Greeks learn in order to comprehend.
Hebrews learn in order to revere.

~ Abraham Joshua Heschel

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Denyon's BIG Announcement !!!

Well, after nearly nine months of living here in Jerusalem and my mommy always getting to write on the blog, she finally let me do my first entry. I have some exciting news (I think!) to share with you. My mommy and daddy tell me that I’m going to be a big brother! I’m not exactly sure what that means but they seem very excited about it. They keep asking me if I want a brother or a sister and I just tell them whichever one they say last to me. I don’t want them to really know what I want. They showed me these cool pictures of the baby in my mommy’s tummy so I thought I would share one of them with you too (see below). This little baby already has arms and legs…just like me! I bet I can kick and throw a ball better though! I am excited to meet my little brother or sister around November 11. My mommy seems to be the same to me except sometimes she is tired and sometimes daddy says I have to leave her alone in the bathroom because she is feeling sick. I don’t like it when mommy gets sick but she says it’s okay and not to worry. I’ll keep you posted and in the meantime, if you have any tips for how to be a good big brother, please let me know! Have a great day!



Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Last But Not Least! (Eilat & Petra Trip)

Last Wednesday morning, we headed out for our last overnight trip as a family while in Israel. It was definitely not the least of the trips as we headed down to the southernmost city of Israel—Eilat. This city sits along the coast of the Red Sea and borders Egypt on to the south, Jordan to the East, and Saudi Arabia is visible across the sea to the southeast. It is an amazing geographical sight to be able to view four countries at once, all the while enjoying the beautiful Red Sea.

The drive was about 3 ½ hours long, so once we arrived, we checked into our cozy villa about a mile from the coast, ate lunch, and headed to the beach. We went to a less crowded, but no less beautiful, beach called Coral Reserve Beach. There, you could rent snorkeling equipment and snorkel right off the beach. This was great since obviously one of us had to stay with Denyon. He’s pretty advanced but he’s not quite ready to snorkel. The Red Sea has some of the best visibility for snorkeling of all the salt bodies of water in the world due to three things: 1. Higher salt content than most (3.9% versus 3.1% in other major salt bodies). 2. Slightly cooler temperatures. 3. When the fish die, instead of floating to the top and contaminating the water, they sink to the bottom so the visibility is not impaired. So because of the great visibility, the snorkeling is amazing! It was one of those times I’d wish I’d had one of the cheap underwater disposable cameras. There were so many beautiful fish, colors, and coral. We were able to snorkel there both on Wednesday and Friday and both days were spectacular.

On Thursday, we crossed the Jordanian border and headed to the site of Petra. It’s hard to describe this phenomenal place but it’s a Nabataean city that originated over 2000 years ago. The Nabataeans were ancient Arab tribes that came from the Arabian Peninsula. The city was taken over by the Roman Empire in 106 AD, but the Nabataeans left impressive structures behind. The rock there is sandstone in what seems as though all colors of the rainbow. The light of the sun also changes the colors throughout the day. The buildings are carved out of the sandstone, so basically the builders start with a huge slab of natural rock structure, and cut away to make whatever building they are trying to construct. It is so impressive and really pictures don’t even do it justice. Although in southern Jordan and usually very hot this time of year, it was ironically very cold. We were not dressed prepared for that so we bought a couple scarves/blankets in order to keep Denyon and myself warm. Brad just had to tough it out (it did eventually warm up a bit)!

We arrived back in Eilat in ample time to have a delicious dinner at a place highly recommended by the owner of our villa. It was called the Gulf Restaurant and we had delicious fried calamari. Even Denyon liked it! It’s always so fun having new foods from different places when you travel.

Friday was another day in Eilat enjoying the Red Sea. This time, the bulk of our day was spent at the Underwater Observatory and Aquarium Park. It was fascinating and Denyon was beside himself at knowing which exhibit he wanted to see. He wanted to go in and out of exhibits and up and down ramps and stairs. We couldn’t keep up! The park included a couple different aquarium exhibits with rare marine species, all types of fish, and coral. It also housed a shark and sting ray pool, turtle pool, children’s play area, small snorkel area, and the coolest underwater observatory. This was a large building built right in the middle of the sea that you could go down underwater and see the fish live! There are some amazing coral reefs where the structure is located so the marine life was incredible. Here Brad was able to get some pictures so it does capture some of the Red Sea’s beauty.

Of note at the shark tank is a funny story. The sharks were going to be fed so dozens of people were packed in to see. There was a bridge over the tank that you could stand on and look down below to see the sharks being fed. We were standing there and Denyon was in the backpack on Brad's back. He then requested a snack, so I handed him his cheerios container. It has a flip lid that he can open and close, which I had opened. He closed it then and got frustrated so I opened it again. He closed it again, got frustrated, and this time threw it down and the container spilled open and a large portion of the contents went into the tank! There were signs in numerous places in the park that read, "Do not feed us. Your food is not digestible for us!" Brad told me to quickly put the container away so that we didn't get kicked out for not following the rules! Denyon just thought the sharks needed a little snack!

We then went to the beach again, and surprisingly ran into some friends from the school. They have three children so Denyon enjoyed playing with them, and it gave both of us couples a little bit more room to relax because the kids kept each other entertained. They are the same family that we ran into at the Garden Tomb Easter service. Katie and I had said we’d wanted to organize a play date…God orchestrated two! We had a wonderful time on the beach with them, and then had another amazing dinner. This time at a place known for its steaks and we both had one of the best we’d ever had. Yum!

Saturday, we left Eilat and visited two spots on the way home. First, we stopped at Timna, which is a reserve in the desert in the southern part of Israel which houses ancient copper mines. The climbing was incredible and we found some great rocks. Another place of interest there is a replica of the Tabernacle of Moses’ time. The guide there was so nice and actually knows some of the people we know from West Michigan that lead trips there. It was great to talk with her and remember how small the world is.

Second, we went to Mizpe Ramon and saw (as well as drove thru) the largest natural geological depression in the world, called "Mahktesh Ramon." Many are probably thinking of the Grand Canyon but that is a canyon and not a depression formed from years of earth silting away. We basically drove through the depression, and then made our way to the top where we could look out into the depression from above. It was beautiful and well worth the stop. The drive home was lengthy but these two stops helped pass the time and allowed us to enjoy some areas we hadn’t driven through previously. Hopefully the pictures captured the beauty!

We were all very tired upon our return and enjoyed long naps the next day. The trip was very relaxing and a great break for Brad before the big push of the last two weeks of the semester. It’s hard to believe we’ve only got another month here. The time has flown and we feel so blessed to have experienced so many wonderful trips including this one. We have created a lifetime of memories!

Have a blessed day!

Brad, Shallon, and Denyon

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Easter!

Although we were quite exhausted after a wonderful week with my parents, we couldn't miss out on celebrating Easter at the Garden of two possible locations for the burial and resurrection of Christ in Jerusalem. The day was beautiful with bright sun, a light breeze, and warm air. The service was held outside in the beautiful garden and nearly 1000 people were in attendance. The celebration consisted of almost all singing with a small message near the end. It was amazing to worship and celebrate the resurrection with so many other Christians in the place where perhaps the first Easter was celebrated! Denyon even enjoyed the morning seeing as though the floor was a bed of rocks! We also sat with some friends from the school who have three children so they all kept each other occupied. It was well worth waking up for and probably our favorite Easter celebration yet. We feel blessed to have been part of such an incredible experience. We hope that you all had a wonderful Easter celebration as well!

Happy Easter with love,

Brad, Shallon and Denyon

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Visit from the Bowden's

We all went to sleep last Saturday night anticipating the Bowden's arrival in the wee hours of the morning last Sunday. At about 1:15 a.m., we got the call from the sherut (taxi service from the airport) that mom and dad had arrived. We excitedly greeted them, chatted for a few minutes, and then everyone was off the bed. My parents were exhausted after the long trek from Japan.

In order not to waste time, we headed right up to the Galilee on Sunday morning. Due to the upcoming Passover holiday, we had to go to the Galilee early in the week so that we could get a room in the hotel without having to stay a minimum number of nights (which was more than what we'd want to stay). Denyon was a little confused to wake up and see these strange, but familiar faces in his living room. We skype with them often but it's a little different face to face seeing them again after about 8 months of not seeing them in person. It only took a few minutes for him to get over his shyness and then he was ready to play. Especially with the new bag of small stuffed animals from his gramma. They were a great car toy.

We headed to the Mediterranean coast to see King Herod's city of Caesarea. I have written of this place before earlier on our blog. The city is a port city that was a man-made port. Herod reshaped the coastline and made a harbor--just because he could. He also did not like salt water so in his palace on the sea, he built in a fresh water swimming pool--right in the sea! There is an underwater dive park that you can see if you're scuba certified (something Brad aspires to do someday!). The city is also significant to Paul's imprisonment which you can read about in the book of Acts. In addition to enjoying the site, Denyon loved picking up rocks and shells and going from one side of the pier and rushing to the other side...back and forth, back and forth. He is getting very fast! Before heading out, we all enjoyed some ice cream...yum!

The drive to our hotel in Galilee from Caesarea is beautiful. We drove through valleys, grassy plains, and around mountains to the Sea of Galilee. Before heading to our hotel, we visited the seven springs near the sea and also climbed part way up the Mount of Beatitudes. Here we watched as the sun began to set and the sky was so clear. We could see all around the lake. Most notably, Brad recited the entire Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) which was so inspiring. It is amazing to hear scripture recited right where it could have possible been spoken by Jesus 2000 years ago. What a way to end the evening! Well, dinner I suppose topped it off...we had a delicious buffet dinner at our hotel (the food is amazing!).

The next day we visited the cities of Capernaum and Korazim. These are two cities where Jesus did much of his teaching and Capernaum was sort of Jesus' home away from home. Here we saw the home of Peter's mother-in-law (Mark 1). Denyon enjoyed the Korazim synagogue very much because of the vast number of rocks present.

We spent that afternoon just lounging at the hotel. We did some swimming, shopping, and playing. The water in both the pool and the Sea of Galilee was pretty chilly but we did manage to all get in...well, mom just got her feet wet. Again, we enjoyed a delicious dinner before heading off to bed. Brad and I are getting pretty good at building forts around Denyon so that he doesn't think he's missing out when it's time for him to go to bed.

Our last day in Galilee, we started at the Jordan River. We hiked back to a beautiful spot along the Jordan where the water is faster than probably most other places along the river. The water was up higher than we'd seen it before so it was a little trickier finding a good spot. We almost had a small casualty when my mom slipped on a rock crossing a small part of a side stream of the Jordan. She was quite graceful and was okay other than some bruises. It was one of the falls that looks funny but you don't want to laugh because you want to make sure the person is okay. But then, as the week went on, we kept laughing more and more...except my mom. In fact, she's probably not even laughing now as she reads this on the blog but I just couldn't keep it out of the details! Admist the fall, we enjoyed some peaceful quiet time at the Jordan River, each taking our own time to reflect on our time there.

We then headed to Bethsaida, another small village where Jesus spent much time in. Also noted for several disciple coming from there including for sure Phillip, Peter, and Andrew and possibly James and John. This town was no bigger than probably 500 people and to think five of the 12 disciples came from there and changed the world! Pretty amazing.
To end our day (other than a delicious dinner at restaurant called Spaghettim with probably over a hundred different kinds of pasta) we saw the large scale excavation site of Bet Shan. The city was one of the decapolis cities around the sea of Galilee and along a major travel route across the country. I'm sure Jesus passed by or through there many times during his many travels.

Wednesday we headed down to the Dead Sea area and enjoyed a three hour hike through Wadi Arugot. The hike in its entirety was a first for Brad and I too (we'd only been able to do part of it previously due to flash floods and early closing times). It was not quite what we expected but still gave mom and dad a clear picture of what the desert was like. This hike is among an oasis in the desert called Ein Gedi...nearly the only source of fresh water in this part of the Judean desert. We enjoyed lunch by some fresh water pools and Denyon especially enjoyed splashing in them and picking up rocks. Brad even caught a small crab!

To our disappointment (and my parents') we got to Masada only to find that it had closed three hours earlier due to the upcoming Passover holiday! What a bummer. We had no idea it would close down so early! Instead, we headed to the Dead Sea for a quick "float." It is amazing how you float effortlessly. Denyon and Brad had fun taking pictures of my parents and me.
To finish the day we stopped at Wadi Kelt. This wadi system was along the ancient path from Jericho to Jerusalem so it is a great picture of the setting of the story of the Good Samaritan. The desert is so vast!

The last three days were spent in Jerusalem. We tried to mix the days with touring and rest. We all needed a little down time and my parents loved just playing with Denyon. The unique thing about their time here was that it was right during both the Jewish holiday Passover and the Christian holiday Easter. As you can imagine the city was packed! Although crowded, there were some special ceremonies taking place of which we took part of at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (the possible location for Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection). It was so crowded but quite memorable to be there on Good Friday.

Other Jerusalem sites we visited were the Old City, the Mount of Olives, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations, Brad's school Jerusalem University College, St. Ann's Church, and the Pools of Bethesda (John 5). Because of the holiday, the old city was packed and we were reminded of what it must have been like during the last week of Jesus' life when he was here. Pretty powerful!

On Friday night, the school hosted a Last Supper Meal in true triclenium style. This means the tables were on the floor, everyone ate in a reclined position on their left side so as to eat with their right hand (although I admit I could not hold the position and had to change positions often), no utensils were used, and the cafeteria was decorated in a first century style lit by the light of oil lamps. It was so cool to experience and none of us had ever done anything like it. Even Denyon enjoyed the experience although we just took turns playing with him. He wasn't really up for reclining around a table for two and a half hours!

The last day my parents were here we just rested. We spent some time reflecting on the week, took Denyon to the park, took naps, and had a delicious dinner. It was such a great week with them and it flew by so quickly. My mom served us all by helping out with dishes and meals all week which is always so nice for me. My dad said it was great to have the rest time and naps and said he needed to do that more often. Overall, it was a very blessed week. We were so grateful that my parents could come and they say they feel the same! It was sad to see them go, but at least this time it's only a couple months before we see them again. They will be home for the summer before they head back overseas...this time not back to Japan but to their new location in Spain! That gives us another reason to travel the world! Until next time...