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!

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