Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Galilee: The Rest

Well, I am back to the JC and once again behind on my blog. I will be brief, seeing as I have much to do and not much time to do it in.

Day 10 was our trip to Akko and environs in West Galilee. We visited Chorazin and Sepphoris first. In Chorazin we talked about the Savior's teachings about the Pharisees--beams and motes, loving the uppermost rooms and best seats, all that sort of thing. There was a stone "Moses seat" in the synagogue. It was a replica (the real one is at the Israel Museum and I got to see it earlier this month) so we got to take turns sitting in it for a photo shoot. The highlight at Sepphoris was a lot of amazing tile mosaics, including one of a beautiful woman known as "the Mona Lisa of the Galilee." We hiked around there a fair bit, seeing the best of the buildings and mosaics, then had a full group picnic lunch (and I got white chocolate strawberry ice cream from the gift shop--I indulge sometimes). We also took a quick stop by a cistern, where we got out, saw the sights, and got back on in admirable paratrooper style.

Our last stop was the city of Akko--once an Israelite city, then a crusader capitol. We started out by watching a very... interesting... video of an animated bean pole sized knight and rather plump horse going around the crusader ruins and gift shops and tourist attractions and earning medals for it. Also, they called the city "Acre"--as in a piece of land--instead of Akko or even the French name Jean d'Acre (Ak-reh), and I must say this discrepency drove me a little crazy at the time. We then walked through the old crusader passages ourselves (sans crusader era cartoons), which was much better than watching the characters do it. We had free time to wander around the sea side before heading back. I bought some fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, took some great pictures, and climbed around on the rocks and the ancient walls by the Mediterranean sea. Paul busied himself on the rocks taking glamour pictures on the rocks of a few of the girls who wanted them. "You have to choose your own rock. You have to own the rock." We hurried back to Galilee for our last night at Ein Gev, making it back with an hour to spare. Jackson and Bradley, my apartment's home teachers, gave us our lesson there by the sea. Bradley started out by asking us a question about Christmas traditions, which each of us then talked about--but that meant the topic of conversation was more interesting to passers by, it would seem, because we got two add-ons to our group who listened in on our lesson before finally scooting off when they realized we were being home taught.

That night we had our final bonfire, where we all talked and ate smores and and sang songs with Paul's guitar and just had a fantastic time. I sat and talked to Katie while Ashley Wright gave me a shoulder massage, laughed with Mary (including teasing her a little for accidentally missing the home teaching), sat on the sand and listened to Paul's playing, chatted around some, and talked with Aliseea down by the water about more personal and spiritual things. I love the people I am with on this program. I am going to miss them so much.

Day 11 started out with our trip to Mt. Carmel, where we had a devotional near a church commemorating Elijah's contest with the priests of Baal. We sat among the trees and stones in the cool morning air and read the story to ourselves, then had a discussion about it with Brother Schade. We talked about Elijah's faith and courage, standing up for the one true God of Israel, entirely alone against over four hundred priests of Baal. That story is one of my favorites in the Old Testament. We heard a bit of screaming and cheering from somewhere a ways off, which I for one shrugged off as being the other class doing their reenactment of the contest (because Brother Judd has a thing for skits). We then went into the little church and joined to other class in singing a few hymns. It was just after the singing that Katie informed me that the screaming was because Mary and Michael Stallings had kissed in front of the entire class. The last thing I had heard from Mary about the two of them was that she had let him know she wasn't as interested as he was. Therefore, my reaction was something along the lines of: "WHAT?!? Excuse me--WHAT?! Tell me--oh, never mind, I'll make you explain later." Which I did--and I'll get there later. We also enjoyed the beautiful view of the surrounding valleys from a platform atop the church. I can see why prophets from years past have come to mountain tops to be close to God.

Our next stop was Haifa. We paused for a few minutes to overlook the headquarters and temple of Baha'i, an offshoot religion of Islam that I had never heard of until about half an hour before we got there. The grounds we were looking at were gorgeous and the temple was lovely--no Salt Lake Temple, of course, but sort of Dome of the Rock reminiscent.

After that we had a really special stop--the old Templer cemetery in Haifa. Templer refers not to the Knight's Templar, but to a group of German Christians who came to the Holy Land to wait it out until a new temple could be built and the second coming could come about. There we saw not only the graves of the German immigrants, but also the tombstones of several latter day saint converts and two Mormon missionaries, Adolf Hagg and John Clarke. Adolf Hagg was called away from his wife and family in his late twenties to serve German speaking in southern Europe (Instanbul, etc.), then eventually was tranfered to Haifa. Before he arrived there, he saw a vision of a certain street and a man coming out to meet him. As soon as he got to Haifa, he walked thtrough the city, searching. At nightfall, he found the street--and there, out of one of the houses, came a German man rushing out to meet him. The man was a templer immigrant named Georg (last name escapes me--I'll look it up), a blacksmith, and he too had seen a vision in which Elder Hagg came to him and shared with him a message about God. He and his family became the first converts in the holy land since the days of Peter and Paul (and Georg became the first branch president). Elder Hagg succummed to illness while in Haifa and was burried at the cemetery there, not far from the family he baptized. The other missionary was Elder John Clarke, who left all his future plans and college education to answer a call to serve German speaking in Haifa. He was out only a year before also succumbing to illness. He and Elder Hagg are buried near one another, and both graves are marked with a broken collumn, representing a life cut short. We visited each tomb one by one and Brother Judd told us their stories. At his request, we stood near the missionaries' markers and sang "I'll go where you want me to go." I shamelessly admit that I cried--and I wasn't the only one. It was so moving to sing that hymn in honor of two missionaries who had answered Heavenly Father's every call and made every sacrifice--even into the next life. They are heroes to me--shining examples of following the Lord in all things, even to the last.

Our last site of the day and of our Galilee adventure was Caesarea Maritima--the same Caesarea where Paul the apostle was imprisoned and declared the gospel for Felix and Festus and King Agrippa. We watched a significantly better movie than Akko's, which gave a great scope for how the place has changed over the years, especially with the buildling of Herod's great retaining wall out at sea, which essentially created a man-made harbor. The idea was to provide a port for ships so that Caesarea's trade and commerce value would go up (it worked). We toured among the ruins, making a concentrated effort to stay ahead of the Judd class. We talked about Paul's message to King Agrippa and the things that had happened here in this city. We saw our last ancient theatre, a huge hippodrome (including a metal frame style model chariot, in which a couple girls did a picture in a Hunger Games pose), and a smattering of crusader ruins, which I explored with Hannah. We didn't stay long--an hour or so, perhaps--and there wasn't an awful lot to see. What there was, however, was amazing to me, if only because I love the stories of Paul--his testimony, his mission, his love for others, and his unfailing service to God--and it was a special experience to be in the place where some of it happened, as with Ephesus and Assos. It was good today to see the examples of so many missionaries--Adolf Hagg, John Clarke, and the apostle Paul.

After a quick wade in the Mediterranean (as well as seashell collecting and a picture of the nearby Roman aqueduct) we piled into the busses and headed home to Jerusalem. We got home to find a feast waiting for us in the Oasis. Our chef Ahmed and the rest of the JC kitchen crew (bless all their hearts) had made us a Thanksgiving dinner spread. It was rather different from the dinner my Grandma makes, but it was all delicious and all very much appreciated. Turkey is hard to come by in the middle east, so that in itself was a very rare treat indeed. Ahmed had also made potatoes, stuffing, rolls, pitas, hummus, yams, vegetables, and even a whole chilled salmon. There was also a whole variety of desserts--and knowing that it was our favorite, he had included pently of ice cream. It was a true feast for which we were all grateful. The whole group gave Ahmed and company standing ovation after dessert.

Galilee was an incredible experience. I learned so much and came closer to my Savior--though very much in His way and time. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to live where the Savior lived for a little while. It made me see why He loved it so much and how it inspired some of His teachings. Galilee is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and it will always be a treasure to me.

That said, I will say that we were all glad to be home. I was happy to get back to my own beds and my usual roommates that night. Annie and I cornered Mary after dinner and interrogated her about the kiss. We saw the recording (before I tell this story, you should know first that Mary sang a song for the informal talent show called "Let's Give Them Something to Talk About" with words about the JC. That is all). The reenactment involved a parody of the battle of wits from "The Princess Bride," with Jay as Vizzini/the priests of Baal, Michael as Wesley/Elijah, and Mary as Buttercup/the children of Israel ("I have to discern from what I know of Baal--is he the kind of god who would light his own bullock or his enemy's?" and also "Ha ha! You only think I lost! I lit my bullock on fire when your back was turned!"). The skit in itself was hillarious--but the best part was the end, when Michael removed Mary's blindfold and asked, "Well, Mary, what should we do now?" to which she responded, "Let's give them something to talk about, Michael," whereupon he kissed her full on the mouth. Whoever was holding the camera panned the crowd's reactions and it was a scream. Aparently they had gotten together and kissed for the first time in Galilee, and figured rather than keeping things secret or gradually integrating hand holding into their daily activities, they could show everybody their relationship status with a bang. No kidding--was it ever!

Thus ended the Galilee trip--with romantic fireworks and Thanksgiving dinner. What an adventure!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Galilee Day 9: Tels, Fortresses, and Testimony

As long as we’re doing field trip days, I’m just going to tell you the basics from site to site. It’s easier for me and more organized for you, so let’s do it.

Hazor was amazing. I did my site report on it, so I was terribly excited to see it, and it fulfilled my hopes. I was given the opportunity to tell everybody about the site when we first got there. The city is massive. The upper city, on which the citadel sits, encompasses about thirty acres, while the lower city sprawling out into the valley encompasses some 180 acres. Obviously very little of that is excavated, but it’s still amazing to think about. We walked among the ruins, looking at the water system and the watch tower and the six chambered Solomonic gate. I got to see a destruction layer in the citadel that may have been the layer left by the Israelites in their conquest of the north. Hazor then was one of the greatest cities the whole region, known in the Bible as “the head of all those kingdoms.” It was immense, heavily populated (some 25-30,000 people), well fortified, and very wealthy. Not much remains of it now, but what there is remains as a testament to its former glory. It just goes to show, I suppose, that the Lord’s will cannot be stopped by any one wall or city or kingdom, no matter how great.

Next Stop: Tel Dan. Dan was another great city, though primarily in its Israelite days. It held a very important position, being one of the strongest cities on the northern border, such that the kingdom of the people of Israel was said to stretch “from Dan to Beer Sheba.” Dan today is more of a wildlife park. Hiking the trails through the trees to get to the top of the tel was almost like hiking in Olympic National Park in Washington. The trails were cool and lush and shady, cris-crossing over a little stream from time to time. At the top we saw a steel outline of a massive altar, meant to give the viewer an idea of how big Jeroboam’s idolatrous altar might have been. It was huge, at least eight feet high—definitely meant for attention and intimidation. We talked about Jeroboam’s sin and Israel’s constant slide into idolatry from then on. Jesus Christ is constantly calling them back to Him all through the Old Testament. He never stopped giving them chances until there was nothing but punishment and consequence left. The way the Bible paints it makes it sound vengeful or angry sometimes, but that’s not how it is at all. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love their children and who them great mercy in giving them every opportunity to return and try again.

Thanks for letting me wax eloquent, there. Back to Tel Dan. We explored some more ruins (some restored and some not). The best part was seeing a gate that dates back to the days of Abraham. The scriptures say that Abraham came to Dan (which was then called Laish) to rescue his nephew Lot. If Abraham actually entered the city, that gate was the one he entered through. That was a very cool thing to see. It’s probably the most ancient piece of history I have come into contact with.

After we finally got down from the Tel, we had a lunch break with the other class. It was good to have time to sit in the shade and breathe some air and enjoy one another’s company. I talked with Brother and Sister Squires for a bit (the music couple from the center). They are one of the funnest couples I think I’ve ever met. Fifty-six years of marriage lets you get to know your companion very well indeed—and I think the Squires have fun with it.

Our next stop was Caesarea Phillipi (aka Banias), where Jesus promised Peter the keys of the kingdom. We weren't there very long, but the place was beautiful and I really enjoyed it. We saw a few remains of buildings and pagan temples in the area, as well as a beautiful little river that flowed down down through the site to the entrance. We sat in a little river by the river and talked about what had happened here in Caesarea--where, against a backdrop of pagan idol worship, Peter proclaimed to Jesus "Thou art the Christ, the son of the living God." Peter would eventually give his life standing up for that knowledge. He is a powerful example of testimony and of giving your all for the Lord, down to the very last. We sang a couple hymns there and enjoyed the warm day and the beautiful little river gleaming in the sun.

After Caesarea, we drove up many hills to get to the ruins of Nimrod’s Castle, a crusader-turned-Muslim fortress high on a hill. It was awesome. I got to explore secret passages and underground rooms and climb a watchtower to overlook the hill. It was cruel and unusual that we were only given twenty-five minutes there—we could have spent all day. I think my favorite moments were hiking with others who were pretending to be knights. Neil even had Mary make a video of him sprinting down from the tower, halting in front of the camera, and gasping “Dragons! In the East Tower! Couldn’t save them… we lost the entire Schade division…” and then collapsing on the ground. Neil is the best. He makes me laugh all the time.

Our last site was Har Bental, a mountain overlooking the border between Israel and Syria. Obviously we did not enter Syria, but I can now say that I have seen it. We looked at the road to Damascus and talked about Paul's miraculous conversion story. We got to walk at our leisure through the trenches at the top, which have been preserved in memorial of the Six Days War. We also were able to go down through a tunnel and into an underground bunker. I was down there by myself, and the stillness was eerie. It was hard to imagine the place filled with the sound of gunfire or echoing with distant explosions. It was very cold up there on the mountain, and my hands were officially numb for the first time since March, but the view was spectacular and Brother Judd's devotional was wonderful.

That night at Ein Gev, we enjoyed a delicious dinner highlighted by the dessert--chocolate and vanilla ice cream hearts (so yummy). That evening we had two bonfires (even and odd numbers according to your number on the bus count, just to mix things with the two classes) where we had testimony meetings. I have been able to bear my testimony a couple times while here in Israel, so I didn't bear mine on that occasion. It was good to listen to everyone else's, though. The spirit was present and I felt my own testimony confirmed by the experiences and examples of others.

I've been making a goal to read through one of the chapters in the Book of Mormon about Jesus Christ (as recommended by Preach My Gospel) every day. That evening I did some of the end of third Nephi. I love Nephi's testimony of Jesus Christ. He teaches the doctrine of Christ so clearly--in plainness, as he says--and he shows such love for those he is teaching. I love the Book of Mormon--I have come to know the Savior and my Heavenly Father from reading from its pages.

That's all for now--more soon!

Galilee Day 8: Mount Tabor, Meggido, and a Brief Dip

Monday was another field trip day—to Mt. Tabor (traditional site of the Transfiguration), Nain, Megiddo (or what’s left of it), and a good swimming spot.

Mt. Tabor: A beautiful spot, especially in the clear morning air. We talked a little about the Transfiguration, as well as the battle that took place with Barak and the prophetess Deborah somewhere around this area. The story of Barak is one I didn’t know very well, but one that I have come to love. Barak showed great faith in going out to battle against the Canaanites, knowing full well that he was outmatched and outnumbered from the start. Because of his faith, however, the Lord was able to work through him to accomplish His purposes and win the day.

We had a special treat at the Church of the Transfiguration. One of the monks there, Father Anton, gave us a tour of some of the generally unseen areas of the church and grounds. He did this for us because he met one of our students a few years back who served her mission in Poland, where he is from, and she made a good impression on him. I think he was particularly inclined to our group because Brother Schade also served in Poland, so they two were able to converse in Polish and Brother Schade was able to translate for us. Father Anton also says he likes to hear us sing. We sang “The Spirit of God” for him, and then he took us through some normally locked gates to see the area around back and underneath the church, where there were Byzantine and crusader era ruins to see. The area underneath was especially cool. It was cave-like and dim, and there were a few ancient tombs there, carved directly into the stone. At the far end there was a grate leading up to the church above, under which was a great pile of folded pieces of paper containing prayers and blessings scribbled down and pushed through the gaps. Father Anton gave us permission to look at them if we liked, and I did read one myself (the first one I found in English). It felt like touching something sacred, seeing all those prayers hidden away in the ancient caverns below.

We emerged from the depths and went back up into the church to observe the architecture and mosaics. Father Anton also took us to see a small building outside the church that housed relics from the Crusader and Muslim eras, including some clay grenades used by the crusaders (recipe: round clay container, carve with symbols of your cause, fill with gunpowder, insert wick, light ‘er up, and throw in a hurry). There was also an extensive collection of Muslim coinage, some from the days of famous rulers whose names I recognized—Chaliph Abu Bakr, Salah ad-din, and others. It was very neat and we felt extremely privileged to be able to see it. Thank you, Father Anton.

Nain: Here we stayed only briefly. There is a small church there dedicated to the miracle of a widow’s son being raised from the dead by the Savior. The trouble is that the church is in the middle of major renovations—which translated means that the groups who come five years from now may be able to enjoy it, but for us it was rather a lot of plaster. Still, we were allowed to see it, so we counted our blessings—the other group hadn’t got there at all the day before.

Meggido: This is the tel and ruins that remain of a once-great Canaanite city. Meggido was a major city for much of the Old Testament. When it was conquered by the Egyptians, the Pharoh wrote that “The taking of Meggido is as the taking of a thousand cities.” What we saw was the ruins of many buildings, including a large altar and a set of stables. My favorite part of the site, though, was the amazing view. Tel Meggido overlooks the lush green Jezreel valley, and I can honestly say it was one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. There were plains and rolling hills stretching out for miles, all bedecked in more shades of green than I could have imagined. My friend Lindsay from my singles ward told me the Jezreel Valley was one of her favorite places when she visited Israel a couple years back, so I was looking forward to it. It didn’t disappoint.

There also we talked about Jezebel and Ahab and Jehu and prophecies and dogs eating people and all of that (since we wouldn’t be going to Tel Jezreel where it actually happened). When it was time to leave we came down from the tel via the water system tunnels, which was very cool. I have really enjoyed exploring ancient tunnels and secret passageways.

The Swimming Hole: OK, it’s actually called ------, but I think my way sounds better and is frankly more accurate. Our last stop was to a river-like swimming area, complete with caves and waterfalls of various sizes (which we did not slide down or jump over because it would have hurt, but which we did play around and splash in). I swam around some, practiced synchronized swimming with some other girls, stood under the waterfall and let it give me a back massage (it also stole my hair tie—whoops) and stood around with some others and waited for the little fishies to nibble on our toes (they did—and it tickled! You could tell when somebody got a bite because they would squeal or laugh and jump all of a sudden). It was a lot of fun.

Back at Ein Gev: Something else I did today? I finished memorizing the Living Christ! I’ve been at it for two weeks or so, and today I finally did it. I sat on the beach by the Sea of Galilee, memorized the last paragraph, and recited the whole thing for the first time (with Mary checking me for accuracy on my now weather-worn copy). We had FHE that evening (Pictionary with another group. Because of general business and a lack of preparation, my group was doing “hobo FHE”—be homeless or get another group to adopt you). Afterwards I found Katie and we went down to the beach together. She was the one who got me inspired to do this whole project (she’s had it memorized for years from when she did it with her family), so I was very excited to say it for her. I recited it to her, only needing a little correction. We then sat and talked about things for a while, especially about Galilee and testimonies and boys and deciding whether to serve a mission. Katie is one of the few people in the world who I truly feel I can talk to about almost anything. I was so grateful to have a few minutes to confide in her and to hear her feelings as well. We both expressed interest in watching a movie, so we bundled up in blankets and watched “The Court Jester” on my back porch (taking a brief break for Laurann to teach us a quick missionary lesson). It was a perfect evening. What with the classes being so separate and there being so many people to be with, I haven’t had too many opportunities to talk with Katie one on one. I felt very blessed to have had those precious hours that night. There’s nothing like being with a good friend.

That’s all for now! More to come! Shalom and lots of love!