Monday, December 6, 2010

Galilee, O Galilee!

While I was in Galilee, things were crazy back at home. Kaleb’s head got cut by a boy’s tooth, and he had to go get stitches, but then they decided not to do stitches since tooth-cuts can get infected easily. It did get infected, yet sadly our doctors were with us in Galilee, so Julianne was going around to doctors, etc. on her own here. But it all worked out, and we even hope Kaleb will grow hair there again one day.

Meanwhile, I was having great experiences. Our first field trip was one of the most memorable we will ever have. We started out by going on a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. We stopped in the middle and sang songs, read scriptures together, talked about the miracles that happened on the lake, and wrote in our journals. I know I was filled with the Spirit, and I think many of the students were, though one can never force the Spirit, and I am sure that for some their intense experiences came later. Here is what I wrote while on the Sea of Galilee: As the lake is sometimes calm and sometimes suddenly rough, so is our life. Today we sit in such tranquil peace on the beautiful, profound lake, it is hard to imagine it, or life, is ever turbulent. The stories of the Savior seem so real it is hard to ever picture any having doubts. His life and power are indeed so matchless, his authority do divine. Yet surely the turbulence comes, surely there will be times we don’t feel his love and power. In those moments, like sinking Peter, we must cry out for help. Though it may be hard to imagine that help could come, if we ask, he will reach out to us. Eventually we will reach the ship and the lake will calm. But until then we must cling to the Savior, with all we have, as if our life depended on it. For indeed, our eternal lives do. Today I want so much to be better, more holy, more pure, closer to the Savior. This is always a back and forth battle, up and down, as if in a boat riding the swells of the waves. But I know he is reaching out to me, and though it may be tiring to continue to ride them and try to make progress, to keep trying to come to the Savior, I know he is there and can help me do it. Today I renew my commitment to never give up, to not sink into tiredness. I commit to press on in my desire to be more holy, to strip myself of all ungodliness, and to come to the Savior. I love him, and thank him for continuing to work with me. I love him and all these students with a deep, deep love.

After this we went to the museum where we could see the remains of a boat that was like those on the Sea during the Savior’s day. That was wonderful. From there we went to the Mt. of Beattitudes, and had a wonderful time. We took about 45 minutes to talk about the Sermon there, and to let people talk about how it affects their life. Then I gave students time to write in their journal. I think people were moved there. Afterwards we went to the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy and the church built to celebrate the multiplication of loaves and fishes. I felt so strongly how much the Savior loves us and wants to take care of us, and was impressed by how much Peter wanted to be with him, and felt the same desire myself. It was incredible.

Probably the highlight was at Capernaum. The weather was perfect, we were able to go into the synagogue right away. There, sitting just above the remains of the Synagogue the Savior himself taught in, we spoke of the many miracles the Savior performed in Capernaum. It is an incredible place, so many things happened there. As we spoke about the Bread of Life sermon, and I asked the students to picture the Savior standing there teaching, we got to the part where he talked about not losing any that the Father had given him. I suddenly could picture him teaching that doctrine there, and picturing us sitting in that very place trying to picture him. I could see him thinking of those very students as some who had been given him, and that as they came closer to him that day in that same place, they would never be lost. It was a profound moment.

We walked around the city, talking about healing the man with Palsy, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, the centurion with so much faith, the healing of the woman with the issue of blood, teaching in boats at the sea, calling the Apostles, and other incredible things that happened there. The Savior seemed so real, so close, the magnificence of his ministry so grand.

We went to look at the place that very well may be the house of Peter, the place where the Savior slept when he could stay there. We talked about it, and the loneliness of the Savior’s life, and the goodness of those who took him in struck me so profoundly. I was overwhelmed with love for the Savior and the students. I went into the Church built over Peter’s house and wrote the following: I am overwhelmed by God’s love for us in sending his son. I am overwhelmed by Christ being willing to minister to us in such difficult circumstances. I know he had no place to lay his head. I know he traveled all about preaching. I am so grateful that he had at least Peter’s house. Probably here and at Mary/Martha/Lazarus’ house was the only places he could really rest, that he could really be at ease. Thank goodness for Peter. I am so glad Peter took him in, that at least sometimes, here, he had a place to lay his head. And I know that the Savior taught that those who receive him receive his father. Peter did. Do I now give the Savior a place to lay his head? Do I receive him? Is my heart and my home a place he can be at home? I hope with all my heart that I have receive him such that he is at home with me. I commit to receive him and his Father. Why have I ever complained about having to travel so much? What have I ever been asked to do that compares with the Savior as he traveled and taught? I must serve more and think of myself less. I am also overjoyed as I see these students having devotional and spiritual moments. I am grateful that as I have taught I have been directed and served as a vessel and tool. My heart leaps with joy as I see them edified. Jairus’ daughter and the man with palsy are the 2 stories that typify it all. He forgave the man with Palsy, and raised Jairus’ daughter, thus showing how he can overcome death and hell. Without him we would all be lost. But because he was willing to come here, and suffer in Jerusalem, we will triumph. Of this I testify and for this I am ever grateful.

Capernaum with these students was as great a moment as I ever hope to have in life.

From there we went to Bethsaida, and had a few more profound moments. It is all too much to relate here, but the day was as good as it gets. In the evening, while most students had class but the nursing students did not, The nursing teacher and most of the nurses and I played card games. It was fun, and quite handy that when Julianne called with questions about Kaleb’s head that I had five nurses there to answer the questions. Very nice. Not only was the card game fun, but I won.

The next day was more class. It is so exciting to teach here. That afternoon many of us went on a hike all along the Golan heights, with incredible views of the Sea of Galilee, and just a taste for the hills into which the Savior would have often gone to seek communion with his Father. It is better than I deserve to be able to be here with all of this going on.

The next day we went on a fun field trip. We went to Gamla, the city set way up on the hillside, which has a synagogue in which the Savior quite likely preached. It is also a great hike, fun to explore, and has beautiful views. Afterwards we went to a Talmudic village where the students were able to see what homes looked like. It was wonderful to sit by a threshing sledge and talk about the scriptures that mention threshing, or a winnowing fork and talk about those that mention winnowing, etc.

Later that day we got in some rafts and floated down the Jordan River. It was beautiful. What a great way to get a sense for the countryside and the places the Savior called home. I could picture him walking along there, teaching, praying, enjoying the beauty of his homeland. I had a marvelous time, and count myself lucky to spend time with the amazing students we have here. The Church is in good hands with these people coming to the helm.

That night we went to a fish restaurant, so the students could get a taste of the kind of fish they ate here and how it was prepared. Then we went into Tiberias to see that place at night. It was a nice time.

More good class the next day. The things we get to talk about are so powerful, and seem so real here. The students are getting a real feel for the geography of the place. I spent the entire afternoon, as I have spent most evenings, getting ready for the next field trip. I did that until my family arrived. I am so glad it works out for them to come spend the weekend with me. It makes a long trip rewarding instead of unbearable.

The children got there just in time for dinner. Then we took them out to see the Sea of Galilee for the first time. We talked to them about the place they really were. They all wanted to try walking on the water. It was dark and getting close to bed time, so we told them they could wade in the water for just a second, but not to get wet above their ankles. That did not last long. Alexia fell in, then they all decided they should fall in too, and soon everyone was pretty wet. But at least they were in the Sea of Galilee. The moment of a lifetime, their first time to be in the waters the Savior loved.

The next morning we went to the spectacular Galilee branch building. Church was great. The kids loved being with the students again. On the way home we stopped by a famous baptismal site. We talked about baptizing Alexia there. We also told the students our story on the bus as we went to and from the building. They seem to like that.

I can’t remember what all we did that day, but I will always remember that what we did was be a family on the shores of the Galilee. Profound.

The next day we went to Mt. Tabor with all the students, and talked about Deborah and the Mt. of Transfiguration. It is great to see the kids learning all these important things and seeing how important it is to these students they look up to so much. We stopped by Nain briefly, sang in the church there and talked about raising the widow’s son from the dead and the importance of that miracle. We went to a wonderful place called Gan HaSholosha. We swam in the natural spring water there, thinking of how Gideon used water from this same spring system, though on the other side of the valley, to help choose what men would be part of his army. We had a great time swimming, and then it was time for the family to go home while I continued on with the students. From there we went to Bet Sha’an, where we had a devotional about David and Johnathon that was moving to me. Some of these stories we tell really are larger than life, yet they take place right where we are. Incredible.

After an exciting evening with a beach bon fire, and a great opportunity to visit with students for a long time, I got ready for the next big day. And it was big, one of my favorite field trips. We went to Hazor, one of the greatest examples of the destruction that Joshuah wrought on the Israelites, and a place where Kent Jackson did a great job of helping the students picture what it was like for our Israelite ancestors to be deported as the Assyrians took them captive from that place. We then went to Tel Dan. This is one of the most fabulous places ever. There we saw a gate that dates to the time of Abraham, and since Abraham went to that city to rescue Lot, it quite likely went through that very gate. We also saw some of the large gates the Israelites tried to use to defend themselves from the Assyrians (didn’t work), and the high place that Jereboam created when he set golden calves for Israel to worship. There he began the downfall of Israel. We spoke of the things we do today that are similar. Then we walked through the amazingly beautiful trail along the Jordan. Dan is one of the headwaters of the Jordan, a place where the water springs from the mountain wall and goes into the Sea of Galilee. It is beautiful.

From there we went to Ceasarea Phillipi, or Banias. We talked about the significant event that happened there, Peter’s testimony that “thou are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” We spoke of the ramifications of that testimony given there, and Christs’s reply about the rock of Apostolic revelation. We sang, and had some nice time for everyone. Then we went to Nimrod’s castle, a very cool, very large, Crusader castle that was also added to by Muslims. With two students there (one with the last name Knight – representative of the knights that were there, and one with the last name Shaw – representative of the Muslims that had been there), we formed an unofficial castle exploring team. We found some very cool tunnels, etc. We had a great time, maybe too great because we were ten minutes later getting to the bus than we were supposed to be. Since I always tell people to be on time, I may have gotten boo-ed a bit, but it was worth it.

I have been suffering badly from a bad cold for a while. And on the next long drive I really ran out of gas. I was beat, and barely functioning. But I got energized a bit by the incredible view we had of Syria from up in the mountain tops. We could almost see to Damascus. It was breathtaking.

The next day we went on trips to Chrorazin (a fairly nice set of ruins that was a city the Savior had ministered in somewhat extensively), Sepphoris (a nice set of ruins that had been the capital of the area when the Savior was younger, and is close enough to Galilee that as it was being built up Joseph and Jesus may have worked there), and Akko, a very cool crusader town. We had some misadventures in Akko, but it was all good.

A few students were sick that day, and missed the trip. But it was nothing compared to what was to come. The next day many, many students were sick. And it was the day we were leaving for home. They couldn’t just sit around, they had to come on the bus. It was terrible to watch these students I love so much be so miserable. I held throw up bags for them, held their hair back as they threw up, threw their vomit away for them, and did all I could. Yet they were miserable. More got more sick as the day went on. It was a tough day that way.

But there were spectacular moments as well. We first went to Megiddo, an important site that has so much to it. I enjoyed that very much. Then we went to Mount Carmel. I love the story of Elijah. Despite a very terrible reenactment performed by the students (not under my control), we were eventually able to get the spirit back with us to talk about the serious events that happened there. The story of Elijah is very moving to me. It was stirring to talk about it there. We then tried to get into the Church, but could not, so we went up to the observation point and enjoyed our time there. As we were just leaving, I saw that they had opened the chapel. A few students were in there, and two were singing. It was beautiful. So, when they were done, I suggested to the six or so students there that we sing the first and last verse of How Great Thou Art. We started, and the sound drew in the rest of the students. A few may have missed it, but most were there by the end of the first verse, and the thing was so powerful I urged us to sing all the verses. As we did the song grew and grew in power. I have always loved that song, but this time it became something very special. I thought of how great God is, as was manifested by the beauty of the mountain and the events that took place there. Then I looked at these wonderful students, and thought of how the goodness of his children, his crowing creation, demonstrates even more how Great he is. My heart was filled with a greater love for God and his children than I can ever remember feeling. The spirit in the room seemed to overflow. I could see that I was not the only one feeling it. I cannot explain what it was, or why, or how, but something very special took place there while we were singing. It changed me, it edified us all, it filled the room and then as it spilled out it took us with it, to a higher place, to a higher state. It was a moment where we seemed to reach out for God and felt him reach back. As he manifested his power in that mountain there before, he did so again. He reached down to us in a different, but no less powerful way, and let us know that he is God, and that he is with us as he was with Elijah. He filled us. I don’t fully understand it, but it was amazing. I said to myself as we left, a number of times, that this was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was thrilled to hear a number of other students say the same thing, with the exact same words. We cannot control how or when the Spirit will reach us, but I am glad that for those moments I had made myself available, so that when God wanted to reach down to us, he found me reaching up to him.

We also looked over the B’hai garden, and then went to the templer cemetery where several LDS are buried. We got our poor sick people home, and I was so happy to be reunited with my family. They are what makes it all worthwhile. I am so, so happy to be with them, and so wish I were an even better father for my children. I do what I can, but I wish I were a better person to be better for them. I am so glad that we are together, and that we can have these amazing experiences together, and pray that God will help me to be for them what I can and should be.

Of course all the sick folks ended up with home made chicken noodle soup made by the incredible Sister Julianne Muhlestein. She and I also visited a few of them to see how they were. Julianne is better than any of us deserve.

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