Wednesday, May 16, 2018

An Interesting Morning at the Dome of the Rock

On Sunday May 13, Lani and I went to the Dome of the Rock with the other faculty members and service couples of the Jerusalem Center. We were excited to go inside of the Dome of the Rock with a special tour guide (usually it is closed to non-Muslims).

While we were on the grounds we noticed a group of Orthodox Jews walking around, accompanied by armed police. This was frustrating to our Palestinian guide who wondered why they felt a need to disrupt the worship of Muslims, who hold the area surrounding the Dome of the Rock to be sacred. All of this more complicated by the fact that May 13 was "Jerusalem Day" a controversial holiday that celebrates Jerusalem coming into Israeli control (one can see that while it's a holiday for Israel, it's a huge loss for Palestine).

We got to tour the inside of the Dome of the Rock and it was beautiful. The main feature inside the dome is a large rock, traditionally thought to be where Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and the spot where Solomon's temple stood. This would also have been the spot of the temple in the time of Christ, and is the traditional location of Muhammad's night journey. A lot of history took place here!

We got to go under the rock as well and enjoyed seeing the rock from that vantage point.

As we were going around taking pictures, our guide started to tell us to hurry. We could hear some kind of commotion outside and as we exited the building we could hear chanting outside. While it was not immediately clear what was happening, it seemed like there was some type of altercation between the Jews we had seen previously and Muslim worshipers.

We were told to leave the complex immediately, thus eliminating our tour of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was our second stop for the morning. I was sorely tempted to walk 20 yards over to where I could get a much better view of the shouting, but did not. Before we got home I found this headline on the Jerusalem Post:

If you watch the video, you'll hear exactly what we were hearing...we were within a rock's throw of it all...As explained in the article, some of the Jews who were there broke the law by worshiping in that area and were called out for it (one was arrested). I was disappointed that such an unnecessary provocation took place.

From the headline and the picture it might seem like the world was about to end. But I want to point out another observation from the morning.

Although we hurried out of the Dome of the Rock complex area, we noticed about 10 minutes later our guide was back at the entrance starting another tour with a new group of tourists. In other words, there was no permanent disruption and anybody who arrived 10 minutes later would have never been aware of the altercation. This taught me something about how news is sometimes packaged and reported. The headline is obviously meant to grab and hold attention -- a person in America reading this news story may have walked away thinking, "Wow, there is a lot of violence there," when actually it was a very safe place to be that Sunday morning.

In any event, we really appreciated the opportunity to tour this sacred spot. That afternoon we drove up with our family to another favorite destination -- the beach! It felt like we were in a completely different world from where we had been that morning...

Friday, May 11, 2018

To the Red Sea

Our trip to the Red Sea (Eliat) got off to an unusual start! As we were driving down the road, I was talking to my children about how this was possibly the route that Nephi and his family would have taken on their way to the wilderness and how cool it was that basically all of 1 Nephi 1-16 potentially takes place along the route that we were going to be on and/or our destination points (e.g., Jerusalem and the Red Sea). About 1 hour into our journey we got to a check point and found out that because of a flash flood they had closed the road to Eliat! There was an alternate road, but we would have to go all the way back to Jerusalem!!!

I was really cranky! Seriously? We have to drive an hour back? We wasted our time and money going this way? Why didn’t we figure this out before we left!? We could all feel a lot of sympathy for Laman and Lemuel! Their situation was a lot more dire than ours was!

So we drove back to Jerusalem and took a new route to Eliat. We traveled about 3 hours only to find out that this second road was also closed. Ahhhh! It just so happened that this was by a really famous crater so we visited the crater and took some time there. Great views.

There was one other road that could be taken to Eliat, it required another hour of backtracking. Altogether, the trip that should have been 3.75 hours was 7.25 – but the kids were for the most part really happy and kind on the drive, so it was pleasant.

The next morning we went to the Coral Beach National Park and went snorkeling. We were there all day and it went well. Everybody went out snorkeling several times except for Rebekah. The fish were really cool, it was a nice beach and a great, relaxing day. The area is naturally beautiful and it was fun to be there. 

That evening we went back to our apartment and the youngest 4 kids swam in the pool.  Lani, Levi and I went and saw the new Avengers movie, while the older 5 children watched “Pete’s Dragon.” I was starting to get a little nervous about scuba diving…

The next morning, Lani and the younger three kids went to an aquarium, while the three older kids and I went to a scuba diving lesson. We had the indoor lesson then drove out to the Red Sea for our confined water swim and open water swim. For the confined water swim we basically practiced techniques like breathing underwater, clearing our mask, etc. but it was really cool, because there were several fish right where we were. Compared to the confined dive that would usually take place at a swimming pool, this was awesome.

Then we went out and swam by the coral. I didn’t have anything to be nervous about. Everything was fine – including my ears, which sometimes hurt underwater. We saw incredible fish. Large, beautiful colorful ones, tiny jelly fish, schools of bright orange fish. It was fun to be completely underwater and have a new experience. Sadly, no pics of the scuba diving...but it was better than the snorkeling!

Altogether it was a 4 hour experience, start to finish. Lani picked us up and we started the drive home. We stopped by a national park that is a drive through safari, which was pretty fun. Some ostriches came right up to our window. The roads were all open and we had a much quicker drive back to Jerusalem than our trip to Eliat had been.

All in all it was a great trip to the Red Sea. Now our family has been to the Med, the Dead, and the Red!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Celebrating Lent

Growing up I didn’t know very much about Lent, and it wasn’t part of my religious practice. But a few weeks ago, while talking with Father Fergus, currently a Franciscan Friar at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, he said that one of his favorite celebrations at the church takes place on the first Saturday of Lent. That got me thinking more about Lent and whether it was something that I should participate in.

After hours of research consulting a few websites and asking my friends on Facebook, I decided that it would be great to participate. One trusted friend told me that he has found his Easter to be much more meaningful as a result of Lent. A friend that I haven’t talked with in years shared that recently she has begun “doing a new good thing” for Lent instead of “stopping a bad thing.” I chose to go in this direction for Lent and have been having a good experience so far.

I also made arrangements to go with many other people, including Lani, five of our children, Scott and Karen Smith, and many BYU students. It was great to participate in the event, and much sweeter to be participating with so many people that I love and enjoy being with.

This was one of the first times I’ve heard the organ music playing. It was beautiful! The ceremony began with an entrance of the Bishop, who went into the holy sepulcher, and then into the chapel. Afterwards, there was a procession around the church where we essentially did the stations of the cross. Everybody received candles, and although the service was in Latin I was able to grasp bits and pieces. Altogether it was nearly two hours and our kids did great! Afterwards we all got to visit with Father Fergus and enjoyed doing that.

I think practicing Lent will become an ongoing part of my discipleship in the future!

Here's a video link to the procession if you're interested in watch more. The first couple minutes is of the initial entrance of the Bishop, towards the end is part of the stations of the cross while in chapel of Helena (I'd never seen it so bright), and the final part as we all walked around the aedicule. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Egypt Highlights

Egypt was incredible! We'll let pictures tell most of the story:

Inside one of the tombs at the Valley of the Kings.

Driving in a horse-drawn carriage to see the Luxor temple at night. Too bad Levi is allergic to horses, that put a damper on the magic.

Sailing on the Nile heading to our camel ride. Spending time with these amazing students was an incredible highlight of the whole trip.

Annemarie riding a camel in Egypt!

Magnificent overlook of the Giza pyramid.

Same overlook!

At Sakkara in front of the step pyramid.

This is the big one! Feel the majesty of the Giza pyramid...the only of the ancient seven wonders of the world that still exists!

One of my favorite pictures -- Sphinx + pyramids + great kids == awesomeness.

There were some very interesting mummies at the Egypt Museum. Most could not be photographed, but this one was an exception.

The Karnak temple was truly incredible!

More Karnak Temple!

Enjoying good times at the Luxor temple evening tour

Incredible sites were everywhere to be seen! This is the Colossae of Memnon.

At the temple of Queen Hapshepsut.

After a joyful camel ride in Luxor.

Did I mention that we loved hanging out the amazing BYU students?

One highlight of our time in Cairo was visiting a mosque.

Thanks for the amazing memories Egypt!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Great Field Trip!

Joseph and Katrina listening to Ellie explaining how the Almond Tree is the first tree to blossom in the winter. Thinking about Numbers 17:8 ​“And it came to pass, that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.”

“Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Jeremiah, what seest thou? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree. Then said the Lord unto me, Thou hast well seen: for I will hasten my word to perform it.” (Jeremiah 1:11-12).

Ellie points out a play on words in Hebrew between “hasten” and “almond.” Just like the almond tree is the quickest to bloom, so too will the Lord quickly fulfill his words.

Katrina and Rebekah help reenact a scene of biblical Rebekah drawing water from the well for Abraham’s servant.

Ellie shared about the importance of water in modern and ancient Israel:

“And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, That I will give you the rain of your land in his due season, the first rain and the latter rain, that thou mayest gather in thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil” (Deut. 11:13-14).



We practiced shepherding. There were many shepherds in the Bible — Abel, Moses, Abraham, David and many others. We can learn leadership lessons from shepherding.

We next talked about the seven species in Deut. 8:8 — “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey.”

Ellie talks about how in the verse “honey” refers to date honey...delicious!

Rebekah and Kate crush some hyssop together. This is one of my favorite parts of this field trip. Why hyssop? As this site explains,

When the Israelites marked their doorposts with lamb’s blood in order for the angel of death to pass over them, God instructed them to use a bunch of hyssop as a “paintbrush” (Exodus 12:22).

David also mentions hyssop in Psalm 51:7: “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” David does not refer to physical cleansing—rather, he is asking God to cleanse him spiritually as he confesses his sin.

Hyssop also appears at Jesus’ crucifixion, when the Roman soldiers offered Jesus a drink of wine vinegar on a sponge at the end of a stalk of hyssop (John 19:28–30). This was, in fact, Jesus’ last act before He declared His work on earth finished and gave up His spirit. While the hyssop stalk may have been used for purely practical purposes (i.e., it was long enough to reach to Jesus’ mouth as He hung on the cross), it is interesting that that particular plant was chosen. It is possible that God meant this as a picture of purification, as Jesus bought our forgiveness with His sacrifice. Just as in the Old Testament blood and hyssop were part of the Passover, Christ is the true Passover lamb.


We enjoyed seeing several succoth and talking about what makes them kosher or not kosher. The kids loved the idea of eating and sleeping inside them. We will have to build one in our backyard next fall.