Going through passport control at Ben Gurion Airport, the passport agent took our picture. That was the first sign that security was a lot tighter here. We finally found our friends and got on the bus into Tel Aviv. At the Herod Hotel, lots of seaside activity with biking and running paths.

View from the Herod Hotel.

Cesarea Maritima

According to Acts 25, this Roman Theatre is where Paul stood before King Agrippa. This seaside port on the Mediterranean was built by Herod the Great (22-10 B.C.E.). A block of limestone was found here in 1961 with a partially intact 1st Century inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate, the prefect in the Roman province of Judea. The inscription reads:

To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum…Pontius Pilate…prefect of Judea…has dedicated [this]

1st Century Pontius Pilate inscription.
Theatre at Cesarea Maritima.


We stopped at the hill in Nazareth where in Luke 4:28-30, the mob followed Jesus with the intent of throwing him off the cliff . . . later we went across the Jezreel Valley (below) to Megiddo (1Kings 9:15), the focal point of the Book of Revelation. Excavations have unearthed over twenty layers of civilization.

The Valley of Jezreel looking down from Megiddo.
This is in front of our hotel on the Dead Sea . . .
Site of our dig.

We got dirty when we participated in a dig at an archeological site in the Southern District. One of our team found a 2000-year old nail!

The rooms we worked in were about
halfway excavated.
Our guide, Lena, explained the history of
the site.

The Dead Sea

After our bus took us to the desert where we rode camels, we ended up in Ein Bokek, on the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea.

The Herod Hotel on the Dead Sea


North along the Dead Sea is Herod’s great fortress/palace in the middle of the desert. In 73 C.E., after the Romans sacked Jerusalem, approximately 1000 zealots escaped Jerusalem and chose death in the fortress of Masada rather than becoming slaves to the Romans.

A cable car takes you to the top of the palace complex.


In these caves the Essene scribes hid ancient scrolls 2,000+ years ago. These parchments were discovered in 1947 in the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century and became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Book of Isaiah was written around 700 BCE. A complete manuscript from around the time of Christ was found at Qumran.
Cave #4.

Jordan River

Qasr-el-Yehud was thought by most to be the authentic place of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist on the Jordan River. The river is the border between Jordan and Israel. Until the 1994 Peace agreement, the site was impossible to visit. Even after 1994, visiting the site involved a lot of red tape and a military escort. In 2011, the Israeli National Parks Authority has managed it, and there is now free and easy access to the site.  

A guard in the tower on the Jordan side made sure no one crossed over.

Sea of Galilee

Once out on the sea, we turned off the engine and remembered the miracles Jesus performed in these waters. In 1986, during a drought, fishermen from a nearby Kibbutz discovered a 27 ft. long 2000 year old boat sticking out of the mud.  The boat is now in a museum nearby.

View from our hotel.
The 2000 year old fishing boat.

Bet She’An

Located in the Northern District, this is the site where the biblical account of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines took place in around 1100 BCE. After the Israelites’ defeat, the bodies of King Saul and three of his sons were hung on the walls of the city. Later, around 1000 BCE, King David recaptured the city. Excavations from Roman times have found a well-preserved theatre and a hippodrome.

Cesarea Philippi

This is the site in northern Israel where in Matthew 16, Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you think I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Amazingly, there is a huge rock cliff here, with an opening where a spring gushed forth that fed into the Jordan River. A pagan temple was located here, dedicated to the Greek god Pan, half man, half goat. Worshippers would throw goat sacrifices into the cave opening. If the animal survived, it was a good omen. To the pagan mind, the cave created a gate to the underworld, where the fertility gods lived during the winter. It was thought to be a gate to Hades. So it is significant that Jesus chose this place to declare to Peter that he (Jesus) would build his church on this rock, and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it.

The cave where the springs came out and fed the Jordan River.

The Mount of Beatitudes

Here is the site where Jesus is believed to have given the Sermon on the Mount, on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. A Byzantine church was near here until the 7th century when a Franciscan chapel (below) was built in 1937-38 by the Italian architect Barluzzi.

What was so interesting here was that groups of Christians from all over the world came to honor our Lord . . . this sign shows the Beautitudes in Vietnamese.

Church of the Primacy of Peter

Here is where Peter was asked by Jesus, “Do you love me?” three times. He then conferred leadership to Peter with the command, “Tend my sheep.”

It happened after Jesus’ resurrection, in the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee, when the disciples were fishing early one morning and hadn’t caught anything. Jesus (as yet unrecognized) was standing on the shore, and called out to them to let the net down on the right side of the boat. They took in a huge catch; Jesus built a fire, cooked fish and served them, then asked Peter this question.  

A church was built over the rock where it is thought that Jesus built the fire and cooked the fish, and where Jesus reinstated Peter as leader of the apostles.
Outside the church on the beach where Jesus called to the disciples.

Garden of Gethsemane

Walking down from the Garden, toward the Kidron Valley toward Jerusalem, we had a glimpse of the Dome of the Rock.

Walking down the hill from the Garden toward the Old City.
In the Garden, where Jesus prayed that his Father’s will be done, right before he was arrested.
Steps leading to the dungeon below Caiaphas’ house (one possible site) where Jesus was held the night before he was crucified. The hole in the ceiling was used to lower the prisoner.
The actual steps Jesus walked down (outside the Garden) when he was arrested and taken to
Caiaphas’ house.

Herod’s Gate

One of the eight gates into the Old City, this north facing gate is the entrance to the Muslim part of the city. Once inside, lots of shops line the streets.

In the Palestinian Quarter of the Old Citiy.

The Temple Mount

After passing through the guard station (where I was told to put on a longer skirt because my knee-length skirt wasn’t long enough), we climbed steps to the Dome of the Rock. Earlier, we were told not to bring bibles because there is a ban on prayer by non-Muslims.

The Muslim wash basin.

Islam resists representations of living beings because of the belief that the creation of living forms belongs to Allah.

We peeked inside an open door of the Dome of the Rock, since we were not allowed to enter, being non-Muslims.
Geometric and abstract floral patterns on the exterior walls.

The Western Wall

The Wall is open 24 hours, and has separate area for men and women. Underneath is a tunnel that runs the length of the wall. It was opened in 1967 after the Six Day War.

The spot in the tunnel nearest to the place where the Holy of Holies was located, where people come to pray.
The tunnel alongside the base of the Western Wall.


There is evidence that this is the place where Jesus was crucified and buried in a nearby tomb. Golgotha, or Place of the Skull (Calvary in Latin) was located near a major junction on the road to Damascus, where those crucified would be visible to travelers.

Golgotha, which looks like a skull. A rock in the middle, defining the nose more clearly, has fallen away.
A bus transit center was built next to Golgotha.

The Garden Tomb

Nearby Golgotha is the tomb where Jesus may have been laid. There is some question about the authenticity of this tomb, because it has been carbon dated to a much earlier date than Jesus’ lifetime, which contradicts the accounts of the gospels of Matthew and John, where Joseph of Arimethea gave a new, unused tomb for Jesus’ burial. (Another possible site of Jesus’ crucifiction and burial tomb, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is near Jerusalem.)

One of the possible tombs where Jesus was buried; a parking lot above it may have been the site of the crucifixion.
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Kristin’s Story

I met Kristin when we gave her a ride home from a meeting . . . we dropped her off in Kroo Bay, one of the poorest slums in Freetown. It was 10pm but the streets were full of people selling things from their small tin shack shops/homes. As she walked away I wondered if she would be safe . . . later I learned that the people in the neighborhood knew her and watched out for her.

Kristin in front of her house.

Kristin in front of her house.

She works with Word Made Flesh, a community of Christians who lives alongside the most vulnerable children, giving out medical care, food, and teaching them about Jesus. Kristin, from Alabama, is a nurse and lives in the same tin shacks as the people she serves. There’s no running water so she uses her neighbor’s shower.  She and her colleagues find joy and meaning by caring for and loving these people who have little food or material possessions.

WMF compound overlooking Kroo Bay

WMF first came to Freetown in 2002 and supported a local Christian leader who was already providing for the needs of the community by offering a place of refuge from the chaos caused by the civil war. Gradually they started building relationships with at-risk youth to help them finish school and develop skills to support them and their families. Some of these youths have stayed and serve as leaders to the younger ones.

As I followed her through the slum to her house, many people greeted her and it was clear that she was a part of this community. It was an inspiring example of how we can be used by God to live out his love in the lives of those less fortunate.

See here for more information on WMF.

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A very cool thing happened . . .

Several months ago I wrote about a volunteer job I found at a school/resource center called Transformation Education. The kids are all nine or ten years old, and this one boy I noticed, Babah, had something wrong with his right eye. Herb and I had become friends with an eye surgeon and his wife (from the U.S., here for a year) who lived below us. I showed him a picture of his eye and he said it looked like a cataract, a common problem here.

Abraham (one of the TE teachers who speaks Krio), and I met with Babah’s aunt, (his guardian – no parents), to explain how to get him an eye exam (basically free), a diagnosis, and treatment. When I returned to Freetown after a Christmas break in Seattle, I learned that his aunt had visited the clinic, but decided to take him out to the provinces to visit a “doctor” there. I’m not sure, but I think she may have been afraid of the surgery (as would anyone). Sometimes it is hard to get the full story here because of the language barrier.

A few months later I’m still seeing Babah at the center, with the same problem. I had a sense that our Lord was prompting me to act (having prayed for such opportunities before we came here) so I made another appt. for an exam. This time, we got permission from his aunt, and I took him myself. Sulaiman drove us.

after surgery

The next morning the bandage came off; in a week he will have a checkup.

I was happy to pay the 300,000 leones ($75) to make this happen. (Surgery is free to those who cannot pay.) Acting on Sul’s advice I had decided to have him stay at the clinic overnight after the surgery where it was quiet and away from the chaos. The next morning when the nurse took off the bandage, she covered her hand over his good eye, held up two fingers, asked “how many fingers?” and he said TWO!

The German doctor who has done thousands of these surgeries said he had not been 100% sure that the surgery would be successful; apparently Babah had suffered an eye injury after which the cataract had formed. He thought the optic nerve might have been damaged, but at the very least his eye would look more normal. So hearing Babah say “TWO” was especially heart-warming and joyful.

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New Bathrooms for Evans Primary School

One of the great things about being here is that one sees many opportunities for doing good that aren’t that hard to make happen, but that make a HUGE improvement in the quality of life of people here.

One of the classrooms divided by partitions.

One of the classrooms divided by partitions.

Evans Primary School present bathrooms

The one bathroom with tarp walls.

Pastor James in front of toilets

The new bathrooms almost finished.

toilets beside Evans School

The main school building is on the right of the new bathrooms.

One such opportunity came up when Sulaiman showed me a primary school he had helped build with funds from a generous British ex-pat and her family and friends. The one big room houses six classrooms (with dividers), a small principal’s office, and a computer lab.

A septic tank covered with a cement slab with a hole in the middle serves as the one bathroom. Walls were made of plastic tarp; boys and girls took turns using the one hole.

I contacted my P.E.O. Sisterhood in Bellevue, WA. When they heard this story and learned of the need for a real bathroom, they donated nearly $500 and sent me the funds in a Moneygram. Sulaiman oversaw the project with the help of the school principal, Pastor James. Through the generosity of these women, a solid structure has been built with separate bathrooms for boys and girls, and a sink with soap for washing hands.

P.E.O. is an international women’s philanthropy based on friendship. Its purpose is to promote educational opportunities for women around the world with grants, loans, awards, and scholarships as well as Cottey College located in Missouri. Over 500,000 members serve in local chapters in the U.S. and Canada. More than 90,000 women have benefitted from these projects. But it is more than just a philanthropy – it is a sisterhood. We care about and support one another. For more information, see

I’ll keep you posted as more progress is made on the finish work.

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“How you sleep?”

Around the corner from us.

Around the corner from us.

That is the first question I’m greeted with (in Krio) as I walk down our street in the early morning. First I thought the question was odd, but not any more: the noises during the night can be relentless: fighting dogs, loud music, and people yelling into megaphones. A good night’s sleep is hard to get.

DSC07159On my walk to the market, I pass by this school, one of the 100-year-old British colonial houses, where children are always playing. They usually 
ask me for a “snap”.

We live in a place called Hill Station . . . Graham Green wrote about it in his book The Heart of the Matter (made into a movie in 1953), about a British intelligence officer stationed in Freetown during WW2. Though the city isn’t mentioned by name, we’ve found the landmarks he refers to throughout the book.

In front of The Cotton Tree.

In front of The Cotton Tree.

On Fridays we visit schools that participate in our English language/character education program. Abraham and I traipse all over Freetown, finding shortcuts and riding transport buses only when necessary.  We walk as much as possible because sitting in traffic in a transport bus full of sweaty people is not fun.

Yes, they're bats.

Yes, they’re bats.

Passing The Cotton Tree on our way back to school, we notice black objects swooping en mass from its branches. They look like birds, but no, they’re bats. Hundreds of bats swirling around the tree and hanging from the upper branches.

These eleven-year-old girls are some of my favorites. Especially Jariatu, in the middle; she’s kind, studies hard, and is always raising her hand. Jariatu’s parents are dead; she was taken in by a neighbor woman who cares for her.

Mabinty, Jariatu, Deborah.

Mabinty, Jariatu, Deborah.

They are all happy to be in school, especially ours, where they don’t get “caned”. Unfortunately most teachers use the stick mercilessly; I cringe whenever I see this. It is always done in front of the whole class, in anger. There is so much pent up resentment at the injustices in this country; the teachers are usually not paid much, if at all, and the classes are too large.

As the country gets back on its economic footing, hopefully this will improve.

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British Colonial houses

The house next door to us.

The house next door to us.

About a hundred years ago when Sierra Leone was still a Crown Colony, these houses were built for British administrators. They arrived flat-packed from the London department store Harrods. About 15 of them are left in our Hill Station neighborhood. Sierra Leone civil servants now live in them, but they are pretty run-down with no running water, and unreliable electricity.

I walk by several on my way to the market about 1/4 mile down the hill. The one below has been turned into a primary school, and as I walked past this little girl was playing on some steps. Right after I took her picture, several more kids appeared.  There are dogs everywhere . . . they don’t seem to belong to anyone in particular and they all look alike.


The residents have a creative way of doing local commerce (see below) . . .  such as setting up a little portable shop in front of their house, selling water, soda, little bags of powdered milk, etc. At the end of the day they take everything down and store it in their house until the next day.


Since we’ve returned from Christmas break in Seattle, Herb and I resumed our jobs – he at the State House and I at the English primary school. The 10-year old kids I teach were so glad to see me . . . I told them I was coming back!

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Sulaiman takes me running at Lumley Beach.

Sulaiman takes me running at Lumley Beach.

We first met Sulaiman when he picked us up at dawn at the Freetown dock. We had just finished a six-hour flight from London and a half hour speedboat ride from the Lungi airport. During the past months he has become our trusted friend and protector – almost like the son we never had.  Sulaiman is 31 years old; when the war was raging in Sierra Leone, he was 15 and living in a small village upcountry working in his family’s fields with his father and brother. The rebels suddenly appeared and killed his father in front of him; he and his brother fled to the bush, where they hid out for six years until he could make his way to his mom in Freetown.

The thing that gave him hope was his faith in our Lord. He believed that whatever happened, God was with him and would protect him – if not in this life, then the next. Extremely grateful for what he has, he is honest, humble, loyal to his one wife and two children (he has told us “why would a man want more than one wife  – he would be responsible for so many more mouths to feed”), honoring to his mother (he and his brothers support her), willing to ask advice of his elders, hard-working, giving to those needier than himself (he helped build a school for orphans). He has goals, one of which is to finish building a new house for his family on land he purchased in a small village at the edge of Freetown. And when I say build, I mean from scratch; he and his workers mold each cement block on site. The peace and quiet alone would be enough of a reason to move there. Freetown is SO NOISY . . . the decibel level of cars and trucks is way over the top. (I have to put my fingers in my ears while walking down a city street.) Not to mention the noise at night – occasional blaring music mixed with the sound of dogs fighting.

He has a salaried job as a driver for a local car hire company (everyone here has drivers – it is almost impossible to navigate on one’s own the narrow streets crowded with people, cars, trucks, motorbikes, and vendors). On the side he operates his own car hire service with cars he has purchased and repaired (he apprenticed as a car mechanic earlier and worked as one during his early twenties). Now he has three cars which he rents out (with a driver) for $50/day.

Whenever he gets paid a large amount of money, if it is late in the evening he will come by and ask Herb (aka “Dad”) to keep it for him until the next day when he can deposit it in the bank. He is nervous about keeping large sums in his home even overnight – there are no bars on his windows.

Lane leading to property.

Quiet lane leading to property.

The front of the house.

The front of the new house.

Sul and his builder.

Sul and his builder.



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I Got a Great Job! . . .

. . . teaching English (phonics – something that is not emphasized in schools) to nine and ten-year olds in a school/resource center in Freetown. I met the director in church a few weeks ago, and after hearing about Transformation Education, I asked her if I could volunteer. She works with 10 different schools (each has its own uniform), and the kids – two classes of 20 each – are sent by their regular teachers to this special school to improve their English skills. Since children only go to school half a day, they come to us the other half day. They are really happy to come!

View from the school balcony.

View from the school balcony.

Most of them are on a first grade reading level so we use a first grade phonics curriculum. Their parents, however, aren’t so happy with our teaching them at a lower level, but these kids have been promoted even though their skills are not there yet. Many of the parents don’t speak English themselves, so have no way of really knowing what their kids are learning.

We also teach them a different character word each week, defining it and reinforcing it with a story and memory verse from the bible. A list of these words is given to the teachers at the beginning of the term – one for each week – which they teach the kids as part of their daily assembly. We visit the schools each Friday and test them on their understanding and memorization.

You can see why people walk in the street, instead of the sidewalk. Herb’s office is in the Electricity House below . . . it’s covered with random wires and improper connections.

Why walking in the street is safer than the sidewalk.

Why walking in the street is safer than the sidewalk.

Random wires all over the building.

Random wires all over the building.

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The rest of the story . . . Bendacoro Village

Toward the end of our communal dinner we heard the pounding of drums again, signalling the start of the evening performance.  We quickly finished and took our special seats again at the edge of the concrete rice-drying floor (the stage).

This show was a variation of the afternoon’s, but since it was now dark, and no electricity, people took turns shining flashlights (or “torches” as the British call them) on the performers . . . very surreal.  A basket would appear at times near our feet, but we had decided as a group to give one total sum to the village in the morning, right before we left.

When everything finally settled down for the night and we turned in, the next thing I heard was the very early morning rain deluge. I felt very cozy. Dawn came signalled by roosters and other various animals baa-ing.

After a breakfast of bread and tea, our “chief” Seb, and “elder” Herb, went to meet with the town Chief and elders. After much thanking and agreeing that “united we stand, divided we fall”, a sum of 550,000 leones ($135) was presented to the chief.  For more detail on exactly went on during this time, read Herb’s account here.

The Cotton Tree

In the heart of Freetown this 200+ year-old majestic tree stands as a symbol of the freed Loyalist slaves who founded the city in 1787. The story is told that upon arriving onshore, they walked to the giant tree, rested in its shade, sang hymns and gave thanks to God for their deliverance.tree

My first impression was that this huge bit of green was so alone and imposing in the middle of the busyness of the crowds, concrete and pollution everywhere else. The streets “wagon wheel” around it so you can see it from different angles as you head downtown.

I’m getting more courageous about walking around town. The biggest hazard is watching out for cars and motorbikes, and taking care not to trip while walking. The sidewalks are few; mostly there are gaps and holes everywhere.

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Bendicoro Village

Leaving Kabala, we drove through several small tribal villages – each a few miles apart – until we reached Sul’s village. Nothing prepared us for what we saw.

With the Chief.

With the Chief.

The town chief, the elders, and the townspeople were waiting to greet us in the center of town. Everyone clapped when we got out of the cars, then they started singing. Drums pounded, and a troupe of costumed dancers appeared on a large concrete foundation normally used for drying rice. In the heat of the day we were led to big wooden chairs; I felt like Lucy with her siblings sitting on their thrones in the Chronicles of Narnia.

I kept thinking – wow, this is all for us? – only gradually did I realize there was an expectation of a monetary contribution, or “shakedown” as Herb calls it.

Sul's aunt's cozy room.

Sul’s aunt’s cozy room.

After the performance, we were led to the house of Sul’s aunt, who had generously prepared our room, complete with a mosquito net. (The walls had a natural faux finish!) Then some of the older kids walked with us about a mile down a path to the river, which we crossed on a wooden pole bridge. We two watched while the others swam, having remembered what our travel nurse had said about river bacteria – let alone the crocodiles – and read books on the riverbank.

We were led to the river for a swim.

We were led to the river for a swim.

Our group had arranged ahead of time for vegetables to be bought for our communal supper, and I knew from Sul beforehand that an animal would be provided (hunted?) and had heard him mention “porcupine”. Thankfully, they had killed a goat for us instead.

Seb, who is French, oversaw the cooking of the goat kabobs over a coal pot, their version of a weber grill. By now it was dark and to be useful I held a flashlight over the skewering of the pieces of onion and goat meat. It all looked pretty unappetizing to me, the goat meat having been carved up with a dull knife. Nearby was another bubbling pot of sauce (soup?) overseen by Sul’s aunt, which contained the rest of the goat parts; this was to be poured over rice, which Allie (our Australian) was in charge of. She had made a huge pot of rice, perfectly proportioned with rice to water.

We finally sat down to the dinner (forks being hastily found for us) and afterward heard the sound of the drums and singing starting again . . . and were told there would be an evening performance.

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