It’s been a good week. As I mentioned last week, this past Saturday we took a half-day trip out to Mt. Nebo and Madaba. I really liked it, though in some regards it was less exciting than past adventures (mostly just in the fact that there was less to see than, say, Jerash). If you, like I was, are unable to immediately recognize which of the manifold hills mentioned in the Bible was Mt. Nebo, let me tell ya a little about it. After traveling through the wilderness with the Children of Israel for forty years and just before their entering into the Promised Land, Moses stopped them to give them his last sermon, which is found in Deuteronomy. If you look at the picture above, the more fertile looking land there is likely where the Israelites camped during that time. After his sermon, Moses climbed up onto Mt. Nebo where the Lord showed him the Promised Land immediately before the end of his mortal life.
Our trip leaders, who had been there before, said we were super lucky because it was the clearest day they’d ever seen and we were able to see more and farther than usual. It was really cool. The picture above, as with most of the pictures I take, does rough justice to the view in real life, but as you can tell we were easily able to see the Jordan River, Dead Sea and Jericho. We were told that Jerusalem was just on the other side of the ridges above Jericho and, though the city itself was out of sight, we could see the smog floating over it. I had this song stuck in my head all day (we’ll get to spend a full day out there at some point in the next month or two!).
While we were on Mt. Nebo enjoying the view, our program director, Dil, said something to us that I found rather salient and profound. I’m gonna have to paraphrase a bit here. Essentially though, he talked about Moses finally making it to the border of the Promised Land and going up to Mt. Nebo to see it. With just your bare eyes, even from Mt. Nebo, the view is perhaps underwhelming considering all the trouble that was taken to get there. Really, it mostly looks like more desert stretching away into the distance. Yet, Deuteronomy says Moses saw the Promised Land in its fulness, even up to the Mediterranean Sea. So obviously, we’re talking here about a vision (cuz even on our incredibly clear day there was no sign of the Mediterranean from where we stood). From Mt. Nebo you really don’t see much more than desert. But in all honesty as you get closer to the Mediterranean, the terrain really does change and become a fertile “land flowing with milk and honey.” Through vision, Moses was able to see that. To liken this to us, in regards to learning Arabic and all the hoped-for future opportunities that come with it, or really in regards to any major goal we set for ourselves, sometimes after working hard to accomplish something you come to the edge of achieving that goal and the view before you might be discouragingly underwhelming. Once you see the thing for which you’ve worked so hard you may wonder why it is you wanted it and if it was really worth it. Maybe you studied Arabic for two years with these dreams of making a good career for yourself and perhaps (hope of all hopes) someday being an instrument in God’s hands to build His kingdom in the Middle East, but then you show up in the Middle East and find stinky, garbage-lined streets crowded with honking cars and everyone you talk to blows cigarette smoke in your face and because you’re living in a desert you have to conserve water so you only take miserably short, cold showers maybe twice a week. Or maybe you worked super hard at being a good person and dated a lot with these dreams of falling in love with someone and sailing off into wedded bliss, but then once you’re married you realize that this other person is far from perfect, and, dang it all, you sure are too, and wouldn’t you know it but now you have to live with this person for the rest. of. eternity. Or maybe… maybe I won’t belabor the point too much. The point is, looking forward with only your natural eyes, things may sometimes appear bleak. But looking forward with faith, with eyes full of vision and inspiration, you can see past the deserts in the foreground to find the true Promised Land waiting behind it. And ya know what? That is something I really, really believe.
Have I mentioned that I really like it here? I hope nothing I’ve said would give an indication otherwise, because I’m having a great time, despite the occasional challenge. Cigarette smoke really is one of my least favorite things in the world and EVERYONE here smokes. But I still love it here. This week I’ve come down with something of a cold, where I’m mega congested all the time and can’t stop coughing (I suspect a correlation between this and all the cigarette smoke/traffic exhaust I’m constantly around). But I still love it here. I get to study Arabic every day. I get to experience a foreign culture and interesting people every day. I get to eat Arab food every day. Food. Yes, I love the food. Yesterday our teachers at Qasid (the Jordanian institute where we have our classes) made us a big traditional Jordanian feast for lunch. It was awesome. I would have taken some pictures to post here, except I didn’t think about it cuz I was too busy eating and enjoying the food. And really, words are hollow shells incapable of adequately expressing the joys of food. So I’ll just say it was amazing.
Speaking of our teachers at Qasid, my teacher is really great. So I may have mentioned before, there are somewhere around 30 BYU students on this program (not counting spouses and babies) and for two hours a day we’re divided into 4 separate classes for what we call our “Issues Class” which is taught by a Jordanian teacher. My class has 7 other guys and our teacher is a guy named Fadi. Fadi is the man! Not only is he hilarious, but he also is insanely good at describing things in a way that we can easily understand. What I mean by that is, as we discuss various topics about the Middle East there are often words he’ll use with which some or all of us are unfamiliar, and, without a word of English(usually), he can help us understand exactly what the word means. I love being in his class. Also, he LOVES BYU students. He thinks we all have this amazing musical talent. He’s been working with students in our program the last couple of years and he showed us a couple of videos he took of former BYU students here in Jordan singing hymns. Though we didn’t find anything extraordinary about their singing he thought their harmonization of different parts was just out-of-this-world beautiful. He asked us to sing, so the eight of us – all guys – sang Nearer My God to Thee, just with a melody, bass line and tenor line, and he thought it was amazing. I feel like if he ever were to see the Tabernacle Choir perform live he’d keel over dead (though in his defense, I’ve seen MoTab live and it really is powerful). We found out that he has something of a special kind of talent himself. Fadi is a muhafedh, which means he has the entire Qur’an memorized and has been trained in reciting it. If you don’t know anything about Qur’an recitation, I don’t think I could adequately explain it in a brief manner. Suffice it to say, it’s more involved than just standing and saying memorized words and it’s a pretty big deal. You can watch a couple minutes of this to get an idea of what I’m talking about. I really love Ustadh Fadi though, he’s a great guy.
So much happened this week. I can’t do it all justice. Today I went to church up in al-Husn again. I love going to that branch! Two days ago I got a call from the missionary couple up there asking if I’d be willing to speak in sacrament today. So today I gave my first church talk in Arabic. Being here in Jordan is really the first time I’ve been exposed to a lot of the gospel-related vocabulary in Arabic. My topic was the Restoration, which I’d never even read about in Arabic before yesterday. Luckily, I had an Arabic copy of Preach My Gospel to help me out. After speaking, I went up to the Elder’s quorum president, Mar’ad, and asked him to be brutally honest with me, what did I say wrong or what sounded weird? He said there was one thing that made him laugh. He opened up his Bible and showed me something. So in James 1:5 in Arabic you could translate it as “let him ask God, who gives to all with generosity.” The word generosity there is “sukhaa'” (سخاء). When I read it though I pronounced it “shukhaa'” (شخاء). Please look closely at the Arabic letters there and understand how similar the letter for the “s” sound is to the letter for the “sh” sound. Unfortunately, it turns out “shukhaa” is a colloquial term for “to pee.” When Mar’ad explained that to me, one of the other brothers standing there said to me in English (and this is an exact quote), “Thanks God everyone was sleeping at that point!” And then he busted up laughing. Thanks God indeed.
So yes. I sincerely love it here. Isn’t life grand?