Saturday, January 23, 2016

Beer Sheva, Jericho, Family, Silliness, and Fun

First, a word about this blog in general. While some of the reason I write in here is to let our friends and family know how we are and what we are doing, much of the reason is to help others learn about the Bible, the land of the Bible, about Jesus Christ, and the LDS (Mormon) Church. These things are so meaningful to us and we hope that anyone who reads will learn wonderful things about all of these topics. The links on the side also hopefully help with this.

Last Sunday (remember that here we observe Sabbath on Saturday) was a great day. I got ready and Kaleb, Tashara, Alexia and I went to join the Fellows and the youth and their leaders from the Tel Aviv Branch. We met at Latrun, and did some geocaching. The people I met there were wonderful, and we had a great time together. We found a little geocache at Latrun pretty quickly. Then we went over to Canada Park, at the top of the Aijalon Valley. This is the same place we did a few scout camps last time we were here, and even encountered hyenas once. Today we had a great time tramping around and figuring out the landscape and finding things. It was also so much fun to just visit with other people and enjoy them. 

We found more geocaches and worked our way further and further up the ridge. As we got high enough, I figured out that we were climbing the lower half of the Bet Horon Ridge. I could see the other side of landmarks I have pointed out from Nebi Samwill as I showed people the way the Israelites pursued the Canaanites along the Bet Horon Ridge under Joshua’s command. This is where the sun and moon stood still, and where hailstones killed many Canaanites. It was exciting to be on the other side of this journey and be able to piece it all together in my mind and recognize where we were and have been. I am really starting to get a feel for this land. In some ways I am coming to know it better than the territory around my own home. In any case, it was a great day!

Kids in the boat at the cistern
the wedding party in the cistern
When we were done there the Fellows told us they were going to a nearby city to go to a large cistern that has boats in it you can use. So we went with them. It was not quite as close as I had thought it would be, but it was kind of a fun drive. And the cistern was a bit small for boats, but quite fun. We just rowed around, every now and then getting in the way of a wedding photo shoot that was happening there. I think the kids had a lot of fun. 

When we got back Julianne and I made a trip into the Old City. We were trying to find the place where I bought some matching hats for the boys and me for Christmas (I had lost mine in the City of David on the very day we got it for Christmas). I was very pleased that I was pretty easily able to retrace my steps and find the store and get another one. I was also happy to be able to know the way to the other places we wanted to go. The Old City geography has also crystallized in my mind. Things are coming together well.

That evening I worked with Kaleb a lot to get his homework done. This next week is the last week of the semester for them, full of exams, and all the missing homework is dues. So we worked hard and Kaleb got a lot done. I am very happy about it, and it is unifying for us to work on it together (when he is willing to work). All in all it was a great day!

Monday was a field trip to the Negev. I had been excited that Julianne was going to come. But some of the kids were feeling a little sick, and Tashara only needed to be at school for a while and didn’t want to just hang out there forever, and we were going to get back late but the kids need to stay on top of things for their exams, so she decided she could not come. It was good for the kids. It was sad for me.

We went first of all to the Sidra Weaving Center. This is a group of Bedouin women who support themselves by making a weaving co-op. This way they can help with getting an education for their children, etc. As an organization we contribute to them, but we also bring the students to them to learn about weaving and their culture. They typically also buy quite a bit from them. Things went okay.

Students learning at the Sidra Weaving Center
Then we went to Be’er Sheva (Beer Sheba). This was my first field trip with Andy Skinner, and I really, really enjoyed working with him. There were a few times when I thought we had outlined that I was going to talk about something and he did instead, but it worked out just fine. He was very enjoyable to work with. We taught them about the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, and Jacob there. We taught them about the geography and climate of the land. We taught them about altars and showed them the replica of the reconstructed altar there (reconstructed based on the pieces of altar they found there). We taught them about covenant, sacrifice, and all sorts of other good things.

Andrew Skinner teaching at Beer Sheva (Beer Sheba)

One of my students, Hannah Trimble, clinging to the horn of the altar as if she were claiming sanctuary
Then we went up to the gate. It was a cold, windy day, but the students did pretty well. At the gate I taught them about the concepts of gates, and how they worked in the ancient world and in the Bible in particular. We then taught about Christ as the keeper of the gate, and I think it meant more to them than it ever has before.
We also went through the remains of the city. 

Sheep grazing at Beer Sheva. We joked that these are the great, great, great granchildren of Abraham's sheep

We saw the place where the temple had probably been built. We should not be surprised that there was a worship center there, it had certainly been a worship center for Abraham, and I would guess his descendants would want to continue that. We taught them about Hezekiah and his reforms, about that place as a citadel for controlling trade routes, about kings and fortifications, and in all we had a really nice time.
My students looking down at the ruins of Tel Beer Sheva

Then we went to Tel Arad. Again it was a pleasure to work with Andy. We did a bit more on gates and fortifications. We taught them about the Arad ostraca, and the language tie in with the Book of Mormon. Then we went to the temple and spent a lot of time teaching them about the temple. We taught them about temples in general. We taught them about holiness, gradations of holiness, about Hezekiah’s reforms again, about temple worship in ancient Israel, etc. Then I showed them the evidence that this temple had eventually begun to be used for more than one god. We spoke briefly about how we can do the same thing, about how we sometimes worship both God and his truths, but also the things the world teaches us at the same time.

My students in the Holy of Holies of the temple of Arad
Then we went out to the Canaanite part of the city. They were so cold, so we moved quickly, and often huddled in little places that were out of the wind. They were great troopers, enjoying themselves even in that weather. We taught them more about temples at some Canaanite temples. We taught them about the huge fortifications and had them think of how daunting big walls were to the Israelites as they came into the promised land. On the whole we had a great time.

My students crammed into a tower of the Canaanite city of Arad
When it was time to leave our bus driver told us the quickest way home would be along highway 90, going along the Dead Sea. I wasn’t sure if this was an okay way to go as far as security, so I called Tawfic. He told me it was no problem. Andy and I thought that since he said it was okay, that it would work out fine. So off we went, coming home along the 90. We wound down quite a bit, and I pointed out Acacia/Shittim trees all along the way, teaching them about the construction of the Tabernacle. We pointed out a few things, but mostly we had a long discussion about how we can worship more than one god at a time as we believe both what God tells us and what the world tells us. I used the idea of motherhood as an example, and of how different God’s views are regarding this (holding it as the highest value of all), and the world’s (having quite a bit of contempt for motherhood). We spoke of the difficulty that comes to mothers who believe both what God teaches and what the world does. I think we had a great discussion. I really enjoyed it.

When we got home I had a nice time with my family. In the middle of all that I was contacted by administration, who requested a meeting with me the next day to go over what happened with our taking a different route home. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what could be the problem, but I agreed. Now I had another thing to worry about. After a while I had a measure of peace. I know I am doing things with the best intent and doing things the way God would have me do it, and doing things well. I will do my best to do things how administrators here think they should go, I really do try. But sometimes I just can’t anticipate the way they think, no matter how hard I try. But knowing that I have the best of intents and being confident that my will is aligned with God’s, I know he will make things work out the way he wants, whether or not that is how I was hoping they would work out.

I have had a terrible cold, and it was a bit rough in the cold wind today with it. I need more sleep. It is hard to get good sleep with so much silliness going on around here, but I will work on it. I need it.

I worked more with Kaleb to help him get everything done he needs to for school He is such a good kid and is so enjoyable. He seems to be doing really well right now.

I slept well at night. The next day we got the kids off to school (except Tashara, who didn’t have to go, and whom I enjoyed spending a lot of time with). My class went well, I really enjoyed it. I am loving teaching here. The students are so great, and it is going so well. I feel like I am giving them a good foundation to get a lot out of the scriptures, and they seem to be really enjoying it. I feel great about how things are going.

I had a brief nap, and did some work and attended lots of meetings, etc. I met with students, got lessons ready, and helped my kids with their homework. Finally I met with the administration. In the end it was a great meeting, and I feel like things turned out well. 

We had a nice Branch Presidency meeting tonight, and extended more callings and set more people apart. I think that all 82 students have callings now. Not bad for just under three weeks since they got into the country.

The next day we did another field trip. After two good night’s sleep I am mostly over my cold. The weather was also great all day. We went to Jericho. Andy was with me again, and we had a great time teaching together. The movie at Jericho was too long and too problematic, I don’t believe I will do that again. But we were able to teach them great things at Jericho, especially about the Lord’s power and his willingness and ability to help us overcome obstacles. It was a great time. 

Andrew Skinner teaching my students at Jericho

Water flowing from Elisha's Spring

Then we went to Elisha’s Spring and taught more about that as we taught about Elisha healing the spring and the symbolism behind that story.
From there we went to Herod’s Winter Palace. Our timing is a little off, I am still figuring out how to work with Andy and how much he will teach and talk. As a result we didn’t have time to go into Herod’s palace, but I think the students still learned a lot.

My students in the spring house of Elisha's Spring

From there we went to Wadi Qelt. We walked along the road to Jericho. As we looked at St. George’s Monastery we spoke of hermits, and of Elijah being fed by ravens (it is the traditional site for that). Then we spoke of the parable of the Good Samaritan. As we hiked along that beautiful route I taught more about the Good Samaritan and then taught about the temptation of Christ. I think we had some beautiful, powerful moments. I think we also had a lot of fun. In the end it was a great day.

St. George's Monastery, in the Wadi Qelt, along the road to Jericho. This place commemorates the feeding of Elijah by ravens and the conception of Mary by St. Anne
I got a few things done this afternoon, but not as much as I would have liked. I also had some fun with Kaleb and helped him finish up homework. Then we went to a nice dinner honoring the Hopkins, who are about to return home. Then I went to a little lecture on Jordan that Andy Skinner did for the students to help them get ready for Jordan. I fell asleep for a bit of that. Finally I was able to go home and go to bed.

Julianne and I with Arden and Lorraine Hopkin

Class the next day was great again. One of my favorite lessons ever, as I taught about the power of the atonement and God’s willingness and ability to deliver us as evidenced by the larger Exodus story. I loved the class. I think the students did too.

Then I exercised, and Phil and I went out together to do some field trip prep. It was scheduled for all of us to go, but Andy and David were too busy. In all cases in the past of which I am aware, in such a case they would just turn it over to us and let us use the miles and money allotted to the Center for it. But for whatever reason David can’t let something like that happen without him being part of it. As gently as we tried to present it to him, he just refused to let it happen. Ah well, we were not surprised. So we went anyway, just on our own dime.

We had a great time. We went to a new mosque we have seen many times, and checked it out as a place we could visit if both the trip to Egypt and Jordan fall through and we need to take the students to a mosque. It is nice. 

The fairly new mosque in Abu Gosh that we call the Disneyland Mosque

Inside the nice mosque
Then we drove around quite a bit and found a place that was close to Kiryant Jearim. That is the place that the ark of the covenant is supposed to have been taken to after it was lost to the Philistines, and it stayed there until David brought it to Jerusalem. The traditional spot is covered by city, etc., so we went to the next door hill that is nice and natury still, and hiked around there to get a feel for it. 

Phil in the hills around Kiryat Jearim

The beautiful hills around Kiryat Jearim

Then we searched for a long time and found the church that is built on the traditional site. It was beautiful and I enjoyed it a ton. Mostly I enjoyed Phil’s company. He is so much fun, and such a delight. I also researched a bit, and I am not fully convinced that this is the right spot where the ark was. I think there is a decent chance it was over by Nob, very close to us. But who knows? One way or the other it was quite a wonderful time.

Notre Dame, the church built where the ark was supposedly kept at Kiryat Jearimg
A beautiful olive tree on the grounds of Notre Dame in Kiryat Jearim

The view from the traditional site of the ark's resting place at Kiryat Jearim
Then Phil and I went to a lecture by our friend Tim, at the Albright. I enjoyed that. Then we hurried home and my family went to dinner with the students. I got the younger kids to bed while Julianne took the older kids to a concert. I was able to have a little time to myself to finish some revisions on a paper and work hard on getting some things ready for Jordan. It was quite a pleasant night.

The next day we had two hours of Old Testament, and I loved every minute of it. I felt like the lesson went really, really well. And I think the students are really getting a lot out of it. It is just so much fun. The rest of the day was largely filled with meetings, getting ready for Jordan, and helping Julianne get some stuff purchased in the Old City. We spent a lot of good afternoon and evening time together as a family. We finished our Star Wars movie-thon, finally watching number 6. We visited together as a family, and overall had a wonderful evening. It is so great to spend time together as a family. I am so blessed to be with these guys. I know they really don’t like the school here, and are struggling with it a lot. But on the whole I would say that this week we had a lot of fun together.
Julianne and I watched a movie together, and visited for quite a while. I listened to the devotional done this week by my friend, Scott Esplin. It was excellent. I loved it.

I got quite a bit of sleep but I also got woken up early by BJ texting me. So I listened to a great talk by Elder Holland. Then I spent time with Jaker and Sabrina, and got ready and went up to a very enjoyable Branch Council. Church in every way was nice. I had a wonderful time worshipping with everyone. We also had a social afterwards. It was great to visit with people. Then we set people apart, decided on some other things, I asked people to speak next week, and spent nice time with my family and Julianne. On the whole it has been a wonderful day.

Time flies too quickly, and we are not doing as much as I would like. But we are having a wonderful time and I am quite happy. Despite all kinds of silliness, life is great!

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