Saturday, May 28, 2016

Missing Jul and BJ

This week has gone by so quickly. Sabbath was very nice. We spent a lot of nice time together as a family, and I especially helped Julianne get ready for her trip. Early, early Sunday morning (at 3:30 am) I took Julianne to the airport. I hated saying goodbye, but this is a good thing for her to do. I drove home and went back to sleep for a little while. For the rest of that day we all just lazed around. I never got out of my pajamas the whole day. I worked a lot on a document designed to help other teachers while they are in Egypt. I watched some movies with the kids, they worked on homework, and we had a nice day. I kept tracking Julianne’s flights throughout the day. I hope she is doing well. Kaleb made dinner. Julianne has had the kids get all ready to each cook a meal, and they will do it twice while she is gone, so that all the meals for two of the three weeks are taken care of. Nice.

The next morning I got the kids off to school, and I went on the field trip to Jericho. We went straight to tel Jericho. I took the group up on the tower so they could picture what the whole place looked like. I have never done that before, but it seemed to work pretty well. Then we went up on top and talked about how the Lord had Israel do something that must have made no sense to them, but still, with the Lord on their side, it overcame the obstacles that they could not figure out how to overcome on their own. I think we had a nice moment or two. Then we went around and saw various parts of the city. We ended where I showed them evidence of a wall that fell down, and in falling down, formed a kind of ramp that allowed them to run up into the city. We talked about how the Lord can take obstacles and make them aids for us.

Then we went across the street to Elisha’s spring and went through the story of how Elisha took salt to heal the spring, and how it is still running pure today. I spoke of how Christ can take even that which is bitter and would normally poison things and turn it into a healing agent that gives us life, and that more abundantly. Again I feel like we had a very nice moment.
My students touching the water that comes from Elisha's Spring

Then we went to Herod’s place. David taught there, and it went fine. From there we went to Wadi Qelt, where David taught about the road to Jericho and the parable of the Good Samaritan and the temptations of Christ. Overall it went fine.
I got home before the kids did, but had meetings about Egypt that made it so I didn’t see them until they had been home for a while.  They had a good day, Jacob made a nice dinner, and we enjoyed our evening together, even playing some card games.

BJ went through the temple today. I wish I had been there with him. I am trying to communicate with them as much as possible. He called later with some questions about the temple that showed he was really thinking. Julianne is working so hard to help him out. I hope all goes well for them.

The next morning they got off to school okay again. I did my class, and I felt like it went very well. Then I exercised, and got work done, went to more meetings, picked up Tashara from school, and worked just a bit before all the kids got home. Sabrina made a nice dinner, and soon I was off to meetings for church, while they all went to church activities as well. The days go by quickly.

The next day, after some very enjoyable classes, I worked for a bit and then Andy, Phil and I went to lunch and talked about what worked well in Egypt and what could be done differently and what teaching ideas worked best. This was in order to help me finish creating the document about teaching in Egypt that future teachers can use. It ended up being super fun to talk about gospel and teaching with these guys. It was very, very enjoyable. I loved it!

Again that night we had a nice night together. Alexia made a very nice meal and we all enjoyed each other. We keep talking with BJ and Julianne, who are working so hard and doing so much to get him all ready.

Thursday I woke up very early and made Jacob’s special birthday breakfast. We had a great morning together, and he talked with Julianne and my mom who wished him a happy birthday. Then they got off to school okay, I gave a test in class, and then we all went out together to get ready for next week’s field trip. We drove to the Elah valley, and were going to get off the road in a spot Julianne had told us about. We missed it, and the first place we found to turn around ended up being the trail head for the hike to Shocoh. So we hiked up there and looked all around and really enjoyed it. There are some very significant ruins there, it must have been quite the site. Someone needs to do some real excavations there. I also got to where I had a great outlook on where the story of David and Goliath happened. From that vantage point I came to understand it all the better.

Looking up at She'araim (probably site of Saul's camp) from Shocoh
Looking down at the Elah Valley from Shocoh

Then we found the place Julianne was talking about. We drove for a ways, and I learned more about how the Elah brook works its way along, which narrowed down the places where the David and Goliath story could have happened. Phil and I looked at the area where Saul’s camp likely was, and saw the only place from the valley that was a reasonable path to it, and hiked up. It was not a bad little hike, and I think it is quite likely the route David took as he came down to fight Goliath. It was really fun to explore that with Phil, and I feel like we really got it mapped out well. Then we explored the settlement/fort at the top of that place while the others drove around to meet us. We had lots of fun exploring, and then we hurried home, but we couldn’t hurry much because of traffic. 

Looking up at She'araim (the probably place of Saul's camp) from the Valley of Elah, at the point that one could most easily climb up or down
The Valley of Elah from She'araim at the point where you can climb down

Last night was a celebration here in Israel that has people out in the countryside building bonfires. Today there were wild fires all over the place, with planes dropping fire retardant and smoke all over the place. It was crazy to see, and made traffic a bit crazy as well.

my friend Phil Allred at one of the gates of She'araim
I got home about 45 minutes after the kids. Tina Whitchurch, bless her heart, brought by a beautiful cake, and we had cake and ice cream and sang to Jacob. We opened presents, and I feel like he was having a great birthday time. Then it was time for the Arab night dinner. We got dressed, and went up to the dinner. Matt Grey was there, and he and I ended up just visiting the whole time. I was so glad to see him again, and so, so enjoyed being with him. He is a good guy, and I am glad to rekindle our friendship.
Jacob and Tina Whitchurch with the cake she made for his birthday
Jacob blowing out the candles on his cake
When it was all over, I spent just a bit more time with Jaker and put him to bed.
The next morning everyone went to school just fine. I taught class, and felt like it went exceptionally well. This is a good group, and the Spirit led us into some great discussions. So much fun! Then I had a long break in which I got a lot of good work done. When the kids got home they played for a while. Then we went and picked up Tashara and Alexia from an activity at school, and we all went to Jacob’s pizza together to celebrate Jacob’s birthday, since we had an Oasis meal last night rather than his birthday dinner. We had a lot of fun together. When we got back most of the kids went and did various social things. Tashara and Alexia found fun stuff to do with the students.

I ended up talking with BJ for quite a while. He is having a bit of a struggle. Just a few days ago he and Julianne finally got the packet from his mission president. After reading it they figured out that the two suits BJ already bought and had tailored won’t work for him. In fact a lot of stuff he got won’t work for him. It sounds like there are more rules and restrictions than BJ was anticipating. Being a rather independent soul he is struggling with the idea of how he can feel happy and free while having so many rules. I remember well wondering that myself. We had a long talk, and I feel like it went pretty well. We all started praying for him. I am sure that sometimes this will be a struggle. BJ doesn’t do well with rules. But I believe that if he will truly give them a try, to be honestly obedient, that he will find himself feeling very free and very happy. I remember very well how much joy there is in knowing you are really doing what God wants you to do. I think BJ will find that joy as well.

I had a hard time going to sleep, thinking a lot about our conversation. I prayed for my boy. I know Julianne is exhausted, and I pray for both of them. They are doing the Lord’s work, and often that is so tiring. But they will find great happiness in it as well.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Egypt on Steroids

Whoa! What a week! We left very early Sunday morning. The flights went well, getting into Egypt went well, and everyone was excited. It was crazy hot, over 100 degrees. But we weathered it alright. The first thing we did was have a lunch on a boat on the Nile, which everyone loved. Then we went and toured Old Cairo, looking at the mosques and gates and buildings of medieval Cairo. Then we went to the bazaar and let everyone go shopping. I got something for Julianne for our anniversary that I was excited about. Everyone enjoyed it, but it wasn’t crazy exciting.

Students at a Sabil in Old Cairo
The next day was great though. We started out by going to Memphis, where we spoke of the ancient capital. We could see some excavations going on, and I have heard that a lot is going on in Memphis. In any case, they enjoyed the colossal statue of Ramesses, and the other remains. They were loving it, not knowing how much more was ahead of them. We did a drive by of the Apis Embalming Temple, and tried to talk to them about that. Then we went to Saqqara.

Learning about Ramses II
Statues at the open air museum of Memphis
At Saqqara we saw the step pyramid. They didn’t really have enough time there, but they enjoyed it. From there we went to the Serapeaum, where everyone was blown away with the size of the sarcophagi. They loved exploring that. We also went to Kagemni’s tomb, which went better than last time. They loved seeing the reliefs carved into the walls. In the meantime we talked to them about how the Egyptians loved their families and did so much to ensure eternal life with their families in the hereafter, and compared that to LDS beliefs. I feel like it went very well.

The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara
Some of the tombs we toured at Saqqara
Then we went into Teti’s pyramid, and saw pyramid texts. It was exciting, and I loved it! We sang “If You Could Hie to Kolob” while in there. I think it was a wonderful time.

Things were hot, well over 100 degrees, and the air conditioning on the bus wasn’t working, so I think it was between 105 and 110 on there. Yet everyone handled it fine. I had purchased a fan last night, as many had, and I had brought my little cool towel that helps with evaporation, and it kept me pretty cool.

The caption of the local newspaper we got as we boarded the plane for Egypt

When we were finished with all of that we went to lunch, and then on to the pyramids of Giza. I tried to teach them there about how precisely the pyramids were built, and about how the whole complex worked together, and to teach them about tripartite ascent to be with God. We were so rushed, we saw hardly anything. But I did insist that we go behind the pyramid and see the pyramid temple and the boat pit, so that they got at least a little bit of a feel for the pyramids. We ran over to Menkaure’s pyramid, and went inside it. Again, it was rushed, but they got to do it. In the future we have to figure out how to get them more time at the pyramid. It just isn’t enough.

The Great Pyramid at Giza
Students climbing to the entrance of the Great Pyramid at Giza
The basalt floor of the Pyramid Temple of the Great Pyramid at Giza

We did a quick trip to the panoramic overview of the pyramids, and then we ran down to the Sphinx temple and saw the sphinx. It was all so rushed, but we got it in before it closed. Then we went to a papyrus factory where they learned about how to make papyrus. Of course, after that they bought a bunch. Finally we got a good dinner, and I slept, exhausted.

one of my students patting the sphinx
One of my students kissing the sphinx
One of my students at the panoramic overlook
My class in front of the pyramids of Giza
The next day we went to the museum. I had to push our guide to get through, but he did a good job of showing them quite a bit of stuff. Then we were able to give them free time, with some guidance of things to see. Quite a few followed me and I looked at some of the things I wanted to look at, and just talked to them about it as we went along.

Students learning in the Cairo Museum
The famous statue of Kafre in the Cairo Museum
Inside the Cairo Museum
More of the students learning at the Cairo Museum
Then we had lunch, and off we went to spend some time at a Coptic church. Phil taught them about the importance of keeping doctrine pure, and I taught them about how Egypt served as a place of refuge so often in the Bible, and how God always prepares a place of refuge for us. I think we had some nice moments. We also went to the Ben Ezra synagogue, and I spent just a moment teaching them about how they treated the scriptures there with such great care, and how we can take our scriptures more seriously. 
The Hanging Church in Old Cairo
A Mosaic of the journey of the Holy Family
The class learning inside the Coptic Hanging Church
Finally we went to the citadel, and toured the large synagogues there and learned a little about Islam. I think we had some very nice moments.

The women of our class inside the Mohammed Ali Mosque
Our class outside the Mohammed Ali Mosque
The Mohammed Ali Mosque
Afterwards we ate dinner on a boat that was cruising up and down the Nile. They had a whirling dervish dancer there, which was a bit cool to see, but was also just a bit weird, and he was kind of a sketchy guy. But it was fun to see. From there we went to the airport and caught our flight to Luxor. We got in late, and I slept hard.

The weird guy doing the whirling dervish dance

The next morning we went to the Karnak Temple, traveling down the Nile on a boat to get there. Andy was really feeling ill, so he didn’t come. It is too bad, I was looking forward to seeing him there. 

Some of our students on the boat ride up the Nile
Some more of our students riding along on the Nile
The guide taught them about a number of things there, and I added in. I made sure they learned about going through gates and how it represents a change from one degree of holiness to another, and how they were ascending to the presence of God, and how they needed to be both worthy and know the right things to continue progressing. I also showed them examples of reliefs of the boats on which statues of gods were carried, and talked about how there were probably Hebrew artisans that made these that then made the Ark of the Covenant. I went and found the place where you can see Shishak’s inscriptions about his military campaign to the north, which is also recorded in the Bible. I showed them the circle that I believe is the name of Judah. It is so interesting to have such a touchstone with the Bible.
Our class at the Karnak Temple
We continued on to the hypostyle hall. There they learned about all sorts of things from the guide, and I think they appreciated it. It is such a mind-blowing big hall, it is amazing. I showed them some things that were similar to ideas we have in our temple. Then I spent about five to ten minutes talking about how amazing this stuff was, and how Moses must have seen Egypt when it was at the height of what the world could be, and that then he saw god, and realized that man was nothing. I tried to help them gain a sense of how magnificent and amazing God is, and how humbling that should be to us, and how, at the same time, we realize our potential when we glimpse his majesty, and we realize how capable he is of exalting us. I feel like it was a very powerful moment. Many have expressed to me how touched they were, and our guide was also very touched. The Holy Ghost transcends languages, cultures, and religions.

12 students holding hands to get around the column
Students in the Hypostyle Hall of the Karnak Temple learning
We continued on to see some obelisks, and also the holy of holies. There I taught showed them the scenes of washing, anointing, clothing and enthronement on the side of the holiest place, and of how the floor continued to go up as one ascended to god, but also how the ceiling came down, and how in that place heaven and earth met, at the altar in the holy of holies. I think they really enjoyed it. I showed them scenes of holy embraces, and talked about how much god wants us to be in communion with him, how much he wants us to return to be with him. I feel like it went very well.

Everyone was given a little bit of free time, and many of them just stuck with me as we went around and looked at things. I explored just a bit, and explained a lot, and even had some students show me some things I have never noticed before that are pretty cool. It was a great day.

The sacred lake of the Karnak Temple
Students in the Avenue of the Sphinxes 
When we finished the Karnak Temple we boated back to the hotel for lunch. Then some went on a camel ride while the rest of us rested. I swam at the pool to cool down, having some fun with the students for a while. Then I took a little nap, and worked. I read a manuscript I am reviewing for a publisher, and came across some things that would be helpful for us that night at the Luxor temple. Finally, we had dinner, and then went on a carriage ride to the Luxor Temple. On the way we had the carriage in front of us almost tip over into traffic, but we caught it. Then the rubber came off our wheel and we had to fix it. But finally we got there. The horses had me feeling pretty allergic and not well. That was okay, besides our guide, at this temple we let Andy do the teaching. He taught some great things about marriage and increase of posterity and eternity with god. We taught some other lessons while we were there, and I think it went well. It is so much better to do all of that at night. I am glad we did so.

Luxor Temple at night
Luxor Temple at night
We took them all to some shopping at the bazaar, and then we caught the carriage rides back to the hotel.

The next morning was our anniversary. I am not very excited that we weren’t together for it. But I had left some instructions with the kids. They each had some notes from me to give her, along with a hug. One had a letter to give her, and another a gift. They spread these things out throughout the day and I think she enjoyed it. I skyped with her in the morning for just a few minutes. She sent me some nice messages later in the day. All in all it was a nice time.

Sadly, the kids have been sick a bit while I have been gone. Everyone has  missed school but Kaleb. But I think they are getting better now.

We left very early for the Valley of the Kings. Our guide talked for way, way too long before we went in. It was not enjoyable for anyone. I tried to step in afterwards and make some sense of what he said and get them prepared to understand some of what they would see in there. We went to the tomb of Ramses IX, and they enjoyed it. Then we went to Yuya’s and Tuya’s tomb, and finally Thutmosis III’s (which has been closed for ten years but just opened). I have never seen these last two tombs before, and really, really enjoyed seeing them. I think the students did too, and that they got some meaning out of them.

We had some problems with the vendors as we tried to leave, and I had to physically move some and get money back from some on the behalf of some students. It was a bit ugly. But we got out of there and moved on.
We rushed through Hatshepsut’s temple, but I think they enjoyed it okay. Then we went to the Ramesseum, the temple of Ramses II. It is a cool place, though it is less abandoned and bucolic than before. They are developing it a little, which is nice in a way, and ruins the atmosphere in a way. Ah well. We stood by the huge (six story tall) fallen statue of Ramses, and Andy recited Ozymandias for them (a poem inspired by that place), and taught them about pride. It was great! Then we went in and saw some other things, and found the column that had Lebolo’s name carved into it, and talked just a bit about his tie to the Book of Abraham. Then we saw the Colossae of Memnon, and then back to the hotel. I took a group on the camel safari, and then rested a bit, and then we flew back to Cairo. We got in very late, got up at 5 am, and then flew home. It was great to get home. It was nice to be with my family again. I missed them. I was exhausted, and had a hard time staying awake later, but we at least had a lot of fun.

Girl Power picture at Queen Hatshepsut's Temple
The Ramesseum (temple of Ramses II)
A column at the Ramesseum
The colossal statue of Ramses II that may be the inspiration for Ozymandias
My class in front of the Colossae of Memnon
The famous Colossae of Memnon
The week went so quickly. We did so much. I feel like we were able to work in a lot of good teaching all along the way. On the whole the trip went well, was edifying, and was good for me and for everyone I think. It is so nice to be home also!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Negev and more

Last Sabbath was nice. We extended a lot of callings and set apart a lot of people. Then we took them to the Garden Tomb. Kaleb and Jacob came with me, and it was quite nice. We had a very nice experience, it was a great time. The weather has been so cool.

That evening we had my friends from BYU over for ice cream and popcorn. We visited for a long time and really enjoyed it. 

Sunday was Mother’s Day. We made a big breakfast for Julianne. I think she enjoyed it. Then we went to the zoo together. We had a really fun time at the zoo. Jacob was our guide, and he loved showing us around and teaching about animals. We had a great time together. Then we went out for shwarmas as a family. It really isn’t often that you can go out to eat on Mother’s Day, since it usually falls on a Sabbath for us. But here it doesn’t, so we took advantage of it and went out to eat. I think Julianne felt special and had a great day. We also were able to speak with our mothers. They seemed to enjoy the flowers and chocolate we sent them. On the whole it was a good day.

The next day was a field trip to the Negev. We first stopped at a weaving factory, which was okay. Then we went to Beer Sheva. David taught at that site, and did a nice job. I felt like he really taught well. 

David Whitchurch teaching the students outside the gates of Beer Sheva

David Whitchurch teaching inside the gates of Beer Sheva
Then I taught at Arad. I felt like it went well. I especially spent time in the temple there, teaching about temples in general. Then I taught them about how it seems that in that spot they had begun to worship more than one god at a time, and spent some time trying to get them to think about how they do that same thing. I think it went pretty well, I believe they really started to ask themselves some good questions. We continued that conversation throughout the week in class.

The students looking down at me as I walked around inside the Arad Temple teaching them about it
Throughout the week we kept working on getting things squared away with BJ. The doctors would just never get his appointment made. We weren’t allowed to make it ourselves, for some very odd reason our normal doctor had to set it up. We ended up having to hound them to get it taken care of, and on Friday it finally happened. It turns out that he has one very small hole, they don’t think it is problematic nor do they think it causes any of his migraine symptoms. They do not want to operate. We stayed up through the middle of the night a bunch of times, including until 3 am on Friday, to get to this point. I am glad he is healthy, that nothing will be interfering with his mission, and that he can move forward. He also bought his mission clothes this week, and got a lot of other good things done in preparation for his mission. It is coming up soon. Only 3 and a half weeks away.
I feel like class is going very well. I am happy about what they are learning and the degree that they are willing to engage the material in a thoughtful way. I am having a good time with these students. I am finally getting to know them.

During the week we took a small faculty field trip to the monastery of the cross. This is a really cool building that has a lot of medieval aspects to it still. While we were there a group of Georgian (the country, not the state) Orthodox priests came. They could sing like I couldn’t believe. I stayed for quite a while just to hear them sing. It was incredible.

The spot where grew the tree from which the cross was supposed to have been made 

From inside the Monastery of the Cross
I did a little workshop for the students to help them get ready for Egypt. I think it was useful for them. I felt like it went well. I spent quite a bit of time this week getting ready for our trip to Egypt. It is forecast to be well over 110 degrees for much of the time we are there. That may be a bit warm.

We set apart a lot of students during the week. That is always a great experience. I am amazed at how much the Lord loves these students and how much he knows them and knows their needs and their potential. I love doing that. I always have to be careful, I admit that there is a part of me that wants them to be impressed with the blessings I give. I know that is ridiculous, the blessings are not from me and I must avoid such self-centeredness and pride. Each time I have to make sure I am doing what I am doing for the right reason. I do love the feelings I feel as I get small glimpses into how God feels about these people. It is also exhausting.

I have been trying to focus on spending real and quality time with the kids. We had a few nights where we played some games. We made sure we visited together at meals. We tried to have some teaching moments. I gave the children blessings to help them get through the rest of the school year. I have worried that sometimes we are together in the same house but so into whatever each person is doing that we aren’t really together. I hope we made some strides towards rectifying this. It was a nice week together.