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Don’t worry. We are ok.
Haaretz

It is an event, but things are still pretty calm around here.

If this had happened somewhere else in the world, it wouldn’t have made your news.

A forever summer ended last night.  The still, dusty air gave way to a cooling Mediterranean breeze, surmounting the western watershed and bringing the first of winter’s chill.  It’s true, though it be the sixth day of December; the summer’s days have finally come to an end.  In one weekend, shorts have been put away and winter’s clothing unpacked.  For the first time in seven months I have felt a temperature that falls below 50 degrees.  This morning I awoke to storm clouds in the west and sprinkles of rain at my doorstep.  The prayers of all in this land have been answered.  The driest season this land has ever known has finally found its first respite…and I put on my flannel.

These last weeks have seen many last things at JUC.  The semester has nearly reached its end.  In a last minute scramble of papers and final exams, students scattered across this city to say their last farewells and relive their favorite moments.  Most are now either home or on one last adventure to Egypt.  I have grown close to many and will miss them dearly.  It is the bittersweet nature of this position to say a thousand hellos and give a thousand hugs goodbye.  Great memories from this semester include:

  • ridiculous Twilight nights
  • never-ending games of Spades
  • Dr. Wright’s Christmas stories
  • Robyn’s swan dive during our hike in the Golan
  • Dan & Paula’s culinary masterpieces…Mexican food has finally made it to JUC
  • my first Kindle purchase
  • chocolaty brilliance for Megan’s birthday
  • Ultimate Frisbee Fridays…and the occasional Saturday
  • The great night-time search for ice cream in Beersheba
  • Zullis
  • Fiery garlic-infused green olives at the Golani Brewpub
  • Late night antics with the Canadians
  • Man night
  • sprite and arak
  • Cookie night
  • First weeks of Settlers of Cataan
  • al-beit in Bethlehem
  • swimming at Ashkelon
  • coffee house!

I will miss you all dearly.

Here are a few of the scenes from the past four months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

12:30 am…goodnight.

3:45 am… alarm bells ring.

Wash face. Load car.  Fill Starbucks travel mug from Singapore with Starbucks Via Ready Brew coffee.

4:30 am in the rental car and on the way down the road.

 

Blinking away the sleep and sipping on the deep, dark coffee, I hesitate at turning on the radio.  I pull out of Jerusalem and head down the Descent of Adumin.  Rolling my windows down, the dry desert air from the wilderness flows through the car.  With no one else in sight, the silence of this desert wilderness seeps into my consciousness and…I am still.  Gravity continues to pull the vehicle downhill as I pass the Inn of the Good Samaritan.  Descending below sea level the first hints of gray begin to fade the stars over the Transjordan hills just twenty miles ahead.  Passing Jericho on my left, I take a right on Road 90.  The air continues to warm as hints of sulfur let me know that I near the Dead Sea.

Every few minutes twin pinpricks of light followed closely by  a car comes my way, but for the most part this southerly adventure is taken mostly alone.  Qumran slides by up the hill on my right.  Ein Gedi comes and goes.  Masada soars above the cliffs on the right.  The cutoff for Arad comes soon after.  Following the valley and the lay of the ground, I continue straight south.  Deep in the Negev, the stillness continues.  Friends from home will cross the border from Jordan later in the morning.  I will meet them near the Red Sea and begin a three-day whirlwind tour of the Land of Israel.  After picking them up, we would drive back north all the way up to Galilee where we camped for two nights.  So many sites and not a few adventures were had, but those are stories for a different day.

 

The sun finally surmounts the horizon across the Jordan Rift Valley to my left.  A single ray arches through the dusty air and burns into the hillside outside my passenger window.  Inching higher, the sun causes my car’s shadow to grow and shrink as the hills move closer and then further away.  Though I have seen this landscape a dozen times, it is with a different perspective that I view the sand and scrub brush.  Always before I have come with friends, students, or family.  These desert scenes were only caught as a group…and what group of people, even when it is only two, ever allows for silence and stillness?  As my mind wanders across the limestone formations, a panoply of biblical images and world changing events comes to mind.

 

Following the seasons and their flocks, the Patriarchs moved in and out of these areas.  The great Lawgiver led a nascent nation to water through these wastes.  Elijah sought God somewhere in this vastness.  So did Paul.  The Christ fasted for forty days.  His cousin, the Baptist, was beheaded just across this salty lake.  Far up the hillside I cannot see it, but I know there sits a castle left behind when the Crusaders fled this place.

 

They have all come and gone…and are mostly forgotten.  This land still remains…and I zip through it at 120 km/hr on my way to the Red Sea.  I live in Jerusalem—a holy city, a modern city, a busy city, a noisy city overflowing with people from every nation and language.  Though it is not always thought of as such, it is a center of humanity.  Wars and peace have been found and lost here.  Far from those holy places, I revel in the silence of the desert and the vastness of this space.  My heart climbs with the sun.  No sublime thoughts come my way, but a joy is rekindled.  How often we forget to escape the noise of everyday life to rest in peace.  The monastics of many faiths have often made retreat to these deserts.  Though that is not my intention, I can see the beauty in such a life.

An Arabian poet penned these words and with these I leave you this night.

 

How many a desert plain, wind-swept,

like the surface of a shield,

empty, impenetrable,

have I cut through on foot,

joining the near end to the far,

then looking out from a summit,

crouching sometimes,

then standing, while mountain goats, flint-yellow,

graze around me,

meandering like maidens

draped in flowing shawls.

~Shanfara

 

As the campus is quiet right now and most of my to-do lists are checked off, it is time to write a few more thoughts.

It has been almost three months since I left home and landed back at JUC.  So much has happened, so many lessons learned, and too little time to reflect.  It’s too much to write it all, so here are a few of the highlights…

-New friends.  This university tends to always bring in great students and amazing staff.  This semester is no exception.  It is never easy being far from home, but the community here makes it much more bearable.  My life is daily enriched by the friendships and interactions I have with the staff and students here at JUC.

-Hummus!!!  I know the Pita Pit and a few store brands make decent hummus back home, but nothing compares to that which is found everywhere over here.  Oh gosh, and pitas hot out of the oven!  This could be the manna sent from heaven.

-Kindle.  That’s right, I gave in and bought the latest e-reader.  It has revolutionized my life.  Though I’ve had it for only three weeks, I have read 5 complete books on it so far….Gulliver’s Travels; The Jungle Book; Pride and Prejudice; The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights; The Great Hunt, Book Two of the Wheel of Time; How to Tell a Story and Other Essays.  You can probably notice that I love the free books from Amazon, all those published before 1923.  Woot!

-Oregon.  Two current students are from Oregon, both from the Portland area.  We often reminisce about the beloved state we left behind.  I’ve also met up with three different sets of friends from home.  Jerris and her daughter Katie from Albany were here at the beginning of September.   Carley Kendrick and Jesse Rodli from Salem Bible came in October.  Right now, Melissa and Lindsay from Starbucks are here on a Holy Land adventure.  We’ve trekked all over Jerusalem and Bethlehem.  On Sunday we will drive a rental up to Galilee to try our hand at walking on water.  Oh, and the football in Oregon is as fun and tragic as ever.

-Endless sunshine.  The Middle East is hot.  That is no surprise, but rarely has Jerusalem ever had a fall that has been this warm this late.  It is still climbing into the mid 80s every day.  I’ve had to use a sweatshirt exactly 4 times since I landed here.  At this time last year, David, Kelly, Sam and I were rained on everywhere we went for almost two weeks.  At times I don’t like it, but in looking at pictures from home, I am glad that I’m still in a t-shirt and shorts.

-Al-Beit in Bethlehem.  Every Thursday night I get to join something special that is happening in the West  Bank.  A group of Palestinian Christian young people come together to worship Jesus and just hang out.  Al-Beit is Arabic for ‘the house.’  It is somewhere between a cross of a coffee shop, youth group, and community center.  There is an energy and depth in this group that surprises me every time I can join in with them.

-Successful short-term group!  Perhaps the most satisfying thing I have done so far has been connected to the Pastor & Parishioner group that came through a couple weeks ago.  There were 32 students, ages 16 to 78, but most in their 40-50s.  Half the group was from Canada and the rest were from far-flung scattered states.  They had the most amazing attitudes, endless energy and abundant enthusiasm.  They loved to learn and were so excited to see this land where God touched down.  For two weeks they used their Bibles as maps to explore this land. They reminded me so much of my family at Oak Creek and First Assembly.  You guys would love a trip over here.

-Office plants.  Need I say more?

-Unexpected trip to Jordan.   Because of an expiring visa, I had to make a quick trip to Jordan.  I was able to see many places that I hadn’t been to in almost three years.  In one afternoon, I saw the ancient capitols of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites.

-Bacon & Pepperoni Pizza.  Oh how you have changed my Jerusalem life!

-Stars & Bucks Café.  Good espresso is nearly impossible to find in the Middle East.  This last Tuesday, though, I finally found a spot in Bethlehem that can bring out that perfect flavor in every shot.  Although this café has stolen its name from my alma mater, I am not ashamed to buy their coffee mugs.

-Group skype conversations.  Thank you Ian, Alana, Ada, Seth, and Emily for entertaining me this night.  Here’s a sample

[9:17:34 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: Take that to the back

[9:17:39 PM] Emily Thomassen: haha seth is shorter than me

[9:17:42 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: take that to the bank

[9:17:42 PM] Ada: the back?

[9:17:47 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: the bank

[9:17:51 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: the bank

[9:17:53 PM] crsimon: I saw the gnarliest back hair the other day

[9:17:54 PM] Ada: well, I do enjoy the occassional head covering..

[9:17:54 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: the bank

[9:18:00 PM] crsimon: you could have corn-rowed it

[9:18:10 PM] Ada: EW!

[9:18:11 PM] crsimon: mullet straight into back hair corn rows

[9:18:18 PM] Seth Andrew Hague: Ada… I have a secret…

[9:18:23 PM] crsimon: you’ll never top that one

[9:18:24 PM] Ian Garrett: oh no

[9:18:26 PM] Emily Thomassen: umm i rocked the corn-rows so dont hate

Thank you all for the office suggestions from the last post.  As of now, I have only made a few adjustments…

Life is always so much more fun when you can make a friend out of a weary plant.

These two were needed for their green.  I miss Oregon.

Yes, I did make that coffee mug warmer purchase, but….I tend to drink the coffee before it needs a warmer, which means I end up with an uber-hot empty coffee mug.

While looking for office inspirations, I came across this post at positivesharing.com .

In other news, my first short-term group arrived two days ago.  There are 32 students, about half are from Canada and the rest come from across the states.  Jet-lagged and weary, they stumbled into campus yesterday.  After a quick intro and campus tour, I handed them over to their instructor for two weeks of intense adventure in the history and geography of the Holy Land.

This is one of the videos I often show to demonstrate America’s influence in the Middle East.

Yesterday also saw the delivery of my first geeky purchase in years.  I am now a proud owner of a kindle.  My first read has been The Legends of King Arthur and his Knights by Sir James Knowles.  Those of you in the e-book world, what have been your favorite reads?  For those who still turn the paper page, what is a book you’ve read recently that is worth the money spent on it?

On the occasional hike near Galilee, we sometimes find showering waterfalls.
Hi All,
JUC people have established a long tradition of random life updates. So with the sun filtering down behind the windmill overlooking Yemen Moshe, I begin my tale.
From where I sit now, Yom Kippur will come to an end within 90 minutes.  Although the day has been quieter than usual, the ever-present chatter of the courtyard birds have tried to make up for this afternoon’s stillness.  It has been a typical Day of Atonement in this land.  The streets are quiet, the bicycles are out, white is worn by all, while crocs adorn the feet of the Orthodox.  I ventured out into town with our new volunteer chefs, Dan and Paula, right after lunch.  It was a good, quiet, and overly warm walk.

Some may call Dan and Paula cooks, but I deem they are worthy to be called chefs.  Not in living memory have JUC students ever eaten such consistently varied, creative, and delicious cuisine.  Gone are the days of rice and beans.  Now are the days of fajitas, pancake bars, American-tasting dinners, and homecrafted lemon bars that will cause you to shift your thinking of heaven to include this citrusy fantasy.  With such great kitchen skills, they also make wonderful neighbors as we share the highest floor of the tower, right at the top of the rickety wooden staircase.  Perched atop the JUC campus, this area has naturally been dubbed ‘The Treehouse.’  They are here for the entire school year, and are greatly appreciated by all.

So yes, I am back here at JUC.  Tomorrow will have made it one month since the plane touched off from my beloved state.  It was a rough goodbye.  If possible, friends and family became even more dear to me during the eight months that I was home.  During those months, I was refreshed, rejuvenated, and revived by hitching my star to the wandering path of Starbucks.  An environment was created where I could speak into many lives, and many lives could speak into mine.  This third parting from Starbucks will most likely be my forever goodbye with the company.  For all its faults, they were always good to me.  Why do I linger on this experience?  For two reasons.

Foremost, I share this to show the swirl of emotional pulls that came with this return to JUC.  Yes, there were all those goodbyes, and yes, there was the excitement of a new adventure.  Yet, a huge cloud of anxiousness surrounded my thoughts and actions during my last months at home.  I’m not sure where it all came from, but there was a great amount of mental unease (if that can even be a word).  With all this hovering somewhere between heart and head, I flew out of Portland back to the Middle East.  Never has travel been so easy.  There were no problems in Portland, no issues in Atlanta, and when landing in Ben Gurion, I walked through customs with just a look and gathered my waiting bags from the carousel.  This was a far cry, from the four overly-meticulous strip searches that happened last December in TLV.

In many ways, the ease of travel and entry into Israel has been typical of this month in Jerusalem.  I was expecting a bit of culture shock, but while walking through town in those first days, I felt…well, welcomed.  I’m not sure how else to say it.  Things felt right.  Despite the utter craziness of this part of the world, at this point it is right for me to be here.  This welcome was only extended as I began to work with Diane and Dr. Wright on the campus at JUC.  Initially we set out to prep the dorms and facilities for the arrival of the long-term students.  After they came and settled down, we began diving into the world of Short-Term programs and operations.  The details are not exciting to relate, but the environment and culture that has been created at JUC is perfect to work in.  The Wrights are my heroes and now I get to join them in serving an eager and excited student population.  They are the reason I have returned to JUC.  Which brings me to my second point of highlighting Starbucks.

Most of my fellow coffee lovers have departed from Israel.  Spontaneous coffee tastings in Abu Tor and Diane’s kitchen are but a fond memory of a time gone by.  Yet, with the quick visit of the Wright’s daughter and future son-in-law, we were given a rare treat.  Raw coffee beans from a Ugandan farmer were part of the gift that Kenny gave his future mother-in-law.  An evening of roasting occurred and the next morning Diane made a fresh French Press of deeply satisfying only-12-hour-old dark roasted Ugandan awesomeness.  The darkness of the roast was reminiscent of a French or Italian standard, but it had such a smooth and mellow finish that I’m not sure how to classify it.  There was no bitterness and very few acidic or citrus tones.  It was close to perfect.  So although Starbucks has been left behind, I have found a few other ways of satisfying that jones for a decent mug of home brew.  I will just let the pictures do the rest of the talking…


In wrap-up, this month has been short, but the days have been long.  There is a never-ending list of details and to-dos, but I am finding my stride.  An enjoyable and satisfying routine has loosely settled around the weekly activities.  I am gaining new skills and creating new friendships.  This is where I am supposed to be for this moment…few things are more deeply satisfying than knowing that.

Why yes, the corner of my room does have a section of the Mediterranean painted on it.

It is a lazy Saturday afternoon, of the very best kind.  The heat of the day stifles movement and energy.  A cold cup of coffee sits to my right and a good book is on my left.  This morning, I cleaned my room, so a little order has been restored to my life.  It has been two weeks since I stepped foot back in this land.  There have been some rough moments, but those have been by far the rarer kind.  More often than not, I find myself surprised by how much I am enjoying this new adventure.  So what exactly am I doing?

Officially, my position at JUC is Administrative Assistant to the President with Special Duties and Responsibilities Related to but not limited to the Short-Term Studies Programs.  A.A.P.S.D.R.R.S.T.S.P for short.  Since abbreviating things like that leads to so many more questions, I usually tell people that I am the on-campus Short-Term Studies Coordinator for JUC.  Ok, so now that titles are done with, what does an average day look like?

The bells of the neighboring church usually pull me from my slumber at 6am every morning.  After an attempt to punch ‘snooze’ on the church bells, I roll out of bed and find the showers.  Then I go searching for food in the dining hall.  The students are served the usual three meals a day.  As I live on campus, I can join them whenever I like, but I also have a key to the main kitchen.  Occasionally 6:30 sees me using the industrial-sized kitchen to cook myself a simple little omelet.  At 8 I open my office and turn on the computer.  There are usually a dozen emails from our stateside office that I try to answer as quickly as possible.

Can you see the bell tower that wakes me up each morn?

My inbox often functions as my to-do list for each morning.  Most of these emails are related to upcoming 3-week study tours that I am putting together.  The first study group that I will see lands in the middle of October.  Then we’ll have several more in January, one each in February, March, and April.  At this moment, I am confirming reservations for hotels, buses, and the sites that the students will visit.  While I am finalizing this next half year of programming, I will also be making first reservations at different places for 2012.  Many hotels are fully booked 18 months in advance.  Even if I finish up with the immediate concerns, I can always dive deep into the future for upcoming trips.

So that is most mornings.  I try to get most of those details worked out before lunch.  Once noon hits, I lock up the office and join the students in the dining room for lunch.  We have an Arab cooked named Suleiman who takes care of breakfast and lunch.  Today he made a great garlic buttery chicken thing.  Soon I shall be fat.  At 1pm I head  to the main office where I get to run the front desk.  This means I get to answer the phone, play with the copy machine, talk with students passing by, sell things out of our bookstore, and whatever else comes up.  During these afternoon hours, I also look after my semester duties.  I am responsible for the work-study program and the community volunteering projects that our semester students participate in.   Each semester we have a group of 40-60 students who live on campus in the dorms.  Many of these students are taking a study abroad semester as part of their undergrad studies back in the states.  A few of the students are here for the two-year programs.  There are two students from Oregon here this fall, so sometimes we get together and reminisce about things we miss from home.

Somewhere between 5-6pm, we close up the office and join the students for dinner.   The evening hours find me rather lazy and unadventurous.  Usually you’ll find me joining a game of Settlers of Cataan or a movie or a stroll into the new city.

First Shabbat in Jerusalem is always a perfect excuse for an evening BBQ in the garden.

In the cool of the evening Dr. Wright kicks off the semester by bringing the Psalms to life with short but powerful observations, connecting the written word to the land which we stand upon.

In all, I am really enjoying this new role in Jerusalem.  Being a student was great, but this is something different…sometimes better, sometimes harder.  I am sad to be away from home, but I am glad to be here too.  Such are the paradoxes of life…

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