Mount of Olives panorama

Mount of Olives panorama
A panoramic view of the Mount of Olives

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Back to the Holy Land!

From the Phasael Tower overlook at the Citadel in July 2012. From right to left: Church of the Holy Sepulchre; Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in the distance (tower on the hill in the horizon); tower of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer; BYU Jerusalem Center in the distance (between the tip of the Lutheran tower and my head); Mount of Olives as a backdrop; Dome of the Rock.

After an almost two year hiatus, I am reviving our family blog and am starting a 2+ week series of posts (Internet access and time permitting) that is occasioned by my having been invited to headline a tour with Cruise Lady, a tour company targeted at Latter-day Saints.  We just arrived in Amman, Jordan, for 4 days to see the sites in Amman, Jerash, Kerak, Petra, Madaba, and Mount Nebo. We then head back to Israel and Palestine!  The tour there will be another eight days to sites too many to name here but culminating in Jerusalem.

Our family at Rachel's graduation dinner Wednesday night.  It already feels strange for me and Rachel to be here without Samuel and Elaine!
 As a "headliner" or featured speaker and guide on a Cruise Lady Tour, I am able to bring one guest.  Usually this is a speaker's spouse, but Elaine and I thought that it would be wonderful to bring my daughter, Rachel, who just graduated from Timpview High School Wednesday, May 28.  With the rest of my family, Rachel lived in Jerusalem in 2011-2012 and attended the Anglican International School of Jerusalem.  We thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity to bring her back "home" as a graduation gift.

Okay, enough of the Proud Papa routine! It is just thrilling to be able to share this experience with my wonderful daughter, who, by the way, starts at BYU this fall studying, yep, Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Greek New Testament track, of course, though she wants to do some Hebrew as well).

Starting our adventure in the Salt Lake City airport, still clean and very excited.
Selfie on the plane (that is my hand in the upper right).

Getting in the mood for the Middle East with some Greek take-out to eat on the plane!

Be prepared.  Since my Holy Land in 2011-2012, I got into the bad habit on Choir tours of making "food blogs!"
When Rachel and I arrived at the airport we were, I must admit, a bit giddy at the prospect of heading "home."  That may sound overstated and melodramatic to some, but we really love Jerusalem and Galilee.  They are sites we have read about and studied all our lives.  We love the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.  And this land is sacred to us because our Lord and Savior was born, lived, taught, died, and rose again here.  And we believe he will come back here!

We did not have the most direct of flights.  We changed planes at JFK in New York, never the best place, and then flew to Barcelona.  We had just under four hours there.  Not long enough to get out of the airport and to the city to see anything, but long enough to be bored and anxious.  We then flew to Amman, where representatives of our local travel agency met us.

As close as Rachel actually got to seeing any of Barcelona.
We're here, at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman.

Established in our hotel, we had our first Arab meal and it tasted great and familiar.  And we began to make a few new friends as members of our group began to filter in.

In addition to Rachel, my sister Lori Despain and her husband Royd will be joining us for the Holy Land portion of the tour.  I have some other friends who will be traveling with us as well, especially a few great associates from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  And I plan on making new friends on our now-full bus.  I hope that some of their friends and family will become regular visitors to this blog over the next few weeks to see the places they are going and the experiences they are having.  Feel free to share it around.

After the tour is over, Rachel and I are staying another week.  Lori and Royd will be with us a few extra days in Jerusalem.  Rachel is going to visit her old school, Anglican International, we are going to hit some sites the formal tour will not be visiting, hang out in some of our old haunts, attend LDS services at the BYU Jerusalem Center on Sabbath and at Christ Church at Jaffa Gate on Sunday.  Hopefully we will see many of our friends of the BYU-JC staff. 

Then we are driving back to Galilee for what should be an exciting extension of our trip: two days at the archaeological dig at Huqoq directed by my colleague Jodi Magness of UNC and assisted by my friend Matt Grey.  We are then going to hit a few sites I never made it to when we lived in the Holy Land (Jotapata of Josephus infamy, Beit Shearim, etc.) and then spend our final evening with our friends the Slights in Tel Aviv.

So stay tuned!  The internet here in our Amman is already proving slow and a bit pricey, but I will do my best to make daily posts.

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