Saturday, January 30, 2016

Different than planned, but great as can be

Late last night we got word that we weren’t going to Jordan this week, due to weather. That’s okay, I would rather go during good weather.

It turned out to be a good call. Sunday (or Saturday here) was a rainy, rainy day. We originally thought that maybe we would go to the Israel museum, which seemed like it would be a good rainy day activity. But it was raining so hard, and even a bit of kind of snow/slushing, we didn’t even feel like doing that. 

Slush falling on Jerusalem
So we cleaned up the house and went up to the gym. We exercised, playing revenge and a cool basketball game Julianne invented. We gathered over 100 pieces of paper from the recycling bins and wadded them up and turned them into snowballs. We built some forts, and then had some snowball fights. It was a lot of fun. After that we made hot chocolate and popped popcorn and watched the movie Jumanji, which our kids had never seen before. We had a wonderful time together as a family.

The next day we got the kids off to school, I taught a class that I felt like went very well, and we exercised a bit more. Then we went with the faculty couples to the Bible Lands Museum. They have a great display on the Babylonian Exile there, which I thought was really well done and had some things that could really help you visualize the Babylonian Exile. 

Arrowheads found in Jerusalem from the Babylonian Siege

slinging stones found in Jerusalem from the Babylonian Siege

I had a great time at the museum. On the way home we found our way to a big grocery store (Julianne is an expert navigator), and then we came home and helped the kids work on homework. We are trying to institute a new program at home of having dinner and immediately afterwards having scripture study and then everyone spending time on homework. If they finish homework they work on some kind of self improvement project. We have been having absolutely wonderful, fantastic family scripture study here as we have been working our way through the Old Testament. But we have struggled with homework. I felt like tonight went pretty well and hope we can keep it up.

That night Jacob and Kaleb were goofing around on their beds. Kaleb accidentally pulled Jacob off the top bunk, and he landed on his head and then back. He was in great pain all last night. It made me nervous, and I spent a lot of time wondering if maybe he had ruptured a disc or something.
Tuesday was more in the way of really fun classes. These students are so, so, so inquisitive. They want to learn and explore. It is just so much fun to do that with them. Afterwards I got a lot of work done on some articles, one of my most productive days ever. Julianne had a fantastic day working with a woman who doesn’t really love to have church members over. She is a Jewish woman who was baptized years ago, and is so fascinating and interesting to talk to. She has written a very interesting book on Jews and the Messiah, and gave Julianne and me a copy. I am enjoying reading it and look forward to being able to meet her myself. Julianne is so good with people and I am so glad we can make this acquaintance because of Julianne’s gift. That evening church things went well. The weather was still so very cold and rainy. Three days of almost straight rain, and quite cold.

In the meantime, Jacob staid home from school because of his pain. I spent most of the day with him, and he was doing pretty well, but his head and back were killing him. It made me worried. By the end of the day we took him to the doctor, who gave him a good examination, and told us he felt he was fine. The pain started to get better soon after that. We are blessed.
Wednesday was more fun in class. It is so much fun to explore things with these students, and I think we are really coming to understand the Old Testament together. I am happy with how things are progressing for my class. I got more good things done for work, and as a family we had a really nice day together. It rained a bit, but is beginning to clear up.

Thursday we went on my favorite field trip. Julianne was able to come with me, and we had a great time. 

Students getting on the bus during the field trip
We first drove down to Lachish. On the way we taught them about what the Shfeylah is (the low hills of Judah), how to remember the various valleys and cities, the Shfeylah song that Jeff Chadwick wrote, and the history of Lachish. The weather was fantastic. I had so many layers on, and had to take most of them off. It was beautiful, green, a the poppies are beginning to bloom, the sun was out, and it was fantastic. Lachish is such a great site. We went over how it was a Canaanite and Egyptian stronghold, and how Joshua conquered it, and then the Egyptians came back, and then the Israelites really took it. We taught a lesson about how, even though the Israelites were so concerned about the big walls of the Canaanites, and even though the walls around Lachish were huge, that with God, it wasn’t a problem. Then we went up on the citadel (after looking at the Canaanite temple area), and we went over the general story of the Assyrian and the Babylonian conquest of Lachish. We talked about the letters found in the gate, and how they spoke of the watch fires of Azekah going out. Then we told them that their classmates were on Azekah. We got out our mirror, they got out theirs, and we signaled each other. It is amazing how well you can see those mirror flashes. It really makes it all come alive for you, and you get a feel for the geography of things.

Then we went down to the gate. They are excavating the other half of the gate that has never been excavated. I spent a while there helping them to be able to picture what it was like to be an Israelite inside of Lachish when the Assyrians assaulted it. I think it worked, that it made the city and story really come alive for them. Later in the day when I heard them talk I could tell that at least for many of them it had been a powerful moment that made the story powerful for them. That is just what I hope for, it is how that place is for me.

beautiful flowers of the Judean countryside in January

Poppies growing wildly in the Judean hills during January

It was such a clear day, with as good visibility as I have ever seen. We could see Hebron clearly from there. It was the best view I have ever had from there.

After we finished things at Lachish we went to Mareshah. The Bell Caves were closed for security reasons. I assume it has to do with all the rain that has been coming lately. So we went to the tombs, a greek house with a cistern (where we sang since we couldn’t in the Bell Caves), an olive press, and a dove cote. David Whitchurch did a good job of teaching at all these sites. It was very nice.
From there we went to the Valley of Elah. I had spent an hour or so repairing some slings last night so that we would have enough. I went over some of the story of David there, and I think it went well. I hope it was meaningful for them. Then we gave them slings and they did some stone slinging. I think they had a lot of fun. It went well, even though it was a little muddy.

Students slinging stones in the Valley of Elah to commemorate David killing Goliath

More students slinging stones in the Valley of Ehlah

I got this shirt just for the field trip to the Valley of Elah. 

Then we went up to Azekah. David taught them a number of things there, and I think it went well. He put the whole David and Goliath story more into context. 

View of the Valley of Elah from Azekah. Bethlehem is in the background, the valley is where David killed Goliath
He also went over the siege of Azekah by the Babylonians. We again signaled the other class, who signaled us from Lachish. David did a good job of teaching them about how Hezekiah put his trust in God and even though Azekah and Lachish were destroyed, Jerusalem was not. It went very well, and I think they enjoyed it.

My class after signaling Lachish from Azekah

The ruins of what is probably Sha'araim, where the camp of Saul probably was as they looked down on Goliath in the Valley of Elah
Then we went to Bet Shemesh. By now, after such beauty everywhere, and it was still beautiful there, but it was finally getting a bit cold. 

Flowers at Bet Shemesh
On the way there I went over quite a bit of the Samson story with them on the bus. I was glad I did so that we could move through it quickly on site, since it was chilly and was getting late. They got a good feel for where the Samson story took place while we were there. Then we went through the story of the ark being lost, its cursing the Philistines, and how it was returned to Israel at Bet Shemesh. I did the story pretty quickly, but I think they still got a bit out of it.

Me pointing out Tsorah (Zorah) and the forest of Eshta'ol, where the Samson story took place

Me teaching the students about the story of the return of the ark

Me teaching students with the Sorek Valley, where Samson grew up, behind me. The large buildings behind me are close to ancient Tsora (Zorah), where Samson grew up

On the way home we hit terrible traffic, but Julianne and I told them our story of how we met and got engaged. It went pretty well, they seemed to enjoy it, and hopefully a lesson or two was learned along the way.

Our family had dinner with the students. We met the new music couple who finally got in (their flight was delayed 16 hours or something because of all the storms in NYC). They are very nice. Their names are Garth and Kathleen Holyoaks. I am sure we will enjoy being with them.

The next day we got the kids off, and I taught. They had so many questions we got way behind, but had a great time answering questions with a tremendous amount of real learning taking place. It was a great time. Afterwards I exercised, and then took a short nap. I had not slept well last night because BJ had texted us about getting his picture for his mission papers. We weren’t able to text back and forth more than that, but it kept me from going back to sleep, as I thought about what all of that might mean.

After a while Phil called, wondering if we would like to go with them and the Skinners to Castel. We were excited to go. It is a pretty cool place where some serious battles were fought during the 1948 war. It was quite chilly, but the views are amazing. We had a great time!

Julianne and Phil in the trenches atop Castel

The Judean hills as seen from Castel

When we got home we visited as a family, and did some cleaning. Then we made pizzas together and watched a movie. All in all we had a nice night together as a family. Julianne and I stayed up a bit late watching a movie. Then we called BJ. He has definitely decided to turn in his mission papers and has started filling them out. We talked through a lot of issues with him, and sent him info on doctors and dentists. It is a bit hard. It is hard to think of not being with him when he opens his call, of not being able to stay up late at night with him celebrating the fact that he got his call, and learning about the place he is going. It means I won’t be with him when he goes through the temple for the first time. We will fly Julianne home to help him get ready and to go through the temple with him and see him off, but most of us won’t see him again for a long time. It is a good thing, I am happy for him, but it is hard to miss out on that stuff. I am glad and sad at the same time. Mostly glad.

The next morning I really enjoyed church. I really, really enjoyed it. Everything about it was great. Jacob was supposed to read a scripture. Without any help at all he chose the scripture, decided what to say about it, and got all ready for it. Then, on the spot, he changed what he was doing a little to incorporate something he had heard in Sacrament Meeting. It has been a while since we really had to help our kids with a talk or anything like that. They seem to be able to just do it themselves. That is good, wonderful, makes me so happy, and also makes me just a bit sad. Our kids are growing up. Wonderfully, they are growing up into great people.

I hope our time together here will help us grow closer and closer as a family. We are so blessed, and so happy to have each other. The Lord is good to us.

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!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Good and tough

What a week, good and tough. The week started out with a day of cleaning, getting ready for other things, working on homework with the kids, etc. The next day Kaleb finally got clearance from the doctor that his ankle is healed and he can have full use of his foot again. That was exciting. The kids left for school and Julianne and I left for our field trip with the students. 
My class on the bus on our first field trip
The first field trip of the semester is always exciting. We went first to Augusta Victoria. The person that opens the church was not there, so we hung out for a while and I taught them about the geography of the Holy Land until we finally got someone to come and open it up. Then we had a great time teaching about the church, and then we climbed the tower. It was a beautiful, clear day. We could see all the way to Amman, and all the way to Bethel. It was the best visibility I have ever had. I think the students got a good idea of what they were looking at.

My class in the church of Augusta Victoria

From there we went to the 7 Arches Hotel overlook. There we showed them where the City of David was, and how the valleys of the area formed the city and where the spring was. I think they got the basics of it. Then we went to an overlook that is nice. It isn’t significant, and they don’t get a tremendous amount out of it, but it is nice enough. From there we went to Mar Elias. It is next to the separation wall, and from the hill there you can see both Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was still clear, so we could see over into Jordan, or ancient Moab.

We talked about Ruth coming across the way from there to Bethlehem, and helped them picture the terraced hills she would have gleaned in. We talked about David being crowned king in Bethlehem. And, of course, we spoke of the birth of the Savior. David Whitchurch bore a very nice, powerful testimony of Christ there. It was quite nice. I talked about Rachel’s tomb and tried to help them feel how Rachel is their mother, and to feel a connection with the people and the place. I told them they were in the place of their ancestors, and that as we read the scriptures together we were doing our family history. I think it struck them, I think they were moved. We gave them time to think and write and ponder for a while.

My students spreading out to ponder while looking over Bethlehem
When we had gotten to that hill it was quite warm, too hot for anything but short sleeves. But suddenly a cold wind came in, and within a minute or two the temperature dropped ten degrees or more. Crazy.

My class with the storm moving in and Bethlehem behind them
From there we went to Nebi Samwil. We taught them about the stratigraphy of archaeology, and showed them a place where you can see structures from the time of the kings of Judah, from the time of the Greek rulers, and from the Roman era. On top of that was crusader structures. I also gave them a little primer on the crusades. 

Then David taught them a bit about the crusader structures there. There really are some cool things. We then went up on the roof of the combination mosque/synagogue. The clouds had sent in a little, so we couldn’t see to Bethel or the Hills of Ephraim. Still we could see enough to give them an idea of where it was, and we talked to them about that being their homeland, the place of their ancestors. I welcomed them home.  We also looked over to Gibeah, and I went over the various stories of Saul, David and Johnathan that took place there. I think they were really feeling the reality of the scriptures and the power of the land. I think they were feeling connected in a way they have never felt before. It was going really well.

We went down to look over Gibeon. I had already pointed out where Jericho and Gilgal would have been from on top, so as we looked at Gibeon we were able to go through the story of Joshua 10, where Joshua marched all night with Israel up to fight the Canaanites outside of Gibeon. From there the Canaanites were struck by hailstones as they fled along the Bet Horon ridge, which we could see from there. Then Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still, and they did, so that he could continue to defeat these Canaanites before they could retreat behind the walls of their cities. I impressed upon them the miracles of the stories we were going through and how those amazing miracles happened right where we were looking. I was passionate, and I think they were feeling it. We were all caught up in the moment, and taken by the place.

Then I turned the time over to David Whitchurch. He had them all come over from where they could see the place we were talking about, and sit down, and then talked to them about how he once met the Papal Annuncio. He acknowledge that it had nothing to do with anything there, and that he just wanted to tell them about himself. He went on for a while about how neat it was that he did that, and showed them the little commemorative coin he had gotten and had them pass it around. The amazing moment we were having was dead and gone. Ah well. He tried to bring it back a bit by finally getting around to the scriptural story of Solomon receiving wisdom.


Then we went to the synagogue, and had a nice experience there. On the way home the students asked questions the whole way. This is a very, very inquisitive group. They really, really want to know stuff. They asked me for fifteen or twenty minutes questions about Gibeah. Clearly they would like to have gone. 

All in all it was a great field trip, really great! There was one downside. While we were at Mar Elias we got a call from the kids’ school. Alexia had hurt her arm, and they though it was broken. Ah well, we had four hours with no injuries in our family. 

We took Alexia to see the doctor here at the center. He checked it out and told us he was sure it was broken. So he and Alexia and I took off to buy her a brace. We drove out a long ways, and then there was no parking. So I dropped them off, told them I would find a place to hang out, and would call and let them know where I was. I found a place, and called, and found out that he had left his phone in the car. And they had a hard time finding anything that would work, so they took over half an hour. I kept driving around looking for them, but I didn’t actually know where they were. Eventually Alexia saw me and yelled loud enough for me to hear, and we were able to come home, but without a brace for her arm. Sad.

The next day I got to teach class again. It was only the second time, yet it seems like we have been together forever. I taught a lesson that finished up understanding what the Abrahamic Covenant is and why it is important and how it affects us. Then we did a lesson on Abrahamic sacrifices and what they are and why they are important and why we have to go through them. It was a really wonderful lesson to be a part of. These students are great!

We left right from the lessons to downtown Jerusalem to go to the Brit for Ophir’s new son. Everyone else was already there, but Phil and I went late because we had to teach. We had an adventure finding a place to park, but made it in to see much of it. We had a wonderful time visiting afterwards. Ophir and his wife Sarah spoke after a while and talked about why they chose the name Isaiah for their son, and they touched me deeply. It was a wonderful ceremony and experience. 

Ophir, Sarah and kids singing songs of joy after the Brit
Julianne and I ran out and found a gift for the baby. Then we found a brace for Alexia. Then we finally came home. We had more meetings. We had some nice time together as a family. Then we had a branch presidency meeting, and extended some more callings, and we prayed and found out more of whom the Lord wanted to call to various church positions. It is amazing to me how much He is involved, and how often we find little confirmations about how much the Lord is at the helm. It is a great experience.

The bad news is that I was starting to feel quite sick. Lots of people are getting very sick, and I could tell I was getting it. I had terrible aches and chills and felt terrible. I slept horribly, but could feel the fever break during the night. The next morning I felt worn out, but largely over it and ready to go. That is fortunate since most people have had this for days.

Despite feeling worn out, I was able to do two lessons on Jacob. The students want so much to learn, and are having such a great experience in their learning. I so love being in class with them. I came down and took a long nap. It helped me feel a lot better. I had a lot of fun with the kids when they got home, and also worked with them about homework a lot. Kaleb is really struggling with doing homework right now. We are working with him on this, and hopefully making some progress.

I ended up having to stay up until midnight because at 10 pm I had a skype meeting with the SSEA in Toronto. I didn’t contribute a lot to that meeting, but I got some stuff done during that time, and I was glad to be a part of it and glad that they know I am supporting them. It did make me tired.

The next day was a fun day in class as we went through the story of Joseph. Such great material, such powerful teaching. I am loving the class here. Immediately after that we were supposed to leave on a Faculty Field Trip Prep. Instead we had a meeting and learned that we are postponing our trip to Egypt. It turns out that we were going to be there during the five year anniversary of the revolution, and there are a lot of serious protests planned for that time, and it is not a good idea to be there during such things. So we are going to try to go to Jordan during that time, and hopefully go to Egypt in March when we were planning on going to Jordan. It is disappointing, but wise. I think it will all work out.

Finally we left on our trip. All the wives came too. We drove down to Beer Sheva and spent quite a bit of time looking for the new location of the weaving center. They have moved, and they don’t look ready for us. We will hope that they get ready by Monday.

Andy Skinner at Arad
Then we went to Arad and looked around and got Andy feeling all ready for going to that site. I have to say how much I enjoy having Andy around. He is a true gentleman and scholar and just a delight to be with. I love being with him. Phil and I explored the Canaanite complex together and had so much fun. He is so enjoyable and I love every minute I spend with him. I am blessed to be with such good people.

Then we had a lunch. We went to McDonalds to be fast, but then we sit and eat and take forever. When we finished we realized we did not have enough time to go to Ashkelon, which is what most of us were looking forward to going to. But we did have time to go to Gerar, a place that Isaac spent some time. It is pretty rough terrain, and we got there just as the sun was setting. We drove around a bit and had a decent time enjoying the beauty of the place, but couldn’t explore too much. The first poppies of the year were out there, and it was quite nice. Then we tried to leave taking a new route out. The GPS unit told us to go one way, and it ended up being on really rough, dirt roads. We had an adventure getting out of there on crazy dirt roads, but we made it. We got home late and helped the kids do what they needed.

Canaanite temple at Arad.

Gerar, where Isaac spent time

Panorama of Gerar area, where Isaac spent some time

The next day was another great class. We did the Exodus, and I feel like it went really, really well. I also attended Andy’s class, because he is teaching about Egypt and I will also do some teaching about Egypt, so it is useful for me to know what he has done. I got some other stuff done, and eventually was able to go meet with someone, who wanted to meet with me.

I won’t go into all the details, but to make a long story short, due to someone's bad memory I was unjustly accused. Not fun, but it is life.

I have since had a lot of time to think things over. I cannot decide what I should do now. I do not want to escalate things, and I do not want to hold a grudge, and I do not want to react the wrong way. I don’t want this to become a bigger deal. At the same time, if the misperception is not cleared up, it could come and cause me problems again. I keep praying and thinking and trying to figure out what to do. I don’t know yet, and I haven’t been able to talk to Julianne yet.

Instead we worked with Kaleb on his homework. We had to have a great big talk with Kaleb about how he needs to do his homework. He talked to us about how nutty some of the teachers are, and how they often act the wrong way and that he hates working with them and doesn’t think it is worth doing the work they assign him. I can remember very clearly having some teachers I thought were complete idiots and didn’t know what they were doing. We explained to Kaleb that he would spend his whole life having to every now and then work with people who are not fully competent and who are very difficult to work with, but that he just needs to learn to get along with them and do what needs to be done. It was like I was giving a lecture to myself about the situation I am in right now. It was good for me.

When we were done with that Phil and I led the students to the Western Wall. My family decided not to come. My family is not very engaged right now. They all hate their school, a lot. They aren’t feeling motivation to do anything with the students to get much out of the program. They are having a tough time right now. I wish they had felt like going to the wall, but it wasn’t a good idea to make them. Fortunately Julianne and I had a great time, and I think the students loved it and got a lot out of it. They were impressed with how much the Jews look forward to the Sabbath and love to welcome it in. It was a good experience.

After that I went up and we extended a lot of callings, and decided on some more callings. It is a tiring, but great experience. We are very close to finishing the whole thing. It is a blessing to be a part of.

I was able to watch a movie with the kids and Julianne. It was a nice evening. I was feeling pretty at peace with things and not too worried about the garbage I am going through with unjust accusations. Still I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and couldn’t sleep forever. So I finally took a sleeping pill and got about six hours of rest.

The next morning I had a nice time with Julianne and the kids. I then went up and extended some more callings. In the last week and a half we have issued 75 callings. It is a wonderful thing.

Church was very nice. I spent much of it instructing people about what they were doing in their callings. During priesthood I read a quote from President Hunter that talked about how sometimes we are unjustly accused and our motives are unfairly maligned, and that we need to handle it as Christ does. It seemed again like I was being spoken to. I feel without malice about it, but still am not sure what I should do.

Then we spent an hour or more setting people apart, which is a great, great experience. I love the direction the Lord has for people. I hope, truly hope that I am doing the Lord’s will. I feel so directed as I do blessings, though I am often amazed at how much the blessings are similar.

We played some games as a family and had a lot of nice family time together. It has been a very pleasant day. I hope I can talk to Julianne about things soon and that I can find direction from the Lord about how to resolve this soon. I also keep praying to know how to make things work out for my kids. In some ways things are wonderful, but also we are so blessed. They always find joy when they have fun with each other. Sometimes life is tough, but wonderful at the same time. It is only really tough when things are rough at home.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Here we go again!

What a week! On Sunday (remember that here we celebrate Sabbath on Saturday) we worked on getting the kids ready for school. I also spent a bit of time cleaning and organizing in the house. Kaleb and I spent many hours working on his big school project of making a lego stop motion picture. We took several hundred pictures. It was fun to work with him, though I was quite tired.

The next day we got the kids up and got them ready for school. After several weeks of going to bed later and sleeping in, it was really hard for them to get up on time and get going again. It was a hard morning, but still, off they went. Then Julianne and I worked on things we needed to. I spent a lot of time trying to coordinate things to make it so that the calendar worked better for the students. It took way too much time, but I got a lot done. When Kaleb got home from school we worked again on his movie. Then we went out with the service couples, etc., to celebrate Joyce and Susanne’s birthdays. It was a nice time. When I got back we met as a Branch Presidency to start issuing callings. There were a number of times I felt like we were really directed by the Lord. This is going to be a great bunch of callings and opportunities for service.

The next day the kids still struggled with going to school, but off they went. We met up with everyone else at the JC and went on a walk to get everyone ready for taking the students on the orientation walk. It was so delightful to have Andy Skinner with us. He taught me some things I had never known before. He is so fun, and he did a great job of helping me learn. Somewhere along the line something finally clicked for me, and I started getting the layout of streets in the Old City better. After a long time of trying, I think that suddenly I can find my way around pretty well in there. It is exciting. It was a wonderful walk.
When we were done most people went home, but Phil, Jennifer and Julianne and I stayed out to do some exploring. We walked around and enjoyed various things. 

A Coptic procession we saw as we walked around

We had Lina’s hummus and pita, which I think is so incredible. Then we went to the Ecole Biblique, which I have always wanted to go to. 

Phil and I at the Ecole Biblique

Inside the chapel at the Ecole Biblique

It was nice. As we walked along we found that the Muslim cemetery above the Protestant Golgotha was open. So we went up. That was another place I have always wanted to go. It is a huge cemetery. 

Looking down at the Garden Tomb complex from up on top of Golgothat

Jul and Jennifer in the Muslim cemetery that is on top of Calvary/Golgothat

It goes on and on. Up there somewhere are some 1st century tombs that are pretty good candidates for being the tomb of Christ, but they are all covered over now. Phil and I had a great time exploring and getting around to find views of Golgotha from up there. I also set a cinderblock on the wall so that I can see how long it stays there. We had a fine adventure.
Looking at Golgotha from up on part of the Muslim Cemeter
We got back just in time for hours of meetings that were important, but that conveyed information that could have been conveyed in about half the time. Ah well, that is the nature of meetings. When that was done we hurried down to help our kids. They wanted to tell everyone thank you for being so nice to them, so we made a big breakfast-dinner for all of them. I helped them cook it and bring it all up. Then we let them serve us as we ate. They did a great job, and it was a nice evening for everyone. I think everyone was touched.

After that I stayed up late helping Kaleb finish his movie. I think it turned out pretty well. At the dinner the kids made they gave us parfait, and it was so good but I forgot to take a lactose pill with it, so I got sick during the night. I really didn’t feel well. Additionally, BJ started texting me about losing his wallet. It had all the cash in it we had given him to help him get by. He also has no way of getting cash so he can’t go to the doctor or get a coat to replace the one he lost, or anything like that. And someone may have his debit card. It is a bit stressful, and I worked on it for a while. As a result of that and being sick, I only got about four hours sleep. Too bad.

That morning we went out on a field trip prep. We went to some of the same sites so that Andy could feel comfortable with them. We also went to a new site, Ramat Rachel. I have seen it a thousand times but have never been there. There are some great ruins there from a Judean palace. It was clearly a large building. It was quite fun.

The edge of the Judean royal palace at Ramat Rachel

Replica of a proto-Aeolic capital found as the palace was excavated

We got back with just an hour to get ready to go get the students. Off we went. They got in 50 minutes early, and only took about 25 minutes to go through customs, get their luggage, and get out to us. I have never seen it go so smoothly or quickly. We got them back to the JC quickly. By the end of the bus ride I could already tell this is a special group. We are going to have a great semester. But there are so many, I am struggling with getting to know their names. We did call aside four people that night and issue callings, and ask them to be ready to teach on Sabbath, just a few days later.

My meeting in class with the students went really well. It is going to be a great semester!

The next morning we got the kids off and got ready and took the students on the orientation walk. I led the way, and it was a lot of fun. I think this is the best I have ever done. I think I did a better job than ever of helping them understand just enough history of the place, of helping them get that feel of “oh wow, I can’t believe I am in the place where that happened!”, and of helping them find their way around. We used some maps, etc. I enjoyed being able to set the pace, and I had a wonderful time. I think the students did as well. We had dinner afterwards with them and I got a feel for how much they all loved the walk. It was a fine, fine morning, with perfect weather, and wonderful things accomplished.
The afternoon and evening were spent in going to meetings I didn’t need to go to but was required to go to. Mid-level bureaucrats love their meetings. It was boring, but I survived.

On their first full night here there was the most gorgeous of sunsets over Jerusalem

The sunset cast a beautiful pink on the Mount of Olives

That evening we all had dinner with the students, and then we went to a get-to-know-you game. I am really struggling with getting to know names, but it is coming along. The games were useful. I am enjoying myself.
BJ has still been struggling with not having his wallet. We started moving towards getting him all new stuff and just figuring out what to do with that money being gone. We prayed as a family that he would find it. Suddenly we got a call, and learned that BJ’s wallet had been found, with all the money in it. It was a happy day!

Friday I did my first day of class. It went so very, very well. I loved going over the Abrahamic Covenant with my students, and a day later I keep getting them coming up to me and telling me how much they enjoyed it. I felt like it went very well.

When the kids got home we worked on some things together. Then we watched a Star Wars movie together. I kept falling asleep. Then my mom called. They are really struggling. I am so sad about that. We had dinner, and I got ready, and went upstairs to meet with students. We extended a whole bunch of callings to them. Then we met together and decided on a whole bunch of new callings. I updated our list of callings, made a list for interviews, posted it, called a few more people, created a Family Home Evening group list, did a few other church things, and finally fell asleep at 11 pm. I woke up at 7, did more church business, got ready, then went upstairs and issued more callings until church started. I conducted today, and we sustained over 40 people in church. We have been busy. Then I went down and ran the primary since our primary president is sick and everyone else is new. But it went super well. Watching those teachers with those kids I could tell how inspired it was to have those people in those positions. They will bless the lives of those kids, and it is clear how much God knows what he is doing.

After that I ate a very quick lunch, and we took the students to the Garden Tomb. It went really well. It is a special place and it is so easy to feel the spirit there. We had a wonderful time. I am very grateful to have opportunities to do that. It was also fun to look up at Golgotha and see the cinder block that I put there five days ago. It is still there. I will have fun over the years seeing how long it can stay there.

Walking to the Garden Tomb

Listening and learning at the Garden Tomb

On a corner of the wall you can see the cinder block I put there to help me figure out where I was standing and as a way to remind me of my visit there
Finally I got to walk home, enjoying my visit with this special group as we went, and then I was able to visit with my family. I am blessed to have a wonderful family. I can’t believe all the wonderful things we get to do here. We are blessed!