Monday, September 28, 2015

From Arad to Synagogue

Sunday the 13th was a great day. We had a pleasant, relaxed morning. Then we went to Bet Shemesh, where we met the Fellows family. From there we went to the tel together, and we explained all of the things we were looking at in regards to both the story of Samuel and the story of Israel losing the Ark of the Covenant. It was getting pretty hot, but everyone seemed to enjoy learning about what we could see there. Because it was so hot we held off for a while on telling the full story. We did let the kids have some time to explore the archaeological remains there.

The Sorek Valley where Samson spent so much time
Then we went north just a bit, around the hill, to where you can drive up through the Eshta’ol Forest. Samson grew up going between Estha’ol and Tsora, so the Eshta’ol forest is a good place to do more of the story. We drove around until we found some a nice place for a picnic. There we ate and went through the story of Samson in detail for the two seminary students and all the older kids. The younger kids heard part of it and then went to play in the forest. It ended up being a very nice time.

Eshta'ol Forest
More of the Esthta'ol Forest, where Samson grew up

On the way home we went to a grocery store we had heard about that is in a part of town we never go to. It was in the basement of a big mall. It was a really nice store with good prices and lots of products we don’t usually see here, including some Kirkland products. We enjoyed getting some things that are hard to get, but soon it became apparent that they were closing the store as part of getting ready for Rosh Hashanna (Jewish New Year). We were the second to last one out of the store, and it was only about 3:30. Our problem was now that we had been ushered out on one side of the huge mall, the mall itself had closed and they wouldn’t let us back in, and we were parked all the way on the other side of the mall with a whole bunch of big grocery bags to carry. The streets around there were one-way, so we weren’t sure how to get the car there. But I left everyone sitting in some shade and went on my ten minute walk to get to the car and then figured out a way to get the car to them. The kids were very happy to not have to carry the groceries all that way.

We spent the rest of the day getting ready for the big field trip tomorrow.
The morning came early, but we were pretty ready so it wasn’t that hard to get up to the bus on time. It is important for us to be early to everything because our family is definitely not supposed to slow down the students. My kids were great, they were there ten minutes early, ready to roll.

It was a great field trip. It started out with a very long drive. I explained a few things to the students, and checked on our kids a few times. They were each sitting with a student and seemed to be enjoying themselves. On occasion one of the students they were next to fell asleep and they got a bit bored, but mostly they had a great time visiting and getting to know people.

The bus on which we tour all around Israel

After almost two hours of driving we arrived at Tel Arad. This is a great place. It is mentioned in the Bible because the Israelites fought them under Moses, and again under Joshua. It became a huge fortress later, and witnessed people like Shishak and others. 

Students learning from Dr. David Whitchurch at Tel Arad

It had a functioning temple, and you can still see where the Holy of Holies is and you can still see the altar. It was a great place to teach about gates, writing (they found a lot of ostraca), temples, and worshipping more than one god (a problem they apparently had there). I feel like we had a really good time there with a few powerful moments.

The students looking down at the temple at Tel Arad, where I stood teaching them about it

Our family in front of the Holy of Holies of the Israelite temple at Tel Arad

Then we went to the lower Canaanite city, which had been occupied long before Israel came on the scene (from even before the pyramids). There David Whitchurch taught them while Jacob followed lizards.

After that we only had the briefest time to walk around and see the Canaanite ruins. We did stop by a well where Brother Whitchurch showed Alexia some owls that were in there.

Overall it was a great site and the students learned, were edified, class purposes were furthered, and we had a great time.

Then we drove out to Beer Sheva (Beer Sheba). This is a wonderful place. It is nearby the modern town, which is located where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would have been. They spent so much time in this place, it was great to sit and read the stories about them there. There really is a power in reading the stories that have to do with a place while in that place. 

Dr. Whitchurch teaching the students at Tel Beer Sheva

We were also able to talk about how false worship crept into the town and temple that were there. The broken altar that was found there, reconstructed in the entryway, provides a great opportunity to do that. We also had a great discussion about gates again, and David Whitchurch did a powerful job of teaching that and tying it into Christ being the keeper of the gate. It was a wonderful moment, and really touched me. We were able to do some good stuff with the archaeology there, and even taught about how the Anzac trail went through there. I really enjoyed myself.
Then we drove to Tel es-Safi, or Biblical Gath. 

Dr. Jeff Chadwick teaching at biblical Gath, or Tel es-Safi, where he excavates
We all hiked up quite a ways and had a great time learning from Jeff Chadwick about the excavations there. It is always fun to learn from the person who does the excavating about a site. It is quite a hike, but worth it. The view is wonderful, the feel you get for the land is great, and the stories associated with Gath are outstanding. Jeff is so animated and does such a great job teaching! I think we all enjoyed it.

Students getting on the bus or getting water from our coolers under the bus

Of course it had been a very hot day, and the steep hike up was a bit much for some of my kids. They were pretty ready to be done. To begin with Jacob and Sabrina were really struggling. But I started to get them to do races, etc., and they came alive and had a great time. Alexia had a hard time, she just wanted to sleep. But the students were so great with all of them. All day my kids were so very good, and the students were so very good with them. I was so proud of my kids and how they learned, behaved, and interacted. Overall it was an outstanding day!

At Gath with two students who bought hats like mine. There is nothing like a Camel Leather hat!!
And then it was back to school. Classes are going very well, though there are so many questions and so many important topics that it is hard to stay caught up. These students are very good. They are on time or early for everything. They are on and off the bus quick, respectful at sites, good about when to take pictures and don’t do crazy pictures, and they are absolutely excellent in the class. I so enjoy these classes with them. This week we covered materials such as the covenant on Mount Sinai and how much God wants to reveal himself to his children, How the Passover and a bunch of other elements of the Law of Moses point towards Christ, and how the Law also teaches about the Fall and overcoming the Fall, about how we can learn of faith and the atoning power of Christ while studying the wilderness wanderings, about how understanding Egyptian religion can help us understand the plagues and exodus a bit better, how we can see God’s love and mercy even in episodes of destruction, and a whole bunch of other good things. What a fun week it was in the classroom. What a good bunch of students we have. Because our kids had Tuesday off, Tashara came to class and the orientation for Turkey as well. She also went to the evening Forum where Jeff Chadwick got everyone ready for the history and archaeology of Turkey. She is really trying to get a lot out of her time here.

I also spent a lot of this week getting ready for being in Turkey all of next week. I also got some normal work stuff done, which was nice. Things with my calling are moving along. We set apart a lot of people. We extended calls to the rest of the students, and did a bunch of other little things to make sure that the Branch is functioning well and everyone is being taken care of. I serve with great brethren and it is a wonderful experience!

On Thursday Julianne came with us for the field trip prep trip. When we get back from Turkey we have half a day free and then we are back on the field trip road going to Jericho. So we stopped by Wadi Qelt and talked about how we would do things there. 

Dr. Jeff Chadwick talking about Christ not turning stones to bread at the temptation in the wilderness

Then we went to Herod’s Winter Palace, which has changed a bit, and it was quite fun to explore that a bit. 

Julianne at Herod's Winter Palace near Jericho

I really enjoy working with Phil, David and Jeff, and having Julianne there as well made it all the better. What fun it is to explore these places (even though I know them well) and talk about what to teach and learn there. Sometimes it is hard to believe I get paid for this!

A donkey who said hi to me at Herod's Winter Palace near Jericho
From there we went to Jericho and explored that site, which I always love. We also went over to Elisha’s spring, which is a site I have very fond feelings for. There are so many stories to love that are associated with that place! We also swung by New Testament Jericho, which also has some great stories to tell. Then we got home and had a great time with our kids.

Jacob and Sabrina have had some difficulties with some kids in their classes who aren’t as nice as would be ideal. We have been trying to deal with both of them. I think we largely have Sabrina’s solved because her teacher has been so kind as to move seating arrangements around to get Sabrina away from trouble and next to a great girl. I think Jacob’s is largely working out also.

Friday morning was a bit rough. I try every morning to wake the kids up in a nice way, but some of them don’t wake up well and are quite mean in the morning. When they were complaining about being woken up and how they were woken up I tried to reason with them, and they kept getting crazy and I had to try to talk over them and eventually had to silence them all. I laid it on the line about how whether they were tired or not, whether they were wanting to get up or not, they needed to do what they should do and they should be nice while they do it, no excuses. I got after them pretty hard. It was a rough moment, but as the morning continued on they were all very loving and nice with me. Hopefully this makes some kind of difference.

On Friday the kids got home early, as they always do on Fridays. But I wasn’t able to spend much time with them because I had to make sure I was so busy getting ready for the Turkey trip. We did have a hurried dinner, and then we went with several students to a synagogue service. It was quite enjoyable! I love how the kids learned about how much you can be happy about the Sabbath and how you can welcome in the Sabbath. 

Ophir Yarden, our Judaism teacher, teaching my family and some students at the synagogue before going in

I love singing in Hebrew and praising God. I got to know just a little bit a nice lady who does some archaeology here and who was guessing we were the Mormon students. I reveled in the fact that we closed the service by praising God, singing Hallelujah several times in a context where my kids can actually see how they were praising God. It was a delightful experience!!!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

From Augusta Victoria to the Garden Tomb

Another great week! I have to keep pinching myself that we really get to do all these cool things and that we really get to enjoy ourselves so much. We regularly do things that people dream of doing their whole lives. We are so blessed.
Last Sunday we were planning a big outing in the Old City of Jerusalem. But Jacob woke up pretty sick, so we waited quite a while and he seemed to get feeling better. After he felt like eating a bit we thought maybe we could venture out. Instead of walking, we drove, and found a place to park fairly near the Garden Tomb. 

The ride down made Jacob feel sick, and he got out of the car and vomited. But then he got feeling better and said he wanted to still go, so we slowly walked to the Old City. We didn’t do a whole lot, but we did look for some presents for Sabrina’s birthday, and we found a few for her. We had a nice visit with Shaban, who gave us all a nice drink and made the kids laugh. The kids had a lot of deja-vu moments as they recognized places. We went to a favorite place for mint-lemonade and the drink made Jacob feel better. We eventually just came home, after having gotten a few surprises for Sabrina.

The next day was our first field trip. What a great time we had. 

On the bus on our first field trip!

We went to the Augusta Victoria Church, which commemorates the Ascension of Christ after his 40 day post resurrection ministry. We had a great time there learning about churches, about the Ascension, and then we climbed the couple hundred stairs to the tower and got a good view of the land all around so we could develop a bit of a layout of the land. 

Students in Augusta Victoria Church on the Mt. of Olives

Students taking photos in Augusta Victoria Church on the Mount of Olives
Then we went to another overlook of the Old City so that folks could get a good idea of the geography and topography of the city. 

Dr. Jeff Chadwick pointing out the valleys around Jerusalem and the City of David

The students at the overlook at the 7 arches hotel after we showed them the geography and topography of Jerusalem

Then we went to Nebi Samwill, which is one of my favorite sites ever. We were able to go up on the roof, which we did long ago but have not been able to do for a few years. It was a great view!

There we talked about the crusades, Samuel, Saul, David, Joshua, Solomon, Jacob, etc.

Dr. Chadwick showing the students some of the Hellenistic architecture at Nebi Samwill

Showing the students the various visible sites from the roof at Nebi Samwill
Me teaching my class on the roof at Nebi Samwill

From that site you are looking down at Gibeon, where the Israelites fought the Canaanites under Joshua, and then the sun and moon stood still. Also, there Solomon was granted wisdom by the lord. From there you can see Bethel, which is a site of real Biblical significance. Also from there you can see Gibeah, where Saul’s palace was and where David lived for a time. The place is so full of stories and it is wonderful to see how real they become for the students. It was powerful, and I think they really enjoyed it. We also let them go to the synagogue underneath.

From there we went to another overlook of Jerusalem, and then to a monastery from which we could look over to Bethlehem. 

Showing the students Jerusalem and its valleys from the south

I love being with Dr. Jeff Chadwick again on these trips!

We spent some time talking about all the great events that happened at Bethlehem. We could also see Rachel’s tomb, and spent some time talking about Rachel, using the phrase from her tomb, “Rachel our Mother” which led to some powerful moments of teaching. On the whole it was a really great field trip, and a great way to begin it all.

Walking through the olive orchard at Mar Elyas to look over at Bethlehem

Showing a sheepfold at Mar Elyas

Teachings about olive trees at Mar Elyas

Afterwards we had a nice dinner with the students, and then got the kids all ready for school.

The next day we could not see even fifty yards. The city had been swept over by a sandstorm coming off the eastern desert. You could taste the sand in the air and we couldn’t see anywhere. It was crazy.

The view of Jerusalem we had before the sandstorm

NASA's view of the sandstorm

The view from our building during the sandstorm

 Class went really well, I felt really good about it, and think we have a great group and will have a wonderful semester. I really look forward to it. Julianne spent much of the day shopping, and I helped her for some of it. We also had a very nice event at the Anglican School where we got to know some of the teachers better and we got to know some of the other parents. It was quite nice. We left from there so I could attend Branch Presidency meeting, where we figured out what positions many of the students could serve in in the branch. It was a great day!

Wednesday was another day I really enjoyed teaching, and we got all sorts of other little things done. I was also able to extend callings to several people. These are such delightful students, I love working with them.

Thursday was a big day. It was Sabrina’s birthday. Part of the reason we had done all that shopping was to get everything we needed to give Sabrina the meals and cake, etc., that she would like. We had a great morning with her. Then I enjoyed class, and immediately afterwards Jeff, Phil, David and I left for the Negev. We tried to find a place we have often gone to teach the students about weaving and Bedouins, but they had moved and we couldn’t find them. We then went to tel Arad, which is a great site. We enjoyed talking about the temple there, the settlements, the Canaanites, etc. It was a very nice time. 

Tel Arad

Dr. Jeff Chadwick and Dr. Phil Allred at the fortress at tel Arad

Dr. Chadwick measuring for his cubits at Arad

the temple at Arad
The Holy of Holies at Arad
Then we went to modern Beer Sheva and found the traditional Abraham’s well. They have made it into quite the tourist place, but we got them to do a quick tour for us. They have it set up very nicely, and it is great to see the old well. I enjoyed that. 

Traditional Abraham's Well

Looking in Abraham's Well

Then we went to tel Beer Sheva, where we also talked about wells, walls, and a bunch of other events. I quite enjoyed the time with everyone. It was a long, full day and though I felt I understood these sites fairly well, I understand them even better now.

Wadi Beer Sheva

Tel Beer Sheva

the replica of the four horned altar at tel Beer Sheva

When we got home we did cake, presents, etc. for Sabrina. The students had already done a few nice things for her, and then others came and sang and spoiled her. I think she had a great day. I am very happy for her!

Sabrina blowing out the cake as she turns 10

Friday we had a good class, then I got some work done while Julianne went to classes (she tries to attend most of the classes here). We went to lunch with Jeff Chadwick and bought Shabbat flowers. Then we had a meeting about our Turkey trip, which seems like it will be great, and I was able to play with the kids a bit. Jacob has found out that a little shop down the street has a parakeet they keep outside. It has been nicknamed Stu, and he likes to go visit it as often as possible. So he, Kaleb and I walked down to see Stu, bought Pringles from the store, and made a nice afternoon of it. 

In the evening we had a big party for Sabrina, that all the students came to. We played lots of fun games, including Sabrina doing Simon Says, and she was pretty clever and got a bunch of them out. Afterwards we had cookies for everyone, and they had the grand opening of the snack stand, which they have named Lehi’s Pantry.

Playing games at Sabrina's party

More games at Sabrina's party

Sabrina doing Simon Says at her party

Cake after the party

Date nights are tough in Jerusalem. The whole city shuts down on Friday nights, so it is pretty hard to have any kind of activity out of the center on Fridays. Saturday night is our Sabbath, so no going out on that night. And on Sunday night you don’t want to stay out late, school is the next day. So Julianne and I often just watch a movie in our apartment. Last time we were here we worked through a season or more of the series “Monk,” and we loved it. This time we are working through “White Collar”, which we like, but so far not quite as much. In any case, we are having a good time doing it together.

Sabbath has been great. I slept in a bit, which was very nice. The little tiny mosque next door has started having a war with a little Jewish school above us. The form of the war is that they broadcast louder than everyone else, earlier than everyone else, and more things than everyone else. So they do the call to prayer and a whole bunch of different Quranic readings and all sorts of other things. They do it soooo loud. It starts at about 4:30. This has been waking me up, and mostly I am not able to go back to sleep. Today I did. Very nice.

Julianne worked on seminary. She has been putting a lot of time into this calling, and I think has set it up so that these two kids will have a great seminary experience. She is so dedicated and so wonderful.

Church was great! Sabrina gave a talk in primary that she wrote all by herself, and it was great. I set apart six people after church and was amazed at how much the Lord loves these good people. What a wonderful experience.

Afterwards the whole center went together to the Garden Tomb. We had a delightful time there, and I think my children very much enjoyed themselves. It was too hard to set up having a time of teaching for my kids, but it set the stage for our coming back later and having a great time.

Sabrina, Alexia, and students at the Garden Tomb

When we got home we skyped with Julianne’s parents, made a falafel dinner together, and had a very nice evening together. It was the perfect capping to a wonderful week!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Students Arrive!

What a week! On the weekend we were going to do all sorts of things here in the building that are harder to do when it is full of students. But the day ended up being largely taken over by a sudden opportunity to go and get Kaleb and Alexia some retainers. It only cost us $475 to get them both! It also took up most of the day, but we got it done. We then were going to go up and have a paper airplane flying contest. This is where we make airplanes and fly them off the 5th, 7th or 7th floor and see whose goes the farthest. It is quite fun. But when we went up to do it, we could smell electrical smoldering, and some smoke was coming out of the lights on the 5th floor. We called security and they started to check it out. But the smell and smoke were so bad that our eyes burned and we felt a bit sick, so we canceled our airplane contest and just did some other smalls stuff instead. It turned out that the elevator was having electrical problems and it was seeping out through the light sockets.

On Monday I got everything for my class all ready. Julianne spent most of the day at school working things out with schedules, etc., It ended up being a bit frustrating because when she first got there they had locked the secondary school down as they tried to figure out what was going on with three cell phones that had been stolen that morning. So she just sat there for a long time. Then she needed to get Kaleb and Alexia to go get their finished retainers, but had a hard time locating them. In the end it all worked out okay.

That evening we finally had our airplane contest. On Tuesday we did a walk-through for the orientation walk we take the students on. We made sure everyone, old and new, knew where to take the students and what kinds of things they should teach them as we went along. It was my first time in the Old City since we got here, and it was enjoyable to be back and to spend some nice time with everyone. David was masterful and enjoyable leading us through this. When it was done Julianne and I stayed behind in the city and tried some different foods we had never had before and explored the city a bit. We found some open places in the Armenian section that aren’t usually open and saw some churches and homes we have never been able to see before. It was great fun to explore with her. We walked back in the heat and found that our conditioning has served us well, the walk was easy and enjoyable.

Jeff Chadwick got in late that night. He called me and it was great to be with him again! I sure enjoy working with him, I think he is so much fun and I learn so much from him. It really so wonderful to have him back. Early the next morning we went on our field trip prep. Again it was great to have Jeff back. We had some great views of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

View of Bethlehem

Close up of the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem (the block tower at the top of the hill)

The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount

Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives

The good news is that they have the mosque area of Nebi Samwel all cleaned up and even let us go on the roof again. That allows us to get a great view. When we went down the mosque was actually open, and they allowed us to take some pictures inside of the cenotaph (honorary burial) for the prophet Samuel that is built there.

Nebi Samwil

In the mosque at Nebi Samwil

The synagogue entrance at Nebi Samwil

They also have redone the entry to the synagogue underneath where you can access the Jewish cenotaph for Samuel. It was all very nice. We had a great time.
Later it was time to go get the students. We had a nice trip out, and then waited quite a while for the students to get there. Of course we are so excited when they do arrive, and we quickly gathered them all together and started loading them on the bus. For the most part it went pretty quickly, but after a while we got down to five that just weren’t showing up. We finally learned that one of them was searching for luggage and some others were waiting for him. He finally found it, and then we had everyone but one. That student is actually of Palestinian background, and we were pretty sure he was inside being questioned for a while, which turned out to be true. They did let him through eventually, and he seems to be a delightful kid who took the whole thing very well.

 By that time it was all very late. We had our little welcoming experience with them in the auditorium, and then got them to dinner, and then I got 20 minutes with them to try to get them all excited about doing the program for the right reason in the right way and ready to travel together in a way that would work out well. I feel like it went extremely well. We had planned on my kids meeting them there, but it had gotten so late that most of them were in bed. They did the same thing with Jeff Chadwick’s Near Eastern Studies course, then we took small groups on a tour of the center, and finally, around midnight, I was able to get to bed.

Early the next morning we took them on a tour of the city. I had nine with me and I think we had a really good time. I did take one wrong turn, but figured it out right away and it all worked out well. I think they are excited to be here, and from what I can tell they are going to be a great group. I am really excited to work with this group.

students on the orientation walk

We also had a meet the teacher kind of thing at the Anglican School, then more orientation, etc. Then we had a get to know you activity, and the students were so great with my kids. They highlighted them, played with them, and did all sorts of things to make them feel special and wonderful. I was impressed, by the end three students knew the names of all 62 students and all the faculty and family. It was a lot of fun, and eventually I was able to go to bed again. Things move pretty quickly around here and it gets exhausting.

Get to know you activity

get to know you activity

Get to Know You Activity
We had two hours of class the next morning, and I loved it. I felt like it went extremely, extremely well, and I am so excited to do things with this group. They were all there early, we had great discussions, I feel like they really got what we were talking about, and I feel a great spirit about this group. This is going to be a great semester!

I worked on getting more things ready for class, met with some students, had a quick lunch, and then met with my travel committee to go over how they will help me with field trips. This will also be a fun group, and I am looking forward to our field trips. My kids got home from school and we had some fun together. 

Then Julianne and I met with David Whitchurch in his role of District President. He called Julianne as the seminary teacher, and called me as second counselor in the Branch Presidency. That is the same calling I had last time (though I was also YM president, Scoutmaster, and for a while I was first and second counselor). I have known for a while that was going to happen, and am very happy to be able to serve the students in this way. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience last time, and I look forward to doing it again this time.

That evening we walked with the students to the Western Wall. My kids had a great time walking with them. We got there and I took my boys with me to get some English prayer books. A few students tagged along. We read some prayers about welcoming in the Sabbath and I was able to talk to my kids about how we can learn from them about how to welcome the Sabbath in our hearts. Then we went around to different groups who were singing and dancing to welcome in the Sabbath and they got an even better feel for how much we should celebrate the Sabbath. It was a great evening. We finally got home, and got some sleep.

Today, Sabbath, has been wonderful. Both Julianne and I have really gotten started into our callings. Elder Packer of the 70 was here today, and he bore his testimony about the inspired calling of the brethren he worked with. It was particularly meaningful when he spoke about President Nelson in his calling as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, since the last time there had been a meeting it was his father who had sat in that seat. I set apart about 12 people today, and had a powerful experience each time. It is wonderful to get those little glimpses of how our Father in Heaven feels about these people, and it fills you with love for them. We have had a lot of nice family time together today, and worked on getting Julianne all set up to teach Old Testament in seminary, and skyped with my parents and BJ. BJ seems to be doing very well, and has been making decisions and moving things along for himself very well. What a great growing experience he is having.

I feel so blessed. I am so grateful!