The EC 2016 Senior Class is visiting the Holy Land this week.  One of the groups’ chaperones and teachers, Mr. Jeff Stencel, has been sending notes and photos back to help us share in group’s experiences.  Following are the first two installments:

Holy Land Hello Israel

Day 1

Greetings from Jerusalem! I am humbled and honored to be able to communicate with the Everest community on behalf of the senior trip.  I look forward to updating all of you on a regular basis with trip information and pictures along the way.  Please know that all of you are in our prayers, and that we can’t help be reminded of all of you everywhere we turn.

We begin, as so many trips do, with an abundance of uneventful sitting around.  Our flight from DTW to Newark was short and bumpy. A few of the group experienced some minor nausea, but we made it through without any incidence.  After a short layover in Newark, we departed for Tel Aviv.  Our flight was ten hours, and one of the smoothest flights I have been a part of. Many tried to sleep, but few succeeded. Several played video games, some watched movies, all listened to music, but the overall winner of the night was Emma Taylor with a whopping three hours of sleep! I can attest that it is very difficult to sleep with so much excitement and adrenaline running through your veins! As long of a night as it was, the Lord seemed to shine upon us as he welcomed us with a beautiful sunrise over Israel as if to say, “Welcome to my home!” We finally arrived in Tel Aviv at 8:10 AM local time (2:10 AM Everest time). Time to start the day!

Holy Land Airport

We made it through customs and met our tour guide Hani with our luggage.  We then had the opportunity to visit two beautiful cities along the coast of the Mediterranean: Jaffa and Haifa.  Jaffa is a port city on the Mediterranean, and it is also the location where Jonah set sail before being swallowed by a fish. Hani told us that you shouldn’t disobey God, because he has a way of getting you to do what he wants anyway.  We also saw in Jaffa the house of Simon the Tanner, who was a friend of Peter’s.  Here Jesus spoke to Peter as he prayed, and told him that they no longer need to abstain from unclean meat such as pork.  Jorge named this house the “Bacon” house.  From here we walked along the shore and stopped at the beautiful St. Peter’s Church.  We took a few pictures, and were on our way to the next location.

We would be the first group of Everest pilgrims to visit Haifa as part of the senior trip, and our first goal there was to refuel with some well-needed calories.  We ate at a beautiful restaurant perched above the Mediterranean Sea.  After lunch, we drove a short distance to Bahai Gardens.  The seniors absolutely loved this location.  We stayed for 45 minutes, and the seniors took approximately 34,527 pictures.  It was now time for Mass.  We were granted the opportunity to celebrate Mass at the Stella Maris Monastery.  This is a Carmelite-run Monastery at the base of Mt. Carmel where the prophet Elijah lived. The group was able to walk into the cave where Elijah slept.  Bella was in awe of all of the amazing things we had seen, and Luke told me that it made everything in the Bible seem more “real.” It has truly been a pleasure to see how mature this group has become.

Holy Land Jet Lag Bus Ride

After mass, we drove to our hotel in Nazareth to wash up and eat dinner. Our tour guide Hani tried his hardest to keep us interested in all of the scenery on the drive, but unfortunately the lack of sleep caught up to our group.  At one point, I turned around and 12 out of 12 were passed out in uncomfortable positions on the bus.  Even the three chaperones may have dozed in and out of sleep a few times.  Our plan was to retire early after dinner, but apparently there is no stopping these kids! All 12 of them wanted to join Father Daniel in a walk to the Basilica of the Annunciation.  I think this may have been the favorite part yet for the students.  Here we saw the exact location that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would be the mother of Jesus. It was such a powerful experience to see where the Virgin Mother lived, and the group spent a good amount of time in prayerful appreciation.

Holy Land Annunciation with Fr.

The group then walked home, stopping at a few shops along the way to get the Nazareth shopping experience.  It is 10:00 pm now here in Israel, and I do not need to worry about lights out.  I am pretty sure that our group will get quality sleep tonight.

We are seeing more and more that home is when we are closest to Jesus, and I can tell you that as a group, we are feeling very close to home.

Day 2

Today we began with a 6:30 am wake-up call that pierced the ears with a tenacious ferocity.  It didn’t take long for the group to get ready, and we found each other in the hotel dining room for breakfast. After a quick bite to eat, we were on our way to Mt. Tabor with an enthusiasm that I have never seen that early from these students before!

Holy Land Tabor

Once our tour bus arrived at the base of Mt. Tabor, we had to take a taxi bus to the summit.  The scenery on the drive up the mountain took our breath away.  Green valleys sandwiched by smooth mountains surrounded us as the sun peeked through the clouds, and its’ rays warmed the ground beneath us.  God was smiling down on us as we came to the place where he once walked.  At the top of the mountain, we had a gospel reflection from Luke in which Jesus, John, James, and Peter walked to the top of Mt. Tabor, and Jesus transfigured himself to his disciples.  Bella later remarked in our gospel reflection how powerful it was to be walking in the same spots as our Lord and Savior.  After reflection, we had some time to walk around the church built on the top of the mountain dedicated to the event.  The views were stunning. Several students spent time in prayer in the church, took some took pictures with their selfie sticks, and others found time to appreciate the gardens surrounding the church. Needless to say, it was a powerful experience for all.  Once our time atop the mountain was completed, we decided to go down the mountain on foot.  The group thoroughly enjoyed the walk, the company, and the splendor of the scenery upon the descent.

Holy Land Clare with Palm

When we arrived back at our tour bus, we piled in and headed to our next location.  We were scheduled to eat lunch next, but our tour guide Hani surprised us with a visit to a synagogue in Nazareth that resembled one that Jesus would have taught in during his ministries.

Holy Land Synagoge

Father Daniel read from the Bible and did some of his own teaching to the group in the synagogue.  Afterwards, we watched a Palm Sunday procession by the Greek Melchite Catholics outside of the synagogue with trumpets blaring! The whole experience was surreal.  We then headed to the restaurant for lunch. Here we celebrated Carly’s birthday!

Holy Land Carly

After lunch, the group again visited the Basilica of the Annunciation.  We took a quick tour of the grounds, and of course prayed in front of the location where the Angel Gabriel came to Mary and told her that she would be the Mother of Jesus. We had a short personal reflection about what it meant to us that Mary said “yes” to God. After this, we went upstairs to the Church of the Annunciation where we had the privilege of celebrating Mass on the main altar.  We were ridiculously close to the altar. Here, Jill touched our hearts with her beautiful singing of the psalms. Father then gave a powerful homily about Mary saying “yes” to God, and how the students have so many big decisions ahead of them, and how they should model choices with Mary in mind. The Mass was one the most amazing that I have been a part of. After Mass we toured the home of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus during Jesus’ childhood.  The Church of St. Joseph was built in top of their home.  We were able to see the places where the Holy Family lived.

Holy Land Annunciation Church

Holy Land St. Joseph House
Holy Land Annunciation Altar
Finally, we headed off to Cana to visit the site of the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine.  We prayed at the church built over the location, and then went underneath the church to see the foundation of the house where the wedding occurred.  We were also able to see the stone jars like the ones that Jesus performed his first miracle in. Here, Mary told the servants at the wedding to “do whatever Jesus tells you.” This again reminded us to say “yes” to Jesus because of his immense and unconditional love for us. We then headed back to our hotel for dinner and a Gospel reflection. It has been a true pleasure to hear the seniors open up about their experiences here, and what it means in their lives.

As we look forward to the next few days, we are filled with anticipation of what is to come.  We will be experiencing Holy Week exactly where Christ experienced it.  I pray that our updates can give you even a sliver of the grace that we are receiving in our Savior’s home.

God bless you, and thank you for your prayers!

Jeff Stencel