Gene Ort's Blog

Archive for April, 2010

Took The Midnight Train from Beijing

by on Apr.16, 2010, under Gene, On my mind

After some pretty intense travel getting to Biejing.. we were greeted by four nameless men. We were whisked off pretty quickly and before we new it, we were walking down winding dark streets and long dirt roads. We arrived to find a building that you would never expect was a “gathering”.  Think abandoned industrial 1930’s NYC.

Every time I go on one of these trips I am humbled by the sacrifice these warriors of God endure.  Like a blast of reality, we are forced to walk into their world. They smile wide and share what they have. They celebrate God with abandon. They are generous with their love. They look to us for help.. I look to them for inspiration.

It’s forbidden to do what they do. Nothing can stop them!

It’s 4:15 am here where I am. We all just spent most of the night on a “night train”  out of Beijing. It was a 10 hour ride in one of those sleeper cars.  I am going to bed real soon..  but before I do..

It’s almost dinner time back in Niles where I live. Mary emailed me and she is cooking chicken..  I love what she does with a chicken..

Imagine cooking dinner on this every night..  If you have food…

IMG_4115 kitchen

I have a prayer on my lips already.. “Father God, don’t let me look away from their need.”

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Castles, Warriors and The Promised Land

by on Apr.11, 2010, under Egypt

After leaving Petra, we traveled The Kings Highway, our final destination was Amman Jordan. On the way we stopped at Shobak Crusader Castle ( Mons Regalis ) ruins, built in 1112 by King Baldwin I of Jerusalem to guard the road between Egypt and Damascus. The castle fell to Saladin in 1189.

IMG_3870 Shoubak Castle distant

Now this was fun ! I am not what I would call an overly militaristic kinda guy but exploring Crusader Castle ruins… way cool..

These round objects.. yup..  these are chiseled rocks for catapults. Imagine getting smacked with one of these babies.

IMG_3875 cannon ball one

The ruins were not in great shape. It seems that locals would come by every now and then and cart off blocks of limestone to build their homes.

IMG_3879 shoubak doorway

Every window was designed to defend the castle with bow and arrow. The grates on the ground  are covering window holes from rooms below.

IMG_3892 arch 1

Attacking a castle like this would not have been easy. You have to climb a very steep hill in plain sight.. they would catapult rocks at you, throw burning tar on you and then shoot you with arrows. I am pretty sure I would not have made it up the hill even without the barrage .
IMG_3904 shoubak high walls

Visual images in TV and movies has anesthetized us and distorted our view of violence. In our culture, it is quite normal to gather round the tube or big screen and watch a good blood bath in the name of entertainment. I am not sure how I feel about all that but I am sure in the Kingdom of God.. that wont be so..

Much of the movie “Kingdom of Heaven” was focused on the Crusades and this region, even this very castle.

(Pardon my slight rabbit trail…)  Which brings me to a topic that comes up often.

Matthew 11:12 “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

I am thankful to the courageous men and woman who for the cause of justice and righteousness take up arms against wickedness. I am also thankful for those who push back the spiritual wickedness in this world by taking the Gospel where it has never been before and or for retaking long lost ground where believers forgot they were in a battle. These people are indeed warriors for God.

Modern day versions of the Godly warrior are probably what the bible refers to as Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists. There are two other offices, Shepherd and Teacher. Without all five offices in place, tyranny and arrogance or ignorance and slavery follow.

When working together as a team, wickedness is driven back into it’s slimy little hole, lives are saved, slaves set free, healing and comfort dispensed and ignorance irradiated.

This is the day I am longing for:

Micah 4:3 He will judge between many peoples 
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. 
They will beat their swords into plowshares 
and their spears into pruning hooks. 
Nation will not take up sword against nation, 
nor will they train for war anymore.

Ok… back to the castle… An archer would stand in this position and rain arrows down on the attacking forces.

IMG_3910 shoubakshooter slot 1

Ron would offer helpful historical background commentary along the way.

IMG_3919 Ron V talks..

The road to our next stop, Kerak was marked by stunningly beautiful valley’s

IMG_3934 valley on kings Highway

Kerak Crusader Castle

Dan B. looks dashing here sporting a green polo and Wayfayers. What a man !

IMG_3939 Kerak Dan vista

Kerak castle was huge..

IMG_3945 Kerak long corridorFront door..

IMG_3951 Kerak front door

“Abandon hope all ye who enter here” .. Dante Alighieri 1306

Ever wonder what it looks like to be carried off to a dungeon ?  This is it..

IMG_3964 Kerak abandon hope

Your last view of the outside world.

IMG_3974 Kerak last view

Mark pauses and takes a moment to reflect. Thankful he is not living in a dungeon I expect..

IMG_3982 Kerak Mark in dungeun

Kerak was built and replaced Shobak as the center of importance. Kerak fell to Saladin in 1189.

Interesting note, the crusader castles were all built a days travel apart. Every night a fire was lit at each castle to let Jerusalem know all was well.

When Moses and the Israelites passed this way they must have begun to sense that God was taking them someplace wonderful. This is along ways from the wilderness of sin.

IMG_3987 Kerak overview

Not far from Kerak, The Dead Sea.. One dip in this and you itch for days…

I have been hearing about the Dead Sea forever.  It’s nearly 34 % salt.. and 100% mysterious. It’s a lake.. with no life.. Somehow that seems odd to me.

The West bank of Israel is directly on the other side.

IMG_4008 dead sea

The Promised Land!    From the top of Mount Nebo

IMG_4027 The Promised Land

For the Christ follower, “The Promised Land” evokes all kinds of thoughts and emotions.  This exodus trip was something I will never forget. But this moment for me was very powerful. For me the promised land means Heaven and the life with Jesus I have been longing for. I want it all. The no more pain part, the no more tears part, the no more death part and restoration of the living life as we were intended to live part, with God, our Father, walking in the cool of the day. My heart seems to know how wonderful it will be.

It is said that Moses did not enter the promised land, but I believe he did… but not the one on earth. I believe it happened the very moment he died. I think this was all very much on purpose.

This is not “teaching” but Gene.. thinking out loud… If God let Moses enter the “earthly promised land”, it sets up human thinking again to  believe that this world is the goal, the most important destination. The “earthly promised land” the Israelites inherited was and is fraught with war and destruction even to this day !!  By God refusing to allow Moses to enter the “earthly promised land” and taking him to the”real / heavenly promised land” it correctly identifies where our affections should be, to our true destination and reward.

As I stood there and looked across this valley that Moses saw just before he died I had an overwhelming sense of the Father telling me that “my” promised land is waiting for me.

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by on Apr.08, 2010, under Egypt

Every great adventure should start with the unexpected discovery of a hidden passage on a long forgotten trail. Action music also helps 🙂 ….. clic this and continue.. ( or not )

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Petra is just like that.  Petra was re-discovered by western civilization in 1812… who lost it remains unknown. Indiana Jones is credited with reintroducing Petra again to movie fans in “The Last Crusade”. The Bedouins think this is all rather entertaining, they always knew where it was..:)  The city is estimated to have been established in the 6th century BC by the Nabataeans. The city is notably listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a World Heritage Site.

I offer no apology for the length of this post.

Before you enter the city proper, you are teased by this carving. The actual city is still a good walk away.

IMG_3563 building 1 entrance

Before you can enter the city you must navigate a long narrow canyon called a Siq. It’s entirely fitting, adding drama with every step.

IMG_3573 the Siq

A quote by the BBC referred to Petra as “a city half as old as time”. A few steps into the Siq and you had the sensation of stepping back in time.

IMG_3581 Siq 3The sunlight reflecting through the canyon exposed incredible color, texture and detail.

Psalm 19:1 “God’s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.”

If the Heaven’s declare his handiwork, His valleys, carved by His hands celebrate creation.

IMG_3600 deep red Siq 2

After a mile walk through one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, you catch first sight of the city. Petra: Rock

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IMG_3615 Sig first sight 2

Khazneh: The Treasury

IMG_3634 Treasury Building 1

The number one question I have been asked about the treasury: ” is the room inside just like it looks in the last crusade?” The answer…no. We have all been duped by hollywood again.  The room is a large empty space. There are two very impressive carved buildings in Petra. This one and at the other end of town and up the mountain, The High Temple, also called the Monastery.  I don’t think that is by accident. The two main things people worship, God or gods and money. It’s very clear that ornate banks is not a modern idea and as we saw in Germany, ornate churches have been around for a long time. Maybe people feel safer trusting their money to people in fancy buildings. Maybe some people feel closer to God in a fancy building.  Manufactured validation and security. I think both assumptions are very dangerous.

At one time the cash flowed freely in Petra. This is where they kept it. History documents that Petra was an important stop on a vital trade route. The Nabataean’s had harnessed the power  and storage of water and created a monopoly of sorts. Caravans would stop for water, supplies and various and sundry goods and services. In part, a truck stop oasis with a little Las Vegas style entertainment thrown in.

Not unlike the city square in Mainz, Germany, Petra had a town center.

IMG_3661 town center

Complete with a Roman style amphitheater.

IMG_3667 ampitheater

IMG_3690 City curve

A great earthquake leveled portions of the city in 363 AD damaging the water system and many buildings. Petra’s decline accelerated under Roman rule due in part to increasing sea trade routes.
IMG_3713 old city

Some of the man made structures remain partially standing after the earthquake.

IMG_3717 earth quake

At the far end of town, the trail leads up the mountain to the high Temple.

At this point I had a decision to make. I could hike up the trail or ride a donkey. My pride clearly said hike it. But the memory of the hike up Sinai was alive and well in my calves. Ron V. ( our faithful guide ) was convinced the donkey would throw me to my death and said so.

As I watched my hiking buddies head up the trail, I got on a donkey. I knew instantly I had made a good decision for me. I was having fun immediately.

Mark Beeson took this picture. This may have the first and only time I was in front ! 🙂

Petra 031210 GENE to Temple Heights 1 sized

The High Temple aka The Monastery ( “Ad-Deir” ).

The building was dedicated in the first century to Obodas I  ( a deified former king ) and is believed to have been used as a symposium. Basically a place to hangout, drink to much and talk philosophy. There are hints that pagan idol worship and all types of perversions were also entertained here. There is not a lot of documentation about the people of Petra. They had no written language.

Around the fourth century, Christianity came to Petra. It had a church and a bishop named Aterius.

IMG_3744 high temple

These guys are hiking machines and great traveling companions !

IMG_3805 Highest point

From this vantage point and in this general direction is Mount Hor, the resting place of Moses’s brother Aaron. The Israelites stopped here and mourned Aaron for 30 days. For me, sometimes historical icons like Moses take on a kind of non-humanity. This being Aaron’s burial site stripped away a bit of that for me. Moses was a great man of God, but he was a man, he had a brother a couple wives and a couple kids, Gershom and Eliezer. Aaron was their uncle. To us Moses can become a biblical character, almost like an actor in a movie,  but he was a flawed man just like the rest of us.

One account says he made a serious mistake here at Petra, at least according to Arab tradition. He directly disobeyed God and struck a rock with the rod instead of speaking to the rock as God had instructed him. As a result, neither Moses or Aaron were able to enter the promised land.

Everything has consequences.

IMG_3806 Mt Hor

If you go up the mountain, you must go down.

IMG_3831 down the mountain

At the time when the city was in full swing and enjoying their height of prosperity, you can be sure they thought they were building the greatest city in the world. There was evidence everywhere of a sudden stop to the forward momentum. Stairways climbing to nowhere, half done facades.

IMG_3835 city plans

The crowds roll in. It was a little easier to imagine what the city would have looked like in it’s “hay day” with thousands of tourists wandering around.

IMG_3847 crowds roll in

It would have been great fun to leave Petra on a spirited horse, like Indy.. or a Camel.  Maybe next time… Now.. back to the future..

IMG_3859 exit

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The Road to Petra

by on Apr.02, 2010, under Egypt

Following the path Moses and the Israelites took, after they received the law from God on Mount Sinai, they traveled northeastward and lived nearly 40 years at Kadesh Barnea. This valley is located along the way near Taba, Sinai ( Egypt ). It’s easy to imagine the Israelites camped out in this valley.

IMG_3509 big valley

Saladin’s Castle, originally called Pharaoh’s Island 1170 AD in Taba, Sinai ( Egypt )

IMG_3519 saladine's castle

Near Taba, we passed through a small coastal portion of modern day Israel ( with tons of security ) and into Aqaba, Jordan. Moses took this path ( per God’s instructions ) to avoid family conflict with the Edomites..  and conflict in general with the Moabites.

Our spirits were high, we had just had a good meal in Aqaba and split up into two vans. No trip across a desert would be complete without a breakdown.. What followed could be described as an international incident on the way to Petra.. One unnamed party ( the one on the left ) struck our driver with a plastic pipe when said driver began driving erratically on high mountain roads. The issue was settled without further escalation.

The strange hand gestures indicate the leadership ranking of the passengers as proclaimed by the van driver. Carefully note that the number one is missing, he is taking the picture. Truthfully, these guys are all leaders.

IMG_3530 brokedown

Wadi Musa.. The Valley of Moses, Southern Jordan. Extraordinarily beautiful and incredibly rugged.  The journey of the people of God was epic. I began to realize at this point that Moses was not just a Christian hero of faith but is also an icon for these people. I did not get the chance to ask but I am curious about what the local Jordanian’s really think about Moses.

IMG_3540 wadi musa

Trip days can be pretty stressful. Paul and Vic provided a good portion of the trip entertainment.

IMG_3543 Paul & Vic

We are one third of the way to Amman, Jordan … cue music from Indiana Jones..   Next.. The lost City of Petra.

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