Looking after the elderly during COVIDBy: C4i

This COVID crisis has impacted us all, but perhaps no single group has been harder hit than our elderly and senior relatives and friends. Our parents and grandparents are at the same time both at the most risk, and also the most isolated by this virus. 

We’ve all had to adjust to changes in the workplace, school closures, and physical distancing guidelines. While life isn’t exactly back to normal, most of us are finding our footing and navigating this new world as best we can. Work from home arrangements have been made, many businesses have returned to operations (if under some new precautions and standards), and the younger generations, who are more electronically connected than ever, are at least enjoying virtual social lives through messenger apps and online games.

For many elderly people though, these past few months have represented a total loss to their access to the outside world. Those who don’t drive and depended on public transportation or rides with family and friends are suddenly without a means to travel. And where would they travel to? They are constantly told (and with good reason) to avoid any unnecessary exposure with others and to stay away from any public place. Our elderly are often not as comfortable with technology as the younger generations and can’t even resort to digital camaraderie to keep their spirits up. 

That’s why it is up to us. We need to take special care to ensure that our elderly loved ones are cared for and protected physically and emotionally during this international crisis.

Staying connected but safe

The sad fact is many leading health experts anticipate several more months of lock down conditions. These past four months have felt like an eternity already and we don’t even know if we’re at the halfway point yet. If you find that demoralizing and sad, imagine how our elderly, who have been even more isolated and bored during this crisis, must feel. 

It’s good that many elderly are heeding warnings and are minimizing their exposure. But isolation can also be an insidious health threat, one that can lead to depression, an early decline in cognitive function, and eventually will result in more virus transmissions as fed up seniors eventually ignore the dangers in favor of a return to normalcy. The best way to keep our seniors healthy is with regular, safe, communication. 

Phone calls are a great start. A daily check-in, even a short one, can do wonders for raising spirits and ensuring that no one feels forgotten or abandoned. If they are technologically inclined, email messages can be a fast, easy way of keeping up a dialog throughout the day, and video calls are even better. A few minutes saying hi to the grandkids face-to-face can make a big difference to a senior who has been stuck inside staring at the same walls all day.

In person visits are also a major help, provided safety steps are taken. Outdoor visits where everyone can maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from each other are ideal. For some seniors who have poor hearing, talking from a distance like that (especially though masks) may be difficult, but that can be worked through with pocket hearing aids and patience. Even if you need to raise your voice a bit to be heard, a noisy visit is better than no visit at all. 

Staying positive

One thing that is not being discussed in the broader coverage of the virus is just how frightening this has been for many seniors. This has been a major upset in their lives and the prevailing message has been "just wait it out.” For how long? For those who just started retirement, this virus has been a nasty joke. Finally, free to enjoy long relaxing days with friends and family, instead they’ve been confined and trapped in their own homes. 

That’s why it’s so important for us to help them stay positive. While during a visit or conversation with an elderly relative or friends its only natural to talk about the virus and what’s going on, don’t let it be the thing you dwell on. Do your best to keep the conversation fun and looking towards a hopeful future.
Wherever possible, find things you can share. Start a mini book club by reading the same book and discussing it together. Share movies and TV shows you like. With plenty of time on their hands, now is a great time to catch up on some shows they never got around to before! Bring a portable speaker to your next outdoor visit and play some old favourite tunes, especially those related to good memories (songs played at family weddings, concerts they once attended, favorite bands), whatever will help them stop thinking about how scary and uncertain things are now and help them smile. 

A great way to keep things positive is to encourage safe long-term projects for the elderly in your life. There has never been a better time to keep a garden, get back into painting, stitch a quilt, or do some woodworking. Having something productive to spend time on every day can be both a great distraction and something positive to look forward to in the future. Rather than just a slog of similar days for the foreseeable future, they can look forward to finishing a project and having something to be proud of. It’s an easy conversation piece too, all you need to do is ask "how is your garden coming along” and it’s off to the races!

Pray for them and with them

One of the most dangerous parts of this pandemic has been the loss of spiritual connection. With churches closed or people deciding not to risk attending, there has been a loss of spiritual connection in the community. If our elderly friends and relatives can’t go to church, it’s up to us to be the church. Take time to pray for your loved ones and take time to pray with them. Don’t be afraid to suggest singing a hymn or two with them, or reading a few Psalms. 

In John 13:35, Jesus says that "everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” That’s the love we need to show right now to get everyone, young and old, through this pandemic. 

[Comment]

The courage of Irena Sendler Part 2By: C4i

"It was easier to hide a tank than a Jewish child in the Holocaust”

Irena Sendler was already wearing a bullseye in occupied Poland. A known Jewish sympathizer and activist with a history of flouting the establishment when it came to doing what is right, she would have been immediately on the Gestapo’s radar as a potential Jewish sympathizer. And indeed, as a member of the Warsaw Welfare Department, Irena was already working under the table to funnel goods and supplies to endangered Jewish families. Most would say she had already done enough; that she had already helped more than the vast majority of people who either did nothing or actively collaborated with the Nazis; that the danger was already too close. 

But Irena felt the complete opposite. She felt the overwhelming need to do more.

It was in 1942 after the creation of the Warsaw Ghetto that Irena began to work hand in hand with the Żegota, the underground Council to Aid Jews, that was dedicated to subverting the Nazi occupation and assisting as many Jews as possible. It has to be stressed how dangerous this was, the Żegota was an illegal organization. Association with them, let along actively providing them aid, would be punishable by imprisonment and execution. And Irena with her background and reputation would be closely watched for such ties. Understanding this is key to understanding just how courageous Irena’s efforts truly were.

Using her position in the welfare department, Irena secured a certificate as a disease inspector, one of the few plausible reasons a Polish civilian could have for entering and leaving the Ghetto. It was an undesirable job for most, one with a high risk of illness and personal danger, but perfect for Irena. It was this access that would give her and the Żegota organization the chance to save many lives.

Irena began visiting the Ghetto daily, using the opportunity to gather information, ferry messages from the people trapped there to their allies in the Żegota, and distribute desperately needed food and medicine. While she knew the situation in the Ghetto was dire, seeing the starvation, sickness, and misery firsthand had a shattering impact on Irena. Now a young mother herself, she could not bear the thought of children suffering under those conditions.

It would have been impossible for Irena to smuggle out a full-grown adult, there was no way she could walk into the Ghetto alone and saunter out with a "friend” tagging along. And then there would be the difficulty of them hiding, securing false documents, identities, work histories and such. But children, those she could smuggle out in a gunny sack, or in a box used to ship goods - if nobody looked too close anyway. And 1942 Poland was full of orphans with unclear histories and shoddy paperwork, families that could take in a child to blend in with their own. The burden of documentation for children was much less severe than for adults. it was possible.

So that’s exactly what she did. She went into the Ghetto in her ambulance and one-by-one she smuggled children out of that pit. She cultivated a small network of sympathizers inside the Social Welfare Department to help forge documents and names for the children, and worked with the Żegota and local Christian churches to secure willing foster families and orphanages to hide the children. 

Again, the danger of this for everyone involved cannot be overstated. Taking in a Jewish child was like taking in a bomb without a visible timer, a hazard that could blow up your entire family with one slip, one loose conversation overheard by the wrong person, one unlucky inspection from the Gestapo. But Irena was a force, so strong were her convictions, her passion for helping these children, that as she said herself later, "No one ever refused to take a child from me." 

Still, this was hard, exhausting work. Imagine the desperation of a Jewish mother sending her small child to be carried out of her home in a rucksack or even in the case of at least one infant, a toolbox, by a stranger. The strain Irena felt day-after-day watching families make the impossible decision to try and save their children, knowing they would likely never see them again. She needed something to keep her faith going. For Irena, that was a jar filled with names.

Written in code on small slips of paper sealed in jars were the names of every child she helped save. Their real Jewish names, their families, and when and where they were taken. This was damning evidence to have on hand if her home was ever searched, but Irene felt it was important to have some kind of documentation to these lives. It was the hope that one day these families could be reunited. 

These jars were buried under an apple tree in her neighbour’s lawn. All in all, they contained the names of 2,500 children that Irene personally had a hand in saving.

It wasn’t to last. The Nazis eventually caught up with Irene in the fall of 1943. She was arrested and tortured in unspeakable ways. Despite her suffering, she never gave up the names and locations of the hidden Jewish children or her collaborators. Frustrated, the Gestapo shipped her off to prison awaiting execution. 

In what can only be considered a miracle, Irene survived. Members of the Żegota were able to bribe the German’s to delay the execution and engineered an escape. Despite being one of the Gestapo’s most important prisoners, she was able to slip through the cracks. She spent the rest of the war on the run, always looking over her shoulder for German officers.
 
 

It is an incredible story, but perhaps what is most impressive about Irena’s efforts is her extreme humility. Irena did not seek any kind of gratitude or accolades for her actions. In fact, despite being recognized by Yad Vashem in 1965, she remained a relatively obscure figure in terms of Holocaust heroes compared to others like Oscar Schindler. It wasn’t until the year 2000 when an American high-school class "rediscovered” her that her exploits would be widely known in North America. The class, tasked with looking into the history of the Holocaust, saw a figure that quoted Irena as saving 2,500 lives which they believed must have been a typo. Surely, they meant 250 lives, right? Looking into the mystery, they discovered that not only was there no typo, but that Irena, now 90 years old was still alive and well, still living in Warsaw among family members! 

The class would go on to create a play called Life in a Jar about Irena and ignite an international outpouring or recognition to her work. Including a call from the Pope, multiple articles and television programs, and several awards and plaques. 

Irena passed at the age of 98, grateful but never entirely comfortable with the accolades. She said, "every child saved with my help is the justification of my existence on this Earth, and not a title to glory.” All of these years later, she still never saw what she did as personally heroic, but her duty to her fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. A remarkable perspective from someone who lived her principals to the fullest.

[Comment]

The Courage of Irena Sendler Part 1By: C4i

 
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Warsaw became a place of misery and suffering. Nearly half a million Jewish men, women, and children were herded into a 3.5 kilometer square neighbourhood and prevented from leaving. Families lived on top of each other, averaging 9 people to a room. Epidemics ran rampant, and the entire population was purposely starved with rations tightly controlled with intentional shortages of essentials. It was a charnel house, designed to kill off as many Jews as possible "naturally” while weakening the rest of the population for their eventual forced removal to concentration camps.

Knowing this, what kind of person do you think would willingly walk into this horror? Who would face the disease, misery, and brutality afflicting these people? Maybe you’re picturing someone brave, a soldier, or a brilliant doctor, or a shrewd spy. How about a 29-year-old social worker and nurse? A girl so unassuming the Nazis wouldn’t even notice when she helped slip more than 2,500 people out of that hell and into safety. That was Irena Sendler.

Irena’s story began in Otwock, a town nearby Warsaw where she lived a quiet, peaceful childhood. Raised Christian, her father, Stanisław, was a physician who was known for his strong altruistic spirit. He would often treat poor patients (including Jews and other minorities) free of charge, believing in the necessity of generosity and mercy to those who needed it. Soon, the impoverished made up the majority of his patients, but Stanislaw never complained. Even when an outbreak of Typhus ripped through the Jewish community, he kept treating them until he himself contracted the disease and subsequently passed in 1917. Irena was only seven years old at the time, but her father’s teaching and example had a profound impact in shaping her worldview. Rather than be embittered at losing her father at such a young age, she idolized him and his commitment to helping people of any background or heritage.
You’d think this would be an attitude that would be applauded by society, but sadly we live in an imperfect world. In the early 1900’s in Poland, being an open ally of the Jewish people was painting a target on your back, even before the Nazis arrived. Irene got in all kinds of trouble at school for actions like defacing the "Non-Jewish” identifier on her student card (a racist and exclusionary practice meant to target the Jewish population) and for her activity in various activist groups that agitated for Jewish acceptance. She was suspended for more than a year for her troubles. 

After graduation things didn’t get better. She was black balled in the community and despite strong grades, her university gave her a negative recommendation. Irena found her employment opportunities limited as a direct result of work to help and stand by her Jewish neighbours. But she never once expressed doubt or regret. She would later be fond to repeat a lesson her father taught her when she was very young, "You see a man drowning, you must try to save him even if you cannot swim.”

This is a very noble attitude, but also a dangerous one. Especially when living under Nazi occupation.

Irena was working with the Warsaw welfare department when the Nazis invaded and began rounding up Jews, forcing them to wear identifying arm bands, and enforcing blatantly discriminatory laws as a precursor to setting up the ghetto. Almost immediately she went to work subverting the Nazis’ plans for the Jews in the area. 

The Nazis issued strict orders that no aid from the Welfare department was to be given to the Jews. No food, money, or medical care. Instead, Irena’s office focused on aiding Polish soldiers. It was here that her work first began.

It started small. Irena would hear of Jews in the area who needed food or medical care and she would draft some papers for some "Polish soldiers” who coincidentally had the exact same needs. She’d funnel the care to those who needed it. Soon, Irena and a few close confidants began creating fictional neighbourhoods. The way welfare assistance was dispersed at the time was from statistics gathered from communities, so Irena would compose lists of names, entire families, out of thin air. These neighbourhoods of phantom people would be issued aid that would instead be used to help Jews in hiding and help underground resistance members survive. 

But surely a ploy like that could only last so long, right? What was to keep the German occupation staff from inspecting some of these non-existent families to see exactly where the resources were going? What would keep them at bay? Fear. 
Irena, a 4’11” young woman found a way to cow the German bureaucracy. Shrewdly, each family she made up was stricken with the worst of diseases – typhus, cholera, and other contagious, lethal afflictions that were known to spread just like that to nearby people. Somehow, no inspector ever felt like checking in on those families. 

But it wasn’t enough, Irena wasn’t content to just get supplies to suffering people, she needed to save them. And to do that, she’d need an audacious plan, nerves of steel, and the grace of God.

Find out more in part two.

[Comment]

Silan, the Israeli treat that is going globalBy: C4i

Dates are an incredibly versatile foodstuff. They can be picked and eaten ripe, dried like a raisin, baked into any number of pies or pastries, or turned into silan – the sticky syrup that is taking the global market by storm. What was once a fairly obscure homemade treat in Israeli homes has become a major export you can expect to hear more of!

Dates are one of mankind’s oldest and most familiar foodstuffs. Grown by humans for more than five thousand years, this delicious treat has been known as the "bread of the desert” and the "cake of the poor” beloved for both its sweet taste and widespread availability thanks to its intrinsic ruggedness. It’s a beautiful, tasty fruit that grows in some of the harshest, hottest climates in the world - it makes sense that it has been considered a blessing by different cultures for centuries! 

As you might expect, the date occupies a special place in Israeli culture. As one of the seven fruit species prevalent in the nation during biblical times (along with olives, grapes, figs, pomegranates, barley, and wheat) it is strongly associated with biblical history. The dates grown in Israel today are much the same as the dates Jesus and his disciples would have eaten (in fact, dried dates were a very popular travel food in ancient times, perfect for anyone on a long trip to spread the gospel). The date has been used as a symbol of hospitality in Israel since ancient times, a welcoming treat to share with guests and visitors. Even today, the humble date graces the 10-shekel coin, that’s how important the crop is to Israeli culture. And while popular as a snack, it’s the syrupy silan that has really captured the interest of Israeli chefs and international attention!

Silan is a labour of love. Made by slow boiling specific varieties of dates picked just a tiny bit before they are fully ripe for just the right flavor and painstakingly wringing the juices from them. That juice is further reduced from there until it becomes a sticky, thick syrup. This is not something you just whip up in an afternoon. 

There is an art to making silan at home. It requires patience, care, and practice. Just like the perfect bowl of pho, or a meticulously baked brioche, home-made silan is an all-day event. One that every Israeli swears their grandma does the best! 

But production advancements in the 1980s found ways to expand the process and reliably hit the complex flavour notes that make silan such a favourite. These advancements allowed silan to hit grocery store shelves as a staple in Israeli homes, a lovely alternative to honey, molasses, or even caramel. Today, silan is used in a variety of dishes, both elaborate and simple. From marinades and roasts, to simply smeared over some bread with a little tahini for the Israeli equivalent of a PB&J sandwich! 

What has really brought silan to the world stage though is an increasing awareness of what we eat. As many health-conscious foodies seek alternatives to refined white sugar, silan offers a tempting alternative. With a sweet but not sickening flavour profile that features complex notes of coffee and bitter caramel to balance it out, it’s a welcome substitution for many recipes and beverages that typically rely on sugar. It is also a great source of antioxidants and vitamins A and B, making it healthier as well. 

Vegans are also getting into the act. Silan mixed with a bit of water can be a surprising substitute for eggs that few would expect, making it perfect for those who want to avoid the use of any animal products in their baking. It’s also becoming something of a secret weapon for gourmet chefs and restaurateurs who are using silan’s more complex flavour profile to give their dishes a little extra kick!

While we’re sure many Israeli homes still insist the best silan is their granny’s, the rest of us can now enjoy this delicious treat worldwide! 

[Comment]

What we can learn from COVID-19 as ChristiansBy: C4i

 
As we make our way through the third month of COVID-19 precautions, many of us do so with weary hearts. Even as some businesses open back up, a heavy weight still hangs over the country and the entire world. We’re still being told to keep our distance from each other as best as possible, to only go out when it is essential, to avoid large groups like birthday parties, restaurants, and yes, church. It has been a struggle to suddenly go without these cornerstones of life. But it has also been an opportunity. If we must endure these conditions, we have to assume it is because there is a higher purpose to them and reflect on what that could be. As Christians, there are many lessons we can take away from the COVID-19 crisis. 

What you can control versus what you can’t

A major recurring theme throughout the gospel is the fact that we, as humans, are not in control. We cannot comprehend God’s plan for us at the best of times, and we’re certainly no better prepared to do so during a crisis. Proverbs 3:5 encourages us to "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" precisely because our own understanding and perspective is so limited compared to God’s. This is a something every Christian knows, but it takes a massive society upheaving moment like this to bring the full weight of that truth to bear. Plan as we might, ultimately God has the final say in all matters.

As Christians, we have to learn to embrace that truth, as scary as that can be sometimes. During times of uncertainty like now, this is more true than ever. We should of course strive to take the precautions we can (keep the essentials stocked, limit our exposure, be smart about what we do and where we go) but there are limits to what we can do. Worrying about what will happen afterwards can only bring pain and anxiety. Mathews 6:34 says it directly "Therefore, don't worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So learn to see the difference between what we can control and what we can’t, and trust in God to take care of the things we cannot.

Find joy where you can

COVID-19 has been a wrecking ball. It’s taken lives, broken families, and disrupted every facet of our lives. But we can’t allow ourselves to give into desperation. We need to face these challenges head on, and part of doing that is appreciating the things we do have rather than wallow in what we’ve lost.
In the case of this disease, and any other major crisis, you should always be looking for things to appreciate. Yes, social distancing has been hard, but for many of us it’s also been an opportunity to bond with family members in new ways. We’ve had to rely on each other to get through this and forge even stronger bonds than ever. Some of us have been helping our neighbours who can’t get out for one reason or another or have been on the receiving end of that help. This is a beautiful thing, this crisis has shown who we are as Christians. Many of us have also had the chance to catch up on projects around the house, to start new hobbies, or even just gain a new perspective on what we appreciate and enjoy in life. As many of our typical distractions and chores fall away, we’ve been able to focus in on what matters, what really makes us happy.

No matter how terrible the situation, there are always traces of God’s grace and goodness to be found. Every day is a gift, no matter what obstacles face us, so focus on the things that make you happy, that show you God’s love for us, and treasure them. Find joy wherever you can and take that attitude forward as we move out of this crisis and back towards normality.

We can worship in the face of separation and hardship

Online sermons, virtual prayer groups, text groups instead of church groups. When faced between the prospect of isolation or seeking a technological solution, many of us have learned to depend on devices and software we never would have associated with the Church in a million years before all of this started. And while online streams and the infinite 1s and 0s of the computer world will never be a substitute for actual, real, face-to-face community, it has helped, or at least somewhat helped, to fill the void of prolonged isolation and social distancing. More than that though, as Christians, we should find these technological solutions bracing because they show that no matter what the situation is, what obstacles we face, we can still find ways to worship God.

That’s the real thing to take away from this. For as silly as it may seem to log into a Zoom prayer group, or boot up a stream of a pastor preaching from his hastily assembled living room studio, the spirit, the desire to worship is there. Even in the midst of sickness and suffering, hardship and pain, we still yearn to worship God and commune with fellow Christians. That is a truly beautiful thing that shouldn’t go unrecognized.

When this is over and we can once again fill the pews and embrace each other in our arms, we shouldn’t forget this spirit and take what we have for granted. We should come out of this period of uncertainty charged and energized, and ready to worship with even fuller hearts than before. 
They say you don’t know what you have till it’s gone. Now we know. And when we get it back we should treasure it like it deserves.

[Comment]

Growing in a time of uncertaintyBy: C4i

 
This protracted period of social distancing and caution has been difficult on many of us. It’s heartbreaking to go without seeing family and friends for such a long stretch of time, and stressful to be without access to many amenities we typically enjoy. But as we know from scripture, times of adversity are also opportunities. In this case, it’s an opportunity for both spiritual, and literal growth.

This is the perfect time to cultivate a garden, a small herb box on the windowsill, or even a small plant. Whatever your space, budget, and ability allows, what matters is finding a way to focus on what is important in our lives.

Gardening as a Christian activity

This might seem like a non-sequitur. What does gardening have to do with growing as a Christian? But there is a real connection to be made in caring for the earth and natural splendor God has created. It is a reminder both of our responsibilities as Christians to be a positive force for good wherever we can be, and of God’s sovereignty over the earth. Growing something, helping to bring new life and abundance where there was none before, is a reminder of the miracle of creation and how lucky we are to be a part of it. 

Gardening, whether you’re tending to a large crop or a single flower is an act of patience. In a world defined by instant access and immediate feedback, gardening is something that cannot be rushed. There are no short cuts taking a plant from seed to bloom. It’s a reflective process, one that takes patience and perspective, two qualities that are in all too short supply these days. 

It’s also never a guarantee. Gardening can be uncertain. Not every seed takes, not every plant produces the fruit we want or the amount we expect. This is also a lesson, the world does not work to our timetable or our expectations, it works to God’s. While nobody enjoys disappointment, gardening can teach you to accept it and move on. One plant might fail, another will bloom even more spectacularly - we do what we can but ultimately the final say is always God’s.

A practical pastime

There are other practical lessons to be learned from gardening. Thrift is one. Taking the scraps of one meal (the last nub of ginger, the ends of green onions), planting them in the soil, and eventually harvesting them to be their own meal is a wonderful thing. It’s an incredibly rewarding process that teaches us to never be wasteful with the gifts that God has given us.

It’s also joyful! Especially in this time when supplies in grocery stores are limited and just popping out to a store or restaurant isn’t an option for many. Growing your own herbs and fresh vegetables can be a welcome way to spruce up your meals! There is something incredibly satisfying about kicking up your pasta sauce to the next level by picking off a few leaves of basil you grew in your windowsill, or even better, making the sauce from your own tomatoes. God gave us a world of flavor and abundance, enjoy it! Celebrate it!

Gardening can also give us structure in a time when that is absent for many of us. Having a routine to check the garden or pots, water them, maybe do some light pruning here or there can help provide direction and stability in a very uncertain time. If you’ve been spending your days listless and worrying, even looking after a small plant or two can help improve your mood. Anxiety and fear left unchecked can become an obstacle between you and God, whatever helps reduce them is an undeniably good thing. 

Looking to the future

Perhaps one of the most positive aspects of gardening is that it always gives you something to look forward to, something to mark time with. A sapling planted now is not much to look at. By the end of the season it might only be a twig. In a year, if you’re lucky, it will be a stick with a few shoots. But while you’re not looking, somehow, in a few years that little stick will become a tree that is bearing fruit. A few more, and you can hang a swing off of it for whichever little ones are in your life at that time, be they children or grandchildren. By the time those kids have outgrown swings, that tree will provide lush shade with long branches and healthy leaves. We plant the seeds of our future today.

Yes, we are living in some very trying times right now, but we can trust in God that there are better days to come. Give your future self something to look back on, a positive thing to come out of a dark time. Cultivate today for a better tomorrow.

[Comment]

The stunning port city of Caesarea By: C4i

 
Caesarea is a seaside port city in Israel built in a distinctly Roman style. Herod (yes, that Herod) ordered construction of the city shortly before the birth of Jesus and within a period of 12 years, the previously barren and empty space became one of the most important cities in Israel right alongside Jerusalem. Dedicated to Caesar Augustus, the port city was designed to replace Joppa as the new gateway into the Mediterranean. 2000 years later, we can still visit the city to witness the surprising genius of Roman port engineering, view captivating biblical artifacts and ruins, and get a feel for what life would have been like during Jesus’ life. In fact, while Caesarea may not be considered an exceptionally large city today, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Israel.

If you were to look at pictures from Caesarea, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at Rome or some neighbouring province, not a city in Israel. Indeed, the architecture of the city is like a very miniature Rome, designed to feel like a home away from home for Roman officials at the time. Looking at the city today we can see a Roman style aqueduct, a hippodrome, and an amphitheatre. 2000 years ago, the city was home to over 50,000 people (half Jewish, half gentile) and would have been even grander and more impressive. It’s no surprise that it became such a massive center of political and economic power in the region.

Today the "ruins” of the city are still surprisingly functional. The port’s breakwaters are still effective, and boats can still launch from the city. The hippodrome track doesn’t see chariot races anymore, but the track and spectator seats are still there, standing the test of time, the site of thousands upon thousands of races (and grimly, executions and blood sports). The seacoast theater in particular is most impressive. Not only does it feature that classic Roman design straight out of a swords and sandals film, but it works! The acoustics of the theater really do amplify the volume projected off stage, carrying voices far beyond what you’d think you’d be able to hear in an open-air theater near the water. We take it for granted today with our modern understanding of sound waves and acoustics, but think about what an incredible accomplishment that would have been 2000 years ago. 

But why is Caesarea considered important among Christians? For that, we have to look to the life and sacrifice of Jesus. Remember, Caesarea was built as a tribute to the Romans and flattering Roman design and aesthetic. So, it makes sense that a man like Pontius Pilate would set up office there. This office wasn’t where the trial of Jesus took place, that was in Jerusalem, but it still provides useful context to how Roman rule impacted Israel at the time of Jesus’ gospel.

It was also a key location for the disciples with several notable events occurring in and around the city. It was in Caesarea that Peter baptized Cornelius, a Roman Centurion who converted to Christianity. This baptism is especially important in biblical study because Cornelius was the first gentile to convert and receive baptism, setting an important precedent that all could be baptized into the faith. Caesarea was also one of the places where Paul spread his gospel, using the port city to travel to many other Mediterranean cities. He would later be imprisoned for two years in the city after appealing to Caesar to hear the charges brought against him by ideological enemies hostile to his gospel. Caesarea became a major center of early Christian learning, once holding the largest Christian library in the world.


All of that history is right there to explore, and yet Caesarea is even more generous, sharing new mysteries and wonders with us to this day! In 2015, divers off the coast of the port city found the largest trove of ancient gold coins ever discovered in Israel. Like something from a dream, over 2600 coins were found in a sunken ship, still gleaming beneath the waves. Lost over a millennium ago just off the coast, the coins were stamped with the mark of the Fatimid Caliphs, minted in Egypt or North Africa. There are several theories as to why such a hoard of gold was being transported, it could have been a tax collection vessel that sank, or a treasury boat carrying the salaries of a military garrison stationed in Caesarea at the time. But those are just theories based on the time and markings of the coins, they could have just as easily come from a merchant ship that sank, or the lost haul of a pirate vessel (well, maybe that's a little more far fetched).

Caesarea is an incredible site of living history. A place where we can clearly track the lines of the politics and culture that made up the world Jesus lived in. While there are other cities that are more relevant to His life and gospel, few other locations in the world will give you a sense of what it was to be a Jew living under Roman governance as the New Testament was coming into being. 

[Comment]

The incredible faith and kindness of Corrie ten Boom Part 2By: C4i

 
The Netherlands in 1942 was not a safe or happy place. Invaded by the Nazis, the population kept under the brutal heel of an occupation force, the population turned against itself with some resisting while others openly collaborated to save their own skin. It was a dangerous, uncertain time where the slightest mistake could get you killed.

And Corrie ten Boom had just welcomed a Jewish woman she didn’t know into her house. A true act of Christian compassion and mercy, but one that made her a criminal in her own homeland.

You have to understand what exactly it meant to shelter a Jew at this time and in this place specifically. The Beje house where Corrie and her family lived was literally half a block away from the police headquarters. The police were actively collaborating with the Gestapo, any murmur or rumor would lead them straight to their door. The punishment for sheltering or aiding Jews could not have been made any clearer by the Nazi occupying force – imprisonment and execution for everyone involved. In a city made desperate by food shortages, forced and underpaid labor, uncertainty, and infighting there was no end to the number of people who would give you up or cast accusations on you just for a loaf of bread or to merely deflect attention from themselves.

By taking in this stranger, Corrie placed her life, her sister’s life, and her father in harms way. But she did it. She did it because she knew it was what God expected of her. And then she did a whole lot more.

Corrie did not content herself with saving just one person. No, she got involved with local underground efforts. The family jewelry shop became a cover, a contact spot to talk to and pass messages between resistance members. A secret room was built in the Beje house, hidden behind a false wall and big enough to hold six people at a time, a regular hotel. Corrie began taking in a rotating group of endangered Jews and resistance members who needed shelter. 

Her background in charity work proved invaluable at this time. With deep connections in the community and knowledge of likeminded people, Corrie was able to secure crucial supplies no one else in the resistance would have been able to get. For example, ration cards were worth more than gold while starvation and hunger ruled the streets of Haarlem, and the Nazi occupation refused to issue them to Jews. Corrie had years previously worked with a family who had a disabled daughter through her charity efforts. That girl’s father, Fred Koornstra, was a bureaucrat who was placed in charge of a ration card office. These were people who knew and respected each other, and when Corrie asked Fred if she could have some extra ration cards, his answer was "how many.” According to Corrie she meant to only ask for five, but when she opened her mouth "the number that unexpectedly and astonishingly came out instead was: 'One hundred.'” She left with an arm load of life saving ration cards she gave to Jews across the community saving an unknown number of families from certain starvation.

Sadly, eventually the Nazis caught wind of what was going on. An informer in the community, one of their own, tipped the Gestapo off and the home was raided. Incredibly, they never found the secret room and the terrified Jews inside. Sadly, they did find excess ration cards, resistance materials, and other contraband. More than enough for the Nazis to arrest the entire family on the spot.

Dark days followed. Corrie, her older sister Betsie, and her father Casper were imprisoned. Their lovely father, the smiling watchmaker who loved his work and gave so much to his community died within ten days of imprisonment. Corrie and Betsie endured beatings and torture but never told the Nazis where to find the hiding place or sold out anyone else in the resistance. The sisters managed to stay together, eventually ending up in the Ravensbrück concentration camp where Betsie also perished in 1944.
But Corrie survived. She was eventually released from the camp and returned to a ruined, empty home. It’s the kind of horror that could break a person. Nobody would blame Corrie if she became bitter, if she walled herself up and never again put herself out there on behalf of someone else again. But Corrie’s clear eyes and true faith led her down a much brighter path.

Somehow STILL thinking of others even after her own horrific ordeal, she set up a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. She worked with fellow survivors to heal the mental and emotional wounds of their trauma and reclaim their lives. Incredibly, despite witnessing and experiencing the evil of the Nazis firsthand, Corrie had the strength and love in her heart to advocate for reconciliation. She saw forgiveness as the best way for her country to heal after enduring their turmoil and had no desire to see more innocents suffer in retaliation. 

In an act of almost unimaginable grace, offered a helping hand to collaborators who had bent to the Nazis during the occupation. Her reasoning was that many of them were just desperate people who survived the only way they knew how. She didn’t want vengeance, she instead offered forgiveness to the very kind of people who had her family imprisoned and killed. That is the kind of radical forgiveness that is only possible through Christ.

Corrie ten Boom gave everything she had and more to help her fellow man.  Her inspiring story would be recounted in both the novel and film of "The Hiding Place” and her accolades would include induction into the Righteous Among the Nations and being knighted by the queen of the Netherlands. But her greatest legacy would always be her teachings. After the war, Corrie traveled the world for more than 30 years to spread a vital message - "there is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still.”

[Comment]

The incredible faith and kindness of Corrie ten Boom Part 1By: C4i

 
It is a rare and beautiful thing to see true, radical compassion in this world. To see someone devote themselves to the most vulnerable and downtrodden among us, to care deeply about their fellow man even when it means putting themselves at risk, is as rare as a shooting star. Corrie ten Boom was one of those people, and her acts of radical compassion and faith saved more lives than we can know. 

Corrie came from relatively normal roots. Born the daughter of a watchmaker in 1892 in Haarlem, Netherlands, her family was a memorable part of their community. Living in the Beje (pronounced Bay Jay) house above her father’s jewelry store, they were a fixture of the neighbourhood, a family everyone knew. From her father’s penchant for getting so fascinated by a tricky repair job that he would sometimes forget to charge customers, to their active participation in the Dutch Reformist Church, the people of Haarlem knew the Booms were a kind and generous people. Sincere believers, the Boom’s frequently opened their doors for foster children and made an extra seat at their table for neighbours who didn’t have enough to make ends meet.

Corrie took these lessons from her parents to heart, taking after them in more than one way. First the inspiration from her father to pursue watchmaking herself, a trade that was utterly dominated by men in the early 1900’s. Nevertheless, Corrie proved herself a deft and able hand when it came to sprockets and gears and became the first licensed woman watchmaker in the Netherlands in 1922. Already quite the accomplishment, Corrie wasn’t content to just make a quiet living, she believed she had a civic and human duty to her community. Taking her earnings, she opened a Youth Center for teenage girls in the neighbourhood, leading them in religious teaching, performing arts, and useful craft and practical experience to help them as they entered adulthood. She also began an involved charity effort for the mentally handicapped, working with the city’s most in need to assist them in living full, happy lives free of suffering and exploitation. 

This was a good and fulfilling life. She had a proud vocation, a close family, and established good works in a grateful community – but it was not to last. While Corrie was building up her community, the Nazis were putting cities to the torch and spreading their foul ideology of hate across Europe. When the Netherlands were invaded in 1940, Haarlem fell like every other city. The jackbooted thugs took one look at the girls Youth Group and shut it down immediately, and their eugenic designs directly targeted the mentally ill as "degenerates” to eliminate. For everyone living under the new Nazi occupation, it was time to keep their head low, time to not rock any boats or stand out in anyway. But Corrie wasn’t that kind of person. She kept helping the vulnerable through the occupation. She provided food and money when possible, small but meaningful lifelines in a very dangerous time and place.

But then a knock at her door in 1942 changed her life. It was a small, skinny Jewish woman holding a suitcase. Neither Corrie nor any of her other family members knew this woman, she wasn’t an old friend or an acquaintance she met back in school, she was a Jewish stranger in a time when talking to a Jew could easily be considered "conspiring with the enemy.” But why was she there? The woman explained that her husband had already been taken away to a fate no one knew for certain. Her son was in hiding, he became involved in the underground and the Gestapo was onto him. And now they were on to her, asking questions around her apartment building. She took as much of her life as she could carry in a suitcase and fled, knowing that staying in one place meant certain death, and having no where else to turn she went to a family in the community known for helping others. She went to the Booms because there was nobody else.

Corrie took her in immediately.

It was a decision that would change her life from that moment on. In that instant, she placed herself and her family directly in harms way for the sake of a stranger. It was a decision Corrie would never once regret, no matter how much it cost her – and the price was steep.
Check later this week for the rest of the story. 

[Comment]

Joyfulness in the time of COVID-19By: C4i

COVID-19 has completely flipped our lives upside down. Easy conveniences and little freedoms we’ve always enjoyed, like being able to stop at a grocery store without fear or meeting a friend for coffee at a bustling café, have suddenly been stripped away from us. So many of us have had to make incredible, life-altering adjustments in the span of only a few short weeks. 

Some of us are trying to work from home, juggling homelife and work through patchwork systems and managing the best we can. Some have been abruptly laid off and their family’s future cast into uncertainty. Others working in an "essential service” are suddenly facing a more demanding and dangerous job than ever. Doctors and grocery store clerks alike are being asked to risk their lives to keep our society functioning. 

It’s a time of stress and uncertainty that has many of us reeling. The only thing we have personal control over is how we react to this challenge. Will we face this crisis with anxiety and fear, or use it as an opportunity to spread joyfulness and gratitude? Will we allow ourselves to wallow in bitterness, or put our faith in God and remember that He is in control and is always in command of His divine plan? COVID-19, quarantine, and social distancing are all tests of our faith. We need to rise to the challenge.

Keep others in the forefront of your thoughts

Selfishness has been a major story of this virus. From price-gougers cleaning out stores to re-sell hand sanitizer and toilet paper on the street, to non-essential businesses threatening their employees to still come in despite a close order, to foolish spring breakers gathering at beaches and bars and bringing the virus home. A lot of people have used this moment of crisis to show us exactly how small and selfish they can be. 

A major way we can be a force for good in this crisis is by countering this selfishness. Look for ways that you can help others, especially those at a higher degree of risk than you, or for whom isolation cuts even deeper than most. If you have elderly neighbours, leave them a note in their mailbox with your number and an invitation to call if they need anything or just want to chat. If you need to make a grocery run, check in with your family and friends if they need anything you can pick up at the same time. Limit exposure by making the most of each grocery trip while reaffirming the bonds and connections you have in your life.

In this time of isolation, it’s the little things that matter. Being able to lend a hand, or even just an understanding ear, to a friend or neighbour in need can go a long way. This is a real "living our values” moment for us Christians. What kind of people are we when things look bleak? Do we turn inward and cold, only making sure we’re protected? Or do we do what we can to continue to spread joy and compassion the way Jesus would? Coming together in even small ways and making sure to care for our neighbours during this trying time will make us all feel a little less lonely and anxious.  

Connect in new ways

Being stuck at home doesn’t mean we have to give up on fellowship, but it does mean we need to be a little more creative. If you’re not able to get to Church, bring the word into your home by joining in on a service stream. Get together with your prayer group over Skype or a similar program. Text your friends and family on a regular basis. Just because you can’t get together doesn’t mean you can’t stay in touch and be an active presence in their lives. The worst thing we can do in a time like this is give into despair and let the relationships that matter in our lives wither on the vine. 

This is also a great time to nurture the relationships you have inside the home. Prolonged close quarters with the entire family can cause some friction (as any home with teenagers are likely already finding out) but it can also present new opportunities. If you’re working from home, this is a great chance to spend lunch with your spouse. If the kids are stuck inside all day and bored, this is a great time to dust off the old boardgames, or play catch in the backyard, or start some home project they’d be interested in. Make the most of this extra family time, it might just be a gift in disguise.

Practice gratitude

One thing that COVID-19 can teach us is perspective. Even just these past short weeks have been cause enough for many of us to step back and examine just how lucky we are in life. Grocery shopping is often thought of as a chore, another item on the to-do list after work. But now, with limited availability, empty shelves, and worrying gloves and facemasks everywhere, it’s hard not to recognize how much of a luxury a normal trip to the grocery store really is.  Same with ordering from a restaurant or going into work normally and without fear of contamination. These are small things that we usually take for granted that suddenly seem very important in their absence. 

We can certainly mourn for these lost freedoms, but we should also use it as a chance to take stock. To look at the rest of our lives and appreciate what else we have. These are uncertain and, yes, frightening times, but we still have so much. We are so blessed to live in a developed first world country that has a social system that can respond to this crisis. We are blessed to have ways to connect with each other even when we need to keep our physical distance. And above all, we are blessed that we can always turn our worries over to the Lord and place our faith in Him, knowing that all things, even pandemics, happen for a reason. 

This is a time to reflect and grow. This is a chance to re-prioritize, to fully recognize what is important to you and your family. Don’t waste it being bitter about the new strains on our lives. Use it to be grateful for what we had before, what we have now, and the new clarity to what we should be doing with our lives.

[Comment]

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The PURPOSE of C4i is to call Christians to express love in action to the people of Israel.

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