on our bus at 8am. On the bus, we travelled 3 hours, with one rest stop, to Madaba. Madaba is the fifth largest city in Jordan. It is well known for Byzantine mosaics including the Mosaic Map from the 6th century which is preserved in the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George. The Mosaic Map depicts important religious landmarks as they were in the 6th century.

Bus parking was several blocks from the church itself. Ruby and Diane along with Nell and June were dropped off close to the church before the bus went to the parking area. Zaid set a very fast pace and the walk from the tourist parking to the church was all uphill. Since it wasn’t a straight shot to the church, we were crossing streets and making turns within the city. It was clear, but cold and the wind was biting. I fell further and further back and was struggling to breathe because of my asthma. I was afraid I would be left behind and lost. Eventually we arrived at the church and entered a small room that contained benches and a large picture of the Mosaic Map. While we caught our breath, Zaid explained the map to us. The map was a key in learning about the physical layout of Jerusalem after its destruction and rebuilding in 70 AD.

The church was large with lots of ornamentation, intricate mosaics besides the Mosaic Map and huge brass chandeliers.

Two different views of the Mosaic Map

The altar at Saint George's Greek Orthodox Church

Chandeliers at the church. 
 The next stop was Mount Nebo. This mountain offers views of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. We got off the bus and started the walk to the view points, but when I saw how steep the grade was on the trail, I turned around and came back to the bus and waited for the group to return. Dad came back and said it wasn’t too far and I should come on, but I decided to stay anyway. I was still recovering from the breathing difficulties caused by the fast uphill walk to Saint George’s. I am glad I didn’t go, because everyone came back freezing cold and coughing. It seems that the first view point Dad saw was at the bottom of the trail and they had to walk much further and higher than it looked like at first.

From Mount Nebo we went to the Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan at the Jordan River. This is traditionally identified as the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. The drive to the river was pretty interesting. At first we were on a fairly wide, two lane highway, like most of the roads we travelled on. Then we turned into smaller and more rural roads that twisted and turned through the countryside. I wondered if our driver really knew where he was going and at some points, it looked like we might have to turn around. But I should never have doubted, because suddenly, we came to a large parking area where several other buses were parked.

The trail from the parking area to the river was flat and even. Since we had travelled from Mount Nebo at 4800 feet to sea level the air temperature had warmed to 65 degrees. It was very pleasant and the walk through olive, tamarisk, willow and Euphrates poplar trees was peaceful. Finally, we came to a wooden structure that was roofed and had steps leading down to a deck directly at the river. I put my feet (in my shoes) in the shallowest part of the river. The water was murky and green, but not dirty looking. Only twenty or so feet across from us was Israel and we could clearly see people on that side of the river coming down to the water to view it.

The Jordan River

Another view of the Jordan River

Here are my feet in the Jordan River.  The water on this step was about 1 inch deep.

Ruins of the Church of Saint John the Baptist built sometime before the 5th century.

This cross etched into the ancient bricks is said to mark the place where Jesus was Baptized.
You will notice that there is no longer water in this area. 
The Jordan River has shrunk significantly since that time.

Everyone in our group took lots of pictures then we sang “Shall We Gather at the River”. Ken read some scriptures about the Baptism of Jesus and we said the Lord’s Prayer in unison.

Mom and Dad

Al and Donna with Diane in the background

Ken and Margo at the Baptismal font

Ruby had asked Ken to anoint her with water from the Jordan River. Within the structure we were in, was a baptismal font where water from the Jordan was directed to. The water in the font was clear, so I don’t know whether it was filtered before it came to the font or not, but it was not murky like the water in the actual river just 10 feet away. To me, Ruby’s anointing was very moving and to simply be standing at the river and touching the water was almost surreal.

Ken annointing Ruby with water from the Jordan River

Another thing that was definitely surreal about this experience was that there was an armed, Jordanian soldier standing to the side of the deck. He was in camo and paid very little attention to us. The tourist area we were in was fully guarded by the army and not the Tourist Police. I was reminded of the song, “Eve of Destruction”. I asked Zaid if he would ask the soldier if I could take his picture, a really big no-no, but I figured all he could do was say no, which he did.

Bear with me here.  This paragraph may seem out of place, but keep reading on afterward.  Sometime between our Petra experience and the Jordan River I had pulled a muscle in my left shoulder. I could hardly move my arm and it was quite painful. As we left the area of the deck and baptismal font, I dipped my hand in the water and rubbed it on my shoulder. I didn’t believe that it would immediately cure my pulled muscle and pain, but thought “What the heck? It can’t hurt.” 

There are several churches built within this site at the Jordan River. As we walked back to the bus, we walked a different path that brought us near a Greek Orthodox Church which is fairly new with  beautiful golden onion domes. church. Sari, Irene and I stopped to take pictures of the church as the group walked on. There is an arch over the door to the church on which is painted a descending dove. I took a picture of this and just as I backed away, and as I was still looking up, a white dove flew overhead with an olive leaf in its beak. Talk about surreal. Sari and I just looked at each other in amazement. There were no other birds in sight, and during the entire, so far, I hadn't seen a purely white dove.  I’m not one to believe strongly in signs and portents, but if this wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what would be. What it was a sign of, I can’t say, but the next day I realized that I was using my left arm normally and there was no pain at all in my shoulder. List this under things that make you go “Hmmm”.

Greek Orthodox church built in 2003

Same church from up close.

Descending dove painted on the archway above the doors to the church.
Right after taking this picture, I saw the white dove fly over.

From the Jordan River, we drove to Amman, where we checked into our hotel for that night.



Paige said...


Mad Dog and Sharon Jean said...

What an awesome adventure for you and to get to do this with your Mom and Dad made it even better. You have done a wonderful narration of the trip I hope there is more to come...I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get to reading it..