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!