Saturday, May 7, 2016

Fire and Light

Last Sabbath I had some nice time with my family in the morning. Then I went up to have a meeting with Brother Heiner. We got all ready for our lesson we were jointly teaching, and we made sure we had all our callings lined up. Then we made sure that the sacrament was all prepared, etc. In all of that I forgot that I needed to get some people to say the prayers. I didn’t remember it until I was announcing the opening song and prayer, so I called on my wife. She was talking with someone, so I wasn’t sure if she noticed, but she did. She saved me.

Tashara was the first speaker. She spoke on pride, and did a phenomenal job. She really made me think about how much I need to try to strip myself of pride. I let it affect too many things I do. She moved me and got me to really think a lot. It was a great talk.

Then we had Sabbath School, and finally the combined lesson that Brother Heiner and I were team teaching. We taught about the importance of having the Spirit with us, and how we can do more to make sure the spirit is with us as much as possible. Brother Heiner did a great job, and I just did the last 15 minutes. I thought it went well. It inspired me to do more to have the Spirit with me.

Afterwards we set some people apart, and then Tashara and I set out to try to find Mom and the Allreds and Skinners as they were trying to get near the Holy Sepulchre to participate in the Holy Fire Ritual. This is a ritual that Orthodox, Coptic, Ethiopian and Armenian Christians celebrate as Easter Sunday approaches. This weekend is Orthodox Easter. What happens is that the Patriarch goes into the tomb, and his candle catches fire. He then passes it out so that others can light their candles, and they light others, and it spreads throughout the church, then the city, then people fly with it to other places, so that by the end of Easter people throughout the world have a flame lit by the Holy Fire. In many churches on Good Friday they blow out the candles in their church and wait for flame from Jerusalem to arrive to relight them. The symbolism of all this is incredible.
People lighting their candle at New Gate as part of the Ritual of the Holy Fire
Tashara and I walked to Damascus gate and got pretty far, but then found that it was closed off by the police, and they weren’t letting anyone through, and wouldn’t for another two hours. We went to Via Dolorosa, and got pretty far, but found it was cut off as well. Julianne let us know that they had tried Jaffa gate and found it closed, but had talked their way through New Gate. So we went walking around to get to New Gate. They were getting ready to open that gate up, so they wouldn’t let us through right then. As we waited we saw a priest come out with an incense burner from the Holy Sepulchre, and they let some people light their candles from it. They were all so excited! People lit their candles from those, and so on, and so on. It was great to watch.

Passing the flame of the Holy Fire

Passing the Holy Fire
After five minutes they let us in. Tashara and I sped along the streets, dodging people and going as fast as we could. We found a pretty good way to get where we were going, but then were grabbed by a policeman who said we couldn’t keep going that way. So we went a different way, and eventually found our way to Shaban’s shop on Christian Quarter Road. That is where the others were waiting for us, and it was good to be with them. We watched the parades come along and the flames being passed around. Sometimes it got pretty squishy, and I had to work hard to keep Julianne and Tashara from being trampled. We sought refuge in the shop for a while, and then we moved all together through the crowd. There were a few times when we really got pushed around, and it was close to getting trampled. 

The parade of the Holy Fire

Holy Fire procession
Finally we were allowed into a church, that turned out to be the monastery for the Orthodox priests that serve in the Holy Sepulchre. Shaban got us in there, and then into the upper area of the Holy Sepulchre, which eventually got us into the door that leads right into the dome of the church, so that we could look down on the tomb while they did all the rituals. It was full of smoke, but it was beautiful, and amazing to watch. What a great time! What a view! How wonderful it was to be there with my family. Tashara never wastes an opportunity. I was so glad to be there with her. This was a great day.

Passing the Holy Fire

Tashara and I looking down from the top of the dome of the Holy Sepulchre
Spreading the Holy Fire from the Tomb
The Holy Sepulchre during the Holy Fire
Afterwards, I played games with Sabrina for a while, and I really enjoyed it. We all hung out for a while, we visited, etc. I also saw some of my best friends from work who just got in. It was nice to visit with them for a while. Then I spent time with my family. What a nice day!

Sunday morning I did a small workout and I visited with my friends again. Then we hung out as a family. We got some things done, made sure the kids had their homework done, I got a lot of work done, etc. I also got very ready for my field trip. But we also did some just hanging out and lazing around. The kids really wanted to go see Captain America Civil War, so we let Jacob and Sabrina play with the Allreds, and we went to see the movie. It was okay, but a little too violent for me. Still, we had a lot of fun. Then we got home, and got everything ready for school to start again (the kids really don’t want it to). It was just the kind of day we all needed before we all jump into the last part of our time here. It is the last stint of school for the kids, and it is the beginning of our last semester.

It was hard for the kids to get up and going on Monday morning. They really didn’t want to, and there was all manner of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Ah well, still they had to get off and going. We got them all ready, and then Julianne and I got ready and went out for our first field trip with this group of students. It was a great field trip. We had some problems with our new headsets and transmitters, but it didn’t really take away from it. It was a nice day, sunny, but just a touch over 70 degrees with a slight wind. Really nice. We started out by looking out from the Mount of Olives over the Temple Mount area. I tried to show them how the Temple Mount had been enlarged by Herod, and were the temple once stood. I tried to show them how the Kidron Valley shaped much of the area. We showed them where the City of David was. I also introduced the theme of the day, which is how God told Abraham to look north and south and east and west and to realize he would inherit that land as far as he could see. Being part of the covenant and coming to know the land became our theme for the day.

My class on our first field trip
Then we went to Augusta Victoria. Andy Skinner was with me today. He is so great to work with. But because of his knees the stairs weren’t a good option for him. So I took the students up into the tower. It is hard to get 20 along one line up there, so I took 10 to one side and Julianne took 10 to the other side. We just looked around at what was to be seen from each side and taught them about the climate, topography, politics, etc., of what they were seeing. I think it was useful for them.

From there we went to Nebi Samuel. This is a fantastic site. We taught them about how there are layers of civilization at these sites. We taught them a little bit about the crusades, and how this place was called Mount Joy by the crusaders because it was from there that they first saw Jerusalem. Then we went over and looked down on Gibeon. I taught them the story of how Joshua came to rescue the Gibeonites from the other Canaanites, and how the Lord sent hailstones on the Canaanite armies, and then how the sun and moon stood still so that they could continue to pursue them before they could hide behind their walls. This was one of the ways the Lord helped the Israelites defeat the Canaanites despite the large Canaanite walled cities that the Israelites were so sure they could not overcome. I tried to teach them of how the Lord comes through for his people when they trust in him, no matter how big the obstacle or how hard it is. He always comes through, and when he fights for us, there is nothing that can’t be overcome. I also tried to impress upon them how real the scriptures are, and how the land testifies of God and his covenants with us. I think we had a very moving time there. It was wonderful.

My class sitting under the fig tree at Nebi Samwill
We also spent just a little time in the synagogue there where we all got the chance to learn a little about Jewish worship. It was nice. Then we went on top of the roof and looked around at the sites. We looked over at Gibeah and went through the stories that happened there, such as Saul leaving to look for his father’s asses and being anointed king, Saul building a palace, David coming to play the harp for him, David marrying Michal, David and Johnathan developing a friendship, and both Michal and Johnathan helping David escape. Pretty powerful human drama. We also looked out towards Bethel, and spoke of the important stories that happened there. We talked about how that was the beginning of the Ephraim hill country. I spoke to them about how that was their ancestral homeland. I welcomed them home. I asked them to think about how the turning of the hearts to the fathers includes not just pioneer family history, but the family history they were reading in the Bible. I asked them to turn their hearts, and come to know this part of their history, and to feel a connection with this part of their homeland.

The Torah Ark in the Nebi Samwil Synagogue
From there we went to Haas Promenade, which provides a nice little overlook from the south side where you can get a better feel for some of the valleys and hills and aspects of Jerusalem. 
My class at Haas Promenade
Then we went to Mar Elyas. We climbed up on a hill behind it and we looked down onto Bethlehem. Andy taught them of the modern politics of the site. I taught them about Bethlehem, pointing out that Ruth did her gleaning there, David was anointed king there, and, of course, Christ was born there. I pointed out how from that spot you can see both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. We spoke of how the most important thing that happened in the history of the world happened within their eyesight there at Jerusalem. That thing, the atonement, was made possible because of the condescension of God as Christ came to earth as a mortal in Bethlehem, also within their eyesight. Bethlehem would not be that important without Jerusalem, but Jerusalem would not be possible without Bethlehem. It is wonderful to be at a place where you can see both places. Then we looked at the area where Rachel’s tomb was. I told them that written on the tomb are the words “Rachel, our Mother.” I asked them to remember that Rachel is our mother, and reminded them that this is their home, and that they should take learning their family history seriously. I suggested that as we read that history if they can come to use the land and the family connection to realize how real the scriptures are, that the scriptures will relate to their lives in a different way, and that they will come to feel a power in the scriptures that they have not felt before. I think they felt it. We gave them some time to sit and think and read. I think many people truly enjoyed that opportunity.

My class pondering
On the whole I would say it was a great field trip. I feel like we got started off well. We went to dinner that night with the students, and I took the chance to ask many of them what they had enjoyed. I got the impression that they were quite touched with the reality of the stories there, and that seeing it all helped them to understand the reality of the place and the scriptures, and that they were already seeing and feeling the scriptures differently. I think they had great experiences. They are a bit overwhelmed by it all, but in a good way. I think they are a bit overwhelmed also with the amount of work, and with all the info we are trying to give them. They also seem a bit in awe with the caliber of their teachers, but they will get over that soon enough. We just have to make sure we get over it, and that we don’t let it go to our heads.

An ibex in the Negev

All in all it was a good day, and I had a nice evening with the kids. Life is good, and we are blessed.

Tuesday we had class again. I feel like it went very, very well as we spoke about the Abrahamic Sacrifice in connection with Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac. We talked about how this helped Abraham become the person who put God above all else, and how we all need to become that kind of person so that we can learn to rely on God above all else, since only God can exalt us. It was a fun class, and I think the students are enjoying learning.

The rest of the day was spent in meetings, getting a few little work things done, etc. That evening we spent time together as a Branch Presidency and got a lot of work done on the big job of figuring out callings for all of the students. In a three week period we will issue 81 callings. I am always amazed at how much the Lord is involved. As the semester wears on we always find out more and more about how each calling was inspired. It is a wonder to be involved in the Lord’s work and see him do his own work.

Classes continued to go well. During the rest of the week we covered topics such as why God has a chosen people, the temple experiences of Jacob, Jacob’s Abrahamic Sacrifice and experience with God at Peniel, Judah and Tamar, Joseph being sold into Egypt, and the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. These are some of the most amazing stories in the history of the world. They teach us so much. And I think we are having a great time going through them. The students seem to be getting the Old Testament. They seem to be enjoying having it come to life. They seem to be learning how to draw meaning from the stories. I feel like the class is going extremely well.

We had meetings to get ready for Egypt. It is hard to believe that we will be going again so soon. I will be with Andy on this trip. I think it will be a lot of fun to be with him. We also went on a long faculty trip to Avdat. Julianne and I sat in the back and we were able to visit with Andy and Janet Skinner a lot. They are so enjoyable and we had a great time. I also very much enjoyed seeing David Ben Gurion’s place down there. It was also wonderful to just see that part of the Negev. Some think that the Israelites came through that area. I think it is very unlikely. That was squarely in the territory of Edom, and Israel was forbidden to travel through Edom, so it is very, very unlikely that they went that way. Still it looks a lot like the territory they did go through, so it was fun to see it. 
The Wilderness of Tsin in southern Israel

A Tamarack Tree in the Negev. Abraham planted some of these

Additionally, both modern and ancient Israel eventually lived in that area. We also saw a Nabatean stronghold that was part of the incense trail. It became Christian eventually, and had some cool churches in it. It was an enjoyable time.

Julianne at the Nabatean Ruins
That evening we had dinner with Jim Kearl, who is in charge of everything about the Jerusalem Center. He was visiting from Provo. He asked us for feedback on the program, and we were able to give him some. There is some feedback that will be best given when we return to Provo. On the whole it was an enjoyable day, but we saw our kids hardly at all.

On Friday I got a bit of work done, I spent some nice time with the kids, we took the students to the Western Wall, where we were able to help them see how wonderful it is to be excited about the Sabbath and to be so devoted.

We also spoke with BJ. He had a test done on his heart, and it has some holes in it. It looks like he needs some surgery, but it could be minor, or it might be fairly large. We don’t know yet, he needs to have a further consultation with the doctor. We are anxious to hear back from him about that.

We did spend a lot of time this week looking into the best gear for cold Montana winters. It feels very good to be able to find some ways to help BJ do as well as possible on his mission. We also got things set up for him to take out his endowment. Things are moving along.

My wonderful wife
On the whole it has been an incredible, wonderful, busy and powerful week. My kids are getting to the point where they feel like going home, and that is getting closer. We got our tickets for their return flight this week. The new students are just getting going, and they are loving it and are so excited. It is wonderful to see them have such powerful experiences. This is an amazing program to be part of. I just need to make sure we keep finding ways to help our kids keep growing from their time here. It shouldn’t be too hard, this place is built for growth. 

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