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For the third year, ABR Associate Dr. Scott Stripling led a team of diggers to Israel to excavate the Byzantine monastery at Khirbet el-Maqatir. Joining Scott and his team was Dee Alberty from Baton Rouge, LA. Dee shares her experiences in Part 3 of this diary.

Day 8...Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve...sleeping in because of a sinus infection :-( . Rest of the team went a-digging without Tika and me because we have tickets to ride the bus with The Baptist House to Bethlehem at noon. Thankfully, a good night's sleep and salt water helps to get this girl going again, somewhat. The dig team didn't really miss us today because Joel Kramer, American videographer and founder of SourceFlix, a Christian ministry in the Holy Land, and 3 generations of his family came out to dig, and, boy, did they make great progress and find great treasures. See the pic of the WHOLE oil lamp (right), that Abby found tucked away quietly on a shelf for 1300 years!

No time to lose, we board a bus near the hotel like the locals and ride down to the Old City. And located right at the end of the bus line is the Garden Tomb at Gordon's Calvary! We are invited to walk in for free because of the holiday. What a treat to hear groups from all over the world sing praise to our risen Lord early in the morning!

Next we start heading for the Temple Mount, but when we get to the checkpoint we are told to RUN because it closes in 7 minutes...and RUN we do....(I guess the daily hike up the trail to Ai has gotten me in shape a bit more :-) . And make it just in time to see it up close, just before it closes to all non-Muslims for several prayer hours.

We have just enough time for a bit of shopping/ haggling (Tika is a pro!) in the old marketplace and a quick lunch in Mamilla Mall before we find a taxi to the Baptist, what a fun group my Houston friend Tom has recommended for tonight....shortly after I slip on my LSU sweatshirt, a handsome young man walks up and says, 'Hey, I'm from Shreveport and I just graduated from LSU!' Turns out that Myles Laroux had lots of college friends at The Chapel whom we know... what fun to share this special night with folks from home.

Wow, where do I start? Manger Square in Bethlehem has quite an international flavor on Christmas Eve...stern Greek Orthodox priests in the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born, playful Roman Catholic priests as they wait in line to view the cave...Arab bagpipe players in Scottish kilts....all is cheerful, but just in case...Lots of police lines near the church and I spot 2 well-armed snipers on the roof of the 'Bethlehem Peace Center'.

No one told me that we had to 'sing for our supper '! But this fun group of Baptists uses this occasion to be good witnesses for the pastor plays his guitar, extrovert David from Iowa/Austria plays his tiny trumpet, thankfully the rock star boys from Holland & the basketball coach from Nashville stepped in to save the day with vocals : ). In this BBC video (off site link) you'll meet my new friend Lyn from London (pink & purple)... and maybe you can spot me in my LSU sweatshirt... if you look quick!

The sweetest part of the evening was after dinner when we sang carols after dinner in the hotel restaurant. The other group sharing the venue was from Finland... we'd sing one carol, and they would respond with one in Finnish... the whole day was a constant reminder that Jesus is the King of the WHOLE world... and how grateful I am to be one small part of His eternal Kingdom!

Day 9 - DIG

Christmas Day....I've pretty much lost my voice. Several of us are sick now. It's cold, windy...but we dig least until noon and knock off early. Some days you find great stuff...some days you just get a whole lot of nuthin'. But Abby is on the verge of finding...well, I'll tell you tomorrow.

My clothes get pretty nasty by the end of the u can tell from photo (right)... but I'll wear 'em again tomorrow... no sense in messing up something CLEAN!

In the afternoons, we have just enough energy to make a quick check of email in the lobby (only WIFI hotspot available), try to get a hot (iffy) shower, and find a nice dinner somewhere. Tonight, Scott is sick, but Mike Luddeni graciously treated the rest of us to a delicious Christmas dinner and we came back to my room where I had prepared a simple platter for us to share communion together... (using small olive wood cups we'd bought in Bethlehem last night), sing Scott's favorite Christmas carol, AND share special chocolates from Moldova (thank you, TIKA). Sweet way for our 'dig family' to end a hard-working day. Early to bed, hoping we all feel a bit healthier in the morning.


Day 10 - DIG

By the end of today, I 'think' we're starting to turn a corner (health-wise AND dig wise). We 've worked steady, hard and it's starting to show. Here's a pic of the installation that Abby uncovered today...a baptismal pool (watch video here).....archaeologist Charles Wilson mentioned many such installation features when he noted this site in 1866, but not this one, I think.

Today, the antiquities tile roof expert from Jerusalem, Moran, visited our site. Scott showed him the church/monastery that we are currently working on, as well as the village wall and first century house that he and his team uncovered last year. Digging is very addictive... to think that you are uncovering the way a REAL family, or community, lived so long ago... to touch the things that they touched or crafted by hand... is just very personal.

Yesterday we learned that the Muslims are starting to excavate under the Temple Mount again illegally, so the local archeologists are taking shifts 'spying' out the activities to report to local authorities, supreme court if necessary.

Scott told us tonight at dinner that he thinks we'll wrap up our dig in just 2 more days! Tomorrow we'll finalize the last parts, then clean it up spic & span, take pictures of it, and we're done!

I am already starting to miss the dark, quiet, early morning drives thru the rocky hillsides of Eretz Israel… Watching the red sunrise, shepherds and their flocks skipping from rock to rock… Sifting loose soil into worn goofas (rubber pails), even listening to top ten hit parade of pop Arabic music, and drinking hot, sweet tea steeped outdoors in a small black kettle over a small fire by our precious, comedic Jewish guard.

I feel that I have become PART of the Land, part of the daily rhythm of a life built by the patriarchs, to somehow 'see' the Land thru THEIR eyes, if possible....and that is why I came. It happened. I am tired. I am satisfied. Thank You, Lord Most High, for this special privilege of helping (in a small way) the rocks cry out... to tell of Your faithfulness to Your covenant people to all generations!

Day 11 - DIG

Well, we've only dug for 9 has FLOWN by, and every day is a little bit, we 'girls' have mostly finished the discovery part of our square... so we spent the day getting it ready for picture day tomorrow... trimming roots that are randomly sticking out of the rocks, cutting out mud and brushing dirt from around the big rocks that make up walls. Make-up, lights, camera, ACTION!

Last night at our group dinner, Scott asked me (the rookie) what had been the biggest surprise about the dig... since I had no experience, I had no PRE-conceived ideas... but I've been thinking on it today as I trimmed, scraped, and brushed...

1. Had nooooo idea that plant roots went sooooo deep into the ground... thinking spiritually also.
2. Didn't know that Arab cell phones had the same ringtones as ours.
3. Israeli supermarkets don't sell OTC meds, like cough syrup...but pharmacies provide heavy duty Rx withOUT a prescription!
4. Didn't know I could hike uphill & work like a mule all day for 9 days and lose NO weight :-(

Still thinking.

To the right is a picture of the 9 inch nail that Jacob's team found....very similar to the kind used to crucify Jesus. One of the markers of its antiquity is the squarish head on the end. A Jewish guard dressed up in his prayer shawl to pray as he began his work to protect us... while this is very thoughtful, it's definitely a no-no while one is working in the West Bank on Arab property, and since he doesn't speak English, our fearless leader makes a wise phone call to our top guard to handle this delicate situation. Then there's the small flock of sheep we see each afternoon when we wash pottery on the Mount of Olives... in the MIDDLE of town!

Every single work day, we pass the rocky fields where Saul found his wandering donkeys, where Joshua's army routed the Canaanites, where David and Jonathan shot arrows together, where Jacob buried Rachel, and drive around the high hill in Gibeah where Saul built his palace and tried to kill David. Even where Jesus departed up into the skies. There are no information signs- you just have to know your Bible geography like Scott does. Is anyone else in this country still as awed by these things as I am???

Sweet dreams... one more early morning, then our bodies can get a little bit more rest (maybe).

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