Friday, April 10, 2009

Palm Sunday

While I was exhausted and not really looking forward to waking early and getting out to more activities - Shabbat gave me a great day of rest and relaxation and rejuvenated me for Palm Sunday. A beginning to the Holy Week for the Christians in the Holy Land and near to the time of Passover, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of a very bush week in Jerusalem and the lands surrounding. I didn't know much about the activities of the day so we spent some time researching what woudl be best to do, and decided to attend a Luteran service at the Church of the Redeemer in the heart of the Old City. A crusader aged church that has a beautiful atrium in the center - it was a beautiful location which was very fitting for the beautiful service that took place within. The services began outside the church with a processison of palm fronds and singing, afterwhich we all took seats in this small church (the "Mormon University" students taking up a good half of the congregation). The service was all in English (fortunately), and was really very beautiful and inspiring. They read a portion of the Passion account from the book of Matthew, but it was read in a more theatrical form in that there were several readers and a narrator so that you could differentiate really well where the dialogue existed. This along with prayers and hymns made up the rest of the service. I'm not sure quite how to describe the spirit that accompanied this meeting, but I can say that I defintely felt what I think they term Spirtual Envy similar to what I felt at the Western Wall. After the service concluded we were able to mingle with the congregation and find out about them - a Presbyterian lady who was in attendace made a comment to one of the students that she "liked the Mormon people - who liked to be called Latter-Day-Saints", right? It was neat to talk to someone from the States who had heard about us and had positive feedback. Most the people here in the Holy Land know who the Mormon's are, but are not allowed to know much about us. But anyway! That was a very inspiring way to start the day.
After this we spent a bit of time in the city before heading back to the Center to meet up with the rest of the students and members of the Branch as well to attend the Palm Sunday walk. I heard from the Lutheran pastor that there were 50,000 people who would attend this Palm Sunday walk, and while this may still have been a bit of an exaggeration...there were a lot of people there to commemorate the Triumphal Entry of the Savior. Young children lined the streets with Palm Fronds asking for a shekel or two so that you could hold a palm frond yourself as you walked. Beginning in Bethphage (I belive) the Mormon students joined in many other Christian faiths in walking the route the Savior walked as he entered Jerusalem, and came through the city gates. The heat was almost unbearable and the walk was long but it was definitely worth it. We held back until almost the end of the long procession and sang some Hymns as a group before a smaller group of us decided to try and make it further ahead in the procession and move a long a bit more quickly. This was a great idea because it really helped me to be able to enjoy many of the different sects and see how they each worshipped. Songs were sung in many differing tongues and people each raised their voices in praise of their Lord. We passed by many important sites including Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives, and were able to visualize the many people that would have been there welcoming the Savior in to the city gates. We were able to study this account just yesterday, and once again it was a great coming together of personal experiences and scriptural accounts. We were even interviewed by an Italian television cast and appeared on TV! One of the local Monks familar with us as students even saw us.
Instead of turning around and making our way back to the Center, we decided (maybe foolishly) to continue on through the Old City in to West Jerusalem. There we treated ourselves to some frozen yogurt (it had been a long hot day), and then ordered a cab back to the Center. I'm not quite sure what I did for the rest of the evening, although I'm sure was pretty insignificant compared to the events of the day.
I think I'd like to commemorate Palm Sunday more conscioulsy from here on out because it's a really great way to begin focusing and thinking about Easter earlier on - an event often overlooked in the Western World.

Eilat - Apirl 4th

I don't know who's idea it was to take another all day field trip the day after our return to Galilee, and while I was kind of upset at first it ended up to be a good thing. The morning came quick and early (in fact I'm not sure I felt like I slept much at all), and then we were on a bus on our way to Eilat. A portion of the Red Sea (I have now seen Med and Red...I'm still waiting for Dead), this area contains some beautiful tropical fish and coral reefs. It was an optional field trip but almost everyone signed up, and so at 6:00 in the morning we all clambered on to the bus and started our trek back to Egypt...almost. It was a very long bus ride and most people were pretty calm due to exhaustion and so we slept most of the way there.
When we arrived we got all geared up with snorkeling equipment and headed out to the beach! We were a little disappointed because the weather didn't look as promising as it had the few days before - in fact it was fairly overcast and a bit windy as well. That was ok though because as soon as we plunged in to the freezing cold water we soon warmed up and were out enjoying the fish and the sites. Unfortunately I found I was a fairly poor swimmer! Something I had not realized before, and I inhaled quite a bit of salt water - I guess those swimming lessons as a child didn't do a whole lot for me (sorry Mom and Dad!)
When we finished swimming we spent some more time on the beach relaxing, chatting, and enjoying our non-Ein-Gev sack lunches (the pitas from the JC are much tastier). We then set out for the boardwalk nearby to explore a bit and do some shopping. Then it was off to dinner at the same Kibbutz we ate at on our way to Egypt. The food was decent and the gelato that came after was incredible - just what the doctor ordered. Or what the professors ordered...either way! So that was fun experience and something else to add to the incredilbe list of experiences I've had in the Holy Land!

Thursday, April 9, 2009


So basically this entire field trip was far too much for me to capture in one blog post - and I should have posted several to try and capture the incredible spirit and all the fun we had but I have been too much of a slacker to stay on top of these things. Instead I think I'll make this kind of another summary post and try and capture some of my most favorite events. Let's start with...
The location of the great Armageddon certainly doesn't seem like a place of war - it was absolutely beautiful. It began to rain a little when we got there which reminded me the reason the country was so green (not its typical state - how lucky am I?) There's a lot of history that takes place here as well, so it was neat to have Brother Skinner explain everything to us. It began to be occupied in 5,000 BC and...well there's a lot I could expound upon here but I think my biggest impression was one that I've had repeatedly while I've been here - the similarity of many of the ancient religions and our own. Brother Skinner emphasized the similarity in temple worship particularly.
The Synagogue at Nazareth:
When the Savior proclaimed that no prophet was accepted in their own country he wasn't exaggerating at all. Those who heard Him proclaim his Messianic divinity rejected him in a synagogue very similar to the one we were able to see on our first day of the trip. We sang several hymns including Jesus of Nazareth and I Believe in Christ. This was one of the stops where I could really picture the scriptures coming to life and playing out.

Ein Gev:
The resort we arrived at and stayed in was really very beautiful. "Bungalow" is what they called the little apartment rooms we stayed in - and they overlooked the Sea of Galilee from almost every window. We could observe the tranquility of the water during the day, as well as the fast rising and frequent storms. The first night we ran down to the beach in the middle of a rain storm and jumped and laughed - it was really a great introduction to the rest of the week and the facilities we stayed in.
Mt. of Beatitudes:
Yep - we've all read this account a time or ten, and now I've been to the spot they suppose this took place. We spent most the week divided up in to our religion classes, and so we were able to have a lot of devotionals on site which was a huge benefit. We had classes the day before this field trip, and so it was neat to learn about it from the scriptures one day, and then visualize it on location the very next. The Mt. of Beatitudes, Brother Wilson reminded us, was a time when Christ lifted his followers in to a mountain (high apart from the rest of the world), and taught them how to lift themselves above everyone else.

St. Peter's Primacy:
This was actually one of my favorite stops - it was the location where Christ asked Peter "lovest thou me?" It's also the place at which Christ prepared a meal for the apostles after he told them to cast in their nets and they were able to catch lots many fish. It overlooked the shores of Galilee (as do most places in the Galilee area...surprise surprise), but I think the thing I loved most about this site was actually the man who ran things there. He commented to Brother Wilson about how he lived a life a bit lacking of other people, kind of lonely, and how he always loved when the Mormon students were brought over because there was something different about us as youth. That was a really neat thing to hear from him, it's incredible how many of those types of experiences I've had since being here, it's not just something you've been told in Sunday School over and over again.

Synagogue at Capernum:
So whereas the synagogue in Nazareth is a good representation of what the synagogues would have looked like in Christ's time, it isn't widely accepted as an actual location that Christ would have gone to - the Synagogue at Capernum is a lot more defaced and weathered but it is widely accepted as a place Christ would have actually walked.

Ginosaur (so I'm not sure what this means but what we did was take a boat ride across Galilee):
Taking a boat ride across Galilee was definitely a highlight of the trip for me. Brother Huff's class experienced a bit of difficulty when they were traveling across, there was quite the storm on the water that day, but for us the water was nice and calm. I guess it was nice to have both right? It's funny how the Sea is actually more of a lake than anything else - I'm not sure what I was expecting. After our voyage across the Sea (ha ha) we visited a museum in which was located the "Jesus boat" as they have named it. Infact this is the official name for the exhibit! It features a boat pulled up from the bottom of the lake which dates to about 2000 years ago. It was neat how well it was kept together and the mental image it provided!

So we got to go on our own raft! They called it kayaking but it definiltey was not! Bryan, Miriam, Moon, and Ryan Money and I made up the group. We were one of the first groups out, but the last one to arrive - whether it be because of our lack in "kayaking" skills or our frequent tips of the boat no one will know...or will they! We sure had a good time though, and the area was really very beautiful. How often do you get to kayak down the Jordan River? And I don't mean the one in Utah!

Fish Restaurant/Tiberias Frozen Yogurt:
One of the infamous activities of the JC Galilee trip is the Fish Restaurant trip. The class is taken out to dinner to a fish restaurant (which is kind of a relief from the food of the kibbutz - it gets a little old). The thing about these fishes is that they leave the heads/tails/scales/eyes all on and you get to sift through them to find the meat! It sounds pretty much as disgusting as it looks. I'm not much a fan of fish myself anyway, so this was kind of a challenge to me because the other dinner option is pizza and well...I actually like pizza...especially because it doesn't seem to be staring back at me when I eat it! I decided to try the fish for the experience more than anything else and found that I actually enjoyed it quite a lot! The restaurant was a lot of fun as well - playing with fish heads can be quite I don't really know the right word to describe it. After dinner they bused us out to Tiberias for gelato or frozen yogurt and a walk around some of the same kinds of shops that we've been seeing since being here in Jerusalem. It was a lot of fun and a break from classes and field trips to enjoy doing something a little more "normal" with friends here. (If you call fish head dinners normal).

I'm not gonna lie, the movie we watched here to explain the actual significance of this place was SUPER cheesy, poorly translated and well...boring! Besides that my allergies had been affecting me all morning sum it all up I didn't really take a lot acacemically from this place. What I did enjoy, however, were the visual aids I was able to take from here! They had set up a house that could have been similar to that of Christ's time, and they explained to us how some of the tools and rooms were used. You could picture the need to sweep the house to find the Widow's Mite, and why you cannot put Old Wine in New Bottles. This Add Videoexperience was akin to Neot Kedouim in its signifcance.

Tiberias Shabbat:
I feel so privileged to have now partaken of the sacrament and particpated in a church meeting in buildings overlooking two of the most reverenced and beautiful places in our church history. Shabbat with the Tiberias branch took place in a branch home that looked very out of place for the place it was found. At the end of a long driveway and behind a crooked green picket fence stood the home, which we approached and were welcomed in by the Branch President and his wife. I've mentioned this before about going to Branch Members homes here in Jerusalem and feeling the cammraderie and kinship with members of the church all over the world, and this same spirit accompanied this building and the people that were found within. You could see that the church spared no expense to make the building as beautiful and yet efficient as possible, and the room in which we held sacrament meeting had large windows in it that overlooked the Sea of Galilee. The meeting began with Come Come Ye Saints, and was sung in Spanish, Russian and English - accomodating each of the members of the branch and their mother tongue. While the words didn't blend together perfectly, the feeling behind them was one. A few members in the program were able to speak and we were allowed to wander around the building a bit to see what things were like. The best part was probably after the meeting was over and we were allowed to mingle with the Branch Members. What incredible people they are - truly lights on a hill to other people in the world. It's because of people like them the church will hopefully one day reach the Holy Land and be able to spread forth its message.

River Jordan:
We visited one River Jordan site when we were on our way back from Jordan, but we had another stop at a different site (disputed as the site of Christ's baptism) on the way back from our Shabbat meetings. The place was very peaceful and surprisingly not busy at all so we were able to enjoy some quiet time here. The facilities were very well kept and manicured which was nice, it really helped to be able to envision what had taken place here, and while it was neat to have a devotional right on the shores of the River Jordan in the other location, this place helped me to more fully be able to visualize the event.

Mt. Tabor:
This is one of the speculated spots for the Mt. of Transfiguration experience to have taken place. There was a winding narrow road that led up to the top, and fortunately they hired several taxis to take us from the spots where the bus' could not pass so we didn't have to hike up. The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking, you could see for miles and miles. Once again we had a discussion led by Brother Brown and Brother Wilson which will forever change the way I read that account in my scriptures, and will probably change the way I view the Restoration of Keys account in the Doctrine and Covenants as well. Picturing heads of dispensations - Moses and Elijah coming to comfort and strengthen Christ as He was about to undergo the most difficult of sacrifices ever made in human history was awe-inspiring. The church that commemorates the event was beautiful as well - and in true Brother Wilson style we sang inside - this time a few of the hymns being I Know that My Redeemer Lives and the Spirit of God (I write in the locations we sing these in my hymn books, which makes it almost as precious to me as my scriptures!)

Church at Nain:
The Widow of Nain was a miracle Christ preformed that I have not paid much attention to before study of it in the Holy Land. Brother Wilson has taught us that we have no scriptural evidence that Christ knew of the Widow before he went to visit her, but that he would have had to have spiritual promptings to go out of his way to visit the little village of Nain to preform a miracle for her. This site is often forgotten on Christian tours of the Galilee and so it seemed very fitting that the location of the church was rather rural and out of the way compared to many others we saw. The small Palestinian family who is in charge of the church seemed to expect our coming, and greeted us at the doors when we arrived. There was a small boy, maybe two or three years old, amongst the rest of the family who also came out to meet us. He stopped and posed for about a million pictures from all of the students, and you could tell he had practiced before. The spirit of this sweet family really touched me and reminded me that just as the Savior did not forget the Widow of Nain in days past, he would not forget this little family either. My heart just ached to bring that truth to them sooner rather than later - but I guess patientce often makes things all the more sweet when they come to pass.

Caesarea Phillipi:
I did not know what to expect at all when we came to this site, but I was pleasantly surprised. On the way down we visited Caesarea Maritima, and both of these locations were very familar to me in name but I was not so familar with what occured at each location. I soon learned that Caesarea Phillipi was a very important site historically and scripturally because of Herod Philip and Peter. Here Herod Philip built his capital here which included a Pagan temple to the God Pan, in which unholy "worship" would take place and pigs would be sacrificed and then thrown down in to a body of water which symbolized hell. This whole complex is located in the rocks at the base of Mt. Hermon, and from it springs a beautiful part of the Jordan River. It was in this lcoation Christ told Peter that he would build his church upon him - seeing the site made this statement and the ensuing conversation so much more meaningful and understandable. You see because it's built at the base of a mountain, Christ could very well have gestured to the mountain behind him on which was built a false temple and told Peter that he was a different kind of rock upon which the true church would be founded. He also said that the gates of hell could not prevail against His church, which could have been in reference to the gates that covered the opening in front of "pool of hell" in to which animals were sacrificed to the Pagan god Pan. This was all VERY interesting to me and a lot easier to visualize - and it is easily one of hte most beautiful areas in Christ's mission.

Swine and the cliff:
So we visited a spot that is similar to the place where Christ would have cast the legion of devils out of the man and in to the swine. This really shows us the significance and reverence we should have for our physical bodies, and why they are referred to as temples. This area was also very green and beautiful - and it was kind of fun as well, I think you can see why!
Nimrod's Fortress:
This was one of the very last stop - if not the very last stop of the trip, and because of this I was VERY tired by the time we got there. Because of this I got NO historical significance from here at all, but I did get some pretty pictures! The view, as always was breathtaking, and we got some fun pics there as well!
Templar's Tomb:
We visited a few other sites but one of the last ones we saw was a tomb in Haifa commemorating the lives of two LDS missionaries who served in the Holy Land in the late 1800's. It is because of the holding of these two (and four or six others) that the church was recognized in the 1970's by the State of Israel, and part of the reason the Jerusalem Center was able to be constructed. While their story was very sad, it was also very happy for me because it contained a lot of hope. I am forever grateful to these two young men and their sacrifices on behalf of the entire church. It reminds me a lot of the members that are here now and the great sacrifices they are making as well.

We saw many other sites that consisted simply of beautiful views and awesome scenery, I could name them but I think that might just get overwhelming - espeically since the names wouldn't be very familar. There were several fields of flowers and waterfalls, however, and so I think I'll include a couple of those pics!
Some other things around Ein Gev...
Spending time on the beach
There was quite a lot of "down time" and time to relax while we were at the resort. Unfortunately for me this probably consisted a bit too much of sleeping, but there was also a lot of time we were able to spend just playing, reading, contemplating, and walking along the beach of Galilee. It was really incredilbe to try and imagine the Savior walking the same steps and looking out across the same vista. One of my most favorite memories is looking up at the crest of a hill Brother Wilson pointed out as the city of Safed. This is most likely the place the Savior referred to as the "city set on a hill" which light should not be hid under a bushel. Once again the scriptures came alive, and now everytime I read that passage I will not forget the glittering lights on the distant hill that I saw. One of the Tiberias members actually lives there today - a literal and metaphorical incredulity.
We had a few bonfires while we were here which typically consisted of treats, visiting and some music. Mike playing the guitar and the smores were some of my favorite parts, although it was also fun to see everyones Bible skits, play "How's Yours", and sing some campfire songs. What can I say, you can't go wrong when you doing something on the shores of Galilee
Pita and Hummas
Let's not lie...the sack lunches were...well...absolutely awful. Because it was a Kosher Jewish joint, we couldn't have meat and cheese sandwiches so instead we got meat and cucumber sandwiches on semi-soggy bread, and so when we got to stay in for lunch (when we had class at the Kibbutz) I loaded up on the mini pitas and incredible hummas. If there's one tribute I have to make to the Holy Land when I get home, well ok so this isn't the most important one...maybe if there's two tributes I have to make one of them is definitely to learn how to make good pitas! These ones were so awesome that I in one meal at six of them! No wonder I've just been gaining weight since I got here! How can I even complain?!
The Raft
Ok so the rules of Galilee were strictly no swimming, but we could wade in up to our ankles. We frankly observed these commands!...of course! Although one thing that was kind of funny was the construction of a raft out of waterlogged wood. Sadly I was not a part of the construction of this or the sand sculptures that were frequently found on the beach, but I was part of the observant crowd which greatly enjoyed it all! Not quite the jesus boat but almost!
The best part about this program as a whole is the fact that we get to learn and then see. I'm going to be forever grateful for the amazing professors and directors we have here and all that they make possible for us.

Brother Wilson gave us a quote as we were studying the New Testament from President Monson that talks about getting to know the Savior better. President Monson states:

"Let us, in the performance of our duty, follow in the footsteps of the Master. As you and I walk the pathway Jesus alked, let us listen for hte sounds of sandaled feet. Let us reach out for the Carpenter's hand. Then we shall come to know Him....We will discover He is more than the Babe in Bethlehem, more than the carpenter's son, more than the greatest teacher ever to live. We will come to know Him as the Son of God, our Savior and our Redeemer." I felt Galilee overall was a great way to do this, although to be honest the most important thing I took from Galilee was that by physically walking in steps the Savior walked in isn't what he's talking about. To truly come to know the Savior we have to follow His actions and lifestyle overall - and I'm hoping that I can do that better from now on although it is definitely a continual process.

Monday, April 6, 2009

My Best Birthday...oh wait

Ok so I know this happened quite a long time ago - but it was such an awesome experience I figured I needed to blog about it anyway.
The date was March 22 - a Sunday, but more importantly it was Moon's birthday! An exciting experience to be sure. Miriam and I talked about the possibilities we had to celebrate, and came up with a few different ideas we could play out throughout the day. We actually had a field trip planned so let me just put a big parentheses in here (

Neot Kedouim was the name of the nature reserve we went to - where we had a guide who told us all about Bible living and everyday life. Some of the activities we participated in included herding sheep and goats, crushing herbs to make toppings for pitas, observing writing of a Torah scroll, making and eating pitas, lifting a bucket out of a well, and a few other activiites. It was really neat to get a feel for the countryside away from the city as well as learn about what people during Bible times did on an everyday basis

). Ok so we got back from our field trip and I needed to organize something - and quick. The sun was starting to go down already and we needed to make it through the Old City to West Jerusalem before it had done so - and accomplish some errands along the way. Our group was comprised of 13 people including: Kara Schumacher, Elyse, Miriam, Matt, Bryan, Ken...umm...I'm gonna look up the rest and insert them here later lol. It was a pretty great group though. So I ran out ahead a little bit with Bryan and Matt and ran in to Abdul's and sneakliy grabbed the ingredients for Cherry Pink (This AWESOME drink created specifically for apartment 410) we went in to Aladdin's and a few people ran down to Omar's, and then we rendezvoused (I had to spell check that word 3 times) back on the main street in the city. We made our way towards West Jerusalem and happened to stop by a certain dress shop on the way to the restaurant. The guys weren't thrilled with this but they willing went along with it. The best part was probably the fact that Bryan found a certain pair of pants at this shop as well - HA! So then we were off to dinner at this little pizza restaurant which was a lot of fun. Three more people joined us when we got there, Hayley, Josh, and Lindsey. We were the only ones in the small shop which was probably a good thing because we dominated most of the space. Everyone sang happy birthday to Moon and we all went around and said something that we liked about her. Dinner being a success - check. Dessert was inevitbaly next, so we took a poll and it was split between wanting gelato and hot chocolate cake - so we decided to go for both! People were starting to get worn down from all the activities and anxious to start packing for Galilee, so we decided to call a cab and start heading home. They told us 10 minutes, and about 30 later we called again - we got the 10 minutes trip several times before they actually showed up, so we made the best of our extra time. Right off the main street - Benyahuda - we started pairing off and waltzing! It was SO much fun - spontaneous and hilarious too. The best part was when some local Palestinian guy showed up and wanted to participate. He took turns dancing with each of the girls, but seemed to have a special thing for me, he grabbed my hand over and over again. If I could post a video clip on here I would, and it would include him attempting to do some sort of hip lift...I don't know it was kind of weird! Luckily the cab driver showed up before too much more dancing occured. Well...kind of. The ride back to the Center was kind of crazy as well - more dancing as always. Including a private show from each of the boys. HILARIOUS! Jacob Curtis was probably the most funny.
When we got back there were still a few things that needed to go down - one of which was a flash dance. Awesome right? So we put that on, although I'm not gonna lie, I kind of spoiled the surprise when I announced it to the computer lab right in front of Moon. It was still a good time, but I kind of wish someone else had put the music together cause I definitely don't have dance worthy music. A small cherry pink party was all that was needed to finish out the night - so amidst packing, writing papers, submitting applications, and the like we mixed up some Cherry Pink and called it a night. What an awesome day it was!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bethlehem and beyond...

Tuesday was a really great experience – one I’ve looked forward to since I came here in fact! We were able to have a field trip to Bethlehem and visit the sites surrounding the area Christ was born.
We started off the day with crossing through one of the Israeli checkpoints in to the West Bank where Bethlehem is located. Unfortunately, even though it’s only six miles from where we live, we’re not allowed to visit here by ourselves – the center takes great care of us and doesn’t want us to be in any potential danger at all. They expected that to take between half an hour and an hour, but we got through quickly and soon met up with our Professor who teaches Modern Near Eastern Studies of Arabs, and were able to have a lecture by a few of his colleagues about the Palestinian-Israeli problem and the history surrounding that. It was very interesting and I was grateful to be able to attend that, but the next part was even better. Our Professor teaches at Bethlehem University, and so we got to attend a lecture by him at his home school, with some of the students in his classes! We were shown a film about the resettlement of many of the Palestinian people during the 1960’s, and learned a lot more about that. We were then able to ask a panel of students questions about the anything we wanted – the conflict, their schooling, social life, etc. It was very interesting to be able to relate to these people who are doing the same thing as I am right now, just in a very different context.
We ate lunch at “the tent” and that’s really what it was. A large tent situated in Bethlehem where we had pitas for appetizers, and then French fries and kabobs for lunch. It was neat to socialize with everyone in this kind of a setting, because we don’t get to “go out together” much in the same way we might at home. It was also fun to see how happy our Professor was to be able to take us around his home town and give us a tour of his favorite sites and places to eat.
After lunch we went to manger square and the Church of the Nativity. This was really neat because it is the oldest church that is still in tact, in the world. It dates back to the 4th century AD, and was built on top of ruins of another church built even earlier. Because of how old it is, it is considered by many to actually be the birthplace of the Christ child. The church was beautiful, the only downside was there were lots of people visiting and so it was hard to be able to see everything. We got in a line to go down to the grotto, the place where Jesus would have been born, and only got to see the spot for a few seconds before we were herded out of the room by a nasty mean Priest who kept yelling at everyone to be silent. tell me…where’s the irony in that? I was kinda mad after cause I didn’t even get a good picture of the inside! And let’s face it, how many times am I going to be able to go to Jerusalem in my life? That’s right…probably never again! Stupid priest guy…some dude in a robe on a power trip…yeah.
After that we got to wander around the square a bit, shopping is always a good thing right? Actually I kept myself under control pretty well if you ask me! (Running out of money always helps this problem). It was interesting though, cause the hot item everyone was looking for was Bethlehem Blankets, and they were no where to be found! We were able to see an exhibit of many nativities from all over the world, this seemed rather appropriate considering the location.
The rest of the night was definitely the best part of the experience. We were able to go back across the borders to Shepherd’s fields – a place where in ancient times the shepards would have likely dwelt on night’s like the night the Christ child was born. Considering it was only a few weeks before this event would have occurred – the weather is even similar to how it would have been then. We were able to go as a religion class which was neat, because we had a devotional there. Several students prepared a small biographical sketch of Herod, Joseph, Mary, The Wisemen, The Shepherd’s and Elisabeth – it was really neat. We were also able to hear some Christmas Hymn’s on the Guitar from Mike and Annie – and I was even involved in a small sinigng group of six people who sang Mary’s Lullaby. It was a night filled with the Christmas Spirit more than I’ve felt in a while. Truly something I’ll treasure and take home with me.
As for the rest of the week – I’ve just been studying for tests and finals! Today we had our last one – Musallam’s class. It was such a relief and you can sense the drop of tension and stress in the building. After the test was over we all ran outside and yelled for joy – and then decided to go down the road and pick up an ice cream at one of the local shops. On our way back we met some of the young local boys, who showed us the small cage filled with puppies right near to where the center is! We had fun playing with them and then spent the rest of the night relaxing and preparing for Galilee! It’s been a great week overall.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Jordan was INCREDIBLE, I know it's probably horrible to say and against some kind of rule, but I'm pretty sure I enjoyed Jordan more than Egypt! The pyramids were incredible but what I loved about Petra was the fact that it was all secluded from the rest of the world (as opposed to the pyramids which sat in the middle of a city). Petra, besides being the location that Harrison Ford walked in Indiana Jones (and yes, many wore "traditional" hats to commemorate the occasion), is the location where the Nabatean people made their community. It contains the treasury (which is the famous structure from the movie), as well as various other caves which served as tombs and homes, a amphitheater which resembles Roman structures very closely, a high place of sacrifice, and a structure similar to the treasury - but on an even larger scale - the monastery. We were able to have a guide tell us all aobut the history of the site on the way in, and then were free to roam around and explore for the afternoon. I decided to visit the Monastery and the High Place of Sacrifice, and while it was a rather long hike (hot too), it was most definitely worth it. One of the neat experiences I had here was with a Bedouin family who still lives in Petra. (There are many, which I was rather surprised by). We were walking down from the Monasery and I noticed a mother stationed by one of the many tables filled with souveniers. She was sitting on the ground with three or four young children, and they were attempting to eat lunch. Their meal was very meager and I felt really bad for them! Many of these children are used to get money from tourists, but these children simply sat. As we passed I pulled some crackers I had out of my bag and gave them the remainder of the package. The mother was very grateful, and the children danced behind me smiling and waving for quite a distance. It made me so much more grateful for what I have, and sympathetic to these people who know no other way of life. After we hiked to the monastery we were able to eat lunch at a great restaurant located right in Petra! They had the best falaffels I've ever had! On the way out we hiked up to the High Place of Sacrifice (which was quite a difficult task because I was so tired by this time!) and we were able to see a great view of all of Jordan, it was most definitely worth it!
Another incredible site we were able to visit is called Jaresh - it is known as the best Roman ruins out side Italy, and it most defintley was. There were pillars everywhere, as well as structures used for worship and the like. We were able to go in to a structure that looked simliar to the collosseum (at least to me). As we were listening to our guide explain what the structures were, a dressed up band came out and began playing music. The JC is all about dance parties - apparently - and this was most definitely the best one! Brother Brown and Brother Wilson even joined in the festivities for a few minutes! We got to finish wandering around the ruins, including walking down an ancient Roman road in which you can still see the ruts from the wheels of chariots! It's hard to imagine the things that happen there without actually seeing people wandering around, but this sure gave me a great idea! I really liked the market here as well, because I was able to get a couple of cheap and beautiful oil paintings! The last thing we were able to do here was attend a show which depicted some of the typical atheltic events the Romans would put on at Jaresh. Many of them were gladiator like fighting. After this we were able to go meet the actors, and I got my picture taken with one of these guys - I like to call him "pecks". He was SO hilarious, he put his arm around my back and kept telling me to look in to his eyes, and then he'd growl at me! HA!
The last day we were there we stopped at another mosque and learned more about the Islamic religion. This mosque was more specific about the attire of women, and so all of us had to wear full-length black dresses (which we all felt really great about...). It was neat to get another perspective here, and I learned a lot of new things I hadn't before, which is always good! It's incredible to me how similar the Islamic religion is to our own as well.
The last significant stop we made in Jordan was most definitely the River Jordan. There are a few spots in the Holy Land which claim to be the site of the baptism of Christ, and while I'm not sure in which place it really occurred - this place seemed as good as any to me. It was kind of in the middle of no where, which I actually preferred, and had the same spirit about it as the Garden Tomb. We were able to have a devotional there and talk a little bit about the life of Christ and the beginning of his mortal ministry (which if it didn't occur here, than somewhere similar to here.) One of the points I thought was really interesting was just as Christ descended below all things in fulfillment of the atonement, he was submerged in the lowest body of water on earth when he was baptized - this was a physical manifestation of something he did for us spiritually. I'm so excited to be starting New Testament and learning more about his ministry.
Some of the other highlights of the Jordan trip were most definitely the mall in Amman, where we made some local friends and ate at a pizza hut (which tasted very American actually!) The DVD shop where we were able to ;) movies was pretty good as well because we were able to increase our movie library here at the center by quite a bit (not that we have a lot of time for moving watching).
The day after returning from Jordan we had another field trip planned for Tel Aviv, and while everyone was excited to go visit the city it was definitely hard to make myself get out of bed and go, we were all pretty worn out from Jordan. We made it though, and it was worth it for sure. The first stop we made was at the Diaspora Museum, where we were able to learn more about Jewish traditions and the way they were able to maintain their national identity despite all the many deportations and scatterings that happened to them. This was really interesting to me because I realized, once again, that the Jewish ideas and traditions are really not that different from my own.
The next stop we made was at the hosue in which the State of Israel was established. I think everyone had lost focus by this time because I noticed quite a few nodding heads during the orientation movie, and I'm a bit to ashamed to say that I participated in a game of signs during the presentation...I probably shouldn't admit to such activities. We were allowed to roam around the city for most of the rest of the day, so I headed to the beach with a group. It was perfect beach weather, warm enough to be able to appreciate the chilly water, but not hot enough to be completely uncomfortable sitting up on the beach. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to swim, so I rolled up my jeans and walked along the surf of the beach. Stephanie, Miriam and I even collected some old water worn pieces of glass (they look kind of like transparent rocks now) so that we could make some kind of "Jerusalem mosaic" out of them. It's a little big fifth grade arts and crafts, but everyone needs creativity time...right Mike? ;)
Shabbat was a good break for everyone, and while I always enjoy our Shabbat meetings, this one was especially good because it was fast and testimony meeting. It's nice to be able to share thoughts and experiences here in fast and testimony meeting because we are all able to relate to one another, and so it's more like adding someone else's feelings and perspectives about the same things you're experiencing to your own. After church the majority of the students made their way over to the Garden Tomb - a lovely place to spend the afternoon. On the way over, Miriam Sarah and I decided, after passing several groups of children and youth walking home from school, that we wanted to befriend some of the local children. We resolved to stop and talk with the next group of girls we came across, and before too long we found ourselves outside an all girls school - outside of which were many groups of young girls! We started talking to one group where there were girls ranging from about seven or eight up to thirteen. Some of them weren't able to speak English very well, but that was ok cause those who did translated for us. I made a few friends, and it was really neat to be able to feel part of the community that way.
The Garden was especially beautiful that day, the sunlight streaming through the trees above, and the various groups raising praises to their Savior many of whom did so through song. My favorite group was the Nigerians who seemed to greet us upon arrival. I was able to sit and contemplate for a while, and then after hearing somone several feet away start singing "Rise and Shout" I joined some of the other students in talking with an LDS travel group who was here visiting for a few weeks. It was neat to see some people from home, it really emphasized to me the fact that within the church we are all brothers and sisters, and it really felt this way. At the end of our trip here, we were able to raise our voices with many others in singing hymns just a few feet from the entrance to the Tomb. I decided on this day that this could be the "other grove", if you know what I mean.
So even though we had finals coming up , they scheduled ANOTHER field trip for the next day, but it was worth it. (I'm pretty sure I say that like...every two seconds.) This one was the "Herodian" field trip, and it was neat because it is something that isn't too far away from here, but I hven't done it yet. Basically we were able to walk on the same steps Christ would have to get up to the temple complex. There was something very real about this place - maybe because it's one of the few we know the Savior legitly walked. (Yeah...I just wrote legitly). After that we went through a few museums which were ruins from the Upper City of Jerusalem, a place where Lehi probably lived during Book of Mormon times. It's neat to learn all about the Bible here, especially because it doesn't seem to be of particular emphasis in the States, but it was also neat to remember that our church has foundations here as well.
Well this blog is beginning to become excessively long so I'll just wrap up with a few more activities. This week was Purim, which is basically like a week-long Jewish Halloween...kinda. It's a celebration of the story of the Book of Esther, and as part of the celebrations everyone dresses up! We learned quite a bit about it from our Judaism teacher, Ophir, and then we were able to go experience it for ourselves! Miriam Moon and I dressed up as a Rock Band, and Bryan was our manager...although I'm not sure if he looked like that - you'll have to decide for yourself. There were a few who thought other things about his costume...I wonder why...but anyway! We went to synagogue with the Wilson's and listened to the story of Esther in Hebrew (and also made friends with some Jewish girls from the states). Afterwards we went out to Benyahuda Street, where the real party began. So we didn't really party all out like many of the people did - instead we hit up Sambooki's for hot chocolate cake and brownie pastries. Probably the best thing about West Jerusalem. (Don't worry mom, I'm trying to get the recipe so I can make it for you).
The other important visit we made this week was the Separation Wall visit. We were lucky to have a man who has worked a lot with the United States and Near Eastern relations come and explain to us his perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Everyone here seems to have their own opinions about the whole conflict, obviously, but it was interesting to get a new view. He emphasized the fact that if a two-state solution was not reached it may be impossible to solve the conflict.
Last night, we had a pretty sweet game of capture the flag going on - Pirates vs. Ninjas naturally...I mean what fun is a dance a game...anything really without dressing up? Yeah - none at all. While the Pirates were pretty vicious and scary...the Ninjas definitely had better moves, which I think is really a redeeming factor and reason enough for us to win. The game ended with a few people angry at one another was ok cause we all made up over a few games of Uno. Awesome right?
Well that's about it for now. Shabbat was incredible - as it always is. And maybe your prayers this Sunday can be for me - cause I'm not sure if I'll be able to keep up with my blog without some divine intervention!