Saturday, February 6, 2016

Week of Wonders

What a great couple of days! On Sunday we got up and went to the Commodore Hotel for breakfast. Julianne and I had gone by the other day to check them out to see if any of our friends would want to stay there. They invited us to bring the family to breakfast. So we did. We had a great time. Each child got an omelet made to order, and got cereal and all sorts of other things. They seemed to really enjoy it. We had a great time together.

Then we drove out to Kiryat Yearim to meet the Fellows and Lilly family. The church we wanted to go to was closed, but we enjoyed the beautiful area a little. Then we walked across to the nearby hill, just as Phil and I had, and we walked all around it. It was a beautiful day, the flowers were out, and it was just wonderful to be with friends and be in a beautiful place. It couldn’t have been better.

A Poppy from Kiryat Jearim

The view from Kiryat Jearim, where the ark was kept

Birds and flowers on a beautiful day

From there we went to the Latrun tank museum. This is a really cool place with all sorts of real tanks that Israel either used or captured during their various wars. They let the kids climb all over a number of them, and they seemed to have a great time. It was just fun to be able to let them run a bit wild and enjoy themselves. They all had a great time together and it was so wonderful to just see them enjoy each other so much.
Tashara and Alexia on a tank at Latrun

The kids on a Latrun tank

Kaleb on a tank

The family (except Julianne, who was taking the picture) on a tank at Latrun

We then stopped at Abu Gosh to get my favorite shwarma. Except that they only served falafel. So we got a big dinner together as a family and again really enjoyed it. Everyone was having fun with each other and everyone was very flexible and just rolled with the punches. It was fantastic.

Our family going to the restaurant

Here we are in the restuarant

what a great spread!

When we got home we got the kids all squared away, then Julianne and I went shopping. We tried to get all stocked up so that we won’t have to go shopping often so that we can save on miles so that I can use the miles to go get scuba certified later this month. We bought a ton of stuff and had fun together. When that was over I packed for Jordan and we watched a movie with the kids. All in all it was a very pleasant evening.

I didn’t sleep super well the next night, but it wasn’t too terrible either. I got up early and got ready for my trip and made breakfast for everyone. As soon as it was done I grabbed my bags and off I went. I was able to get everything on the bus and running in short order, and we all left even just a few minutes before we were scheduled to. The border crossing went really well, it was quicker than I have seen it. We met our guide, Mahmoud, whom I really like. We went up to Nebo, and it was beautiful. The weather was as clear as I have ever seen it. We could see some of the buildings of Jerusalem, and we could see Amman. We went over the story of Moses and his seeing the Promised Land from there, his renewal of the covenant with Israel, and his translation at the site. We talked about the prophecies of Balaam. We went over the story of the fiery serpents and the brass serpent, and spoke of how that typifies the Savior. It was a pretty nice time.

My class at Mount Nebo

The Plains of Moab in the Jordan Valley as seen from Mount Nebo

The Plains of Moab and the Jordan Valley as seen from Mount Nebo

From there we went to a nice lunch. It took way, way too much time. But it was nice. From there we did the church of Madaba, which was also nice. Then we drove to Machaerus, where David Whitchurch gave a great lesson on John the Baptist, who was beheaded there. It was again a beautiful view, and we had a great time.
Students hiking up Machaerus

Students listening on Machaerus

The sun setting on the Dead Sea as seen from Machaerus
On the bus I taught them about the exodus and about the battles between Israel and Mesha, king of Moab, especially as we went past Dibon. We also went to Machaerus, the spot where John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, and probably beheaded. I was pleased to see that though twice the age of most the students, I still outhiked all of them, getting to the steep top more quickly and less out of breath than everyone else. David Whitchurch did a very nice devotional for us there. Then it was off on our long drive. Our new guide, Mahmoud, is fantastic, and we asked him to tell us all sorts of things about his culture and country as we went. He is from Petra and had some great stories to tell us about that place.

David Whitchurch, Mahmoud and I at Machaerus

We got into Petra very late, and it hotel is only adequate, and I am tired, but on the whole it has been a fantastic couple of days!

Petra was incredible. We got there pretty quickly, right as it opened. It was a bit chilly. Mahmoud was an incredible guide. It was wonderful to have someone who grew up in Petra to teach us about it. He spent his youth climbing these hills, looking for certain plants for his parents to use, etc. He taught us very well about all of it. At the same time he kept us moving along quickly. No one was ahead of us, we had a fully unobstructed view with no one to get in our pictures. This has never happened to me before. We had so, so much fun. The students especially loved it when I played Indiana Jones as we walked along.

Hiking up the Sikh, or Canyon of the Crescent Moon at Petra

When we got to the treasury/Kazneh/hiding spot of the holy grail, we gave everyone free time. I asked Mahmoud for some ideas of someplace to go that I had never gone before. He gave me an idea I really liked. First I went to the high place, some 800 steps up. I love that place, and found it beautiful. I was pleased to find again that I could hike it as well or better than anyone around me. This trip has been good for my health.
First view of the Treasury, or Kazneh, at Petra

The Treasury, or Kazneh, at Petra

My class in front of the treasury at Petra

Me in front of the Treasury at Petra

The tomb of Aaron near Petra

My students at the High Place of Sacrifice at Petra

When I was done with the high place I ditched everyone else and went on my little hike as suggested by Mahmoud. It was beautiful. I came to another high place of sacrifice on my way up. Then I kept going. I often left the trail to go and look out from the top of each peak. I went from peak to peak, doing a little climbing, a little scaling, and a lot of hiking. The views were breathtaking. I had so much fun doing a little exploring on my own. Though I had left the trail and was on my own I eventually figured out how to get to the end of the trail and look down on the treasury from above. The view was spectacular. It was so worth it. That little hike will always be a great memory for me. I made a little tower of rocks that I hoped to see from below. Hours later, when I got back to the Treasury, I looked up and saw my stack of rocks. I showed it to several students. I wonder if it will still be there when I come back in June.

Stairs carved into the trail I hiked at Petra

The basin of Petra as I saw it on my hike

The view of the basin of Petra from one of the peaks I climbed on my hike

A cool tree I found on my hike in Petra

The Basin and Theater at Petra as I saw it on my hike

Panoramic view of Petra basin as seen from my hike

Part of my hike through Petra

My view of the Treasury/Kazneh from the peak I hiked to

Close up of the Treasury from my perch on my hike (no Holy Grail inside)

More of the trail I hiked in Petra

After lunch I showed several students the great temple built by Aretas IV, which is probably the structure most similar in shape and time to the temple Herod built. I enjoyed heling them understand what they were seeing and visualizing Herod’s temple. What fun!

The holy of holies in the Aretas IV temple at Petra

Some of my students on top of the temple of Aretas IV in Petra

The altar of sacrifice at the temple of Aretas IV in Petra, which is contemporary with Herod's temple and his altar

Then we hiked out and got on the bus. In total I did a little over 12 miles today, with gains and drops of elevation over 1000 feet several times. It was a great day. I am pleased that I have never felt stiff or sore from it.

Sadly, when it was time to leave a few students didn’t make it to the bus when they should. I went to get them, and as I yelled across the way to them I got some sand or something stuck in my throat, which must have irritated my vocal cords, causing them to swell, and soon I couldn’t talk at all. Since this was our four hour drive, and since it can get long for the students, I had been planning on doing some stories with them. Alas I couldn’t. Instead I just took a bit of a nap, and graded some papers, and listened to some music. When we got into the hotel (a very nice hotel), I skipped dinner and just went to bed.

I should say that on the bus ride I did manage to squeak out a little bit of an explanation of the Exodus route. After leaving the Sinai area the Israelites came through the area we were traveling in. I talked them through the route a bit and think I helped them get a feel for how it worked and how we are traveling somewhat along that route. Mahmoud talked to me about one day tracing that route ourselves. I am pretty excited about his idea. I would love to get some funding and he and I get in some four wheel drives and try to figure out exactly how the Israelites went. Mahmoud has done this kind of thing before tracing Abraham’s route, and I think he would be great to do it with. I hope to make that happen one day.

The area around Petra which is an area that Israel would have likely traveled during the Exodus
The next morning I woke up and felt pretty good. My voice was mostly back. It just kept getting stronger as the day went by, and by mid-day I was pretty much at full voice strength. I was touched to learn that my students had prayed for my voice, and that one of them even went out and bought me some throat lozenges. That is very touching.

We got going with a good, early start. We taught them a bit about the Gilead area as we first got into it. Then we stopped at the Jabbok River. It was just a bit windy and chilly, but largely it was pretty nice. I did a devotional there. It was interesting to do it because usually I do this with my New Testament class, but this time I was with my Old Testament class, and we have already gone over Jacob’s wrestle with an angel in class. So this was a bit of a repeat. I said mostly the same things, talking about how Jacob was so afraid for his family, and how much he was putting God first, and how this was a true Abrahamic Sacrifice for him, and how important it is for all of us to put God first, and how when we do it will lead us to God, just as it seemed to take Jacob to God there as he wrestled the angel. I felt like I did an okay job, but I also felt like it was not my most powerful teaching because I was trying to figure out what I had said in class and make it a bit new but still teach the most important stuff. I felt pretty good about it, but not great. Afterwards I gave them some time to think and read and write, and then we called them all in and sang Nearer My God to Thee, which has some great imagery from Jacob’s life in it. As we got on the bus, a number of students told me how much they were touched by what we talked about. Throughout the next two days I would have a steady trickle of students who would continue to come tell me that same thing. I guess the Spirit taught them what they needed, regardless of how well I did.

My students studying at the Jabbok river as we spoke of Jacob's Peniel experience

More of my students studying at the Jabbok river

More of my students studying about Jacob wrestling the angel at Peniel while we were at the Jabbok River
I was in particular sensitive to one particular girl. I spoke about the kind of Abrahamic Sacrifice that is involved in watching a loved one suffer and/or die and being willing to accept that in a faithful way. I spoke of watching my father as Parkinson’s has taken away all of his mobility. I spoke of watching how well he has handled this and that though his life is now painful and drudgery he has not complained. As I spoke of these things I kept watching my student whose mother died of cancer while she was here in Jerusalem. She came to me later and spoke of how she understood what I was talking about and how she appreciated my remarks. That comment probably meant the most to me of all.

the Jabbok River, where Jacob wrestled with an angel

The Jabbok River somewhere near where Jacob wrestled with an angel
From there we went to Jerash. Again Mahmoud was magnificent. He gave a great explanation, but not too long, and kept us moving as we went. We were able to hear some great things about the place. It truly is a spectacular place, with so many ruins still there. David Whitchurch gave a nice little devotional about Abraham in that place. Then we gave everyone free time to explore. I was going to do quite a bit of exploring, but I kept running into people with questions, and instead I had a great time answering questions. I love being with Phil and Andrew and the others and we had some nice conversations. There was hardly anyone at the place (it is low tourist season), and yet the flowers are starting to come out, so I got some great pictures. On the whole I had a great time.

My students in the Hippodrome of Jerash

The central plaza of Roman Jerash

The temple of Zeus at Petra

The area of Jerash, probably the Jershon of the Book of Abraham

Columns of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash

My students thinking at the Temple of Zeus at Jerash
The Holy of Holies of the Temple of Artemis at Jerash
From there we left to head into the hills of Gilead. I got a little frustrated. When we finished our Jordan trip last time we met to evaluate it. Not everyone, but the majority, felt that it would be worthwhile to spend less time on some things and create a chance to stop in Gilead and talk about the many things that happened there (Gilead is mentioned about 130 times in the Bible, and a lot of really significant things happened there). Eran asked David to arrange things so that we could do that. David came up with the idea of doing Gilead and stopping by Pella, a Decapolis city that tradition holds is the city the Christians of Jerusalem fled to just before the destruction of Jerusalem. That sounded great to all of us. But now, as we were doing it, he was telling us that the priority was Pella, and to make sure we had enough time there we could only spend ten or fifteen minutes in Gilead. This is exactly the opposite of what we agreed to and what he was asked to do, but what can we do. So we rushed through Gilead, having just a few minutes and no time to really do it justice or to make it spiritual in any way. Still, I feel quite satisfied that we at least did that. These students have a better understanding of Gilead than any others of which I am aware. I am very, very glad for that, and I think they appreciated it.

The Hills of Gilead

Tabor Oak in Gilead, such as those Absolom would have had his hair caught in

The hills of Gilead covered in oak. Absalom was caught in Gilead in a thicket like this

Then we drove to Pella. It was a really enjoyable site. There isn’t a lot to say about it. I explained how Decapolis cities were created by Pompey in order to protect them from forced conversion to Judaism under the Maccabees. Then I taught about how the Christians fled to Pella (traditionally) and used that as an opportunity to talk about the parallels between what happened in the meridian of time and the last days, and how important it is to listen to the prophets as they tell us to flee from that which will bring suffering and destruction. I feel like it went pretty well. David Whitchurch added a few things after that, providing a nice little message. Then we explored the site. It is nice, but we had more time there than either we or the guides knew what to do with. Still, on the whole, it was nice.

My class at Pella

Pella hillside

The hills of Pella in Lower Gilead
The drive home was long. I have continually had a lot of students ask me how I became an Egyptologist, or an archaeologist, or how I came to study the Book of Abraham. Today I had at least fifteen more ask me that same thing. So as we went on our long drive I told them that no one needed to listen, but those who wanted to hear answers to these questions could. I spoke into our little headset transmitter that we use on sites during field trips, and those who wanted to listen did so on their headsets. I never looked back to see how many were listening, but based on the comments afterwards and the lack of noise, I think everyone did. I tried to entertain them and teach them with the story, and I feel like it went pretty well.

Afterwards I went back on the bus to answer a question one of the students had asked earlier when I didn’t have time to answer. I got stopped on the way and was asked about the Book of Abraham. As I tried to give a simple, short answer, suddenly the isle was filled with people who tried to crowd around and hear the answer. It was quickly apparent that more people wanted to talk about it than could hear me in that kind of a situation. So I went back up and got on my little transmitter again and told them that those who wanted to listen could, but that most should just visit and talk. Soon everyone was listening. I tried to give an explanation that wasn’t too detailed or complicated, but that also taught important principles. I feel like it went pretty well.

The problem is that I am sure I ended up talking too long on both stories. I don’t feel comfortable with that, but sometimes it just happens that way. At least it helped with a long drive.

After we finally got back and had dinner I got on skype and talked with Brett Nielsen. He has been helping me set up a fundraising organization that is designed to help with our excavation. He has put in countless hours for free, and has just been incredible and wonderful in helping us. I am so very, very grateful. We are close to launching the thing, and we had a really useful skype meeting and I think things are going very well. I am so happy about this and so grateful for what he is doing.

I also finished up a few touches on an article that Paul Evans and I have been working on. I had to stay up a bit late because it was my responsibility that night to make sure that everyone got back into the hotel. They did, so I went to bed. It was a good day.

My students listening to a lecture in Pella
My students listening to a lecture in Pella
The next morning we even got to sleep in a little bit. Then we went to the Citadel of Amman. This is where the ancient city of Rabbath Amman was. There we looked at some of the Roman ruins, and the temple of Hercules, and a really cool Muslim, Ummyad building. But the biggest story there is the story of the Israelites taking over the place under Joab and David, and the death of Uriah the Hittite. I spoke about that for a while, and talked about the need to not rationalize away the bad things we do that we know are wrong. I believe it hit some students just how it needed to. I felt like it went very well. Then, when we gave them time to explore, I walked along trails and paths to places around the old walls and saw aspects of it I have not seen before. I really enjoyed having just a little time to explore.

Mahmoud and I in the Umyyad Palace on the Citadel of Amman

Walls of the Citadel of Amman

More of the walls around the Citadel of Amman

Remains of the Temple of Hecules (Herakles) at Amman

Afterwards we went to the Jordan museum. I have not been there before since last time it was raining so hard we couldn’t go in. It is a really nice museum set up in a way that makes it so that students really learn some history and get a lot out of it. I really enjoyed myself there.

Byzantine Lamps in the Jordan Museum

The Copper Scroll in the Jordan Museum
Loom weights in the Jordan Museum
After that we went down to the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus, called Bethany Beyond Jordan. I don’t know if it is the right place, but I think it has a decent chance. It is always touching to me to look across the river and see the spot where Alexia was baptized. David Whitchurch gave a nice little devotional there, and everyone had a little time to think and write and read. It was a great time, and we loved it.

Mys students pondering at the Baptsimal Site at the Jordan River

Looking across the Jordan to the place where Alexia was baptized

More of my students pondering at the Baptismal Site
Then we went to the border crossing. It was sad to say goodbye to Mahmoud. I really have grown to enjoy him and hate to see him go. I hope to work with him again sometime.

The border crossing went fairly well. I did get pulled aside for questions for quite a while, as did Phil. They had a hard time figuring out what was going on with my little volunteer stamp in my passport. I think it caused us some problems. But it worked out okay, it just took quite a while.

As a result we got home later than we had planned, but it was okay. It was so great to see my kids as we came in. It was so good to be with them again. We had a nice evening together and I enjoyed telling them about the things I did and hearing about what they did. It is good to be home.

The next day was a bit busy. Julianne and I got up and went to the Anglican School for parent/teacher conference. We saw 20 teachers while there. It was a good experience. The teachers love our kids. They think they are wonderful. They are doing well in every way and seem to be model citizens. Kaleb needs to work on not just coasting by on his abilities and instead work on stretching himself and reaching his full potential, but he is still doing just fine, and everyone is blown away by his natural abilities. Sabrina has grown in confidence in leaps and bounds, and is doing spectacularly well. Jacob is also doing well, and has helped his teacher see some problems among students in the class in a very mature way. Alexia is the greatest pleasure of a student any of these teachers ever seem to have had, and Tashara is practically perfect in every way. Even with all these good reports, meeting with 20 teachers is exhausting.

When we got home from that Phil and I went to check out the City of David. I helped him get a good feel for how it worked and where to go. We also figured out that the way we would usually go to see part of it is closed off. It took us a while to figure out what to do and where to go, but I think we got it figured out. In the meantime, Julianne had driven us down there, and just waited patiently in the car, working on her seminary lesson, while we did that stuff.

That reminds me of what an incredible seminary teacher she has been. She has put a lot of time and effort into the seminary lessons, and I think is doing a fantastic job. I think she also has come to an even better understanding of the Old Testament. She has become quite a scholar on these things in her own right. She has been a great blessing to these seminary students. She is so fantastic to work with in so many ways, and spends all her time and effort blessing others, especially me and our children, but really so many others. She is amazing!

When we got back she took the kids to do some humanitarian aid work with the students and the Center. I got a bit of work done that I was behind on. Then we started meeting with each of the children and going over their reports from school. We spent over an hour doing that. It is fun, but tiring. Then Tashara showed us what she has been learning in her U.S. History independent study. She is doing a fantastic job. Good for her! It was so much fun to see how much she has learned. We then had dinner with the students, which was enjoyable (Julianne told them about her app and that became the whole dinner conversation). Afterwards we just spent some time together as a family, and finally I drifted off to sleep before we were done. I was so tired.

Sabbath morning was nice. I slept in just a bit. Then I got up and called BJ. We took turns visiting with him and spoke with him on the phone for an hour. Jacob and Sabrina in particular had fun goofing around with him. I think he is doing well.

Then we spent a little time getting ready for church and enjoying each other. Church was very nice, and I survived counting tithing with our super klunky system afterwards, and then spent a little time with our family. It is so wonderful to have a day set aside to help you remember to do the things that are most important. 

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