Saturday, September 18, 2010

Good Experiences

This was a fun week. I took the students on a great field trip to Jericho and round abouts. It is so much fun to be with them and read cool scriptural stories and say "this happened right here, right at this spot." Often we don't know if it is the right spot, but there were a few places on this trip where we knew. It was great.

We spent a couple of busy days getting ready for Egypt. We also took the youngest to an Israeli doctor's office for the first time. We got a bit lost, but made it in the end. All turned out well.

One of the highlights of the week was taking Jacob and Sabrina on a field trip with the students to Ne'ot Kedumim, a huge Biblical garden where you walk around and learn about plants mentioned in the Bible and how they fit into the story, you learn about sheep and goats and herd them a bit, you make pita, learn how to write a Torah scroll, etc. etc. Jacob and Sabrina had the time of their life, and the students just love those guys. It is so much fun to see our kids learning and growing here. We are having the best morning scripture study we have ever had, and are having so many wonderful experiences.

I am overwhelmed and impressed with the great students we have here. Today as I sat on the stand during sacrament meeting and looked at my children, and had a strong longing to be with them, I came to feel that it is how Heavenly Father looks at us. He watches us, and longs to be with us, and is doing all he can to bring us back to him.

Tomorrow we go to Egypt, and BJ, Tashara, and Kaleb are coming with us. The younger three will stay with Jill Judd, bless her heart. Pray for her. We are going to have a great time!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Wow! Sept. 6-11

This week was even better than last week. On Sunday we took the kids into the Old City and showed them the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We taught them about it ahead of time, and about respecting different ways of worshiping and of how they can learn from what others do and become deeper spiritually. We had a very nice walk into the city, running into students from the Center everywhere we went (you have to be careful now that they are here, one group came up as I thought I had lost Tashara in the city and was looking frantically for her, another as I was getting after my kids).

When we got to the Holy Sepulchre, we told them about the rock that is immediately inside on which many thought the Savior's body was anointed. Several people were there kneeling before it, touching it, and praying. I told the children they could pray there if they liked, only if they wanted to, and however they liked. Kaleb knelt down by the rock to pray, and soon everyone was, even Jacob who didn't know why. But I could see that most of them were amazed to be in a place where maybe the Savior's dead body had lain, and were deeply touched and started to spontaneously kneel and pray. As they prayed, for quite a while, both Julianne and I were overwhelmed by the feeling that they were, at that moment, having their testimony of the reality of the death and resurrection of the Savior deepened. It was becoming more real and more powerful to them. Just that moment was enough to make the whole trip here worth it, it is that for which we had hoped as we planned to come here. I was overwhelmed with how wonderful it was to have our children's testimonies strengthened so vividly. I cannot express the bliss of those few moments.

They had many powerful and profound moments in the Church that day. It was a glorious day.

The next morning I led the students on the first field trip I would do with all 40 of them on a bus. It was thrilling. They ate it up, and it went incredibly well. I remember being here as a student, and on that first day looking at the valley where Joshua made the sun stand still, and thinking, "wow, I can't believe I'm really looking at that place". It was so exciting to see the students have that experience, as time after time I showed them where a real, yet miraculous and almost legendary event had taken place. This is the most fun kind of teaching in the world, and the field trip was great!

On Tuesday we had a great class, I got a lot done, and the children seemed to again have a good day at school. It seems like it was the right thing to take the kids out. BJ and I went to scouts tonight with some various people in the city. It is an interesting and intense group of Lone Scouts, and I think this will be great for BJ and me. We were proud of ourselves for having figured out how to navigate through the city a bit.

On Wednesday I taught, Julianne and I took Sabrina and Jacob into the Old City in strollers to get Sabrina some birthday presents. We sprinted there and back, working up a good sweat with all the steep climbs pushing strollers. As soon as we got back I joined the other faculty members as we went to a field trip prep to Jericho and the surrounding environs. I really, really enjoy going over those places with my colleagues, I learn a lot. They have done some great excavations at Jericho, it is a better site than ever before.

I got home in time to spend a little time with the kids, and then Julianne and I went to have dinner with our guest speaker for the evening, and go to her presentation.

Overall I have been able to spend more time with the kids than normal. I am working mostly in our home. It is a smaller walk from my home to my classroom than it is from my office to my classroom in Provo, and my office is just a bit further than that. I can involve the family in much of what I do. I am very busy, but much of that business can be done with my kids, and even more with my wife.

The kids got out of school early today (Wed.) and will be out the rest of the week, because it is Rosh HaShanna.

On Thursday we went with the Judd's to a great beach south of Tel Aviv. Our first time to really swim in the very, very warm Mediterranean Sea. We met there the family of one of Kaleb's friends from school. It was a lot of fun, a great beach. On the way home we tried to stop at a few places to get some stuff for Sabrina. It turns out that really no where, nothing at all, is open on Rosh HaShanna. We couldn't buy food or go find an open McDonald's The whole country is pretty much shut down. Oh well, we had a good day.

On Friday we celebrated Sabrina's birthday (after I taught class). We did presents and had a small party. Sabrina was having the time of her life. Then we went with all the students to the Western Wall. Our kids had so much fun walking with the students, who took such special interest in them and made them feel so good. Especially Sabrina, who was wished happy birthday by everyone and sung to a few times. She felt like she was on top of the world. The kids had a great experience seeing everyone worship, and going up to touch the wall. They asked a lot of good questions, and seemed to learn a lot. Our scripture study has been incredible, they are really getting into this and learning a lot.

This was a nice Sabbath, other than my being made the second counselor in the Branch Presidency. I taught the lesson in Young Men's today, which was interesting because not only did we Skype with the people in the Galilee branch (this is typical, they have only one young man, so we band together), but today they had an extra individual who only spoke Hebrew, so we did some with translation. Fun but complicated.

After church the whole family went with all the students to the Garden Tomb. Again the students were incredible to our family, and the kids are enjoying being with them. They had a very good experience there, and again the kids asked a lot of questions. They seem to really be learning a lot. It is such a lucky thing to be here with them.

A few other interesting things this week. We figured out that with some schedule changes, if the older kids went to Egypt with us in a week, they would not have to miss much school to do so. So we tried to get them onto the trip at this late of notice, hoping there was hotel space, train and plane space still to be had. It turns out that there is, so the older three will come with Julianne and I to Egypt in a week! The younger three will stay with Jill Judd and her younger children. She will have her work cut out for her. Wow! This will be very cool. Also, Ramadan ended this week, and there has been a lot of intense celebration. Rosh Hashanna has also been a fun learning experience for us. We are getting a good education. We are grateful to be here!

Getting settled in: Aug. 29-Sept. 4

So, we are getting settled in. On Sunday (which is not our Sabbath here, but like our Saturday), we took the kids into the Old City for the first time. That is a lot of walking for those little folks (Jacob fell asleep in my arms during the long walk and steep hike on the way back). They got to see a bit of what it is like in the Old City. We didn't do much, just went to get something to eat, told them a bit about the place, and came back. They seemed to have a good day. Then we got them all ready for their first day of school.

We went with them to the first day of school. It was good we did. Poor Kaleb didn't think about it, and left his backpack (with his lunch, etc. in it) in the taxi that took them there. We were able to track it down for him and get it back to him before school started. Everyone seemed to figure out where to go, and seemed happy to be there. It turned out that they had a great day. It was Sabrina's first day of school, and she said she had the best day of her life.

When we finished that, Jacob and Julianne came with the faculty on a little field trip. I had arranged for some good people I know who are excavating at Jaffa to show us the excavation site. So we drove to Jaffa and had a great time getting a personal tour of the place. Julianne seemed to really enjoy seeing everything, and Jacob was most fascinated by the cave full of the biggest bats I have ever seen. There were a ton of them. We got to go into the lab, play with the pottery and equipment, see the Egyptian gate, etc. Cool day!

Tuesday a bunch of us, including Julianne and Jacob, went on a field trip preparation tour. We are planning on taking the students on a walk through various parts of the old city, and then into the Western part of town, the day after they get here. We want to both show them around, and teach them about history, etc. So everyone who was going to do it went on the walk. Jacob was a little trooper. We had a great time, and I think every person learned something they didn't know by the time we were done. We had a few minutes on Ben Yehuda street when we were done, a very nice pedestrian street in downtown Jerusalem. Jacob had fallen asleep by then. We are really wearing that boy out.

The next day we did another field trip prep, for when we will take the students around and show them all over Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, so they can get a feel for the place geographically. Julianne and Jacob came again. They seemed to have a great time, and I think Julianne is loving being able to learn so much and participate so much. As part of it we climbed to the top of Augusta Victoria tower, the highest point on the Mt. of Olives. There are 225 steps, and Jacob climbed them all. Later that day I went on a bus to the airport, and along with Jeff Chadwick picked up 59 students. It took a while to get them all out and make sure we had all our stuff, but we got them loaded on and brought them in. I gave them just a bit of a tour on the way in to town. They were exhausted, they had been through a crazy flight. Meanwhile, Julianne was back at the Center giving some students a tour of the center with the help of all our kids. Then we took the whole family to have dinner with the students. The kids were pretty good, but it was a bit of an adventure. I spent a little time with the students that night telling them what I hoped they would get out of being in Jerusalem. They were exhausted, but seem like a great group.

The next day I lead a group of about seven students on the walking tour of the old and new city, and Julianne also led a group of the same size. We stuck close by each other, and ran into each other a few times and used each other as resources. It was fun to do it together, and really, really exciting to see how much the students are amazed to actually be here, and to see them drinking it all in. This is going to be a lot of fun.

Meanwhile, most of the kids seem to be having a great experience at the Anglican School. They really seem to enjoy it, and it really seems to be a great school. Sabrina seems to be in a little over her head, which is partially our fault but mostly the fault of her being put in an age group we were not prepared for her to be in. We are starting to think about not having her in school.

Friday was the first day I actually taught a class. It was exciting and fun. These students are thirsty, and it is great to be with them. What a sharp bunch. The kids got home from school early, since it is Friday in Jerusalem, and we had some good times with them, and met with some of our student committees to make sure they knew what they should do. It is really starting to be busy around here.

Finally, on Saturday we had church. It was great, we are blessed to be able to go to church here. What an incredible place to have Sacrament Meeting. It is so great to look at the places the Savior was as I partake of the sacrament. Today I was sustained as the Young Men's president and Scoutmaster, while Julianne was sustained as a primary teacher. The kids seemed to enjoy their classes, and are loving being here. Julianne and I went with Frank and Jill Judd (the other family here is the Judds) to the Garden Tomb in the afternoon and had some nice contemplative time there.

Julianne has really started to learn her way around town, and is getting pretty good at being able to shop here. It is a lot of work to be able to figure out shopping prices in a different currency, and figure out what to buy with different foods and the labels in a language you can't read, but she is magnificent.

We decided to pull Sabrina out of school. The place we live is wonderful, they have set it all up so well, and we are receiving so much support. It is all turning out better than we could hope for. The kids are still crazy, and I am still mean, and Juilanne still wonderful, and we are feeling so blessed to be here.