Saturday, November 28, 2015

Galilee Power!!!!!!!

Wow, what a week! Sunday morning I met the Fellows family. They had family that had just gotten into town, so I took them on a tour of Nebi Samwill, and I think it went really well. Everyone seems to have enjoyed it and I think they learned and were glad they were there. Then we came to the Center, showed them around a little, met my family and the Heiners, and we all went to the City of David. We were just a bit rushed, but we had a nice tour of that place. I think they got a good feel for it, and everyone loved doing Hezekiah’s Tunnel. 

Jacob and Sabrina in the tunnel

Tashara in the tunnel

Alexia at the exit of the tunnel
Then Julianne took Jacob to a birthday party where he got to do some go-karts while I took care of the other kids, and packed for Galilee. When she got home we had an interview with Jim Kearl that went pretty well. Finally we just enjoyed some time together, and went to bed.

Jacob racing his Go-Kart

Jacob and his friend John

At the party
Early Monday morning Jacob, Sabrina and I joined the students on the bus and we left for Galilee. On the ride up there we went along the Jordan Valley so that we could show the students the path the Savior took so often as he went back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem. Then we stopped at Bet Sha’an. There we hiked to the top of the hill and talked about the strategic placement of the site, the Egyptian presence there, and then how Saul and Jonathan’s bodies were hung there after they were killed. We read David’s lament for them, and had a pretty good time. Then I let them explore the remains of the Roman city. There are huge remains there, and it is enjoyable to spend time exploring them.

On the bus on the way to Galilee
Our bus driver, Alam, was distressed when we arrived back at the bus. It turns out that his uncle had just died, and he was going to have someone come and trade him as driver so that he could return for the funeral. He was crying quite a bit and was very sad. We prayed for him as a class.

We drove to Nazareth, and there we went to the Church of the Annunciation and talked about what it must have been like for Mary at the time of the annunciation. We also spoke of what it must have been like for Jesus as he grew up in that area. We sang “Jesus Once was a Little Child” and I let them have some time to think about that. Then we went inside and appreciated the place and the commemoration of sacred events. We also went to St. Joseph’s church and spoke of Joseph as an important part of Jesus’ life.

Jacob with Lauren and Sabrina with Mary Beth in the Church of the Annunciation

Two students contemplating in the Church of the Annunciation

My class pondering

Jesus with Joseph and Mary in the church of St. Joseph in Nazareth
Then we went to the synagogue church, and spoke of Jesus reading scriptures and declaring himself Messiah in the synagogue of Nazareth. We sang together, and Dr. Phil Allred gave a wonderful spiritual thought. I spoke just a bit about Jesus reading that passage about the broken hearted and wondered if he also thought of how brokenhearted he must have been when Joseph passed away, or if he thought of Joseph when he thought of giving life to people. We also gave students a chance to think and ponder and write in their journals there. It was a nice time.

Students in the synagogue church in Nazareth
Afterwards, because Phil had made friends with the guy who ran the place, he opened up a part of the church I had never been in before. It was very nice, and we sang in there and had a nice time.

Sabrina and Me in the church next to the synagogue church in Nazareth. I have never been here before.
 From there we went to Mount Arbel. On top we tried to give everyone an idea of the geography of the Galilee area. I was pleased that I could point out the Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, Magdala, etc. from there. We talked about the different political entities that were in the area, and of how Jesus traveled all around there, and of how he loved that area. It was beautiful, and I think everyone enjoyed it. We had managed the time well for the day, and had plenty of time to enjoy that place.

Students on top of Mount Arbel looking over the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee from Mount Arbel

the Northeast corner of the Sea of Galilee

Then we got to Ein Gev, the wonderful little resort on the shores of Galilee, where we stay. Jacob and Sabrina and I checked in, and then went down to the beach to be on those shores. This is a magical place, and we immediately felt the peace and wonder of this place. No wonder Jesus loved it so much. It is a spectacular place.

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee
Jacob and Sabrina have been wonderful. They have behaved perfectly. They have been a good part of the field trips, and have not distracted. They have gotten along well with the students, and have made the trip more enjoyable. They have not made it difficult at all for me to do my job. They have been more than perfect. And they seem to be having the time of their life. This is their big trip for while we are here in Israel. This is their chance to have a special time with Dad. And so far it is living up to its billing. They are so excited, feel so special, and come to me again and again to tell me how much they love me. We are certainly bonding, and it is turning out to be more wonderful than I had even hoped for, and I had high hopes.

We got up early the next morning and made sure we were all ready. We enjoyed the wonderful breakfasts they serve here, and then got on the bus for one of my favorite field trips ever. And this one was one of the best times ever. David Whitchurch was busy with other things and so he didn’t come with me to do the trip. In a way I am very glad. When you are doing a field trip on your own you can get the timing down the way you want, you can work the themes and the teachings the way you want, and you can just control it in such a way that it works out better. Today went perfectly.

 Our first stop was Capernaum. We got there a bit early, so we stopped at a little bay and went down and talked about parables. 

At the bay of parables
The bay of parables
Then we walked to Capernaum and got there just as it opened. I talked about the place in general, including about how this was the town where Jesus preached the most and where he lived.

Capernaum and its shorline

We went to the synagogue and talked about the Bread of Life sermon, including the ways in which we should partake of Christ, how he wants to save us, and how I think he knows and loves those very students I was talking to.

My class in the synagogue at Capernaum

We also looked at Peter’s house, which I think has a pretty good chance of being Peter’s house. We spoke of Peter, of Christ not having a place to lay his head, and then we walked the students through some of the miracles that Christ performed in Capernaum. It is such an impressive amount that it overwhelms people. We talked about miracles today, and I think that in the end we were all touched. I know I was touched by the Spirit while there. I made sure everyone had a lot of time to think and ponder and pray and write while there. It was a perfect time at Capernaum.

students pondering at Capernaum

more students pondering at Capernaum
Jacob at Capernaum
Sabrina and Meredith at Capernaum
From there we went to the Mount of Beatitudes. Sister Rose Mary has been in charge there for a long time. I knew her when I was here before. So I asked her if she would come and speak with the students. She bore a wonderful, sweet, pure testimony of how Christ asks us to be better, how he wants to bless us, how peaceful it is to follow him, and of being his disciple. It was wonderful.

The traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount

The church at the Mount of Beatitudes
One of the Beatitudes written inside the church
Then Shannon, one of our students, sang. It was very touching. I taught a little bit about how we must love God and others with a pure heart, and then again we had time to think and pray. Here is what I wrote in my journal there:
“It has been a wonderful day. We started at Capernaum. There I was powerfully re-convinced of how much God and Christ want us to be with them. I was also amazed at how much the Savior does to bless us and help us and show us how to be. And as I looked at Peter’s house and thought of how the Savior had no place of his own and had to stay in humble circumstances, beholden to others, never fully at home, even within his own creation, and as I looked down at that house, I stood all amazed that Christ would descend from his throne divine to do all of tis in order to rescue a soul as rebellious as mine. I looked full in the face at the good things I have done and at how in some ways I am not living up to my potential. I commit to do better.

“At the Mount of Beatitudes I am overwhelmed with how much not only does God love us, but how much he wants us to love. He wants us to love him and he wants us love each other and he helps us love like that. If only I am filled with enough love I will be able to live up to my commitment. I do love him. I do love everyone around me. I am so, so, so grateful for the Savior who showed us the way and revealed the Father to us. I am so grateful God sent his son!”

One of the areas that seems a likely spot for the Sermon on the Mount. This is just below the Church of the Beatitudes
I think everyone had a wonderful time there. When we were done we decided to walk down the hill to our next stop. I hadn’t done that for five years, so I asked for some directions, got some vague directions, and followed them. It worked out well. That way everyone was able to spend some time walking in the hillsides where the Savior had so often walked. I think many of them took some time thinking about that.

Hiking down from the Mount of Beatitudes

The view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes
 When we finished we got down to the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy, the church built to commemorate where the Savior met Peter and other Apostles after his resurrection, and cooked fish for them, and told Peter to feed his sheep. We spoke of the need to not just go back to our old selves and our old life after this (as Peter had done when he went a fishing). I felt fully inspired (I have often today, but particularly there) to talk about how much he was asking of Peter. While Peter gave up much of his life to follow Christ during Christ’s life, he was still often back at home in Capernaum where his family was. He was still often able to go fishing and sailing on the Sea of Galilee, and at least take care of his family a little. But from here on out the Savior would be asking him to leave that fully behind and just go about leading his kingdom. He would fully leave behind him fishing, and just serve God. Then I spoke of the hard things God will ask us to do, and how hard it is for us to sometimes leave behind the things we know, the ways of acting and thinking we know, and to just follow God and do what he would like us to do. I knew that God would ask many of those who were with me there to do some tough things in life. And so I promised them that if they were willing to really do whatever God asked them to, that they would be blessed. It may be hard, but God will help them do it. I was also sure God was speaking to me. I was touched. I had some students come to me afterwards and tell me how much that message seemed to be to them and how much it affected them. I am so very grateful to be a tool in God’s hands. It is all I want.

From there we walked next door to Tabgha, the church built to commemorate the feeding of the 5000. I gave only a short lesson there and let people spend time worshipping and thinking. This is what I wrote there:

“I have prayed a lot for the gift of teaching as I take the students around today. As I am here thinking about it I am blessed with a knowledge that God has used me as a tool to bless, teach and edify these students. I am so grateful to have my prayers answered, and to be able to help in this way. I have been touched and edified, my children have been, and I think the students have been. At St. Peter’s Primacy I feel like ideas and words just kept coming to me, and I am grateful. There I was edified and am re-committed to do whatever the Lord asks, wherever and all the time. I am so glad to have the chance to be used by him. I love him.”

The famous mosaic of the Loaves and Fishes found in the church at Tabgha

I think everyone had a nice time there. I hated to leave. But from there we drove to Magdala. This was my first time taking students there. We gathered around the synagogue they have found there.

My class listening to me teach at the synagogue of Magdala

This is a first century synagogue, certainly the synagogue that was there during the Savior’s life. And since I am very sure that Christ preached in Magdala, that makes me very positive that the Savior was in that very synagogue, touching the very stones that I could reach over and touch. That is a powerful feeling. So we read some accounts of some things that the Savior did in synagogues. It was a wonderful moment for me, and I think it was for many of the students.

The synagogue at Magdala

I gave them some time to touch the stones. Then we went over to another part of town, where the mikva’ot (ritual bathing pools) were found. I think there is a decent chance that Mary Magdalene, some of Christ’s disciples, and maybe even Christ himself, would have used those mikvah. That is a great feeling. We also looked at the part of town that had a lot to do with the fishing industry. I am fairly positive that Peter would have been in those places. So cool!

Jacob and Sabrina touching the stones of the benches of the synagogue at Magdala

Then we walked to the church that is being built there. It is a beautiful church with a few amazing chapels and some wonderful art. We had some time to think and ponder for a moment. Then we went to a part under a dome that has amazing acoustics. Some girls sang for us. I pointed out that that chapel is dedicated to the women of the scriptures, and asked if in that light and in light of what we have spoken of in the last few hours, maybe we could sing “Oh my Father”. They liked that idea. I had an amazing experience while we did. This is how I wrote of it in my journal just afterwards while on the Sea of Galilee:
“When in the church at Magdala I had a marvelous experience. We were under a large dome singing O My Father. I was overcome with the realization of the nearness of My Father. I looked up and suddenly it felt as if I were alone, not with 35 other people, but just me looking up at God. And I felt as if he were right there, looking down at me. The walls and ceiling seemed to melt away, even the place around us and the earth and sky, and it was just me and God. And I felt as if I were wide open and exposed, but loved and important. And he beheld me. And I offered myself to him. I yielded myself as his willing servant, bound only to do his will. And he knew it and had always known it. And he accepted the offering. And he wanted me to bring his children back to him. And I promised I would. I promised I wouldn’t let those I was responsible for slip away. I will bring my family to him. I will bring my class to him. I will bring all those over whom he has given me or will give me responsibility to him. I promised I would. He accepted. Then I was overcome with how much he wants us to come home. And I was overwhelmed with a desire to be with him. As I walked out, I just wanted to walk out and up to heaven. I was ready to be done with this life and just go be with him. I yearned for it, and so did he. But at the same time I was with Jacob and Sabrina. I couldn’t take the thought of leaving them behind. And I knew what my desire should be, and then it was my desire, though it was hard to give up the desire to go and immediately be with god. I will work my whole life to bring them to him and then I will go home and be with him. He accepted, and I was filled with peace and love.”

The excavations at Magdala and the church built there

That was one of the most singular, powerful, different, and wonderful experiences I have ever had. I was so exhausted by the time we reached the bus I just told the students that at Nof Ginosaur they should see the movie, see the boat, and then go to the dock. I was not up to doing much with them for a while.
By the time they had done that I was ready to go again. We loaded on the boat and had some fun to begin with. We played some music and got started.

Jacob and Sabrina on the boat on the Sea of Galilee

Then he stopped, and I taught them about the Sea of Galilee. I read to them about calming the water, and applied that to our life, and we sang Master the Tempest is Raging. It was powerful. Then we read about Peter walking on the water, and I taught them about faith and about our journey to be with God, and about Christ reaching out and saving us. We sang Jesus Savior Pilot Me, and it was powerful. Then I felt that I needed to have two students bear their testimony. I was sure that Meredith was one, but I didn’t know who the other was. So I just asked for two volunteers to bear their testimony. Meredith stood up first, as I knew she would. She bore a wonderful testimony that I was sure would teach many people what they needed. Then Amanda stood up, and I knew she was the other one. She also bore a great testimony, and people were touched.

My class on the boat on the Sea of Galilee

Then we had time to just think as the boat took us back home. In so many ways it was the most perfect, most wonderful, most powerful day. I am sure that my students thought the same thing. I heard them telling the other class about how amazing it was.

The Sea of Galilee
I am grateful to have done it on my own, it was much better than if I had done it with someone else. This was a blessing. The whole day was a blessing.
The next day was class. It was great. We were all spiritually prepared, and I feel like we were edified and learned and that it went wonderfully. Jacob and Sabrina behaved very, very well, and I could not have asked more of them for the whole trip. Class was touching and amazing.

Then we went out to the beach. I went out intending to just play with Jacob and Sabrina in the water, but it was cool enough they didn’t want to get in much. So they played in the sand, and I watched them a bit, and then I joined in a game of ultimate Frisbee with the students. It was so much fun, I love doing that stuff, and it is great to have a group of people to do it with. I think they enjoyed my playing with them. It was a ton of fun, I really, really enjoyed myself.

Then we went to the fish restaurant and to Tiberias to the boardwalk. Jacob and Sabrina were so very good, even though we got back way after their bedtime. It was an outstanding day!

The next day we did another field trip. This time David Whitchurch was with me. We went to Gamla, and he did a nice job of teaching them about the history of Gamla. Then we did the hike, which was wonderful. It was very windy, and a bit cold, but wonderful.

Hiking down to Gamla with Jacob and my students

I gave them time to hike around and look around. Then we met in the synagogue. There I taught them more about what it would be like to be in a synagogue with Jesus. I am not as sure as I am at Gamla, but I am pretty sure that Jesus would have been at this synagogue. It is the only other synagogue from his time period that we have found. So I tried to make the stories come alive for them. We read the story of the man with the withered hand, I and looked at Meredith with her broken wrist and I compared it to her and tried to make it come alive for them. I hope I did. I talked about the woman who was bent over who was healed in the synagogue. I talked about how the Savior can heal those with withered spiritual hands, or those whose burden is so heavy he can heal them when they are bent over. I hope it touched them. I didn’t have a feel for it at this place like I have at some times, and I don’t know if someone was really touched here like they have been in some places. Part of the problem is that we had to hurry to leave, and didn’t have time to ponder as would be ideal.

Jacob and Tanner getting ready to hike down to Gamla
  From there we hiked back. Then we went to Bethsaida. I don’t know if this is the real Bethsaida, but it is close enough that we were able to teach some good lessons. I taught at the Iron Age gate about the worship of false idols in ancient times and in our lives, and about how that idolatry led to the scattering of those people who had lived in that very spot. I tried to liken it to their lives. Then I turned the time over to David to teach the New Testament era of that site. Instead of teaching much about it (he did touch on it a bit) he talked about the miracle of the man who was healed in stages, and used that as a tangent to talk about some concepts he wanted to talk about. And so he took longer than he should have when we were on a bit of a tight schedule, and didn’t cover some of what should have been covered. So as we walked out I did it just a bit in a big hurry, not doing as much as should have been done at that site.

Whitchurch teaching at Bethsaida

We hurried off to Kursi. There I took them on what I call a “jogging tour” of the church there, just breezing through it. Then we went out to where we could see the hillside, and walked them through the story of the man who had a legion of devils that were cast into swine. I showed them the geography of how that story probably worked, and how Hippos, the city just above where we stay, tied into that story. And then we tied it into how Christ releases us from Satan and death. It was quick, simple, yet direct and I think it was powerful. Sadly, it was too hurried.

It was Thanksgiving today, so I tried to tie each site into a thanksgiving theme. I think it went pretty well.

Then we came back to have lunch. Then we went canoeing on the Jordan River. Jacob went with Madelleine and Blake, and they had a ton of fun together. They got very wet. I went with Sabrina and Catherine. Sabrina was so cute. She wanted me to stop rowing and let her row from the back. She couldn’t steer or row very well to begin with, but she insisted I should not give her directions, she knew what she was doing. And after a while she figured it out and did pretty well. I was proud of her. We had a good time watching everyone jumping off a platform into the river, and it was a blast for everyone. I didn’t get into the river, but I had a nice time being with my kids and seeing this part of the Jordan (very scenic and beautiful). What a nice evening.

As we got back Julianne arrived with the rest of the kids. It was nice to be with all of them again. We had a dinner, I visited with the kids and got caught up a bit on things, and then we went to bed, very, very tired.

The next day I taught class for three hours again. I felt like it went super, super well. These were some of the best classes I have ever taught. I feel like I was really directed by the Spirit, and the students were really prepared, and we are getting into talking about the Last Supper and the wonderful teachings of the Savior on that last night with his Apostles. I loved those classes, they were ideal and wonderful!

That afternoon we went on a hike with all the students. It was a great time, I really enjoyed it. The hike wasn’t particularly hard or beautiful, but it was nice. The waterfall we got to was nice, and people enjoyed swimming in it. My kids had a great time, and overall it was just a great day. I especially enjoyed being able to spend so much time with Julianne. It sure is nice to have her up here with us.

That night we watched a bit of a movie together and then went to sleep.
The next morning we got ready for church, and had a nice, long, leisurely breakfast together. It was most pleasant. Then we got on the bus and together we drove to church. On the way there Julianne and I told the students the story of how we met and got married. We were only half way done when we got there. So we went in and had an absolutely wonderful church time together. It can’t get better, really.

Getting ready for church in Galilee
Then we told more of our story on the way home. It was fun and went well, and the students seem to have learned from it and to have enjoyed it. We stopped at Yardenit on the way home. It is the first time I have been there and not seen a bunch of baptisms. We sang and had a wonderful little time there. Julianne was even able to get most of the kids together to teach them individually about following Jesus and their relationship with him. It was nice. At lunch everyone wanted to talk about marriage and dating. It was a fun time all around.
I took a rare nap, then Julianne and I walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee during a beautiful sunset.

Julianne and sunset over the Sea of Galilee

Sabrina teaching Lauren and Blake some missionary discussions on the shores of the Sea of Galilee

I visited with some students about the meaningful times they are having, and wrote in here, and visited with my kids. Life is wonderful. I am blessed! So very, very, very blessed!

the Sea of Galilee on Sabbath evening

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