Heading North

May 12

We travelled to the northern border where Israel meets Lebanon, to an historical site called Tel Dan. We toured ruins from the Canaanite period, including a gate that Abraham very likely walked through! Tel Dan is also the location of the head waters of the Jordan River system, which means it is lush and green. The sound of rushing water was startling in a relatively dry land. We drove on a littler farther to Caesarea Philippi, the site where Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” This conversation very likely took place in view of an array of temples and shrines to other gods. This led to an interesting conversation about monotheism, and when it began in the Israelite tradition.

We drove back toward the Nazareth area, stopping in Cana for lunch. A typical lunch includes falafel or schwarma in a pita, and a drink. Our bus driver is great at suggesting places that can serve a busload of people quickly! After lunch we went to Zippori, the sight of Roman ruins. Here you can actually see the cart and chariot ruts worn into the remains of the Roman road! There are many remarkably well preserved stone tile mosaics at this sight, including in the synagogue floor. Zippori was constructed in the first century, so there is a distinct possibility that Jesus’ father Joseph, may have worked on this site as a builder.

At the sight of the synagogue we stopped to discuss the Pharisees, and how they are portrayed in the gospels. Modern Judaism traces its origins back to the Pharisees, who preserved Judaism after the destruction of the temple, by teaching the Torah and establishing synagogues. As Derek explained to us, the Christian perspective of Pharisees in scriptures is kind of like the history of the Toronto Maples Leafs written by a Habs fan!

We had a feast for our last night at the Antique Hostel in Nazareth. The food has been so generous and flavourful. We have thoroughly enjoyed it!

Channeling our inner mountain goat

Hi everyone! My name is Jessica and my home church is Markham Chinese Mennonite Church. I am currently a second year student at York University, majoring in Social Work. A big part of the reason why I chose to attend YELLA 2018 was because I wanted to physically and mentally challenge myself to step out of my comfort zone. This is my first over-seas trip, so I’m very excited that I get to have these new experiences to listen, observe, and learn.

Today was an exciting day, as we continued with our journey on the Jesus Trail for a second day. The group was dropped off near the area where we left off on the Jesus Trail yesterday and we began climbing toward the Horns of Hattin, a major hill. The hike on the trail today was definitely tougher than yesterday, as the hills were slightly steeper and there was less shade, so it became fairly hot quite quickly. When we reached the top of the hill, we sat on the rocky steps and had a snack and water break to replenish our energy. While we sat and ate our snacks, Derek gave us a little history lesson about the different groups of people who took occupation of the land over time. After our break and hike down the hill, our tour bus took us near the top of Mt. Arbel where we had lunch. Mt. Arbel was definitely the group’s favourite part of the trail. The view that we had while the group hiked down the hill was breath-taking. We were able to see the Sea of Galilee and all of the surrounding towns and communities near it from a distance away. We were also able to see cows in the pasture, and many caves and fortresses in the mountains. Today’s hike was a big group bonding moment because despite the heat and the difficult trail that we were hiking on, everyone was very encouraging of each other and always there to give a hand to another person, if they ever needed it. To top off our adventurous day, we went to a little shop to get ice cream, before we went back to our hostel, which everyone was exceptionally happy about!

Walking in the footsteps of Jesus

Today we walked in the footsteps of Jesus along the Jesus trail.

The Jesus Trail is a 65-kilometer hiking trail in the Galilee region of Israel. It connects important sites from the life of Jesus and other historical and religious sites. It is a way  for travellers and pilgrims to experience the steps of Jesus in an authentic, adventurous and educational manner by hiking through the rugged and beautiful landscape of the Galilee in Israel.

Today we started in Cana and walked for several hours. We passed pastoral scenes, livestock and military vehicles and finished with a stroll down a Roman road.

We finished the day with a visit to Gan Hoshlosha. Some believe Gan Hashlosha is the location of the garden of Eden. It has beautiful spring fed pools shaded by lush palm trees and we took full advantage of the beautiful location and enjoyed some down time in the water.

Tomorrow we will be continuing our walk along the Jesus Trail and descending Mount Arbel (see the photo above). It will be another day of expanding our horizons and testing our limits.


Along the shores of the Sea of Galilee


My name is Emily Bauman from Elmira Mennonite Church. I’m currently working as a sculpting assistant to Timothy Schmalz which makes this day extra cool for me.

Today we went to the Sea of Galilee and toured a boat museum and various religious sights built over places where Jesus himself walked, resided, and taught. Our first stop was a museum where they showed the preserved remains of a 2000 year old boat that was discovered by two brothers when the Sea of Galilee was lower in 1986 due to a drought. It was very cool seeing what style of boat Jesus and his disciples might have travelled with. We got the amazing opportunity to have a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee hosted by a very welcoming crew. An energetic young host led us and another group in three traditional dances while we were out in the middle of the water. Next, we went to Tabgha, the site of the feeding of the five thousand. The chapel had a mosaic of the loaves and fishes in the floor at the altar, a common print on souvenirs from the Holy Land. We moved on to Capernaum. This day we expected thunderstorms but by the time we made it there it was very hot and sunny – a tribute to the fast changing forecasts and weather above the sea. Capernaum was the centre of Jesus’ ministries and life. There were ruins of a Christian church and a Jewish Synagogue dating back to the third century, on the same site as a first century synagogue where Jesus would have taught. The ruins from the town surrounding it gave a sense of the type of life other people experienced on this very holy site.

This location was very exciting for me. As I mentioned earlier I work with Timothy Schmalz. His bronze sculpture, The Homeless Jesus, was recently installed at the entrance gates to this park. I helped him make this new addition of the statue, so seeing it in this location was special. I had the chance to talk to two guys that were working there and they were kind enough to let me go behind the fence to see it close up and get a few pictures.

After that, we drove to the Mount of the Beatitudes. There is another chapel built on this site and Derek gathered us all on the hill in a beautiful garden below the chapel and shared about the cultural and biblical history of the Sermon on the Mount and the beatitudes that aren’t often talked about or understood in the English translation. Our final stop was Magdala. This site celebrated women disciples of Jesus, as it was the home of Mary Magdalene. The chapel here had pillars with the names of six women who followed Jesus that are often not mentioned in the church. In the excavation of this archaeological site, a carved stone representing the temple in Jerusalem was recently discovered, in excellent condition, in the ruins of the local synagogue.

On our way home, the group stopped at a grocery store to pick up snacks. Going into the grocery store was something that many of us reflected was a very exciting experience whenever we’re in a new place. The day was more humid than is often expected so by the time we finally made it back to the Hostel for 6:30 the whole group was happy to relax, eat supper and settle down for the night. All in all we had a great day where we were able to see more of where we know Jesus held his ministry and wade in the sea that Jesus walked on.

Days of Elijah

Hi! I am Leah Bauman from St. Jacobs Mennonite Church. Today the YELLA group headed out to Caesarea and Mt. Carmel (half an hour earlier than our usual start time, which caused a few *bad moods*). Our trip to Mount Carmel, which is the site of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al in 1 Kings 18, was postponed due to thunderstorms, although our leaders insisted the rain and storms would create a biblically accurate experience on the mountain. On our way to Caesarea, our bus driver took us to a spot in the city of Haifa that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, which was a stunning place for pictures. Haifa is Israel’s third largest city, and has a major port. We stopped at the mall for lunch, in order to ride out the rainy weather. In the afternoon, the skies cleared up a little more so we continued on our way to the ruins at Caesarea. Caesarea was constructed under King Herod, as an attempt to impress Caesar. It had an elaborate palace, built out into the Mediterranean Sea, as well as an amphitheatre and a hippodrome. In the Byzantine era, more structures were added, including baths with intricately tiled floors. Later, Crusaders built a fortress on the site. We began our tour in a reconstructed amphitheatre that directly faced in the direction of Rome, Italy across the Mediterranean. Looking across at the huge sea was a very humbling experience for me. It felt like a reminder of how big the world is, and how much of the world there is to see. The next part of the afternoon reminded us all about the importance of being a kid. We drove a short distance to a sandy beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Some of us enjoyed climbing up on the old Roman aqueduct, that carried water 17 km from the mountains to Caesarea, while others collected shells, built sandcastles and jumped in the waves.
All of us surely felt the salt on our faces and hair as we took a bus ride to Mount Carmel. Derek led us in a short reflection on the mountain overlooking the Jezreel Valley about the Elijah story and a few of us jammed out to Days of Elijah on the way back to the hostel.

The Journey Begins

Yella, meaning “let’s go!”, is a learning tour for young adults. 2018 will be the 5th Yella trip.

Some might find themselves hesitant to visit this land as news of suffering comes out of the region regularly, but we hear from MCC in Israel and Palestine that “it is important, now more than ever, for visitors, especially young people, to make a trip to learn the roots of the conflict”.

Please check back frequently. Yella participants will be posting our reflections and learnings regularly as we journey together.