In 1964 we hired two guides. One in Rome, the other in Jerusalem. The one in Rome said what we proposed was a crime. The one in Jerusalem said we were looking at the exact spot.
Rome in two hours
When we tried to hire a guide for only two hours in Rome, he burst out, “You want to do Rome in two hours? That’s a crime!”
We agreed. But we had a boat to catch in Palermo and a schedule to keep if we were going to make it. The next boat across the Mediterranean to Tunis was a week later, and we did not want to spend a week waiting in Sicily.
The guide saw our situation and showed us the Coliseum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica during our two tiny hours.
We hustled on down through Naples and onto the toe of Italy. The ferry carried us across the straits to Messina, and we set off along the Sicilian coast for Palermo and that boat which would not wait.
Up and down, in and out
If we had tried to drive in Sicily before, to make that boat on time we might have skipped Rome. The road along that stunningly beautiful north coast of Sicily swooped up and down, in and out. One hairpin was so sharp we had to back up and wiggle around it.
When it was my turn to drive, I felt so bad for my mother-in-law who was losing her cookies. But we all were watching the clock, and even though those dips and curves made it feel like I was driving like Jehu (2 Kings 9:20), the family kept urging me on. We made it to Palermo on time, and the boat carried us across the Mediterranean to Tunisia.
Across North Africa
I remember the initial shock at being surrounded by non-Europeans. One family member said — I thought we were landing in Africa, but these people don’t look like Africans. Another explained that North Africa held mostly Arabs. If we doubted this, after we drove across Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, we were convinced.
We found lining up at any government office impossible. Bunches of people pushed and shoved us along toward the door. In these scrums, we struck up English conversations with a few backpackers or a carload of students. Our family group seemed strange to them, out of place. Then they asked where we were going, and we said Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan — but left out Israel. When they asked if we were going to “Disneyland,” we caught on quickly and said, Yes, there, too. All across the top of North Africa we met students on their way to or from “Disneyland.”
We saw Tunis, Bengazi, Cairo, Suez, and the Pyramids. Then we took a boat from Alexandria to Beirut. On this boat, we had to get permits to enter Lebanon. This particular scrum glammed onto DeWayne Coxon and lifted him several inches off the floor, I still have the picture in my mind of DeWayne looking around helpless as the crowd carried him along toward the official permit-getting desk. When we got into Beirut, we were properly awed. This was several years before Lebanon’s civil war destroyed their capital, so it still felt as beautiful as its dreamy title, “The Paris of the East.” We crossed into Syria and Jordan, saw Damascus, Amman, Petra, and East Jerusalem. We arrived three years before the Six-Day War, so to get into Israel, we approached The Mandelbaum Gate.
At a little booth in the barbed wire dividing East Jerusalem from West Jerusalem, a Jordanian official stamped our passports and pointed west. The official let one of us drive while the rest of us lugged suitcases through the 50 yards of weeds and rubble to another booth set in more barbed wire. The officials here wore Israeli uniforms, but they did not act happy to us. Arab countries were busy confiscating the property of 820,000 Jews as they expelled them, and our passports held visa stamps from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
“Why should we allow you to enter Israel?”
I looked back at the booth 50 yards away. Would those soldiers let us back into Jordan?
My father-in-law, Rev. E.D. Coxon, pleaded with the official, “Those stamps in our passports only show our route. We love Israel. That’s the reason we are on this trip is to see Israel. We came all this way only to see Israel. Israel is the focal point of our entire journey. Please, please let us in.”
The man stared at us a few more seconds and let us into Israel.
Jerusalem – a lifetime experience