Saturday, December 25, 2010


What a great week. Last Sunday we went to Tel Aviv and did some Christmas shopping (just a reminder, we do Sabbath on Saturday, or Sabbath, here). Then we went to some really cool, really beautiful parks and ruins up near Tel Aviv, and then we took the older two kids to a District Youth Activity in Tel Aviv. I think they had fun. We did a bit more Christmas shopping, including finally finding a new wedding ring for Julianne, to replace the one she lost. I think we did it all right, I had to do the negotiations, fittings, etc. in Hebrew, and my Hebrew is pretty rusty, but we seemed to get along okay.

The next two days I mostly worked. I worked and worked and worked. I am so far behind in work. All the things we have done with the students have made it so I have gotten nothing else done. I have articles, proofs, etc. that I am so far behind on, and I have next semester to get ready for. I really need the vacation, but it doesn’t seem to be happening. We have, however, had some fun evenings, including having almost all the folks in the Center together to watch It’s a Wonderful Life. One great thing is that Jeff Chadwick’s family arrived. Jeff is one of the teachers here, but his wife has not been able to be with him much this last semester, only a few weeks. Now she has arrived, and even better, she came with their daughter Abbi, who will be a student here this next semester. The kids are so happy that they have a student here again. Poor Abbi can barely breath as our kids suffocate her. We also finally got up our Christmas decorations.

Youth at the Hidden Waterfall up Wadi Arugot

Wednesday was a cool day. We took the youth on a hike up Wadi Arugot, a very likely trail that Lehi and his family took. It is the same place Tashara fell off a cliff, but today she didn’t, which was good. Instead it was a beautiful, scenic hike, with some cool waterfalls. The boys with us hiked through the stream and falls on the way down, with Brother Lewis leading the way.

Thursday was supposed to be a day I spent only with the family, but some things for work came up and I spent several hours on that. It will all make the next semester better, but I really need a break and to spend time with my family. I am getting excited for next semester. I have been corresponding with a few families, and I am excited to meet these students. I have also been reading O Jerusalem, and have really been enjoying that.

Christmas Eve was incredible. I worked for a few hours from 5-7 am. Then we got all ready for a day in Bethlehem. It turned out to be a perfect day. Everyone got ready so quickly and well, it was one of those few times when you are ready ahead of schedule. Then we got a ride into Bethlehem on a large taxi with the Judds and their visiting family. We had no problems or even pauses going through the wall. We got dropped off near to manger square, and found ourselves there quite a while before the parade was going to arrive. So we did a little shopping in the stores around manger square. Then we walked to a different part of the streets to where we thought would be a good place to watch the parade. We ate our picnic lunch there, and met Sahar, our wonderful, amazing, incredible Palestinian, Bethlehem native Relief Society President, who had put all this together. She helped us figure out where to go. We walked up so that we were resting on the Church of the Nativity. We ended up being interviewed by Fox News about what it was like to be in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Grandpa Judd, Lisa Judd, and I all ended up being on national tv a whole bunch of times that day. It was pretty funny.

Our family in front of Manger Square on Christmas Eve

When the parade started, our kids were having a hard time seeing. We were standing next to a tv van which was filming the events, and I saw they had a few kids on top of the van watching. So I put our kids on the hood. They grabbed a few and helped them up on top to watch better. Pretty soon all of our kids, and half of the Judd kids were on top of the van, while we all watched and watched boy scout troop after boy scout troop file past with their drums and bagpipes.

Traditional Arab dress in the parade
After a while I started to visit with the cameraman. It turns out this was the Al-Jazeera van. Who would have guessed that a bunch of Mormon kids would sit on the Al-Jazeera van in Bethlehem in Manger Square watching a mostly Greek Orthodox Christmas parade? Pretty fun!

Kids on the Al-Jazeera van
Jacob on the Al-Jazeera van when he was the only one of our kids on the top

Then we went to meet Odeh at his shop. Odeh is one of the two Palestinian men who are members of our church in Bethlehem. We hold church services in his house. He is a very good man, and we enjoyed his olive wood shop, and bought some things there. It was great. Then we went to his house where everyone from the Jerusalem Center, a few other ex-pat members, and all the Bethlehem members had Christmas Eve dinner together. It was as nice as it could be. We visited, ate, enjoyed each other, and then Sahar gave all the kids some little Christmas gifts. It was so wonderful.

Mohammed and family at the Christmas Eve gathering at Odeh's house.

Just minutes before it got dark we walked out to the separation wall, sailed through with no problem, and got in our car we had left there waiting for us. We drove out to Shepherd’s Fields. It was just us there (another American Family was nearby). We sang Christmas songs and talked about the Savior being born right there across the valley in Bethlehem. We talked about picturing ourselves as the shepherds right here, and what if we saw the Angels? What would it be like for us to have been there that night, looking up at the stars and listening to the angels and hurrying across the way to see the Savior of the world as a little babe. I pictured myself as a shepherd there with my two oldest boys, and was sure we would stop by and get the rest of the family on the way home so that we could all go as a family. While I have always known that the Savior is real, while there has been nothing but certainty in my life regarding the fact that he really did condescend to come to earth, he really was born in such humble circumstances, he really did work miracles and then suffer and die for us, yet there, that night, picturing it all taking place in that very spot, or at least in that very city we were looking at, it became even more real. It was wonderful, the miracle and grace of those events was more overwhelming than ever before. It was the perfect Christmas Eve. The miraculous birth is real!!!

Being here for Christmas has helped us to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. There has been no commercialization, and we have not even thought about gifts, etc., until this last week. Gifts just never seemed like a real part of it all. But what has been so incredibly and indelibly impressed upon us is the real reason for Christmas. It has really all been about the amazing and divine being we call Christ and all the wonderful things he did right in the places we have been going to. This is a Christmas that has really been about Christ.

When we got back to the Center we dressed up in all sorts of costumes and with the Judds we re-enacted the Nativity Story, and had a great time doing it. How fun, what a setting for it. Finally, we did our Christmas pajama tradition, got the kids in bed, did our Santa stuff, and finally got to bed.

Jacob woke up in the middle of the night, quietly and alone. I heard him eventually, and went to find him in his room, with the light on, playing with some of the gifts that Santa had left for Sabrina and Alexia. Whoops! It took me a long time to get him back to bed and asleep. Ah well, Christmas Even was never a night for getting sleep. Incredibly, our kids slept in longer than normal for a regular day, much less Christmas. We got to sleep until almost 7 am. Huh? How did that happen? But when I came out, I found out that Kaleb, Sabrina and Alexia had snuck into the room where Santa had been. Very naughty! They were in big trouble.

Earliest risers on Christmas morning
But soon enough we went in and had a wonderful morning. It was less stuff than normal, and people for the most part did not get the big things they were asking for. Yet there was not one complaint about it, not one sour note. There was only gratitude and excitement and happiness. I could not believe the lack of any negative feelings or emotions, and the amazing abundance of good feelings and happiness. It was a Christmas morning for the postcards and story books. And I thought they would go through their presents and be ready to move on quickly. But they were content to just do little things for a very long time. I finally had to tell them that we needed to move on to breakfast. We did, and then got ready for Church.

Church was nice, other than the fact that I had to speak. But I did enjoy talking about the real meaning of Christmas, and it is always a joy to testify of the Savior. The singing was great, the people are wonderful, and it was a time of love and happiness. We invited Rebecca Call to our house for dinner later. She is a grad student here at Hebrew U who is away from family, etc. I did not realize she got here about when we did. She has so fully integrated herself into life here and the branch, I thought she had lots of friends, experience, etc. here. I was surprised she did not. So we came back from Church, had a great meal, and did presents to each other. I love how excited the kids get to give to each other. Again, it was a time of happiness and gratitude, no selfishness or problems, other than 3-year old Jacob wanting it to be his turn to get a present frequently. The others concentrated on what they were giving people, and that always causes them to have such genuine feelings and expressions of joy and gratitude when they get something. Again, it was picture perfect.

Then Rebbeca came over, and we had a wonderful dinner. Then we skyped with grandparents back home. It is wonderful to be with family on Christmas, even if it is separated by thousands of miles. The miracle of technology brought family together, just as it should be on this wonderful day.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Lost without the Students

On Monday morning we began our last field trips. Julianne came with me on this day, and I loved that. It was cold and rainy, but it was great anyway. We went to Lazarus’ tomb. There I think we had a good devotional, and talked about some great things. But when it came time to go into the tomb we got behind some large, very slow groups. It got us way behind schedule.
As we tried to recreate the steps of the Savior during the last week of his life we next went to Bethphage, and commemorated his triumphal entry. From there we went to Pater Noster, and talked about the Lord’s prayer and also his teachings about the 2nd coming. We were not able to spend much time there because we knew it was almost time for the next church, Pater Noster, to close. We ran down there, only to find out they had closed early. Oh well, we just had to roll with the punches.
We went to the upper room, and there we worshipped together for about 40 minutes, talking about the sacrament and last supper. I felt the spirit strongly, but I don’t know if the students did or if they were just ready to get on with it. Sometimes I get a real feel for what they are feeling, and sometimes I can’t. In this case I was not able to get a pulse on what was going on for them. It was complicated somewhat by the fact that the other class had jumped through everything so quickly that they were already done and going either home or out to the city, and many people in my class wanted to do things with them. So some of my students were very antsy. Still, when we were done there we went to the Dormition Abbey and had a great experience there. Then for those who were interested, we went back to Dominus Flevet, the church that had been closed, and talked about things there. It was a great day, even though it was raining, and I think we were able to give them a good idea of the geography and timing of much of what was happening during the Passion Week.

The next day we picked up where we left off, except that Julianne wasn’t with us, and it was incredibly beautiful weather. We started out at Gethsemene (since from the Last Supper, which was supposed to be our last stop, he went there). We had a great experience there. I had asked Janelle Knight to be in charge of the devotional there, and she did an incredible job. It was very good. From there we went to St. Peter Gallicantu, and talked about the Savior’s trials. Then we went to St. Anne’s, and then to the Church of the Flagellation. Ashley had gotten to know a father there who let us up on the roof and let us go around a bit. It was great. Then we had a few hours of free time because all the Christian things close at noon. Finally we met at the Garden Tomb and had a great testimony meeting. Again the other class had skipped through things so quickly that they had not spent much time there, but many of them came to meet with our class so that they could have a longer, more meaningful experience at the tomb. It was a wonderful ending to the field trips, though I felt like I did not do it as well as I would have liked. I always feel unable to talk about the atonement and the resurrection as well as it deserves. But overall it was great.

I will miss going on field trips with these students. I will miss it more than I can express. It has been one of the coolest parts of my life.

That night was the final program for the classes. We met together and sang and had speakers. Lisa Weiler and Nataly Bullock spoke. They were incredible. They helped me feel the spirit, and showed that these students have profoundly grasped those elements that are most important about the whole experience. Julianne, Jill, Frank and I also spoke. I hope we helped them feel the spirit and get a good perspective on the whole experience. I really tried to help them see that they should live their lives differently from here on out. I hope I did as the Lord wanted me to do.

The next day we went to see the kids sing at their Christmas concert at school (just a bit different from the Christmas pageant). We spent much of the day visiting with students. A few times this week students have come by to visit with us, and we have so enjoyed their just hanging out with us. They are a bright light in our home and make us so happy. I have loved seeing how Julianne is so loved by them and how she loves them. They make her happy, and she is so good for them. She is the best role model I can imagine. She is incredible. And we are blessed to have chances to visit with the students.

Students gathered at our house

Tonight the students had their last dinner. Then we went in for a memories slide show. They had all of us teachers speak for just a few minutes. I gave my top 12 list of fun memories, and my top six list of serious memories. They showed us an incredible slide show of the different things we have done together, and it was so fun and so touching. Then the let BJ show the movie he has been making. The students loved it, and BJ and Kaleb and Tashara felt so loved and important. BJ really did a great job. Kaleb ran away and hid because he was afraid too many people would be asking for his autograph. It was great! We stayed up late with the students, went to bed for a few hours, then got up and saw most of them off as they put their bags on the bus and loaded up and left. We slept for a few more hours. Then it was time to get the kids off to their last day of school. During that next day some of the students were still around, so they came and spent time with us, and it was like one last glimpse of heaven, enjoying the last morsels of a pie before fasting for a month. It was great.

Students dancing with our children in our apartment

My friend Rich got here just before they left. He entertained them for a while telling stories. Then we had to see these students off to their bus also. The pain was alleviated a bit by having Rich here for all of us to go visit with, but still this hurt. Jacob was so sad to see his Megan go. She was a girl who taught him in nursery and adopted him and worked so hard to establish a good relationship with him. He has struggled with there being too many people around, but she has helped him so much. He loves her so much. I have never seen him light up the way he does with her. She comes and gets him all the time to play with. He loves her so much. It was hard for him to see her leave, but then he tried to make her feel better. As the students left Sabrina kept telling me that her heart was broke, her heart was broke. For each of my children there were moments that were just too much for them. We love these guys so much, and have been loved by them so much.

Megan playing with Jacob

I really just can’t find the words to express how much I love them. I cannot express how much this is tearing my heart out to see them go. I would be so happy to have them stay with us forever. They took a large part of my heart with them. I cannot imagine ever meeting better people, or loving people more, or feeling closer to them. I just can’t figure out how to say how deeply I feel about them, and how sad it is to see them go. They will go on with their lives, and we will never have this again with them. I really, truly have felt like their father. If you have not experienced this you will never understand what this feels like. It is wonderful and terrible at the same time. But it is inescapable.

Fortunately the next day we had good stuff planned. We went with Rich up to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. It was good for us to have something planned. It was great to spend time with Rich. It was good for our family to be together. It was good to think about the real reason for Christmas. We loved that day together, and I loved being able to catch up with Rich. 25 years ago who would have guessed that we would trapse around the countryside of Israel together?

Family at the Church of the Annunciation

We went to the Church of the Annunciation together and talked about the angel coming to Mary. We also went to Nazareth Village. There they had reconstructed houses, synagogues, threshing floors, etc. They dressed in period costumes, showed us how to weave and spin yarn, how to light lamps, we saw donkey and other authentic stuff from the time of the Savior. It was so cool, and the kids really got into it. I think it was a wonderful way to get them to picture the life of the Savior when he was their age. It was so cool.

Family in replica synagogue at Nazareth Village

Sabbath was good. But it was empty, so empty without the students. And Rich had gone home by then too. Julianne spoke, and she was incredible. Everyone loved what she said. A former Regional Representative asked her if he could have a copy of her remarks so he could use part of it. She was great. That afternoon/evening we went as a branch out to Shepherds’ Fields. It is really incredible to sit there, looking at Bethlehem, as sheep really went by, and talk about the events that really happened there. This just makes Christmas seem all the more real. We are so blessed to have had God sent his son to us. This heals all wounds, and promises eternal relationships that will be more rewarding than we would have ever guessed. Thank goodness for Bethlehem!

Adventure and misadventure

I have gotten behind again, but things have gone so quickly and have been so full, especially emotionally, that it has been difficult to keep up. We had a wonderful time each night of Hanukkah celebrating it by lighting candles, having treats, etc. I was busy out-of-my-mind trying to get field trip preparations in, make exams, grade exams, etc. Here are a few of the more fateful experiences.
On Tuesday, Dec. 7, we went as a family to the Western Wall to see them celebrate Hanukkah there. Dear Sister Judd dropped us off so that we could make it in time. We missed the lighting of one large menorah/hanukkiah, but were able to see very well the blessing pronounced on the one down by the wall and then see it lit. Then we were able to go right up to it. It was very cool. I think our family enjoyed seeing that. Then we had scouts that night, and our Jewish leader went through Hanukkah traditions for us, and then we lit another Hanukkiah, and then we did it again as a family. Three lightings in one night, pretty good.

The next night I gave my lecture at Hebrew University on the pyramids of Snefru. It was not too well attended, which is not surprising since it was the last night of Hanukkah, but it went well and there were great questions. I enjoyed it very much.

The next day Frank and I, and later Kent, walked through about half of the places we would take the students on the field trip at the beginning of next week. This is incredible stuff we will do with them. That night we went to see the school Christmas pageant. It was so wonderful to be able to go to a school where they were not afraid of doing something about the Savior. It was a little pop-rockish for me, and I spent at least half my time chasing Jacob and Sabrina around outside, losing them for a panicked little while, and then herding everyone around. But it was a great night, and the kids were so good. I do have great kids.

The very next night was the students’ Christmas concert. It was great, I loved the numbers they put on. They are so talented and it really got me in the Christmas spirit.

But before the concert we had our own horrible misadventure as a family. On the field trip earlier in the week I had left the little cards that get everyone into the National Parks for free at our last stop. So today we went as a family down to get them (they were at Ein Gedi, down by the Dead Sea). As we were leaving, one student, Brandt, asked if he could come. We had room for one more, so he came with us, for which I am grateful. We got to Ein Gedi and it was closed. So we went to the next door canyon to check it out. It was also closed. BJ asked if he could hike up and look around. There was a little trail right there I thought he meant to go on, so I said okay. I did not realize he meant to go up a cliff. Tashara went with them, and Brandt waited below. As they went up BJ dislodged a very large rock, which rolled down and hit Tashara, knocking her backwards off a cliff. She fell about 10 to 12 feet backwards, landing on her head and shoulders. She then slid and somersaulted another 15 feet or so. Brandt was then able to catch her and keep her from going further. We heard her scream, and to begin with I thought it was just her being upset again. But as she screamed some more I figured out something else was wrong. I turned around and saw her lying there with Brandt holding next to her, and ran as fast as I could up to her. It took a long while (or at least it seemed a long while) before we could get her to move her toes on one foot, then another, then her fingers. But soon she could move it all. She was in shock a bit, but really doing very well. She was very brave. We slowly worked her into being able to move since the National Parks people were wanting her to stay still and wait for an ambulance, something I didn’t want to do. She eventually was able to move, and Julianne walked her to the bathroom to scrub her a bit. She had huge road rash all over her lower back and on the front of one shin. They cleaned her as best they could, and we started for home.

The cliff Tashara fell from

On the way home we called Dr. John at the Center. He wanted us to scrub her some more. So we drove a bit further, and let the kids play around by some of the Dead Sea Scrolls caves, while Julianne and I scrubbed poor Tashara’s wounds. She was so brave and so tough. She really did well. We prayed and thanked our Father in Heaven for how he had blessed us. This could have been so, so, so much worse. In the end she was sore for quite a while, but no other injuries that we can find. We were blessed.

Sabbath was wonderful but busy. It was the last Sabbath here for the students, and that made me cry quite often as I looked out at them. I cannot believe they will be gone soon. It is too much for me. Julianne spent all day getting a triclinium set up in the auditorium in a way that was authentic. It looked amazingly spectacular by the time they were done. Then we spent an evening with the students as they heard about the Last Supper, read portions of it together, and overall had an incredible experience learning about what the Savior taught about the Last Supper. This was the right way to end all their Sabbath experiences.

On Sunday we went to Bethlehem to help the group there hold their Church services. These good people are unable to come through the separation wall to meet with us here in Jerusalem. So they meet on their own. It is our job to teach them the right way to do things so that they can eventually handle their own services. For now President Ohman oversees everything for them. We need to do lots of training to help them along. They are good people, and I loved being able to worship with them and feel of their spirit and righteous desires. It was a crazy weather day. It was quite cold, with a blistering wind that was whipping sand around so that we really were in the middle of a huge sandstorm. It was pretty miserable stuff.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jordan and beyond!

The next few days were spent largely recuperating and getting ready for Jordan. That next morning we went way up to the top of the building where we could see Jerusalem so well. We had our traditional Thanksgiving “Thankamony Meeting”, and I was glad to hear of all the things the children are thankful for. It is nice to know that they have something of a feeling for how blessed they are. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with all the students that night. We also spent some time the next day helping BJ with his movie, and then went out for a drive as a family. We saw some beautiful countryside, and visited the most amazing cave I have ever seen. The stalactites and stalagmites were magnificent. It felt like we were walking around on a different planet. It was incredible, and a wonderful family moment. Church was also great. That night as I got ready to go to Jordan, and the kids were misbehaving, I was a bit more harsh than I wish I had been. That memory haunted me all throughout the Jordan trip.

Nevertheless, early Sunday morning we departed, yet again. It was a great day. Lots of long bus rides, a fairly long but uneventful border crossing, some great singing and story telling. I got to spend nice time with the students. We went to Mt. Nebo and talked about Moses seeing the promised land there. We went to the church at Madaba, and to Maccherus, the site where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. It was a nice moment to think about that great prophet. Then we had more of a long drive as we headed out to Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses). We got up early and went into the Wadi, also known as Petra. The students ate up the incredible sites there. It really is a cool place. I had a million déjà-vu moments as I thought of hiking up there with my family. I could picture Jacob playing in the dirt and with the rocks, and Kaleb trying to stay in the shade. I thought of all the great things we did as a family. I wished they were with us, but we had a good day. Two wonderful students, Jacqueline Schneiber and Megan Connelly, convinced me and Dr. Judd and Dr. John Jackson to go with them to the high place. I had never been there before. We went up the back route, and saw some incredible tombs I had no idea existed. They were great, and I was glad I went. It was a good time.

As we drove to Amman we stopped at another crusader castle. I went again with Janelle Knight and Catie Shaw. We found some very cool places to explore. I forgot my flashlight, so we went by cell phone light through some cool tunnels. In one spot two students hid in a corner and jumped out at us. I nearly hit them before I saw who they were, and so they just got light thumps by the time I got my arms slowed down. Anyway, we had a great time exploring. I was determined to make it back to the bus on time. But I got lost on the way back, and so at the second crusader castle I was late again. This was not good.


The next morning we went to Jerash, another Decapolis city and the largest Roman City anyone will ever see. It was very cool, and we had some great theater singing moments. One of the highlights of the day was that Dr. Judd and I decided to switch which classes we were with. While I love my new class, it was very fun to be with the old class. Kind of like being at the helm of an old, familiar boat. We had a wonderful day together. We also stopped at another castle. I got with my two castle friends, and we explored all around, even finding places I am not sure were places meant for us to find. I love exploring these castles. When it was time to go back I was very determined to be on time. Just as we were leaving, and I was near two of the nursing students, we found a worker who was in terrible pain. He started convulsing, and lost a bit of consciousness. I stayed with the nurses while they stabilized him and the ambulance arrived. We will never know what happened, and can only hope that he is okay. In the end, I was late for the bus again after another crusader castle.

On the way back to Amman we stopped by the Jabbok river and talked about Jacob wrestling with the angel there. It is a wonderful and important story, and there is so much to learn from it. I felt like we had a good moment there, very good. Finally we returned to Amman, where we had a few hours to walk around and see what Amman was like. I was very happy to just wander the streets with these students I have come to love so much and enjoy their company. God has blessed us with good people to be with. I am grateful.

Our last day in Jordan was not that exciting. We went to the citadel, saw a nice mosque, went around the archaeological remains of Amman, saw their little museum, and then left the town. We stopped at the Jordan River on the way down, at a place that might be the area of the baptism of the Savior, though we don’t really know. It was a very nice site, and I wonder if it is not a good place to baptize Alexia. We will have to look into it.

The border crossing was long, but not too eventful. And finally we were able to come home. It was very, very nice to be with my kids again. I have been gone too much. It was the first night of Hannukah, so we lit a candle and I gave them some presents. Very good to be with them.

Thursday morning I met with the CES teachers from Europe East. For an hour I talked with them about teaching students and studying the scriptures, plus some brief history. I showed them the olive pressing process and the wine pressing process. Then Julianne joined us and we all went down to the City of David. It was fun to go through that place with them, teaching them a little about everything there is to see there. We hiked Hezekiah’s tunnel with them also. It was so great to spend time with such good men doing such good things. I really enjoyed my time with them.

After we got back I spent time with the kids, and we got all ready and went to Eran’s house. He and his family were so kind to invite us over to celebrate Hannukah with them. They let us enjoy their wonderful home, taught us some great Hannukah songs, made us wonderful latkes and fried cauliflower, helped the kids make dreidels and paint little pots, and gave us wonderful doughnuts. It was outstanding, really terrific. It was one of the best times we have had here. What a great family they are.

We had some normal, yet slightly exhausting days for Friday and Sabbath. Not too bad, but a lot of things going on. On Sunday, when I would have liked to spend time with the kids, I instead had to do a field trip preparation. We went to Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found), where we saw the site and also went into an extra cave or two, went quickly to Ein Gedi, and set up how to do some good things there, then down to Masada, where we walked through how to take care of everything there, and then checked out where we would swim in the Dead Sea. It was great, but it takes up so much time. I am glad to be with these good men I serve with here. They are the best, and I mean that in every sense of the word. These guys are so good, and so easy to work with. I am so fortunate to be here with them, I will be better at teaching the scriptures my whole life for having been here with them. It is a real pleasure.

Ibex at Ein Gedi

I was too tired that night to type everything up and get it all ready for tomorrow. So I went to bed early, and got up at 3:30 and got all ready for the field trip. Then off we went. It was a very good trip. It is hard to believe it is my last full-day field trip with this group. Qumran went very well, and I think they were very interested. Then we went to Masada. A serious wind storm came up, and we were eating sand and getting it in our eyes half the time, but it was a great time. Ein Gedi was incredible, as it always it. I love that place. Yesterday and today we saw a ton of ibex, hopping all around, jumping into the trees, etc. The place is so wonderful. Then we went to the Dead Sea and all the students swam, and it was a ton of fun. It was a long, but wonderful day.
Mom and Dad at Qumran Cave 4

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.