Qumran Fund Progress

Qumran Support Progress
5076 / 4000 (126.90%)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

It's a small world, after all.

From left to right: Joshua Cook, Daniel Dixon, Stephen Johnston (me), and Katie Joy Irwin.
There is nothing like international travel. There is also nothing like sharing it with others! In the short time I have been in Israel, I have had the privilege of meeting up with some friends. Some expected, but a couple that were a surprise!

I knew that Daniel and Katie Joy were planning on making it to Qumran. In fact, we had scheduled to have them join me on the dig for a couple of days! What I didn't expect was for Joshua Cook to show up. We had barely talked about the idea, but I was pleasantly surprised to see three friends walking up, instead of two!

We enjoyed great conversations from comparing travel adventures, to the typical verbal exchanges of friends. It was refreshing to take discussions into deeper waters, without having to give lengthy background information that is necessary with strangers.

Sadly, they each had to move on to other things. Joshua Cook just graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), and was about to begin a tour with one of his professors.

Daniel and Katie Joy had just completed an Israel tour with Northwest Bible Church (in Dallas) and were on their way to visit Petra in Jordan. From there I think they were planning to meet up with Daniel's sister and tour Greece.

So here I thought it would be another week until I saw a familiar face, but that wasn't so bad. That's when God provided for a surprise encounter with another friend from Northwest Bible Church, Sarah Margaret!

Sarah Margaret and I had discussed her visit to Israel, but it seemed her tour wouldn't line up with my stay. I had dropped it from my mind thinking that it wouldn't happen. I wasn't looking for her.

Sarah Margaret was touring with her family as part of a group from Dallas, TX. She had visited the dig site and not seeing me, she asked for me by name. I have no idea whom it was she asked, but this individual didn't have a clue who I was. Perhaps he was one of the Bedouin or the geologist that just showed up a few days ago. In any case, she thought that my group had moved on. She was no longer looking for me.

For some reason our group stopped working early today. No one complained, but we all made our way to the cars. As Dr. Cooper started to drive off, I looked at the tour buses and one happened to catch my eye. The group said that they were from Dallas, TX. I found that to be unique enough that I pointed it out to the rest of us in the car. They didn't seem to care. When I turned to tell them, I looked out at the sea of tourists and noticed a familiar head of hair. I looked closer and sure enough, it was my friend! I was caught off guard and excited. I could barely collect my thoughts and asked Dr. Cooper to stop the car. I am sure he thought I had forgotten something. I asked him again and he complied. The group was headed back toward their bus and I was running out of time. In my excitement, I shouted out, "Stephanie"! Once the words came to life, I realized that I hadn't said her name--though it did get the group's attention. (For clarity, I may have an impeccable memory for faces, but names have always been like kryptonite to my memory. I will always get first letters right, but rarely do the names come close...or even sound alike. Please dear friends, don't take this personally if it happens. It just means we should spend more time together to help my memory.)

In any case, as a stranger was rushing up toward the tour group, shouting random names, Sarah Margaret saw me. Though equally shocked, she showed her mental prowess and accurately recalled my name, amidst laughter. That is when I recalled her true name, not her spontaneously created alias, and I apologized. I'm not sure she even understood me. After we hugged a friend from another land, we posed for pictures. I briefly met her family before I had to go. What a pleasant surprise!

Well there are only 5 days left on this trip and I am left wondering if I will still see others.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Feast of Weeks (Shavuot)

So, as most of you know, I am staying at a Jewish Kibbutz here in Israel (just 1 of 267). Originally these were basically a little farming communities that operated on a communal basis. Each person takes turns doing the work in exchange for housing and pay. I understand that now very few (one estimate had it at only 10) operate in this manner. Now the people rent rooms and they are hired for various positions around the Kibbutz.

Yesterday we joined the local celebration of Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks. This is a Festival recorded in the Bible (Exodus 34:22; Numbers 28:26-31; Leviticus 23:15-21) that celebrates God's provision of the wheat harvest. It is also the time that the locals celebrate receiving the Torah.

This is demonstrated by the celebrants wearing white (for the Torah) and flowers (symbolically the first fruits, more traditionally the children pick fruit as their decorations).

Things began with a children's choir singing and yes, there was one child that got plenty of laughs from those watching. When they were done the youngest children came up carrying a piece fruit or vegetable that rhymed with their name. Then these were symbolically offered up by placing them into a basket.

The celebration focuses on provisions and harvest and this includes children. Here are the two children born in Kibbutz Kalia this year. Once a year at this festival the children are presented to the Kibbutz. Sort of like a church's baby dedication.

This was followed by a horseshow including two young foals. (In the right photo you can see the two month old foal and her mom.) There is a stable here on the Kibbutz and the staff showed off their skills. Then they put the young riders on and had them also show what they have learned.

A parade followed comprised of harvest machinery. On each one, older children could be seen throwing candy to the younger children in the audience.

The parade ended with a combine tossing out piles of hay. Once it passed, the children ran to the hay to search for hidden sweets.

As you can tell, I had a great time
celebrating with the locals!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Qumran: The Dig Begins

So we have begun breaking ground in Qumran. The team is a little bit smaller than was hoped and the task is large, but the potential is great. Above you will see the 2012 Qumran dig group consisting of people from Criswell College, Liberty University, Hebrew University, Singapore students, and Bedouin locals.  We hope to have a few more added from Sweden, my friends from Dallas, and a few others.

Because this is expected to be the final dig that Dr. Price will be leading into Qumran, there are plans to bring in National Geographic, CNN, a film crew, and at least one Christian tv station.  The work is hard and there is much to do. Basically a pickaxe is used to break through a layer of soil. This challenge varies by how hard the soil is. Then the wider end of the pickaxe is sometimes used to further break up the soil. Then a "shovel" (a large flat blade that forms a right angle with the shaft.) is used to scrape the soil away and eventually into a bucket. Buckets are dumped into wheelbarrows, which are dumped into a designated "trash pile" outside the area.

After two days of hard work, we are down about 10 inches in our tiny square and I have a few blister spots trying to surface. In reality my gloves are protecting me from the typical places, but the seams inside are causing other spots to form. The sun is hot, but the tents provide plenty of shade. I take plenty of water and we break midmorning for breakfast. Starting by 5:00 AM, we stop by 1:00 PM. It is enough to wear us out!

Well that said, my 4 AM wakeup call is coming before too long and I should be going here pretty soon. So though I will be able to share a lot about the day to day activities, there is a lot that I cannot share. Specifically I can't mention in my blog about what we find. Respectfully, it should be up to the dig director to decide how this information is released to the public. One on one, I can discuss these things in person, but not in correspondence or public posting.

Still, we are digging in places that show good potential. In fact, this is where Dr. Price has wanted to dig for many years, and only now has it been approved. So the prayers include: more workers, that we would be able to completely dig these areas (with the limited resources, and in the brief time alloted), for safety, and for us to have a successful dig.

Thanks again, more details to follow...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Stage 1 of the trip

Showed up this morning right at 5 AM. There was a bit of confusion as an attendant attempted to help...and it only made things worse. My bag weighed in at 40 lbs., this was after my first weighing had me at 20. Courtney said she started with 70 and had to work down. Oh and I like how Dr. Cooper saved the bad news until we were already at the airport. It turns out that Dr. Price had the time schedule off a bit. Instead of starting the dig day out at 7 AM, we will start at 5AM! Ouch.

On the Dallas to Newark flight, we had a backseat pilot. It is a little disconcerting to see a pilot take a seat in the back. You wonder if he passed this flight off to someone else so he could nap. Of course I just liked the idea that we had a backup on board.

There is an unspoken rule: no matter how many tattoos you have, babies cause you to have odd facial expressions followed by strange ramblings. The muscular man next to me on the flight, Exhibit A.

At Newark, I was a bit shocked to find the Eiffel Tower. To my relief I found New York outside my window. So, in celebration I bought an "I <3 New York" item...only because I needed a wallet. (one that doesn't entice pickpockets or coworkers).

We are stalling our time until the next boarding. Two are asleep, one is reading, one went exploring, and I am blogging.

I hear one of the in flight movies is Hugo. Dr. Cooper says we all have to watch it. I know that I just need to get a nap in sometime. I'm running on fumes: caffeine.

Well, until Israel...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Only Hours Remain...

From my vantage point I can see my suitcase. It is splayed with future contents surrounding it--much like vultures, they are ready to decend at any moment. Perhaps they terry since they secretly know that once encapsulated, they will remain confined and untouched for well over 24 hours! 50 pounds is the limit and I find it hard to come close. My first attempt had me at only 20, half of which I figure was luggage. So maybe I can take more and buy less, after all. Still, no reason to take my apartment with me. This is fitting, since I know my apartment well and Israel, little. Why should I take my apartment along, only to see it elsewhere? It is Israel I want to see, not this. It is fine for the turtles, to carry their homes, but not for this creature. This could very well be the reason that they travel so slow!

Well I am making good progress on my readings, but still much to do. Maybe I should just close up after this chapter, get my suitcase closed up, and close my eyes for a spell.

Still, I feel like finishing up this book to free me up all the more on this trip. To rest is like asking a child to wait 8 hours for Christmas morn. Better to hold back the tide than to chide the sleeplessly eager. With this I close out the pre-trip entries. Stay tuned...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Just one week left!

Today marks one week until I should be on my way to Israel. I can't say that my suitcase is packed, but I have things stacked on top of it. Though I doubt that really counts even remotely packing. Yep, I have a lot left to do. There is catching up on a semester's worth of sleep, finding my apartment under a semester's worth of homework, and all with only one week to do it. Such pressure!

Speaking of pressure, there is also the sensation of added pressure that I have in my left hand. It would be wise for one to reconsider actions before engaging into martial arts with machinery. The outcome is never good and the stories are just, plain embarrassing, though after a few weeks they prove to be thoroughly delightful anecdotes. I think there will be some youtube video that the store clerks will someday post about my stumblings. Though I would like to ask for a refund on those 5 seconds of fame. Hopefully it will be fine by trip time. Otherwise, well this will be interesting to say the least.

The lesson learned is to not be hasty. Fast and frenzied are the faulty and fallen. I wonder how many times in life I have gone with the moment when I should have thought things through. Hindsight is 20/20 right?

Patience and trust are two biggies that God is working on me these days. Life is filled with risks, but it is of greater risk to never risk at all. After all, every cub leaves the den at some point and explores the world. Fear is the friction to the wheels of change. Faith is the oil that greases the wheels. Skepticism is the wrench in the system that destroys these wheels (and picks apart simple analogies, including this one). Simply put, fear is misplaced trust. When trust is properly placed, it becomes faith.

I often am asked what will I do after I graduate. I don't know. Does it concern me? Only when I think about it. I wish I knew even what tomorrow would bring. I am not entrusted with tomorrow, all I have to work with is today. To live in tomorrow is to squander today. Today is too rich an investment to spend frivolously. I am consciously choosing to focus on what I have and not enumerating what I wish I had. Oh trust me, I could wish a great many things but these are not the goal. They are but part of a greater journey. I don't know exactly where my journey will take me, but for now it seems to be to Israel. So stay tuned to hear what's around the next bend.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Spring Semester Winds to an End

Today was the last exam for my last class for this semester. Usually the follow-up question is, "How many more of these do you have?" To which I never know how to respond. I am in a 90 hour graduate program with soon to be 66 hours under my belt. If all the classes I need are offered when I need, the best possible answer is three semesters. Sadly I think that rotations may be off just enough that I might be looking at four. I guess I could get extra crazy and try for two, but with Greek III and Hebrew III waiting in the wings for next semester, I think that is out. So, "Three-ish semesters more" it is!

So usually just after I finish my last exam I usually book my evenings solid for the next month until I faint from exhaustion. I think this year I should also wear a nametag when I attend functions to remind my friends what my name is. This might not be necessary, but I think at least one person hesitated before they said my name on Sunday. Though likely a fluke, one can never be too certain. I imagine at least one person thinks I moved to another city, or joined the foreign legion, but it might just be the cashier at Red River. Of course if she knew me well enough, she would know that I am not in the foreign legion, but in 11 days I will be in a foreign region. Yep, Israel is nearly upon me and though I can't recall the last time I had a craving for ham, I figure it will hit me in about 12 days.

Of course I need to start preparing for this trip at sometime soon. It would be wonderful if I could get my assigned book read before the trip. This would free me up to actually enjoy the trip. Besides, I really would like to read for pleasure on this trip.

I tell you, falling asleep with a selected book is very different than an assigned book. I believe it is more than the paper texture and thickness, but even the dreams seem to differ quite dramatically. Speaking of dreams, I think I am going to find a book to curl up with. Then I will allow its flowing words to float my cares away and transport me into dreamland.

Yes, this is my redefinition of "Facebook."