A few days ago I celebrated my 1-year anniversary of life in Magdala, Israel. September 2015 to September 2016 was a year of culture shock, adventure, and pita. A westerner coming to the Middle East, I definitely found myself in “another world,” and unlike the many tourists or pilgrims I wasn’t accompanied by a local guide who took me from place to place on a tour bus. Living in a foreign country is not the same as simply visiting one, just as having an occasional snack of pita chips with dip is far from having fresh pita bread and hummus as a staple!
It’s hard to believe that the Galilee region, once despised and looked down upon in history, now attracts people from all over the world. Pilgrims and tourists from Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas are coming to visit – and here in Magdala we are seeing a steady increase in the number of visitors. As I watch them walk down towards the shore of the sea, I marvel at the variety and wonder, “where is this group from?”
They pause and gaze – inspired by the beauty and simplicity of the Sea of Galilee – and enter Duc in Altum to refresh themselves after a tour of the archaeological park. The best way to greet them (since I’m not always sure if they will understand my English or Spanish) is a warm smile. After a year of welcoming groups and individuals, I know that the first question will be “Where are the toilets?”, but it is the second question that is far more important: “When will the hotel be finished?” They desire to stay longer – they want to enjoy the beauty and peace of Magdala.
And who doesn’t? Jesus lived in the Galilee for 3 years and then chose to return here after the Resurrection. Many of our visitors also choose to return – “this is a special place…” Whether it’s the ancient ruins or the beauty of the sea or the mysterious figure of Mary Magdalene, each pilgrim finds a connection with Magdala. This ancient town has a great potential for new life – a place to honor women, a place of encounter of faiths and cultures, a place of reconciliation and healing.
Magdala is alive – it is growing and changing and touching peoples’ lives. It is exciting to watch as the hotel takes shape, the pilgrims continue to come, and more and more people share their personal experiences of how Magdala has impacted their lives. — By Christiane Esser