Tuesday, 23 May 2017

How you can #VotePalestine this General Election

On the 8th June voters have the power to choose who represents them in parliament. This is our chance to convince candidates to support Palestine. We want all candidates to be aware of how much support exists for campaign for justice and equality for the Palestinian people.
It is up to you – the voters – to contact the candidates in your area, and ensure that your future MP will be taking action for Palestine once elected.

Talk on the Balfour Project

Thursday 21st September

Kairos Reading has arranged to have Peter Shambrook, historical advisor to the Balfour Project, speaking at Caversham Heights Methodist Church on Thursday 21st September ‘The Balfour Declaration: historical context, implementation and legacy’.

An evening with Martyn Joseph

It’s not too late to book your tickets for An Evening with Martyn Joseph 7.30pm at St Nicolas Earley.  Martyn will be just back from a trip to Palestine and will make it the focus of the evening

Some of our profits will go to the Alrowwad Youth Theatre in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, the first charity to benefit from Martyn’s charity: Let Yourself Trust

Tickets from Lindsey.sharpe1@gmail.com or 0118 926 4256

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Kairos Group Programme for 2017

The Parochial Church Council (PCC) of St John the Baptist Parish Church approved the Kairos Programme for 2017 in January 2017

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Stories from the Holy Land

All are welcome to this evening of stories, pictures, drama and music as we share the memories of our trip to the Holy land in February of this year.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ancient ports

Caesarea Philippi

Our last day in the Holy Land. Yet still the day was packed with activity.

Checking out of the Restal Hotel in Tiberius went very smoothly. We were on the coach and away by 8am. Our first stop was the ancient Roman port of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. After all the wonderful weather, today was rather overcast and windy. We saw a film about Caesarea Philippi, which included some animation on how it all might have looked. Then outside to see the hippodrome where chariots would have raced and gladiators fought. We were able to wander through the ancient buildings and walk over the mosaics. Fascinating.

Then back in the coach to Jaffa, or Joppa as it was called in the Bible. Here Solomon imported huge timbers for the temple, Jonah sailed for Nineveh, and Peter stayed with Simon the tanner when he met Cornelius and converted him. Saladin, Napoleon, and the British attacked and conquered Jaffa, and still it stands. Many Israeli arabs live in Jaffa, but it is increasingly surrounded by apartment blocks which are a feature of Tel Aviv.
The last supper (well lunch anyway)
We had a splendid lunch then, before heading for the airport.

Security at Ben Gurion is always extremely tight. We arrived four hours before our flight. The group waited a while and was then directed into a "lane". One of the senior security staff came over to quiz our leader about where we had been and what we had done. As we were on a Christian pilgrimage and most of the people were from a single church, we were quickly through security. Checking and and passport checks were routine, so we had quite a while to wait in the departure lounge. The Easyjet flight was fine and we landed at 11:15pm. Our coach was waiting and brought us back to Crowthorne, exhausted but filled with all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Holy Land.

The closing prayer from our Eucharist yesterday seems appropriate as the closing prayer for this blog:

Blessed God,
help us, whom you have fed and satisfied in this eucharist,
to hunger and thirst for what is right;

help us, who have rejoiced and been glad,
to stand with those who are persecuted and reviled;

help us, who here have glimpsed the life of heaven,
to strive for the cause of right and for the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Following Jesus in Galilee

Magdala Church
We set off at 7:45am this morning(!) and headed for the lakeside. We boarded a boat to take us out onto the Sea of Galilee. It was cooler today and a bit cloudier, but this was welcome after the past few days of hot weather. We spent a while in silence, thinking about Jesus in the boat with the disciples, then we had a demonstration of how the disciples would have fished.

Back on land and time for a coffee break before we set off again. We climbed high up the hill to the Church of the beatitudes, where Jesus preached the Sermon on the mount. There was a magnificent view of the lake from this beautiful Church.

Back down the hill, we stopped at the Church of the Multiplication at Tabgha. This Church was subject to an arson attack last year. So sad.

The next Church just along the foreshore is St Peter's Primacy, where Jesus forgave Peter for denying him and commissioned Peter to lead the Christian Church. Some of our group took the opportunity to have a paddle.

One more church before lunch - Capernaum. The old city has been excavated and a church built over the house where Peter's mother-in-law lived. We saw the old synagogue and the layout of the city. 

Everyone was ready for lunch - we stopped for a falafel sandwich and a drink at a nearby cafe. 
Archeological remains at Migdal

In the afternoon we stopped at the Magdala Church. We heard the amazing story that the site was bought for a hotel. Prior to the building work, a survey was done to check for an archeological remains on the site. The old city of Magdala was discovered and, in particular, a synagogue dating from the 1st Century AD. It was really interesting.

The church, shown in the top picture is dedicated to women, such as Mary Magdalen. The Churchwas stunning. We had arranged to celebrate the eucharist in this lovely Church. However, when they discovered that our priest was a woman, we were rejected - quite ironic.

It seems that God moves in this land in a special way. A few hours previously, Rev Kate Reynolds of the Church of Scotland, had visited Magdala Church. She had left her card saying that if any group would like to come and worship in her church in Tiberius, they would be welcome. And just a few hours after, here we were needing a church. We rang her and she welcomed us to celebrate our final Eucharist in her church, just a short walk from our hotel. Is that not amazing!

Back to the hotel for a briefing about the airport security process, then packing and a final celebration before we leave at 8am in the morning. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

Where it all started

Tzipori National Park
Close to Nazareth we find Tzipori National Park. This is said to be some of the best Roman ruins in the world. It is important as this may have been a source of work for Joseph. While many think that Joseph was a simple carpenter, there is a body of evidence to suggest that he was a Tekton, which is more like an architect.  We had a very interesting time looking at the wonderful mosaics and excavated buildings. Of course, there was time afterwards for a coffee or an ice cream.
Basilica of the Annunciation

Then on to the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where the angel visited Mary. Nazareth is a large city with about 30% christians and 60% muslims. The Basilica is a beautiful church built around a cave which is thought to be the place of the annunciation.

We then had a splendid lunch - more Falafel, and a change to wander through the old city and to see theSynagogue where Jesus read the scriptures. People in the market were very helpful in opening up the building which now belongs to the Melkite Church.

Then we boarded the bus for a short trip to a fascinating place - Nazareth Village. This is a reconstruction of life in Jesus' time, with "villagers" showing us the way of life. We saw a vine press and a synagogue, a carpenter and a weaver.

Nazareth Village
Finally we were back on the bus for the journey home. In the hotel Neil hosted a discussion on all we had seen and heard. So much to share when we get home.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Travelling north

Sami from St Philip Church in Nablus
After five days packed with activity, it is time to leave Bethlehem and to head north. Being internationals, we could go straight through Jerusalem, thus saving hours compared to the Palestinian route which circumnavigates Jerusalem. We drove on the hilltop road along the limestone ridge with stunning scenery on either side. As we drove north, there were hopeful signs of Palestinian development and agriculture. However, every hilltop had an Israeli Settlement or an outpost which is likely to develop into a Settlement. So much of even this area is threatened.

We went to Nablus, the second largest city in the West Bank, to visit Jacob's well. Jacob settled in this area with his wives Rachel and Leah. Eventually he and his family moved south, when the land could no longer accommodate his flocks and Laban's. Rachel died in childbirth in Bethlehem having Benjamin and all the rest of the family - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Leah, Sarah, and Rebecca moved to the Hebron area. Joseph's body was brought back from the exile in Egypt and his tomb is close to Jacob's well. We hear about this place again when Jesus met a Samaritan woman at the well and asked for a drink.

The well has been authenticated as being 4000 years old. Several churches had been built over the well. The latest is a beautiful Russian Orthodox Church. The well is under the Church in a crypt. We all filed down into the tight space and the vicar was selected to bring the water up from the well - about 40 metres down. It was hard work. We were all rewarded with a sip of water from the well. 

The connection of this place, which was called Shechem, with the events we  read in the Bible both in the Old and New Testaments, helps us to imagine the people involved, the places they lived, the journeys they made. 

Our next stop was to the Anglican Church of St Philip. The small Christian community in Nablus gave land to the Muslims to build a mosque and a minaret. Sami (shown in the photo) told us about the Church and the work they do. There is a kindergarten and weekly activities for children and others, most of which are Muslims. They have good relations with the Imam and the muslims. The love in action was evident in this place. 

We could not leave Nablus without a visit to the falafel shop again. Sami proposed a place and we had a lovely meal at a very reasonable price. 

Then back in the coach for the rest of the drive to Galilee. Just outside Nablus we encountered the Israeli army who had closed the road. No reason was given. Our tour leader got off and explained that we were internationals. They telephoned their commander and we were allowed through after about 30 minutes wait. It was amazing to see that the army could close all roads into and out of Nablus within a few minutes. We watched nervously, but eventually our status was recognised and we were let through. Who knows how long the Palestinians had to wait. 

The sight of the Sea of Galilee was quite uplifting and we are full of anticipation for the next two days. We are staying at a modern hotel in the centre of Tiberius. The smart rooms, lashings of hot water, wifi that works and in every room, were welcome, but reminded us of what we had left behind. The meal was sumptuous and enjoyed by all. 

Following compline, there was the opportunity to wander down to the sea shore and see the restaurants, bars and shops that abound in this lively tourist city. 

The hotel apologised that, as this was the winter, the heating was on, rather than the air conditioning.  Thankfully, the very high temperatures that had been forecast did not materialise and it was rather cloudy, so we were not too troubled by this. 

Thank you to all those who are following our pilgrimage. It is lovely to know that you are thinking of us. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Kairos Palestine

Mrs Hind Khoury - General Secretary of Kairos Palestine
We were so fortunate to have Mrs Hind Khoury, General Secretary of Kairos Palestine to speak to us this evening in Bethlehem. She spoke eloquently and powerfully about the Kairos movement. As a Kairos Community in the UK, we were encouraged and motivated. How fortunate we are to have such a talented lady as our General Secretary. Many of our group have spoken about how they were moved by her call to action. We look forward to channelling this enthusiasm on our return.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Making bricks without straw

Making bricks from mud in the Jordan Valley
An early start this morning (8am), but fabulous weather and scenery as we drive down from the heights of Jerusalem to the lowest inhabited place on earth - Jericho. Despite a touch of green as a result of the winter rains, we drive through miles of barren rocky landscape dropping steeply all the way. Your ears pop as you pass the sea level marker and keep going for another 400 metres.

Our first stop is Qumran where we see a film about the Dead Sea Scrolls, then go out in the heat of the day to see the archeological site showing the life of the Essenes. We saw huge cisterns to gather the winter rain water, ritual washing baths, rooms for copying scrolls.  It was another case where we could stand and imagine the people who were here around the time of Jesus. Today we also experienced the heat of the desert.

Our next stop was to visit the Palestine Bible Society.  In a modest house in Jericho,  Samia and Young, the couple leading this work, run a youth centre which offers socio-psycho support to children and teenagers. They also run activities to promote school attendance and healthy lifestyles. Around 60 children and 50 teenagers attend the centre, and their activities target approximately 1,500 boys and girls at school in the Jericho area. Two Christians with one helper doing a huge amount of work, mostly among Muslim children. It was a shining example of faith in action.

Our final visit is to the Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign in the Jordan Valley. This small group helps Palestinians living and farming on the margins in the Jordan Valley, living alongside large Settlements growing produce.

Our coach and guide initially drove up to the elegant gates of the Israeli Settlement. Realising our mistake we retraced our steps to find the earth track leading to the Palestinian village. Here we were guided to a round hut made of mud bricks. We were offered the usual palestinian hospitality. Then our host told her story. She told us of the regular house demolitions  in the area, often in the depths of winter or the height of summer, just to make things even more difficult for the displaced families. They are not allowed to have piped water, they are forbidden to dig wells, they have no electricity, no telephone landlines and no mobile signal. Yet the Settlement next door has unlimited water (drawn from wells around the Palestinian village), electricity,  telephone land lines and Israeli mobile phone connections. The Palestinians scratch out a living while they watch date palms and bananas and all kinds of fruits and vegetables flourish in the Settlement. 95% of all the land in the Jordan Valley has been taken for Settlements or Military use.

It is difficult to get building materials through the checkpoints, and no building is permitted in area C without a permit. No permits are given to Palestinians. They had come up with a solution from the bible - they make bricks from mud. If the buildings are demolished, they add water to the mud, make some more bricks and rebuild the house. The Israelis make it just about as hard as the Egyptians did for the Israelites in exile.

Then we had a shock. Our host was recently driving up to an Israeli check point with a friend. She had the window open and heard a male soldier ask his female colleague if she could kill a man. The female soldier pointed the gun at the car and shot the friend dead - there was no enquiry, no accountability. It shows that Israeli soldiers shoot people at will. We heard from others that it happens all the time. (Last night a friend in the Refugee Camp told us that a girl of 12 was walking home from school two weeks ago and she was shot dead from an Israeli watch tower. Yet UK papers only talk about Palestinians being terrorists. )

Everyone was shocked and asked more. It transpired that our host's husband was arrested at a checkpoint and has been imprisoned for 6 months. There was no trial. All she has been told is that he was suspected of throwing a stone 2 years ago. Then to cap this (as if you could) she told us that she had been in prison for 4 months, of which one month was in solitary. Again she was not given a reason. Being in Area C means being under Israeli military control - the army do anything they want.

We finished our visit here with a fabulous lunch cooked by the villagers. We left with heavy hearts.

As we drove back we saw the Jordan valley in a different light. On the way there, members of our group had remarked on how lovely the valley looked, with dates and bananas and all kinds of lush fruit. Now, on the way back, they realise that everything green is in an Israeli Settlement, using unlimited (Palestinian) water on Palestinian land. You can tell the Palestinian land - nothing grows for lack of water.


It was lovely to receive a comment on this blog from one of our readers. Hearing that we were in the prayers of those back home was quite uplifting.

If you are reading this and you know someone on the trip, do leave a comment for the group.

Hearing stories

Myron Joshua - Jewish Settler
Today was a bit different. Having spent most of our time visiting the holy sites, today we spent some time listening to stories.

Our first visit was to the house of the Anastas family. They experienced the wall being built on three sides of their smart Bethlehem house and lost all their business. Claire talked to us about the impact of the occupation on her family and business. It was very sad. Afterwards we bought gifts in her gift shop - sadly not many coaches call in these days.

Then we boarded the coach to drive to the Bethlehem Arab Rehabilitation Society Hospital in Beit Jala (BASR). BASR is supported by Embrace the Middle East and so we had the opportunity to hear about that partnership. There are particular problems in the West Bank, especially trauma and stress, and rehabilitation from injuries. The hospital offers a full range of services and also reaches out into the community to help people. It started as a hospital for disabled people, but now offers a complete range of services. It was most impressive and a model of how to provide services. We then had a delicious lunch in the hospital restaurant.

Our next visit was to the JAI Olive Tree replanting project. The Olive trees are so precious - we saw one tree in the Garden of Gethsemane that has been dated to the time of Jesus! However many of these trees are being destroyed to make way for Settlements. Replanting them is a sign of hope in the future as they take many years to bear fruit. We saw the new olive trees just planted.

Finally we spent a couple of hours talking to Myron Joshua, a Jewish Settler, living in Kfar Etzion. Ken met Myron in 2013 and spent an interesting afternoon at the Settlement. As expected, this was a most interesting visit. We saw a film of the origins of the Settlement and then talked about how to work towards peace and justice for all.

Myron sent us this message after our visit -"I did not come to soften or weaken the empathy and solidarity of the community to the plight of the Palestinians...of course. The challenge is a challenge to go beyond looking for who "started" or what is inherently "wrong" in the zionist enterprise..and begin looking at the challenges that history is demanding of us.. to look anew and think new thoughts." Thank you Myron.

Lots to think about.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Another day in Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount
Another early start today. We left the hotel at 7:00. People are coping well with these long days, which are packed with visits. The sky is again blue and the temperature is steadily rising - just perfect wether so far, but it is predicted to be 30 degrees  in Tiberius by Thursday!

We have a slow drive through the morning traffic and drive to Dung Gate - fortunately no sign of any dung. We enter the Old City and go straight into the security check. Having had quite a discussion on the bus about whether it will be safe today on the Temple of the Mount, we sail through security without any problem.

The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque are such important places, to Jews, Christians, and of course Muslims. Since the intifada, non-Muslims are no longer permitted to enter the two buildings, but we nevertheless stand and marvel at the history and these beautiful buildings - in fact you feel the history. King Hussein of Jordan sold a UK property to pay for the cost of guilding the roof  of the Dome.

Then we head to the Western Wall to observe this very holy place for the Jews. Some of us join them in prayer at the wall.

We are given free time in the Old City. Some head off to walk around the city walls, other go back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, some sit in the sunshine and enjoy a coffee.  We grab lunch on the way and then we all find our way through the narrow streets to Zion Gate to meet at 1pm. Bishara, our guide shows us the bullet marks on the gate which date back to the times before 1967 when this was the border between Israel and Jordan.

Our next stop is the House of Caiaphas, the High priest, now the Church of St Peter Gallivant. This is where Jesus was brought up the steps from the Kieron Valley by the soldiers, to the questioned by  Caiaphas. The steps are there, and we imagine the scene. We see the dungeon where Jesus was held and hear the story of Peter denying Jesus. This is an amazing place and we all feel part of the story.

Back on the bus and off to Ein Karem, the home of John the Baptist. It is also the place where Mary came to see Elizabeth during her pregnancy. That occurred at the family's summer house high on the hill. It means a stiff climb, so some decide to wait for our return. Others grab an ice cream and enjoy that as they climb up in the warm sunshine. It was worth the effort to see the beautiful Church of the Visitation.

On the way back home we stop off in one of the Palestinian souvenir shops. Plenty of olive wood and other beautiful things - some of our readers might be receiving a gift from here on our return.

We get a welcome rest before dinner at 7pm. Meals have been outstanding and everyone is grateful after our long day. However the day is not quite complete as we have a speaker at 8pm - Sulim Munayer from Musalaha. He tells us about his work in reconciliation. This involves taking groups of people from both sides of the conflict and getting them to recognise their common humanity to help them address their feelings for each other.

People are sleeping well!

Every day so far has been packed with sights, stories, smells, sounds and tastes. All of our senses are on full alert to absorb everything around us in this amazing place. Our 10 day pilgrimage will end in Galilee where we hope that there will an opportunity for some quiet time in beautiful surroundings to make sense of our feeling.

Hearing different narratives

Mural from the Dheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem
We were grateful for a later and more leisurely start to the day, as we gathered to walk the short distance from our guest house to the Christmas Church in central Bethlehem.

As we were a little early, we took the chance to wander through the bustling market, one advantage of having Muslim traders who open on a Sunday. Some of us bought strawberries and other delicious fruit.

Christmas Church is an Evangelical Lutheran Church. The pastor is Mitri Rahab, who has written several books, one of which we used in the book club at St Johns. It was a lovely blend of Arabic and English. We had some amazing Arabic songs, as well as some hymns which were well known to us. It was good to see how much we share, even if in a different language.

We were able to join in as we had the words in Arabic and English. It was a shame that the sermon was only in Arabic. One of our party actually had Mitri Rahab’s book with her, so she got him to sign it afterwards.

The group then had a visit to the Church of the Nativity in the centre of Bethlehem, followed by lunch (more delicious falafel) and a bit of browsing around the shops.

Ken and Tracy had been invited to the house of Odette, whom Ken had met while staying in Bethlehem in 2013. We had a feast of zucchini and stuffed vine leaves. It was a chance to catch up with all that had happened over the past two years. All too soon, they had to rejoin the others for the rest of the itinerary.

Back on the coach to go to Shepherds’ Fields where the angels appeared to the shepherds. This is on the outskirts of Bethlehem, just where the Judean desert begins. We saw the caves used by the shepherds and looked at the Church there.

Then on to the Dheisha Refugee Camp. This was where Palestinians living in the villages around Bethlehem fled from the advancing Israeli army in 1948. They are still there some 68 years later. The camp is managed by the UN. We heard about life in the camp, which is extremely hard. However, we also heard encouraging stories of the community working to improve the lives of the people in the camp.

Back at the hotel we had a talk from two palestinian Christians from Beit Jala. They told us of their experience living under occupation with a young family. They described their lives as “challenging”.

Following another lovely dinner we ended the day with Compline. We prayed for all the people we had met.