Sunday, June 29, 2008

Petra Update

This Monday morning we are headedback to Petra! We had a lovely first visit yesterday late afternoon. Unfortunately we don't have wireless access at this hotel, so this will be photo free until we reach a different situation.
Briefly, Sabbath was another answer to prayer. We found the Adventist Church in Amman and stayed for the English Church guest luncheon. There was a whole contingent of guest workers from the Phillipines and Kenya and other English language countries who worship together. They gave us a wonderful set of musical specials. The Madaba Plains Project (MPP) personnel returned to their own meal. But two special people in my life were there!
1. Lloyd Willis, Prof. of OT at Southwester Adventist. He was my "Preceptor" at Vincent Hill School, India, when I graduated from academy 44 years ago. We hadn't encountered each other ever since.
2. Jony Hajaj, English pastor. Jony was the only pastor in Iraq before the 2003 war began. And his last sermon in Baghdad was the same Sabbath I preached my pre-war sermon at Milton! For years I havewondered what he chose as his verse. Turns out it was Jn 14:1-3 "Let not your heart be troubled." He and I will now keep in touch.
Vonnie and I visited the archaeological museum in Amman that afternoon, plus the amazing ruins that surround it. Then we hired a private car to take us to Petra on Sunday. Now we're working on finding a wife for our driver Aymon :-) . He is a good, good person. Such adventures he took us on. (A Bedouin cave merchant!)
Then it was Petra. Our hotel. The entrance to the Siq. The walk through the narrow approach. The amazing rock tombs. The constant push for donkey or camel rides. We ended our day greeted and treated by an archaeological couple from Brown University who drove us to our hotel through the Bedouin village. They even know Doug Clark! They are excavating an amazing temple.
Now off to some more adventures.
Loved your comments!
We just had an emergency out the door from the hotel's computers. A young soldier collapsed in a seizure! They lifted him into a van and rushed him to a clinic 10 min away. They suspect heat injury. Sooooo dangerous. And a reminder to us to be careful!

Friday, June 27, 2008

From Umayri to John the Baptist

Thirty minutes after falling asleep, the phone rang. Three of our four pieces had been found and awaited my signature in the lobby. The joy of seeing luggage again. The shock that Vonnie's bag was still missing, with ALL our toiletries. BUT, there was a note promising it was on its way - with a new tracking number. There's still hope.
Morning started early with breakfast and meeting our driver, Moustaffa. I showed him our first goal on Google Earth: Tal al'-Umayri - the first dig we wanted to join. We bravely started out to find it. When we attempted to duplicate what we saw on the screen, we got totally lost. All the back roads; all the stops to ask if anyone had heard of it; all the shaking of heads. We DID find Tal Hesban, another Madaba Plains Project run by Andrews University. It was of great interest, especially with the sign directing us to the plastered wall of a reservoir that many think is the same as the pools of Hesban mentioned by Solomon. But we did not yet find Umayri! Until a Bedouin in a store suggested it was on a hill behind a service station. More time wandering. Finally, Moustaffa pulled over to where a Bedouin was selling fresh cucumbers on the side of the road. Yes, he knew where it was. For two Jordanian Dinars, he guided us to where his son was assisting with the dig! And there we found Doug Clark and Larry Herr, along with Henning Guldhammer's nephew, who is the official videographer for the dig.
Moustaffa then took us to Madaba (try looking for the plains of Medaba in the Bible) where Vonnie visited the little shops and I went to the museums. We also saw a church with a mosaic map of Jordan from the 500s. Wow! It was discovered under a plaster floor in 1999 and revealed a more ancient traditional site for Jesus' baptism by John. Mosaic work is a tradition in the area being carried on by a government supported shop for disabled ladies. We loved visiting a few of them, but couldn't afford their amazing work (6 months on ONE piece!)
Mount Nebo was next. Long revered as a holy place because Moses died there and was taken to heaven by Michael, it offered a wonderful view over the Jordan Valley toward haze-concealed Jerusalem. It really got both of us to thinking of what it meant to be in the same spot, ourselves longing to see a vision of the final Promised Land.
Once in the car, we switched back and forth, down, down, down into a barren landscape. It is hard to imagine the Children of Israel descending into this burning wilderness (it was something over 100 degrees!) towards the Jordan River.
Getting to the river is complicated because it is now the border between Israeli controlled Palestinian West Bank and Jordan. It is a militarized zone and people aren't allowed to approach it on their own. However, there is a bus for tourists, and then a guided path that let's folk actually get into the water.
Guarded by a Jordanian soldier, it reminded us that even John had Roman soldiers around his work. And it also reminded us that when Jesus came down, normal life was happening all around and many missed the eternal event that happened. So life continues today: "normalcy" can blind us to the extraordinary of God's daily actions.
With our driver Moustaffa's permission, we invited a young Russian couple to ride with us back up the hill to Amman. Although much improved, this is the same road I took in 1964 when I returned from a week in Jerusalem. How long ago that seems.
Moustaffa then took us to a dessert stand and we enjoyed a sweet topping of sugar and pistachios over melted goat cheese. It was delicious!
Now we're looking forward to Sabbath morning at the Adventist Church in Amman. (Vonnie still has no fresh clothes as we await her bag.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tourists at Ajlun and Jaresh

This afternoon we did it! Same old clothes, but we hired a driver who drove us north to Ajlun and the ancient castle pictured here, and also to Jaresh, an amazing collection of Greek, Roman, Christian and Muslim monumental ruins. In fact, when we visited the museum, their collection included stone implements from the days before the locals learned to work with metal!
Our wonderful guide reminded us that Elijah the Tishbite grew up just over the next hill in Tishbeh! And he also shared a local oral history that Jesus came to Ajlun to visit his mother Mary after feeding the 5,000 and casting the demons out of the two Gadarenes, but then being rejected for causing the death of so many swine. At the top of this wonderful hill, the earliest ruins were of a Byzentine ((AD 321 - 621) Church, followed by several forts, one of which was to counter the Crusaders on the other side of the Jordan River.
Apparently our guide, now a man of some years, had helped excavate this and other sites and really absorbed the history. How fun it was to listen to him describe how this fort could send color coded signals to Jerusalem by mixing different minerals into the fires.
Jaresh was also damaged beyond repair by a major earthquake in the 800s. Yet it is fascinating. At one point a mute with a rather distorted face befriended us and showed us that he could make one of the 30 feet tall pillars actually totter enough for us to see movement in the tiny lever he used, and feel it at the tips of our fingers in one of the joints! Vonnie decided to move back at first, but eventually felt the movement herself. This same mute showed us a local plant that looked just like the plants carved at the top of the so-called Corinthian columns.
Then a 15 year old came along and took over as our guide, telling us in English, "He is not speaking any language." I tried to teach him the English word "mute". He then showed us an amazing mosaic floor in an old church, a Greek theater, and a temple to Artemis (Venus).
Our wonderful driver, Mustaffah, took us to a restaurant much less expensive than the hotel and we enjoyed our fill with pita breads, hummus, cucumber salad and kebab.
When back to the hotel, we discovered our bags wouldn't be delivered until midnight tonight. And we've promised to meet our driver at 7:30 for Friday's adventures.

Exploring Jordan

We are once again sitting in the fabulous lobby of the Golden Tulip Hotel after an amazing day of exploring ancient ruins near Amman. We hired a driver named Mustafa (recommended by the hotel staff.) He was wonderful -- a displaced Palestinian born in Ramalah. Ole will put some photos on the blog of the two places we visited: Ajloon castle and Jeresh, site of successive cultures from Roman to Greek to Byzantine to Moslem. In both places, we found amazing guides.

At Ajloon, we met a man who had been part of the original excavation in his youth in the 60's. He knew so much about this castle that had once been used as a fortress, then a medical college and then a Byzantine Church. At Jeresh, we were walking through the ruins when a 15 year old boy appeared and appointed himself as our guide. He really did help us find some of the places we wanted to see. He wasn't too accurate with his information (he thought that Zeus was the queen and Artemis was the king), but he did pretty well considering he learned from hanging around with the real guides. At the end of his "tour", Ole offered him 2 Jordanian dinars (more like $3 US) for his help. He handed it back and said "This is for you. I saw $5 in your wallet. The official guides charge $20." Ole gave him the $5, and then he was worried that he had spoiled our good relationship, and he kept asking "The $5 is good for you?" Ole reassured him that it was okay. He was immediately relieved, and a few seconds later, he came close to me and asked for a US dollar for a souvenir! He really tickled us. We were intrigued to realize that he was not much older than Teo.

We were so hot as we explored around that I kept feeling like I was going to faint. We were drenched and then, as we cooled down in the air-conditioned car, crusty with salt. Now, though, I feel wonderful after all the good exercise and almost a sauna. Our bags were found at the Amman airport this morning, and they promised to deliver them to our hotel in four hours. When we returned to the hotel, however, they weren't here. We had to call again, and they were still at the airport. No explanation. He has promised to deliver them here by midnight. Tomorrow we plan to meet our driver at 7:30 AM to visit the WWU dig that we thought we would be part of, and then go to the Jordan River site where Jesus was believed to be baptized. After that, we will go to Mt. Nebo where Moses viewed the Promised Land and then was taken to heaven. We hope, also, to have a tour of some museums and other interesting things in the City of Amman.

I wish I could describe the awesome experience it is just to be here! Ole asked me what stood out from our day. I was surprised to realize that it was connecting with a couple of the women who were also visiting the sites. Everywhere there are women in the traditional garb. They fascinate me, and a couple of times, I was able to make eye contact, and we really connected, woman to woman. Sometimes they had babies, and they understood without words that I was admiring their child. All the barriers between us are so artificial, and I love it when they crumble in the face of mutual human respect and regard. Everyone has been so kind to us here. The Jordanians ask where we are from, and they always say, "Welcome to Jordan!" One of the waiters from the hotel restaurant gave us lessons in Arabic today. I'm trying to memorize all the important terms like "shoq'ran" (thank you) and "jamil" (very nice!) and "ojip" (I like it! It's fantastic!)

Well, I'd better quit! What a fabulous experience we are having!!!!!

Waking up "on time"

After our first meal in Amman last night, we went walking, both on the busy streets, and then up into residential areas. It was a delight to discover a street corner filled with children playing in the coolness of evening under the street lights. Nearby we went into a "supermarket" corner store and bought some fast-melting ice-cream bars. The owner apologized that the freezer was due for maintenance the next day. (While many speak no English, it is surprising how many do!) Back in our room, we went to bed with a prayer that our luggage would show up in the morning.
Surprisingly, we slept pretty well and got up around 7 local time.
While Vonnie finished getting ready, I read a few pages in a fascinating book I picked up at the Seattle Airport. It's the autobiography of the president of Al Quds University in Jerusalem. His family roots in Jerusalem go back to the bloodless Islamic conquest of the city and remain there through the Crusades, the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the British Mandate, and finally the wars with Israel. (I just learned that the United Nations vote to create Israel occurred on my first birthday, Nov. 29, 1947.)
We came down for breakfast and ate next to a group from Portugal who enjoyed each other. Our waiter, though, is the real story. This young married man was so thoughtful! When we left, he invited us to sit down in the lobby while he taught us our first Arabic phrases, and then showed us still photos and phone-movies of his 3-month old baby, giggling as he tickled her. It's people like him that make traveling such a delight!
A few moments later the man at the desk got through to Queen Alia Int'l Airport and confirmed that three of our checked bags had arrived, and perhaps the fourth would show up before they delivered them to the hotel. Good news! For we are wearing these same clothes now for a fourth day. They have become our "uniform".
Speaking of clothes, we traveled briefly in the elevator with an Arabic man dressed in clothing totally unfamiliar to me/us. When I asked if he spoke English, he did, and well. I told him I saw his clothes and recognized that they must mean something but I needed to be taught. He kindly shared that his were the national clothes of the Sultan of Oman, pointing to a special, braided tassel worn at his neck. He asked if I spoke Arabic and I admitted my ignorance, but he nevertheless invited us to visit Oman.
Now it's time to find our ride to our first tourist spots - I think all the way down to the Jordan River and perhaps where John the Baptist traditionally preached and baptized: Jaresh.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wake up in Amman

We are both astonished. 12+ hours sleeping! I got up at 3 pm local time. Vonnie even later. I started to walk to a “nearby” bank, returned to get bank-card. Took pedestrian bridge over Queen Alia street to be on other side. Two police found a man who spoke some English. Directed me around next corner. Found the bank on Queen Noor St. Took 300 JDN from checking. Crossed over street by the bus stops.
Discovered my shirt was covered in sweat spots (must have been ugly to the cool looking Jordanians – women covered head to toe and looking cool as cucumbers.) And of course my hair was an uncombed tousle, since we had no brush or comb and I needed the money to buy a brush.
Using the brush improved our sociability :-) and obviously we discovered the wireless hotspot in the lobby.
When we entered the lobby there was a wonderfully dressed man in desert clothing, full-beard, keffiyah head cover. Vonnie thought he looked upon her disapprovingly, but I guessed he just wanted to be modest with his eyes.
After the flying feast from last night, we haven't been hungry - but that will come next when this is done.
Blessings on Milton Adventist and Blue Mountain Valley. You are so kind to let us do this amazing thing.

Jordan At Last

We loved having Heather, Teo, Stevie, and Pablo say farewell to us at WW Airport.
We were, of course, exhausted for either no sleep, or 2.5 hrs of sleep the night before.
Good telephone calls from SeaTac Airport.
Good Kristin Fry bread sandwiches at SeaTac. And later at Vancouver Airport.
Met a young lady from Barcelona on flight to Vancouver. Multi-lingual. Hoping to study at NY University on International Studies.
Met US family flying to Istanbul to compete in world-class RC glider competition west of Istanbul. Dad is an architect, become architectural attorney in building disputes.
Loved the in-airport aquarium! Bought roller for my HEAVY computer case out of desperation.
Our British Airways flight was in the sleeper class. We rearranged seating so a Russian emigrée couple from San Carlos, CA, could sit near each other and Vonnie and I could also. Wonderful conversations. Celebrating 50th anniversary with Mediterranean cruise. Both Soviet trained engineers who love America. Promised to send them digital photos.
Good sleep (stretched out fully) after watching a movie in French during the dinner. (the “church” villains were despicable, but the alternative was mysticism with clairvoyance, Gypsies, and sorceresses, so it was out of the frying pan into the fire.)
Heathrow Terminal 5 was “interminable” (pun intended). ½ hour of walking! Discovered luggage was booked to Amman. Found our way with several detours to Terminal 3 and Royal Jordanian. Luggage was kindly tracked and would NOT be on flight to Amman. The Canadian Airline employee who helped us promised to look for it and put it on the next day's flight to Amman.
Loved our “flying feast” (flying carpet?) to Amman! Such wonderful attendants. So gracious. Willing to talk. Also time to stretch out and snooze. Much needed. Read in the Jordanian Times newspaper (English) that a hot-spell was blowing into Jordan and the Arabian peninsula. Over 40 degrees Centigrade! Didn't spot any young (or old) archaeologists flying in with us to join the Madaba Plains Project like we originally wanted. Perhaps they were able to fly in earlier and get some rest.
Arrived at Queen Alia Airport just after midnight. Everybody courteous. Registered our yet-to-arrive luggage.
Taxi to Golden Tulip Grand Hotel in Amman. Wonderful driver! Able to tell us in English that the city was founded on seven hills, (just like Rome) but now covering many more hills. Pointed out five universities along the 25 miles from airport to city center. Father of 3 month old. Paid 25 JDN. (One USD buys .70 JDN) Wonderful “honeymoon suite” on 6th floor. Hand washed our only clothes until luggage comes. Wonderful, longed-for shower. Tried to call Heather unsuccessfully. No apparent internet connectivity in the room.
3:05 am Jordanian time. 5:04 pm PDT. June 25, 2008

Monday, June 23, 2008

Middle of the night - only hours away

How can it take so long to pack, and get a house ready, and get a yard ready, and say all the good-byes, and ....

It's 2:49 am, Monday morning, and time to pack the computer - so this is farewell until I log on again. We fly shortly after 11 am.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

First Day! Packing.

Thanks to my incredible Primary Camp Meeting team, both of pastors and volunteers, it's over. The last "hurdle" is past; the supplies put away; the farewells made. I want to especially thank Pastors Bumgardner, Guldhammer, Knight, Stafford, Johnson, and Kilgore for overseeing SO MUCH of the work of preparation and direct work with the children. Wow! And also for Milton members, Millers, Jenkins and Denise Carr, who shared their dogs and birds with the children. (Poor Ken Devereaux - Get well soon!)
Our dear friends John and Ruby Stafford leave for mission service in Sri Lanka next month, so it was especially poignant to work with them, and even have a farewell lunch in the WWU cafeteria! 44 years of friendship!
Saying good-bye to Ryan and Jenn was hard, too. Putting three months of church pastoring on Ryan's shoulders - and knowing that Jenn will feel the pressures right along with him - ... well, they will continue to need everyone's prayers and support. And they also need you to share the joys of life! Pastoring is a privilege when two congregations love you :-).
(I loved the thunderstorm and rain storm last night! But I wasn't trying to get any cherry harvest in. I hope most of the cherrys were picked and even our orchardists could rejoice.)
So today we focus on four things: Grandson Teo's 14th birthday party, final prep of the house for Tom & Sandy, final purchases of sabbatical supplies, and packing.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

T -4 Days - Camp Meeting tomorrow

This Thursday is almost impossible to describe properly. Full to the brim, but not with what I imagined. How does one say that an "emergency" was scheduled, and took up more of the day than expected? Suffice it to say that the emergency is now in the past, the office at church looks cleaner than it has for months, my laptop has a loaner harddrive much bigger than my own, (so it doesn't fill up and run slowly while overseas - thanks Mark!). My piece is written for a July newsletter. And my daughter Heather has started me on Blogspot in hopes that it can help family and friends "join us" on our sabbatical.

Tomorrow is Camp Meeting preparation with the first meeting in the evening - in addition to singing with the Valley Men's Chorus at the start.

Will we ever get time enough to pack? :-)