Saturday, July 23, 2011

Galilee part 1: vacation on steroids, but sweet

It took us pretty much the whole day to get ready for going to Galilee. But we did get ready, and then away we went, for one of the most magical, wonderful, amazing experiences we have ever had. Julianne and the youngest four followed the bus in the van. So that they didn’t have to leave so early they skipped the first site, since they had been there before. It was Bet Sha’an. We had a bit of a puzzle getting there, they have just changed the entrance, and now you go in a new way and take a tram in. A bit complicated, but it worked. We had a very nice devotional there.
The tel is a large one. It is a huge city near top of a high tel 206 ft below sea level near the top of the hill, though actually 350 ft. below sea level in city. N 31* 37.705, E 034* 54.797. It has early Canaanite settlement there, and eventually became an Egyptian stronghold with a large Egyptian presence there. It is easily defensible, and sits at the junction of two important valleys (Harod and Jezreel) which makes it at the crossroads of two major trade routes. It has two large springs , and large areas of land watered by Jordan overflow (almost Egypt-like). The Israelites had difficult time conquering this place. Manasseh was to inherit it, but couldn’t conquer. Saul also failed, his and Johnathan’s dead bodies were hung there after they were killed at Mt. Gilboa. The men of Jabesh Gilead, whom Saul had helped earlier, eventually rescued the bodies and gave them a proper burial. We spent a lot of time talking about the fall of Saul and Johnathan, and read David’s lament over them. It is pretty touching stuff. Finally, David conquered the city.

Looking down on the Roman ruins from on the tel

The cardo (or main street) of the Roman city of Scythopolis

Under the Ptoelmies the city expanded to the bottom of the hill when they settled Scythian mercenaries there, and it thus came to be known as Scythopolis. During the Roman era it was a Decapolis city, the only one west of the Jordan. Since there was a Jewish population there, and since the Savior went to some Decapolis cities and some of them came to the Sermon on the Mount, it is likely the Savior came to Bet Sha’an at some point. The Roman ruins are extensive, and it has a great example of a Roman Bath. We spent some time exploring. All in all it was enjoyable.
From there we went to Nazareth Village, where the family met up with us. They do a nice job there, and I think this was their best time yet. Lots of good stuff for the students to learn and understand. And Julianne did a little bit more filming for our nativity video there.

Workers at Nazareth Village as they sift wheat

Alexia, Kaleb and Sabrina got to ride the donkey at Nazareth Village

Students learning from the guide at Nazareth Village

A worker harvesting with a scythe at Nazareth Village

Then we went to the church built over the synagogue there, and had some wonderful moments talking about the Savior reading from Isaiah and announcing his messiahship there based on that scriptures. We spoke of how Jesus Christ is the one who heals and frees the captives, and how he chose a scripture that described so well his mortal mission. I love how the Spirit bears sweet testimony of these things as you talk about them. At the Church of the Annunciation we were fortunate to meet with Father Molina, an ambassador for the Catholic church. He was there to do a mass for some people in the Church, but he let us go first, and explained many things about the church to the students. We also spent some nice time singing, and talking about the goodness of Mary. It was very nice.

Amber leading the music in the church built over the Nazareth Synagogue

Having spoken of Mary I took the opportunity on the bus ride to talk about motherhood, a topic about which I feel fairly passionately. We spoke about it most of the way to Mt. Arbel. Then we had some questions that took right up until when we got there, and we continued them afterwards almost all the way to Ein Gev. Mt. Arbel was wonderful, though it was horribly hot. It was one of the most hot and humid days I have ever been a part of. However, we were able to get them well oriented to the lake and surrounding territories while there.

The class at Mt. Arbel

We were so happy to get checked in to our little bungalow in Ein Gev. I cannot explain how much I love Ein Gev. It is so peaceful and so beautiful, but it is also so associated with wonderful memories of great people and great teaching moments that it has a magical feel about it. Our children also love it, and were so excited to return.

The little patio at our apartment

Where some of the kids sleep (or bounce) in our little apartment at Ein Gev

One of the things that made this such a great 11 days is how it worked out for the family. Think of it. 11 days where we don’t have to make any meals. Where we have someone come in and sweep and clean the bathroom and change the sheets. Where we can go to the beach often, but also have fun things planned for us every other day, and have a ton of great things to drive to and do. The kids read books, played on the computer, played cards, spent hours at the beach, ate lots of stuff they loved (hot chocolate and cereal and cottage cheese every morning), played with the students, and in general had a wonderful time. This is a family vacation sent from heaven.

Kaleb and Alexia eating in the cafeteria at Ein Gev

The next day I spent most of the day teaching. I forgot how wonderfully classes go in Galilee. The classroom is not that great, but the place lends a spirit to the discussions, and we are so intensively studying the New Testament, that the lessons there are always amazing. It was a great day of classes. Plus it is great to be able to go outside and use the environment. At the end of class today we went out and looked up the hill at Hippos, which I am convinced is a city set on a hill that they could see at the sermon on the mount, and which I am even more convinced was the city wherein the owners of the swine who ran into the sea lived. Afterwards, we relaxed in the air conditioned room for a while (it was stiflingly hot and at least as humid as Hawaii), and went out to the beach (my wife had already had the kids out there before lunch). We played in a raft, played with students, had horse and rider fights, etc. What a really wonderful day.

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