Friday, March 25, 2011

Sweet Galilee

I am a bit behind, things have been so busy I have not been able to get posts up of what we have been doing. The Galilee trip is always that way. To busy doing incredible things to write much about those incredible things until some of them have faded from memory a bit. I will try to do some of my recalling now. I will have to post these accounts piecemeal, but at least here is a piece.

We were fortunate to be able to work out with the wonderful Judd family a trade. Julianne came with BJ and I on the first part of this trip, while Jill Judd watched the kids, and then they switched part way through. We had a great day on the way up. We went up the Jordan Valley, tracing the route that the Savior took from time to time when he went back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem. It was incredibly beautiful, the flowers and greenery transform the country into a never-ending vista of surprise and beauty. It is easy to see why the Savior loved this place. It is somewhat hard to recognize this place as the same place we came up four months ago when it was all brown.
Our first stop was Beit Sha’an.

Julianne,Julianne, BJ and I at Beit Sha'an

This is a great place, with a huge tell that witnessed Egyptian occupation, Philistine and Israelite occupation, and eventually spread out into a huge Roman town during the time of the Savior. This is the place where Saul and Johnathan’s body were taken after they were killed, and then the men of Jabesh –Gilead came and took them down. We enjoyed some time talking about that, and then went through the town for a while. These are the most spectacular Roman ruins in this country.
From there we went to Nazareth Village, where the students were able to see something of life at the time of the Savior. It is a great place.

Julianne, BJ and I at the Nazareth Village weaver's house

Then we went to Nazareth. We first went to a church that commemorates the synagogue, and talked about the Savior announcing his messiahship there. Then we went to the Church of the Annunciation. Whether it is the right place or not, it is always inspirational to think about the amazing gift that God gave us in sending his son, and how it began with the announcement to Mary. I am always overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of the Son.

My class inside the church that commemorates the Nazareth Synagogue

From there we went to Mt. Arbel. This would have been roughly the same route the Savior would have taken as he went from Nazareth to Capernaum. Arbel affords us a great overlook, we can get a sense of the geography of the entire lake and the places the Savior was wont to go from there. It is a beautiful vista. We also had the chance to talk about the crusader defeat at the Horns of Hattin, which is visible from there.

View of the Sea of Galilee from Mt. Arbel

And then we go on to En Gev and make ourselves at home. It really does seem like a home away from home, and it is so beautiful and so peaceful. It is fun to see the students experience the lake for the first time.

Class at En Gev, next to the Sea of Galilee

The next day we had three hours of class. Class was great, some of the best we have ever had. We had such excellent discussions. It is also such a wonderful experience to say again and again “we’ll talk more about that when we are at that place.” We closed class by going out to the lake. Sitting on the side of the sea we did a short lesson on calming the storm, walking on the water, and mostly on feeding the five thousand. It was great, it really touches you when you do it at the right place. You are more fully able to try to picture how it really happened, and then it becomes more real to you, and then it becomes more applicable in your life. It was a great class.
After class BJ hung out with the students, and Julianne and I went with Kent and Nancy to check out some places we had not been before. We figured out where the Bay of Parables is, a place that is a good candidate for the spot where the Savior delivered the many parables that are in Matthew 13.

Dr. Kent Jackson and me at the Bay of Parables

Then we went to explore the wonderful Orthodox Church of Capernaum. What a beautiful setting, and what wonderful ways they have of depicting these important stories. Then we went to Kursi, the remains of a Byzantine church built to commemorate the casting out of Legion devils into swine. Examining this text and trying to understand it more became my hobby while I was up there.

Julianne and the sunset at Galilee

That night we went to a restaurant where they served us St. Peter's fish (very yummy). We got to know some of the students better, and heard some amazing stories about their lives. We also went in to Tiberias and had a nice walk along the boardwalk, etc.

Julianne and her St. Peter's fish

The next morning we went on an incredible field trip. We started out on a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee. Part way we across we stopped and talked in earnest about the miracle of calming the sea, and of Peter walking on the water to the Savior, and the Savior saving him there. We took some time to write in our journals. This is what I wrote:
3-16-2011, Sea of Galilee: I just had a wonderful devotional with the students. They are so wonderful. I can’t believe I am here, again. I feel so strongly how much the Savior wants to pilot us, how much he bids us to come to him. I know he can help us walk across all obstacles to come to him. And when I falter, Jesus will lift me up and guide me safely home. There is no storm so great my Savior can’t calm it for me. There is no wave so large Jesus can’t help me walk over it. He bids me come, he bids my family come, and we can, with his help, walk over the deep, over death and hell itself, to come to him. We may not know when he will awake and calm the storm, but we know he can and will. O, Jesus Savior, pilot me.

The boat and the devotional

Afterwards we went to see the ancient boat they found, the kind that the Savior may have been in oftimes. From there we went to Capernaum. I love being in Capernaum. It is such an incredible place. Since we were last there I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out what all happened in Capernaum. It is positively the most amazing place, because so many of the most amazing things happened there.

Students in the synagogue of Capernaum

This is where, at least according to the Matthew account, he one day preached, healed a man with palsy, went to call Matthew as an apostle, ate with him and argued with the Pharisees, left from there to heal Jairus’ daughter, on the way healed a woman who had been bleeding for years, raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and then healed blind men. That was a great day. It makes me wonder how many other things he did there. We only know so few things of the many mighty mercies he performed in his life. He was so full of love. And yet so alone. There, in the city he dwelt most often, the best he had was as a guest of Peter. He had no home. One of the things that hit me most strongly during this Galilee trip was how much the Savior traveled, how much he walked. He spent all his time going from place to place, doing good and helping all, with no place of his own. I am so grateful for this sacrifice, as all others that he made.
When done with that we went to Tabgha and learned about the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

Students in Tabgha

Then to the Church of St. Peter’s primacy. There are so many great things to talk about in all these places. And then we went to the Mt. of Beattitudes. We spent a long time there going over the great Sermon on the Mount. We spoke of it, and then the students took their time to speak about what they learned about the beatitudes.

BJ and friends at Mt. of Beattitudes Church

We went for a little while to Bethsaida, one of the three town Jesus preached in the most. We talked about the people there who would have known the Savior, the places he would have visited. We spoke of the Iron age Israelites who lived there and would have been scattered by the Assyrians. In this town a man who was blind was healed, and we likened this to our spiritual healing. It was a pretty good place, and we had some very nice moments there. All in all, it is one of the most incredible field trips you could go on. No where will you come to understand the events of the Savior’s ministry so well. I loved it, I loved having BJ and Julianne with me, and I think the students were deeply touched. It was a great day.

Me comparing a mote and a beam at Bethsaida

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Too much monkey business (or at least Banana Land business)

What an incredible week. I don’t know how we can pack so much into a week. I hope we survive it.
Last Sabbath was particularly meaningful to me. It was the first one after Old Testament had ended. We were fasting that day, and I was fervently fasting for a few things, more fervently than is often the case. One of them has been certainly answered, and I am mindful of how much God loves us and how much he blesses us. We are so fortunate.
Since it was a day of fasting, we also had a testimony meeting in church. I noted that of the many, many people that stood to bear their testimonies, all but two were from my Old Testament class. Without fail all of them spoke about something they had learned in class (often not pointing that out, but I could tell), and how it had changed them or helped them in some way. It was so moving to me. It means so much to see that the things you do sometimes make a difference. I love these people so much it means a great deal to think that maybe something has made a lasting difference for them.
That experience has been coupled with a few other things. One of them was a talk given in church today, in which one of my Old Testament students used an example from the Old Testament to illustrate a point. He was so familiar with it, with how so many aspects came together, with how real it was, with how you can learn from it, with how much it meant to him. I was moved to tears to think that he can use the things we have gone over so well, so powerfully. It makes the whole experience worthwhile to hear someone use the Old Testament like that. Additionally, last week I spent some time speaking with someone who has been troubled by a certain issue in church history. It so happens that it was an issue I have studied and even written about. I shared with him the article I wrote, and we spoke of the ideas in it for quite some time. He later read it and told me it helped him, and helped him so much he has shared it with a friend who has had similar questions. Again it means so much to see that the things I spend my time on really can make a difference. Sometimes you put your whole heart and soul into something, giving it everything you have, for years, and even for a lifetime. You do it because you want to help, because you love and want to help others and because you love and want to help God. But you don’t know if it will end up helping others, and it is really enough just to know that you are doing God’s will. But it can mean a lot when you see it has made a difference. It was a day where I felt like I had come up to a few people in desperate battle, somewhat beleaguered and struggling, and had helped them overcome their enemy. It is a deeply satisfying feeling.

Sabrina lost her first tooth

But mostly this week has been full of fun. We went to a branch activity in Jericho at a place called Banana Land. It was wonderful. Because it is in Jericho, we could get together with people from the West Bank and from Jerusalem. Usually these groups can’t be together. It was so good to be able to strengthen members who only see others once a year. Some of these people I have never been able to meet. What a wonderful thing.

Julianne with a Bethlehem family

Our family with a family from Jericho. Here is a Palestinian Deacon aged boy

We also had a ton of fun there. We had a picnic, we did bounce houses, bumper cars, paddle boats, 4 wheelers, bungee trampoline jumping, small rides, rode a camel, and played with friends. It was more fun than we deserve.

Kids riding a camel

BJ and Jacob in bumper cars

Kaleb on the 4 wheeler!

Alexia on the Bungee jumping trampoline

The next day I took the students to Bethlehem. We started out at the Herodian. The fields are full of green growth, flowers, and blossoming trees. It is gorgeous. We saw baby sheep, and beautiful skies. The Herodian was great, and I really enjoyed my new class. What a welcoming, loving, incredible bunch. From there we went to Bethlehem University, where the students heard a tremendous amount of propaganda, and then were able to visit with Palestinian students for a while. This is a good thing. It is good that we help them hear these various points of view. I feel badly that we are not giving them a fully balanced point of view, that they hear more from the Palestinian side, but we have made it better than it was in the past. They are getting a bit of a balance.

Students visiting with Bethlehem University students

The whole group in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity

We had a wonderful lunch under a large tent. Then we went to the Church of the Nativity, which is always a highlight. Afterwards we went to our Shepherd’s Fields. BJ and Julianne had scouted out a great place for us to meet, and the whole family met us there. We got together with our Old Testament classes, and sand Christmas songs and had a wonderful testimony meeting. It is incredible to talk so much about Christ, and his birth, right there, right where his birthplace is in sight. Thank goodness that God sent him. Thank goodness he was willing to come. We are so blessed. Without that wonderful gift of the Christchild we would all be lost. But because of the incredible events that happened right there we can all be saved!
The week we started New Testament classes in earnest. How great it is to study his life so intensely, to talk about it and how it applies to our life so much. His life and teachings are coming together so much more for me. Each time I study the Gospels I come to understand a little bit better.
Julianne was the field trip leader for taking a bunch of students to the Kotel tunnel, a tunnel which goes along the western wall of the temple mount. I am glad she got to do that.
We also had a talent show for our family and the Judd families. Many students came to watch, and a few even performed with our kids. It was a great thing for our kids. They got to show off some stuff, and these students give them such positive feedback. They really grow from the amount of love and attention these good students give them. Tashara did some ballroom dancing with some of them and Carrie Judd.

Tashara, Carrie Judd, and the Jackson twins dancing

Alexia sang with Britt Lam while Britt played the guitar, and then Alexia played just a little on her own.

Alexia and Britt playing and singing

Star Wars Puppet Pals

All the younger kids did a spontaneous gymnastics extravaganza together. Our kids did Star Wars puppet pals together, which is always a hit. BJ and Kaleb did a sword fight together. Tashara and Kaleb did a guitar number together.

Tashara and Kaleb playing guitar

And Sabrina and Austin Anderson did a guitar number together. They did two songs where he did the upper hand on the guitar and she strummed it while they played. Then we watched BJ’s movie. It was a huge hit. The students loved it. It was a great time for everyone. Maybe a little long, but a great time.

Sabrina and Austin. Sabrina says they are rock stars! She is right, this number was wildly popular.

We had some students over to make cookies, and we all just played for a while. It was so much fun. These guys are so good for our kids. They play with them in so many ways doing so many fun things, and they build them up so much. It is incredible how good it is for everyone.
I spent a ton of time this week getting things ready for going to Galilee.

Fun with the students at our place.

We also did a luau for everyone. The cooks tried their best to do some Hawaiian food. It ended up being coconut thrown on top of Middle Eastern food, and some decent pineapple upside down cake. We had a lot of the BYU Hawaii students teach the others some Hawaiian stuff. Tashara and some students did a great hula performance. Piers Tueller played the ukulele while we taught them “Pearly Shells” and then Tashara and Alexia taught them the hula to that song. Julianne and Tashara taught them to do Tahitian hula while BJ did the drumming. Piers, Donovan, BJ and I did the Haka. And we watched both Johnny Lingo movies. It was a great time.

Tashara and Alexia teaching Tahitian dancing

Friday, March 4, 2011

Good and Sad

We went on a nice scout camp last weekend. It was a combined cub and boy scout camp. We went to Aijalon Park, which is beautiful this time of year, and has a few nice ruins in it. BJ, Kaleb and I enjoyed each other and the folks we were with. We had a nice fire, a good camp, and we slept quite well. The next morning we did a little hike which included a little geocaching. That was plenty fun, and I could see that turning into a family hobby. We also went out to Tel Gezer, a place few go to, but a very cool place.

Scouts pointing to a cache found using gps (geocaching)

A huge lizard we found on the hike

Scouts at Tel Gezer, in the huge Solomonic Gate

The field trip this week is easily my least favorite, though it is important. We went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It is always a depressing experience. I would have mostly skipped it, staying out as much as possible, except that this time Julianne came. So I went through with her. The stories haunt me. The stories of children and parents being separated, the despair, the sadness, the baseness of humanity pain me and shadow me. It is an experience I would be glad to not have again, though I am sure I will. Fortunately afterwards we go with the Judaism teacher, Ophir, to Mt. Herzl and learn something of the founding of the state. That is less depressing and interesting.

Students inside the Holocaust Museum

Students at one of the children's memorials at Yad Vashem

Ophir teaching the students on Mt. Herzl

It was my last field trip with my Old Testament students. That is also depressing. While I know I will love my New Testament class, I will sure miss these guys.

My OT class. Sure love these guys.

One day this week I finally found a morning I was looking for, one where it was not misty at sunrise. I was excited to use our new camera to catch a few good shots.

One of my favorite sights from our building

A Panorama view from our place. This view is one of my favorite sights in the world.

Not a very exciting week. Mostly it consisted of getting busy work done. I am excited to start teaching the New Testament again. Our first day of that class was this morning. It is so wonderful to spend so much time on the life of the Savior. I feel that each time I come to understand Him and His message better. As I look at the places he was wont to go, as I study his life and teachings, as I see the workmanship of his hands in the lives of these wonderful students and my family, I come closer and closer to him. That is what makes all of this worth it.