Saturday, November 21, 2015

District Conference and More

What a couple of days we have had. Saturday was incredible. We began with separate meetings for men and women, ages 8 and up. So, we finally had a chance for all our kids to go to these meetings. It was great to sit between Kaleb and Jacob in such a meeting. The meeting was good, and I thought the talks were very good. At the end Elder Holland spoke. He was incredible. He taught me some things that made sense to me in a way I hadn’t thought of before. It was wonderful.

Jacob all dressed up to listen to an Apostle

Then we had a very nice lunch. Kessy came, and I was so excited to see her there. This is a very good thing for her. We visited with so many people there and I hope I was able to strengthen many and help them feel cared for and loved. Finally we had the afternoon general session. It was very good. All the talks were excellent. Elder Holland’s was particularly good, as he talked about building up zion using 4th Nephi as an example. It really inspired us to be better people, it really moved me. When he was done he left us with an Apostolic blessing. It was a beautiful blessing, and included a blessing of healing. As he said, it was as if he were laying his hands on our heads and anointing us. As I reveled in the blessing I also cried out in my heart, so sad that Tashara was gone for a school trip and not part of this, and that BJ wasn’t part of it, and most of all, that my parents who are struggling so much right now with health issues weren’t part of it. Just as I cried out in my heart that I wished they could be part of it, Elder Holland told us that this blessing was also for all those for whom we prayed for and worried about. It was a great boon of peace to my heart.

Elder Holland talking with students

Towards the end Jacob was asking me who a certain man on the stand was. It was Elder Lawrence of the Quorum of the Seventy. He told me that that nice man had looked at Jacob, and Jacob looked at him, and they smiled at each other, and then they started winking at each other. He thought that he was one of the most friendly, nicest men he ever had seen. He wanted to go meet him. So after the meeting was over we went up and Jacob gave him a big hug and they had some nice visiting for a minute. As I came up he said to me “Hello Brother Muhlestein.” I was surprised, and I asked him how he knew my name. He said they watch me explain the scriptures on tv. I was a bit surprised, but we had a nice visit.

Somewhere along the way Kaleb jumped down some stairs and twisted his ankle very badly. He could barely walk. This will teach him to jump down stairs playing scripture tag on a Sabbath.

When it was over we came down and visited together as a family about what we had felt and learned. We had dinner and enjoyed being with each other, and got out a game to play. But just then we got a call that Elder Holland was willing to meet with the students for a little fireside, and we were invited. So we all changed back into our nice clothes and headed back up to the eighth floor. Elder Holland allowed us all to take pictures with him, and then he opened up a question and answer session. Some great questions about dealing with wayward family members, about sealings, about dating, about decisions, etc., were all discussed. It was a delightful time, and we very, very much enjoyed it. It ended all too soon.

As we came downstairs (Kaleb on my back because he couldn’t do the stairs), we ran into Elder Holland again. He grabbed Jacob for a hug and said “so how is the Muhlestein family?” I think that a while before when he had shaken hands with everyone he had not known my name, so I would guess he asked someone. Jacob was thrilled, and so excited to visit with him. Elder Holland asked him about school and how other things were in his life. Then Jacob said he had a question he hadn’t been able to ask, and so he asked, and Elder Holland answered. Jacob was very touched by getting a hug and answer from an Apostle. Then he went off to bed. He was clearly exhausted. But he left in his wake a very happy young boy.

We are so blessed to have the chance to listen to an Apostle of the Lord and to receive Apostolic blessings. We are so very blessed!

The next day we played games together as a family. Kaleb got his ankle looked at, and he has torn two ligaments. Bad. He has 8 weeks of needing to keep it from twisting sideways, so he will be in an air cast that whole time. So, as we tossed a football and a Frisbee he just had to stand there and get it if it came to him. We then played card games. We also worked on the lyrics for a rewrite of the Gilligan’s Island song for the talent show for the students this week. It reads like this:
Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of an Israel trip
That started at Tel Aviv airport
would Rizek make the ship, would Rizek make the ship.
The students were an excited crew,
Jet lagged to be sure.
62 passengers half awake that day
On a three and a half month tour, a three and a half month tour.

The Old City started getting rough,
Their shopping plans were tossed,
If not for the courage of the security staff
All free time would be lost, all free time would be lost.

Instead they spent all day and night on this enchanted JC isle With the Allred’s
Witchurch’s too,
Father Muhlestein, Kids and wife,
The Service Couples Chadwick and his wife Kim,
Here on JC Isle.

So this is the tale of the JC crew,
Not here for a long enough time,
Trying to get to the Old City,
But it's an uphill climb, both ways an uphill climb.

First mate Elise and Ryan too,
Will do their very best,
To give everyone stuff to do,
In their JC nest, their Ottoman Empire nest.

No dates, no shorts, no backrubs, You’d better be on time,
If you say you’re coming back in the van,
You cannot change you‘re mind, you cannot change you’re mind.

So join us here beloved friends,
You always make us smile,
62 stranded castaways,
Here on "JC Isle."

It took us a surprisingly long time to come up with all of that, but we think it will be a big hit.

I got a bit of work done, some kids got a bit of homework done, and Sabrina was able to play with a friend. Eventually Tashara got back. She stayed four days longer than Kaleb and Alexia on the school trip so that she could do scuba diving with the school. She was already open water dive certified. Over these last four days she got certified as an Advanced Diver, and as a Wreck Diver. She was so thrilled with what she had done and with how cool it all was. It sounds like she had a fabulous time. I am so happy for her, and wish that I could one day do that. I think it was an outstanding opportunity for her.

Today I taught class. It went really well, I feel quite good about it. And then I worked on getting ready for going to Galilee and for our field trip this week. It took all day. Then I spent my night helping Alexia with homework and Julianne with stuff for her app. The day went by too quickly. But life is better than we deserve.

Tuesday was more great class. Each day I am more and more filled with love for these students! They are really wonderful people! And today we taught about Peter’s declaration of the Savior as the Son of God, and Apostolic testimonies and Apostolic power, and it was wonderful to do it just after having had Elder Holland here and having heard his testimony of Christ and his Apostolic blessing. It hit the students in a different way, and me too. Teaching like this is so much fun!

I also helped Julianne with some stuff, we had business stuff going on for the Center, I had Branch Presidency Meeting, and overall it was a busy but good day.

On Wednesday we took the students on a field trip to the Christian Quarter. We started out at Terra Santa (also known by the Latin term Terra Sancta), the headquarters for the Franciscans here in the Holy Land. The Franciscans have custody of all the holy sites in the Holy Land. We were taught by Friar Stephan, who is over all the Franciscans here. 

Julianne and I with Friar Stephan
St. Xavier's tower on top of Terra Sancta church
The students on the roof of Terra Santa
He was wonderful, and we had a great time learning from him about the role of Franciscans and seeing the beautiful church. We even went up on the roof and had a spectacular view from there.

The view fro Terra Santa, sitting just under the tower of Saint Xavier. The Dome of the Rock and Russian Tower of Ascension on the Mount of Olives are in the background

The towers of Jerusalem from the Terra Santa roof

Then we went to Alexander Nevsky church. This is the Russian Orthodox church next to the Holy Sepulchre. Inside we show the students the archaeological remains of some of the emperor Hadrian’s forum and Cardo (main street), some of which was later incorporated into Constantine’s Holy Sepulcher. Using that we show them how the Holy Sepulchre used to look and how large it used to be. It was very nice.

teaching students in the church of Alexander Nevsky

Then we went into the Holy Sepulchre. I taught the students a ton about the building, the symbolism, how it all works, etc. I think they really enjoyed it and learned a lot, but I could also tell that by the end I was giving too much information, and I should have stopped a bit earlier. I did show them about the various important chapels, the symbolism of much of the church, the history behind various structures, we talked about this as a possible site of crucifixion and resurrection and compared it with the Garden Tomb, we spoke of finding ways to find reverence and worship while in the midst of other religious traditions (even sharing some moving stories from our family), and finally we went up on the roof and I testified of the reality of the crucifixion and resurrection. It was a great time (except that I went too long). I really enjoyed it!

Sister Muhlestein (Julianne) on top of the Holy Sepulchre
 Then we went to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. David Whitchurch taught them there. We also went to Saint John’s and he taught them there and we had a nice time there. From there we went to Saint Mark’s, and good old Justina taught them there about the Syrian Orthodox tradition, about their tradition that the Upper Room was there, and she shared stories about miracles that had happened at the church. I believe miracles have happened there, and am grateful for the faith of people from all around the world.

Some of our students with Justina at the Syrian Orthodox church of St. Mark

When the field trip was over, Julianne and I went exploring. We went to some parts of the city we don’t usually spend much time in. We were able to get into the Latin Partriachate church, which was difficult to get into but beautiful inside. The chapel was empty, and we enjoyed the stunning stained glass and how the sun was streaming through one pane and the then colored rays were hitting a chandelier and creating a spectacular radiance, and also hitting the altar in a dazzling display of light and color. It was peaceful and wonderful. Then we saw a gate that we could open that led down to the crypt. We went down and found a very nice chapel, and several beautiful burials. It was very cool to explore, and we had a great time.

Stained Glass window inside the Latin Patriarchate Church

From there we found a Coptic church called the Church of Saint George. We had to ask, but we got someone to let us inside. It was a small but cool chapel. They had finished a wedding there a day or two before, and the white ribbons and flowers were still all around. The whole place was wonderful and cool. We enjoyed it. I had never been in either of these churches before, and was so glad to have found them.

The view from on top of a hotel we also explored. Note the Jerusalem Center on the Mount of Olives framed by the crosses of the Holy Sepulchre
We had to hurry from there to the Albright Institute. There Lisa Mahoney and Zimo, two Crusader specialists at the Albright, visited with me for about 45 minutes about Akko. I had asked them to visit with me so that I could get a better idea of how to teach that place to the students. They provided me with fantastic information, and I really enjoyed it. I think Julianne did too. I think they helped me get a better idea of how to bring the whole place to life for the students just a little bit better. I was grateful for their help, and found it very interesting and helpful.

That night we enjoyed each other as a family and just got a lot done. One of the things we have done a bit of each night is practice for the Talent Show that is coming up.

Thursday I taught class, and felt like it went really, really well. I feel like classes have just been really meaningful lately. We also got ready for the exam, which I hope was helpful for the students.

One of my students, Lauren, studying scriptures for class out in the Old City

As soon as that was over I left with the other faculty members to prepare for the field trip we will go on when we get back from Galilee. We went to Qumran, which was great, and then we drove down to Masada, which was pretty good. I like Masada, but it is so huge and takes so long I am not as in love with it as I am other sites. Still it was good to do, and I enjoyed it.

A cracked cistern at Qumran. It reminded me of Jeremiah 2

The view we had of Machaerus from near Ein Gedi 
Mosaic carpet in Herod's western palace at Masada
We got back just in time for me to practice the skit with my family just a few times. Then we ran up to the Thanksgiving dinner. I got after Kaleb for not being ready when he should have been since he was playing a computer game. This almost made it so that he wouldn’t come up to Thanksgiving dinner, and it was only with great cajoling that it took place.

The dinner was really fun, and was even a bit Thanksgivingish. We enjoyed ourselves a lot. I know it is a week early, but we will be at Galilee next week, and won’t be able to do it much. So, instead, we had a great and grateful thanksgiving dinner tonight. I loved it.

The Thanksgiving spread

As soon as that is over we went to the talent show. We were second, and did a skit that was a parody on the Gilligan’s island theme, but which was specific to how things are here. The students laughed and laughed (we had to pause often to let the laughter die down so that we could continue). For days afterwards I heard from everyone how much they enjoyed it.

The skits after ours were so funny. The students were so creative, so talented, and so very, very funny. The ironic thing is that the other day they got a 20 minute lecture from David Whitchurch on not getting to much like couples while at Galilee. There hasn’t been a lot of pairing off at all here, nor a lot of talk about it. But his lecture planted the idea, and now it is all people seem to be thinking or talking about at all. The skit was full of it too. It has been fun. We had a great time that night, and my throat hurt from laughing too much.

Friday I gave my midterm. Apparently it was hard, a lot of people were a bit frustrated. But I guess that is okay. Then I made sure things were set up for the practice for the primary program. Then I went shopping, and then I had meetings about getting ready for Galilee and we evaluated Jordan. I am very pleased, we had some changes I was hoping for that it looks like will happen. Then I spent time getting everything printed and ready for Galilee. Then I came down and we did a kind of lame, somewhat fight filled, Family Home Evening. Still it was okay. Then Jul and I watched a movie together, and finally slept a bit.

This Sabbath, so far, has been grand. The primary program was incredible, really outstanding. Sabrina and Jacob had written their own talks, and they were incredible, amazing talks. The whole program was wonderful, and my kids rocked! Then Julianne did a Passover lesson for the Young Men and Women. Then I taught seminary for her, and I felt like it went really well. Then we had a bit of family time, I visited with a wonderful student about how to get the most out of our experience here, and we put up Christmas decorations together as a family. As we did this we also watched a gorgeous Jerusalem sunset. What a great day!

Decorating our little lobby in the Jerusalem Center

Putting up our little Christmas tree
Decorating our little Christmas Tree

Sunset over Jerusalem
Sunset over Saint Xavier's tower, at Terra Santa, in Jerusalem

Sunset over St. Xavier's Tower and the
YMCA tower in Jerusalem

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