I have now done five overseas cycling challenges with EMMS/Nazareth Trust. This was the hardest. Being older each time might just be a factor.
I arrived in Tel Aviv early, allowing me to see its old port of Jaffa and visit the house of Simon the Tanner where pivotal events in the book of Acts took place. I had prepared for the ride by reading (on my exercise bike) about the biblical places where we would go, and I found the week grew my understanding of Bible events.
The first day riding inland held surprises. Thorn bushes along the tracks caused many punctures, but amazingly the sealant in the tubes sealed most. Map reading in areas of road construction and forests was difficult, and poor GPS reception led to wrong turnings – giving an impressive distance covered! Meeting a school trip led to being offered delicious tea brewed from a plant they had found. Shane had learned some Arabic and Hebrew before the ride, and it was great to see his interactions with locals. In Neve Shalom Hotel a Christian Palestinian staff member explained it was staffed by a mix of Jews, Moslems and Christians as a model of how these communities can work together. Nazareth Hospital is, I think, the greatest example of that.
Next was uphill to Jerusalem, beside the defunct Jaffa to Jerusalem railway. Though the land was parched, the rough tracks went through a lot of deep-standing water. Another surprise was a brand new 2km long cycle tunnel that took us into Jerusalem, as well as containing sewer pipes. Seeing the city divided was sad. I wondered what role Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews could play as Peacemakers if they themselves were united. My leg was sore, and I didn’t go to see the Old City; another trip is needed!
Bethlehem was full of tourists but with nothing from the time of Christ, except some road signs to ‘Shepherd’s fields’ and some donkeys. Elaborate Church buildings over the possible site of his birth left me wondering what Jesus might think and how differently he might wish us to behave. It was desert all the way to Jericho. Amazing! The only habitable spot was at a spring – supplying an ancient Monastery. We saw a pipe being laid across the desert to bring that spring water to Jericho, and we looked down to the Dead Sea, too long a detour to visit. So many Bible references to water and to the desert now made sense. Entering Jericho, we saw the huge warning sign to Israeli citizens NOT to enter the town, as their lives would be at risk. The same sign was outside Nablus.
It was a 100km ride North the next day amidst poor Palestinian neighbourhoods and richer Israeli settlements surrounded by high fences and watch towers. Dates palms in abundance, and dates were my favourite snack en route. Access to Jordan was prevented by extensive minefields from Arab-Israeli wars. I learned that there were three categories of Palestinian Territories, depending on how much autonomy the Palestinian Authorities had in each. Israelis felt justified in settling in areas not wholly governed by Palestinians, despite international law.
Finally, the climb to Nazareth. On hillsides Jesus walked up, we toiled up on bikes. Hearing the pipes and drums of the Nazareth Scout Band was a brilliant touch as we rode into the Hospital grounds to a great welcome. Pride at what generations of good people have achieved there in the last 160 years, bringing Christ’s love in action where it is so needed. And myself and my splendid fellow riders – privileged to play a part in that story.
Next time – maybe the option of an electric bike?
Shalom and Salaam.
Do you want to join us in the next two-wheeled adventure in the Holy Land? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register your interest!