Land of miracles

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This article is a personal story, opinion, or testimony. Please see Category:Personal Testimonies for more information about writing and editing these articles.

My wife and I had been residing in Israel with our children for a little over two years when the Yom Kippur War broke out in early October of 1973. Soon thereafter, because of pressure from students’ parents, the BYU student group was pulled out of the country and moved to Austria to complete their semester abroad. Because I was not a regular BYU instructor (though I often taught more than half the courses offered), I was being paid only when I taught. With the students gone, I was suddenly without employment in a foreign land.

I tried to take on a few jobs here and there. For a time, I was able to substitute as a Hebrew teacher in a high school, but this ended when the teacher returned from the army. We had a bit of money in the bank in Salt Lake City and I had taken the precaution of having my mother become signator to the account prior to our departure for Israel. From time to time, we asked her to send us $100 from the account, which was steadily drained.

It was a time of much prayer on the subject of finances, and our pleas were not in vain. There suddenly came a steady flow of checks from people whose names were, for the most part, unfamiliar to us. Most of the accompanying letters indicated that the senders appreciated the tour guiding I had done for them during their brief stay in Israel. To receive money from such people was unusual, since the tour included all expenses and tips. Nor had we written to anyone but my parents about our predicament, and they knew none of the people who were sending us money.

Two of the letters answered the question as to how this great miracle had come about. One was from Daniel Kelly Ogden, a seminary teacher who had stayed with us for several weeks during his first visit to Israel and who, in years to come, would become a regular BYU fixture in Jerusalem. He noted that, as they were having opening prayer in his morning seminary class, he felt impressed that we needed money, so he took up a collection from students and sent us a check for $50.

Another check for $100 was accompanied by a note from a man who wrote that, during their prayer at the beginning of family home evening, his family had felt strongly impressed that they should send us some money. Two other families who visited Israel during this time somehow become aware of our predicament and each of them sent us $50 a month for over a year.

One of the serious consequences of the Yom Kippur war of 1973-4 was the shortage of food and basic supplies. Because of our lack of experience in war and our lack of finances, we were unable to stock up on these items. We lived in the Palestinian Arab village of al-Ayzariah (New Testament Bethany) and our Arab neighbors, being acquainted with the shortages that come during wartime, flocked to the stores to purchase food, kerosene, and bottled gas. Within two weeks, there were no more eggs, margarine, cooking oil, flour, kerosene, or bottled gas to be found, and other items were in short supply. Many of the foodstuffs and fuels were being moved to the front lines for the war effort. Others were sitting in warehouses and on the harbor docks, awaiting delivery by men and trucks that were now off fighting in the Sinai peninsula and the Golan Heights.

In times such as these, one can sympathize with the poor of the Bible, and one remembers how the Lord helped them. Jesus twice multiplied the fishes and the loaves for the crowds who came to hear him speak. Elijah had miraculously multiplied both the meal and the oil of the widow of Zarephath, while his successor, Elisha, also multiplied the oil of a widow at Jericho, in order that she might sell it and thus earn her livelihood.

Another famous miracle of Jewish lore is from the time or the Hasmonaeans, celebrated in the feast of Hanukkah. In 165 B.C., Judas Maccabaeus rededicated the temple at Jerusalem, following its pollution by the Greek rulers of Syria. But there could be found no consecrated olive oil for the temple’s candelabra and it would take a full week to produce some following the ancient formula revealed to Moses for the perfumed oil. A single cruse of oil, a one day supply, was discovered. Placed into the lamps, it burned for eight full days, by which time a new supply was available. This miracle is still celebrated every December throughout the Jewish world. Jesus went to the temple to commemorate this feast of lights or Hanukkah (“dedication”; see John 10:22-23). It was just such a miracle that happened to us during the Yom Kippur War.

Cooking in the Holy Land is usually done on stoves heated by bottled gas. The metallic gas bottles disappeared from the marketplace within days after the beginning of the war. Oh, there were plenty of them in port at Haifa, but there were neither trucks nor drivers to deliver them because all such resources were off at the war. (Truck and bus owners were exempted from import duties if they made their vehicles available to the military during wartime.)

One gas bottle usually served us for about a month to a month and a half, depending upon how much we used the oven. The bottle we were using at the time the war broke out had been in place for just over a month and we were therefore certain that it would soon be empty. Amazingly, however, it did not quit after a month and a half, nor even two months. Purchased about the end of August or the first of September, it was still in use as we assisted the Jerusalem Branch in the preparation of the annual Thanksgiving meal in November. It continued to provide fuel on Christmas day, when we were preparing one of the turkeys for the branch Christmas dinner. Then the flame went out the next morning as breakfast was being prepared. Gas bottles and kerosene had just become available again a few days before.

Thus, a gas bottle that should have completed its task by mid October had given us an additional two months and more of service, more than doubling its normal lifespan. I am convinced that the Lord, knowing our needs, multiplied the gas in that bottle in the same way that he multiplied the meal, the oil, the fishes, and the loaves.

John Tvedtnes