Sunday, March 27, 2016

More of the Most

Wow, just when I thought I couldn’t get any more squeezed into a week, we did! On Sunday we spent some time getting ready for Galilee, took kids around to do things with their friends, and then we all led the students to the Palm Sunday walk. No one had really told the students what it was about, how it worked, where or when to go, or much of anything. A couple of little things were said, but the night before they still had so many questions and didn’t know what was going on. So we just told them they could come with our family. And it ended up being great! We had a great experience. We talked about the Triumphal Entry, and about accepting Christ as our king. We sat outside the church of Bethpage, where it all starts, and saw the procession begin, and fell in behind not too far after the beginning. It was great to feel like we were such an integral part of the community of Christians. There is something powerful and wonderful about being with so many different denominations of Christians from all over the world (we were by a group from the Philippines and a group from Italy, but mixed with people from everywhere). To have such a group celebrate Christ and testify of Christ together is an important and powerful thing. We all loved it! And this time our kids were old enough to get it and to enjoy it.

On the Palm Sunday march

With other Christians on Palm Sunday

The family on Palm Sunday

The family on Palm Sunday
The next morning we left at 6 am for Galilee. On the drive I tried to teach them about some various things, and some even stayed awake for it.
The students were so tired on the bus
Our first stop was Bet She’an, where Saul and Johnathan’s bodies were hung for ridicule after they were slain. We talked about Saul, Johnathan, David, and the strategic importance of the place in general. We also talked about how the huge Roman ruins were the remains of Scythopolis, a Decapolis city. The Savior preached in the areas of Decapolis, and people from Decapolis followed him. We gave them a bit of free time, and then we moved on.
Beit She'an from above, looking from the Old Testament site down on the Roman period site
Alexia in the Roman Theater of Beit She'an
I tried to teach them about where we were traveling, and ancient trade routes, as we went. We went past so many places with such famous stories. We went past Ein Harod, where Gideon had his men drink from a spring before he thinned out his army and went to defeat the Midianites just across the valley. We went past Shunem, where Elisha raised a child from the Dead. We went past Mount Tabor, a possible site for the Mount of Transfiguration and the place where Deborah and Barak began their battle against the Canaanites. And the list goes on. I tried to help the students (and my kids, who were all with me) to get a feel for how much this place is the Land of the Bible. I love having my kids with me on these trips, they listen to me in a different way than they do when it is just our family.

We finally got to Nazareth. We went in and taught about the annunciation, and how much Mary was like her son in her willingness to do God’s will no matter what. Tashara helped translate the Latin on the church, and it was quite fun. We enjoyed our time inside, we prayed and sang and contemplated.

The Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth
Julianne and Sabrina in the upper part of the Basilica of the Annunciation
The women of our program in front of the statue of Mary
 Then we went outside and talked more about the Savior growing up. We went to St. Joseph’s and thought about Joseph. We went to the traditional site of the synagogue in which Jesus taught, and Andy Skinner taught about Jesus there. It was all wonderful. I am so grateful my kids get this good education and hear from all these great people.

Our students in the church built to commemorate the synagogue of Nazareth, being taught by Andrew Skinner
As we drove from there, on the bus I talked to the students about Motherhood. I talked to them about how that is the most important role in the world, but how that is not what the world teaches about it. We spent a lot of time talking about how to filter through the world’s ideas about motherhood and instead accept God’s ideas, and the problems that come when we try to believe both the world and God. I felt like the discussion went very well, and a lot of people were touched and a lot of people were thinking through things differently. I was very happy with it.
Afterwards we got to Mount Arbel, where we were able to look over the Sea of Galilee and help everyone get a feel for the geography and where we would all stay and how it all fit together. It is beautiful, and I think everyone enjoyed it. When we finished there we came to En Gev. It is good to be back. I have lived there for over two months of my life now. It is a great place, and I love it. There is such a sweet, peaceful feeling there. We got all moved in, had dinner, and got ready for the next day.

The northern part of the Sea of Galilee 

My students on Mount Arbel

Flowers on Mount Arbel
On Tuesday I taught three hours of classes. I felt like it went really well. We began by going outside where we looked at the place where the swine ran into the lake and the city that was probably part of that story. We ended by going out to the shore and talking about multiplying the loaves and fishes. We had a lot of time where we could answer questions and talk about things they really wanted to know and that helped them understand the scriptures better. It is fun to sometimes have enough time to cover something well. I think everyone enjoyed class today.
Afterwards we went to the beach. It was a bit chilly, but the kids had a lot of fun, and I had fun with them and visiting with Julianne. It is nice to every now and then just be able to relax, and we did it and it was wonderful.

On Wednesday we went on one of my favorite field trips. We started out by going to the Bay of Parables. Then we went to Capernaum. Andrew Skinner did a fabulous job teaching them about the Bread of Life Sermon. Then I taught them about how Capernaum was the place where Jesus spent so much time. We talked about the miracles that happened there and likened them to our lives. I wish I could capture the feeling that Capernaum gives, but I just can’t. It is such an amazing place. I can feel and see and sense the Savior everywhere there. It almost makes me feel like I was there with Him. I love it, and I think the students did too. I also made sure I got them a lot of time to think and ponder there.

Students pondering at Capernaum

Learning in the Synagogue at Capernaum
Then we went to the Mount of Beatitudes. There we heard from the Nun who runs the place, Sister Mary Rose. She does such a beautiful job there. Then Andy taught them. It all went very well.
Sister Mary Rose teaching our students at the Mount of Beatitudes
Andrew Skinner teaching the students at the Mount of Beatitudes
We hiked down to Tabgha, and Andy taught them a bit there. Then we went to St. Peter’s Primacy, where I taught them about how the Savior helped Peter see that he needed to leave his old life behind and do all he could to build up the kingdom. I think we had a very nice moment there. I hope we all committed to following Christ more fully.

Alexia in front of her favorite Mosaic of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha
My class on the hike from the Mount of Beatitudes to Tabgha

My kids at Saint Peter's Primacy
Then we drove to Magdala. That is such a great place. I love talking about the synagogue there, and the kinds of things the Savior did at synagogues. It is amazing to be at a place where I feel so certain that the Savior taught. Then we went to see all sorts of places in Magdala where I think that Peter and the Savior probably were. We also went inside the church there. They have done such a marvelous job with that church. I always feel the spirit while I am there. I loved that my family had such a great experience with us.

The students at the First Century Synagogue at Magdala
Stunning art in the church at Magdala

We had a brief time at Nof Ginosaur, where we saw an ancient boat. Then we got on a boat that took us across the lake. While there we read the account of Jesus stilling the storm and of Peter walking on water. I felt like there were some wonderful moments as we talked about each one.
Students on the boat on the Sea of Galilee
Earth's sun in the calm lake mirrored at Galilee
The ancient boat at Nof Ginosaur
On the whole it was a great, wonderful field trip. Yet it was not as good as the last few times I have done it. Andy Skinner was wonderful to work with, and taught some great things. Yet when I do the field trip on my own, as I have a few times lately, it is just better. It is impossible for two people to do a field trip as well as one can do it. You just can’t control the timing, tempo, themes, etc., as well. This field trip was great. I wish the situation were such that I could make it better.
The next day was class again. I felt like it went really well. The students love to talk about this stuff, and I could not ask for it to go better.  When it was over Tashara and I drove out to Caesarea and I did my last scuba dive in order to certify. It was really fun to do it with Tashara. We saw some fish, some ruined hulls of ships that I suspect were from the time of Napoleon’s invasion, and some huge blocks that were part of how Herod built his harbor. It was great, easy, and now I am scuba certified. I loved it. I can’t believe I was able to do this. I can’t believe my wife pulled this off for me. I am so grateful!

Tashara scuba diving at Caesarea

Me scuba diving at Caesarea

Coral at Caesarea
A little bit of traffic problems caused me to get back just a little late. Julianne took my class to the fish restaurant and Tashara and I joined them just a bit late. Then I took them to Tiberias to see the city at night. Tashara came with me. It was just a bit boring, but we did it.

Half the class eating at the Fish Restaurant

Tashara and the gang at Tiberias

The next morning we did another field trip. We were tired, because the time changed last night, so our 7:30 field trip felt like it was 6:30. We went to Gamla, where David Whitchurch taught them about the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Gamla. We gave them some free time, and then I taught them about Jesus in the synagogue there. It went well. 

Students pondering at the synagogue at Gamla
From there we went to Bethsaida, or a place many think is Bethsaida. I taught for a while there, and then Whitchurch did. 

Students at Bethsaida
We had just a few minutes to spend at Kursi, where we went over the story of the devils being cast into swine.

When we finished that we had a quick lunch, and then my family and I went to Hamat Gader. It is a pretty cool place. We saw their whole bunch of pools that have a whole bunch of different kinds of alligators and crocodiles. Some were really cool, some were kind of freaky, and we had a great time. Then we saw a really cool parrot show. Who knew parrots were so smart or could do so many things? Then we went to a petting zoo, which was way fun. We saw baboons, and other kinds of creatures. We saw all sorts of fun stuff, and went swimming in a mineral hot springs. We got back just in time for dinner. On the whole we just had wonderful time.

Jacob, Sabrina, Alexia and Kaleb at the petting zoo
The next day we slept in just a bit. Then we had a nice breakfast, and a cool Easter egg hunt that Julianne set up for the kids. She had found some really great stuff for them, and they had a great time. Then we went to the Mount of Beatitudes and talked about the characteristics of Christ just a bit. We went to Capernaum and talked about how Christ lived in a way to teach us about the Father, and then died and lived again so that we could be with the Father. It was a nice time.

We had lunch and then we all went to Church. Church was nice. We got home and visited and had dinner and visited and on the whole had a very nice day together.

It has been a great week to think about how much the Savior has done for us. We tried to spend a little time each day talking about what Christ has done for us. We have gone to so many places where we could talk and think about Christ. It has been so wonderful to come to better understand the most wonderful thing that ever happened.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Christmas in March

On Sunday we slept in a little, played some games, etc. and then met a few others to go to Tel Gezer for a seminary field trip. Gezer is in the Aijalon Valley, and is the only one of the guardian cities of the Shphehlah valleys we don’t go to on a field trip. 

Tel Gezer

Flowers at Tel Gezer, a beautiful time of year
A butterfly at Tel Gezer
So I was glad to take my family, the Fellows, and Phil Allred there. We had a good time seeing the substantial Canaanite remains, including some large stones set up like a mini Stonehenge without the cross beams. We also saw the huge Canaanite gates, and the substantial remains of an Israelite gate. This is the best preserved gate system of the three cities that the Bible says Solomon fortified. All three of those cities, Hazor, Megiddo and Gezer, have these large six-chambered gates. It was fun to crawl around in them and get a feel for the city and the valley. It is such a beautiful time of year to go and enjoy that.

Large stones set up at Tel Gezer

The six chambered gate at Gezer, probably built by Solomon

Our seminary students at Gezer
The next day was class. It is strange to think that this is only my second day of meeting with this class, since we have already spent all of Egypt together. I really enjoyed class, it felt like we were connecting with each other and with the scriptures and I think it went very well.

Later that day we had a very long meeting about how Egypt went. Then another meeting about planning for Galilee. By the time that was over it was almost time for dinner. Since it was Pi day we went to the Fellows and brought two pies. They have a fun tradition of having people come over with pies and have a tasting contest. It was good, though having to try a slice of each pie actually made me a little sick. I enjoyed visiting with people there, it is always fun.

On both counters are some of the pies for the Pi day contest
Tuesday was a crazy, busy day. Class was very enjoyable, I feel like it went very, very well. Then we had announcements, orientation for Galilee, a meeting about the various field trips coming up and the trips we want to go on as a faculty. Then I had just a few extra minutes which I used to help put together a slide show for Andy to use when he teaches the students about Galilee. The students here have put together some basketball teams and mine practiced for just a while. When that was over I went to greet our guest. Earlier this month I met Amihai Mazar, one of the best archaeologists here whom I have always respected. When I met him I asked him if he would be interested in coming to teach us about his work. He graciously accepted, and so tonight he came. I went out to greet him, we got the room all set up, and then he gave us the most fascinating reports. What I hadn’t heard much about was his work at Tel Rehov, which was really fascinating. But the whole thing was incredible, he has done such great work. I really enjoyed it.
After his lecture we went and had dinner. When that was over I took him around the Center a little for a tour. He had been here years before, when the Center was just being built and when it was newly going. He was friends with Kelly Ogden and came a few times with him. We showed him around and Kathy Holyoak gave a little presentation of the organ which was nice. I eventually left, leaving David to show him out, and I went to our Branch Presidency meeting. I serve with such good people, I enjoy working with them. It is a pleasure and a privilege to serve the Lord and these good people here in the Branch.

Besides class, I spent most of Wednesday getting ready for Galilee. I made handouts for the sites, printed all my notes, updating some of them, I copied songs for them that we will want to sing that they may not know, copied my test, etc. etc. It took up most of the day. When the kids got home, which was a bit late because of Kaleb’s guitar practice, we had them get ready for the field trip the next day and so on. They are done with school for about two weeks now, it is Easter break.
Thursday was a great day. We had a field trip, but we didn’t leave very early. It made for a nice morning, until everyone go too lax and we still had to work really hard to get ready on time. Then we left for the Herodian. The Skinners were with us, and it is so much fun to be with them and to have my family along. This was my first field trip with this class that wasn’t Egypt. I think we got off to a fun start and had a great time. We went to Upper Herodion, the big fortress that Herod built for his protection in case he had to leave Jerusalem during a revolt. Andy did a great job teaching there, and I chipped in a little. I think it went very well, though we took up too much time up there and again didn’t have really any time down below. Too bad, the Lower Herodian, where Herod’s largest and sumptuous palace was, is pretty cool to see. They got about two minutes there, and in the end I think that was pretty fun. I feel like we taught them good stuff and that we had a good time. This will really help the class come together.

Students learning from Andrew Skinner at Herodion

Some of my kids and students in the dining hall turned synagogue at Herodion

The Herodion (Herodium in Latin)
After the Herodion we went to Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity. We have to use a guide there, and we had the same guide as last time. He was very nice, and did a nice job. There was little line, so we moved through in very little time. The sad thing is how hard it is to really think about the birth of the Savior there. We really are more of tourists there, it is hard to have real devotion there, because you get rushed through everything. I understand it, the lines are long and they can’t let people take a long time, but it makes it hard for me to think about the birth of Christ as much as I would like. Still, it is nice to commemorate it and I can think about it just a bit while there.

Our guide at the Church of the Nativity

Julianne and Tashara at the traditional spot of the manger at the Church of the Nativity
my kids lighting candles at the Church of the Nativity
When we finished there we went to the Milk Grotto. There Julianne and Janet Skinner spoke of motherhood. I thought they both had profound things to say, and I really enjoyed learning from them. I think the students were able to learn a lot and feel the power of the motherhood that they spoke of. This is such an important topic, and it was wonderful to hear such great mothers speak of it with so much power in front of so many young women. It was a wonderful moment.
Then we gave everyone time for shopping. They all like to buy baby blankets, and are often able to do so from a member of the Bethlehem Branch who truly needs the money, so I am glad we buy so much from him. I spent quite a bit of my time helping a student track down a phone she had lost. I was glad we found it.
From there we went to eat at the Tent restaurant. It is set up to be kind of a Bedouin experience. The food is great and the atmosphere is wonderful. Every single time we eat with the students the other teachers and service couples all sit together and eat together. This bothers me a bit. We are there to teach the students, and often the most effective teaching happens as you sit together to eat and can chat informally. Additionally, sitting all together sends a subtle message that we really don’t like eating with them. I have often had students come and thank me for being willing to sit and eat with them and thus for being accessible to them. It means a lot to them that we want to be with them, and the opposite message is sent when we don’t. At the same time, it has definitely been noticed by the other faculty that I never sit with them. But today it worked out that we just needed to. And I did really enjoy visiting with them, but I still felt quite badly about not sitting with the students. It was an opportunity lost.

singing in Jerome's Grotto under the Church of the Nativity

singing at St. Catherine's chapel at the Church of the Nativity
Sabrina and Winston in the Tent restaurant

When we were done there we went to Shepherd’s Field. This is not where most people go and call shepherd’s field, that is in Bethlehem and is a spot that the Orthodox Church has chosen as the very place the shepherds were. It is a series of caves, and could be it, but I doubt it. We go to some real fields looking across a valley to Bethlehem, a place that shepherds still use today. It is beautiful and peaceful and I love it. We started out at a sheepfold I found years ago. We had some nice moments there about the good shepherd. Then we had some musical numbers, and broke up into our classes. Andy bore a wonderful testimony to them about the birth of the Savior. We had some more musical numbers that the students had planned. It was then time for me to teach them a little, after which we wanted to have time to sing Christmas songs, bear testimony, and allow time for pondering and journal writing. We were behind schedule. I asked myself what I wanted to teach them, and felt like they had already gotten all of it except one thing. While I think that one thing, contrasting the life of Herod and Christ, would have been nice, every other reason I had to speak to them had to do with myself, not them. So I skipped my part, and they bore some nice testimonies, and then had some nice time to think and write. Then we drove home, singing Christmas hymns the whole way. We started with the first Christmas hymn in the book and got through all but one. It was a great feeling, and I think we all enjoyed it.
I have to say that my kids behaved spectacularly well the whole time. We had one instance where one made another feel badly and we had to work our way through that, but mostly they were angels. I also think they got a lot out of it. I hope these memories always stick with them. I feel like they are drawing closer to Christ and understanding the Bible more and more. I was so proud when Kaleb recognized an ancient olive press and Jacob recognized an olive crushing millstone reused in part of a wall elsewhere. It was a wonderful day to spend together.

The sheep cote

More of the sheep cote

our students

more of our students learning at shepherd's field

The next morning I gave a midterm. It went okay. Afterwards I spent time grading it and then we went to an orientation where Andy Skinner taught about the Galilee. He did a great job, and I loved what he did. Afterwards I did a bit more getting ready for Galilee, then we worked together on making humanitarian aid kits for Palestinians in great need. When that was over I watched Alexia play a soccer game with the students, then Kaleb play a basketball game. Then we had dinner, and I played a basketball game. After this we went to a little get together at the Skinners. We had a lot of fun there visiting with each other. It was truly enjoyable. We stopped for a while so that we could watch Tashara play a volleyball game. On the whole it was a busy, and fantastic evening.

The next day church was great. We had an excellent set of meetings. Afterwards we did some home teaching, and then I spent time with the kids. We are trying to concentrate on what we can do to make the Sabbath more holy. I asked the kids to tell me about each of the activities they were doing and how it tied in to the Sabbath. I feel like this helped a bit.

We spent the evening talking about gospel stuff and the world. We made and had dinner together and visited and played games. It is so wonderful to have a day set aside to spend with your family. I thank the Lord every day for the wonderful family I have. I know I am not a good enough parent to meet all their needs, so I pray like mad every single day to be magnified by the Lord in such a way that my children’s needs are met despite my own shortcomings and abilities to know how to best help them. I am grateful to be able to count on the Lord and to have him as a partner in all of this. We are blessed beyond measure.