It's crazy how two weeks have flown by since the last time I posted. I have one maybe two more posts about the last week of Christ's life so stay tuned for my finishing touches. This post is about one of my favorite days in Jerusalem visiting Masada, the Dead Sea, En Gedi, and Qumran. We left bright and early on Monday, April 13th with our first stop at Masada. This fortress city was seized by robber-assassins called Sicarii and played a huge role in the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. I was still waking up at this point and it was super hot so that's all the exciting news I have about that place. (Side note: the weather during the last two weeks in Jerusalem reached the 90's so we were blessed with some major heat to give us all a midsummer tan.) After that, it was off to the Dead Sea which was absolutely INCREDIBLE!!! The previous day, I was kind of sketchy about getting in the nasty, super salty water but after I saw a couple people floating effortlessly on top of the water, I ran in there as quick as possible. You might be asking yourself how the heck we could be floating on top of the water; well let me inform you. There is more solids in the water than in the human body which makes you float on your back or belly and it is SO sweet! The Great Salt Lake is like that too, hence the name. There were tons of people in the water with ailments while others of us were just chillin on the surface getting the best ab workout of a lifetime. Here is an interesting concept I learned in my New Testament class: In the Millennium, the water underneath the Dome of the Rock is supposed to heal the Dead Sea. I never even knew water was even under the temple mount so pretty interesting stuff. Down the Sea a little ways, there is some sulfur black mud that exfoliates your skin and rejuvenates your pores so we all floated over there and put it all over our bodies. We smelled like poop the rest of the day. Our poor bus driver. We rushed to En Gedi Nature Reserve after that and hiked up to a waterfall grumbling the whole way up. It was fun, nonetheless, although I'm pretty sure we were all quite dehydrated. Qumran was our last site which is where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It was a super quick 20-minute stop since they were shutting down for the day. Even though we weren't able to hike down to any of the caves, it was still way cool to see the exact cave that these scrolls were discovered. What a long day filled with fun and excitement.
I'm back again, if anyone is even still reading this blog, for some posts of my final experiences in Jerusalem so stick with me for a little bit and then I'll be done for good. Promise. Easter Sunday in the Holy Land visiting the exact place where the Savior Jesus Christ was risen was absolutely incredible and an unforgettable memory. I woke up bright and early at 4:45am to leave by 5:15 for a sunrise service at a Lutheran Church about a five-minute walk from the Center. It was cool to watch the sun rise over the horizon as I reflected on the importance of that day where the Son of the Eternal Father rose from his borrowed tomb on that glorious day. It was so peaceful. The preacher gave a sermon about how the "ball is in our court." During the middle of his speaking, he whipped a tennis racket out of who knows where and started hitting tennis balls into the congregation while almost knocking over a wooden cross sitting on the stone table that had the holy communion on it. Yikes that would have been bad. We sang a couple LDS hymns which was interesting to sing with different words. One of the pastors invited us over for breakfast with the incentive that there would be bacon. We politely declined because we didn't want to cause a commotion so we walked back to the Center for the same old semi-cold cereal we have every morning. About the bacon thing, neither Muslims nor Jews eat pork so I was deprived of it for four months. After breakfast, it was off to the Garden Tomb for an entertaining service singing tons of Christian Rock songs. Although it wasn't very sacred or reverent, surprisingly, I still felt the spirit while singing songs of praises with those faithful Christians. I enjoyed watching all the people's faces light up and their big huge smiles as they sang with joyful hearts because of the reality of the resurrection. While I was singing and dancing along, the scripture "the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me..." popped into my head. Although the style of praising was unlike I am used to, I know that the Lord blessed those people who wholeheartedly believe that he is risen and that he lives. It was a super fun service and I'm extremely glad I had the opportunity to participate. It was an awesome day and one Easter Sunday that will never be forgotten.
Well my journey through Jerusalem is halting to an end and it is quite a bittersweet thing for me to express. I leave in approximately 9 hours which is weird but exciting! As this is my last post while in the Holy Land, I wanted to leave my testimony as my final words. Last night we had a wonderful class program with the theme of "The Changed Life". The entire time I was sitting there, I tried to think about all the things I have learned since being here but it was a difficult feat to accomplish. I didn't succeed. There have been too many life-changing lessons that I have gained here that I can't even begin to number but I am so grateful for them all. One that has stuck out in my mind all day is the hand of God in my life and that no matter how much we try to plan our lives out perfectly the way we want, it always changes unexpectedly, usually for the better. I can't thank my Savior enough for all that he has done for me. I love the two lines in the third verse of "How Great Thou Art" where it reads: that on the cross, my burden glady bearing; He bled and died, to take away my sin. I have thought about the phrase "my burden gladly bearing" a lot this semester as I have sat in the Garden of Gethsemane and have visited the Garden Tomb many times. Although I have always believed these simple doctrines to be true and have never doubted any aspect of the gospel growing up, I have come to better understand the magnitude of the mission my Savior was foreordained to fulfill so that we may become perfect as our Father in Heaven and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ. I have more appreciation for the pain and suffering my Elder Brother had to bear for my many, many weaknesses and wrongdoings against my Father's children. The Savior of the World descended below all things so that he may know how to succor his children in their own Gethsemane. It was required of him to experience the withdrawal of the Father's spirit and suffer even the depths of hell. I am so eternally grateful for this knowledge and have come to crave a closer relationship with my Lord since I have literally walked in his footsteps and come to know his character and attributes better. I can't believe my time is finished here in the Holy Land but I have had the experience of a lifetime. My only hope is that I don't wake up one day missing Jerusalem because I haven't applied the incredible things I have learned here. At this very moment, I have absolutely no regrets and hope and pray it will stay that way. My final plea for you is to pray for the peace of Jerusalem so that the gospel may be brought to these amazing Muslims and Jews.
Well it has been a crazy busy week with a couple super fun field trips, studying, taking tests, more studying and a little bit of play time too! I am officially done with classes and studying until the Fall!! I'm sorry to everyone in Provo who haven't even begun taking finals yet and for all those in Idaho that have to start school on Monday. It's hard for me to be sympathetic when I'm completely and totally finished! It has been an incredible semester and the experience of a lifetime here in Jerusalem. I have learned more about my Savior Jesus Christ than I can possibly imagine. How grateful I am for all that I have learned and the unforgettable friendships I have made.
Well I was finally able to make it to the Dome of the Rock for the first time this semester (which is totally pathetic I know) but the timing never seemed to work out with our busy schedule and once it did, I was kicked out because I brought my scriptures since we were planning on going to the Garden Tomb afterward. The rude checkpoint guards were extremely unhelpful and would not let me leave them in their possession so I was super mad after that but have since repented and had a wonderful rest of my day. Even amongst all of that nonsense, I'm happy I did actually make it because it was one of the most gorgeous buildings I've ever seen in my life!! Pictures don't nearly do it justice. In the year 2000, non-Muslims were forbidden to enter the temple mount for the first time since 1967 because of some conflict arising. In 2006, it was reopened to non-Muslims which is the same year the Jerusalem Center was reopened which I am truly grateful for since I would have missed out on this unbelievable experience! The Dome of the Rock is such a fascinating building as it serves importance to four separate yet distinct religions in the world. For Muslims, The Dome is one of the holiest sites in Islam and is seen as its heart. This is the spot where, according to tradition, Muhammad ascended into heaven. For Jews, the location of the rock is believed to be the holiest spot on Earth since it was the site of the Holy of Holies during the time of the First and Second Temple Period. For Christians, Constantine's mother is believed to have built a small church nearby the spot where the Dome was later constructed. For Mormons, this site is an important place for the time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. How amazing it is that one such awe-inspiring structure can be so significant for several purposes. If anyone ever gets the chance to visit Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock is a must see!
So another week has flown by and it is exactly two weeks from tonight that I will be back in America! It’s crazy to think that my time here is coming to a close but don’t you worry, I am still exploring new and interesting places every day that I would never have known existed. Monday was another field trip day for us where we were able to visit five different Christian churches in the Old City. It was interesting to learn about the beliefs of various denominations and see the way they worship and live their lives. The Terra Sancta Church was beautiful as we got to meet with Father Angelo, a Franciscan Monk, who was kind enough to let us walk around his living quarters. This church used to be a hostel where Orson Hyde once lived when he came to dedicate the Holy Land for the gathering of the Jews. We were able to see a door in their tailor shop that had his name inscribed underneath the handle. It was way cool! The last place we visited was the St Mark’s Church which is claimed to be the site of John Mark’s home, one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. Justina, the cutest lady with the squeakiest voice I’ve EVER heard, spoke about some crazy miracles that have occurred in her eight year stay in Jerusalem (she is originally from Iraq). She is an Armenian Christian and had such a lovable spirit about her that I couldn’t help but smile the entire time she was telling her stories. I got a picture with her so I can never forget that sweet face and the excitement she shared for her own faith. Underneath the church was the Upper Room (which is weird I know but whatever is older is hidden underground). This site is traditionally thought to be the place of the Last Supper and the First Church in Christiandom. There was such a powerful spirit in that room as we sang the sacred sacrament hymns. It was just like my first experience at the Garden Tomb long ago where I received a distinct witness that on the cross my Savior gladly bore my burdens, bled from every pore, and died to take away my sins. What a glorious blessing it is that my Savior and Redeemer rose again the third day from his borrowed tomb so that I can be resurrected like him one day if I remain worthy of the countless blessings God has in store for me. Since it was a special day for Mormons especially with it being the date of the organization of the Restored Church as well as Christ’s birthday and the day of his death, many of us visited the Garden Tomb and had the opportunity to spend time contemplating about the importance of that special day and sing hymns nonstop for about 45 minutes. If you can’t already tell, we LOVE to sing at whatever chance we get. Anyways, it was a wonderful way to end another awesome day in the Holy Land.
Today was way fun as I walked the entire wall of the Old City in the morning and got to see a completely different perspective of the amazing land that I am currently living in for a couple more weeks. We had a fun time taking tons of pictures while sweating the entire time in the blazing hot sun. It’s crazy to think that I could be freezing right now in Provo and that I am missing a superb snowboarding season for one winter but I honestly don’t mind. I wouldn’t trade this amazing experience in Jerusalem for anything! After that we tried the BEST hummus in the Holy Land as it was recommended by my Arabic teacher. We then met up with some other JC girls and ended our eventful morning doing some necessary shopping. It was a fun girl’s outing. As soon as I got back to the Center to eat my yummy sack lunch (serious exaggeration), it was time to leave for the HUMUNGOUS Palm Sunday celebration. Before today, I didn’t really know the significance of this important event; after today, I will never forget this incredible day as I observed hundreds of Christians holding green fronds around Jerusalem honoring Jesus Christ's Triumphal Entry. It was so cool to see these faithful saints worshiping in their own way. Although our beliefs vary some from each other, we were all united in strength and numbers for the same purpose. There were tons of different religious groups who were touring from all over the world and it was fun to see their enthusiasm as they rejoiced in singing praises to their Lord and King. I don’t know what I was doing at the time of Christ’s glorious entrance that first Palm Sunday but I know that I am here now for a specific purpose and I witnessed an amazing scene today. I pray that this coming Easter will be different from all the rest for the mere fact that I am residing in the very land where my Savior and Redeemer rose on the third day and was resurrected just like every “body” on this earth will in a future day. I challenge you all to take this Easter Sunday to ponder upon the miraculous life and necessary existence of Christ. What a wonderful blessing it is that he died for all of his children so that we might live. Let’s focus on the real reason for this special day and I believe we will all be greatly blessed.
Yesterday we woke up bright and early at 5am to leave for Eilat which lies on the very southern tip of Israel. Although it was an optional activity, everyone except two people (they-who-must-not-be-named) came so it made for a way fun day at the beach. After a four-hour drive, we arrived at Coral Beach at around 10:30am to receive vital instruction about not harming the coral reef (“the heart of the ecosystem”) and about not stealing various objects from the natural environment. It was pretty windy when we got there so I had to get warm before I was tempted to even get close to the water. After some time of waiting for the sun to shine, I was all ready to get in the water with my snorkel gear and see life under the Red Sea. Although the clear blue water was pretty dang cold when I first jumped in, I became so fascinated with the various kinds of fish swimming around me and the amazing colorful reef that was floating under me that I was entertained for about an hour and a half. It was so COOL! I then laid out in the sun to get a nice midsummer tan and then did some serious people watching until we had to leave at 3pm. I had a glorious day exploring the water like Nemo and Dori and felt like I was amongst the creatures of the Sea. I'm just grateful it was such a warm day with some fun times laughing and talking with girls that I haven't associated with too much since they are always on a different bus and religion class than me. I can't believe my time is coming to an end soon! With the time I have left, I am doing ALL the activities possible so I can experience the unique and amazing spirit that resides in this Holy Land.
This is my last post from Galilee so if you are just beginning to read about my absolutely AMAZING experience, start at Day 1 (just like always). So Wednesday was originally planned to be an all-day field trip in Western Galilee but all of us students were completely exhausted from our rigorous schedule for the past 9 days that our extremely generous teachers decided to make it half-day instead. We visited Akko first which was an important port city in the Canaanite, Old and New Testament, Roman, and Crusader eras. The apostle Paul stayed with Christian friends there en route to Jerusalem just before being arrested. We visited Hospitaller Fortress which was connected to the Romans in some way but I honestly don’t remember what was cool about it. We also went inside the most beautiful mosque with marble pillars that were from Herod’s palace at Caesarea. Lastly, we walked along the Mediterranean port. It was fun to jump on the rocks like a little child. I actually almost fell in which would have made for quite the adventure. The city was so peaceful and it was enjoyable to just explore on our own and not have to listen to constant instructions. Our last and final stop of the day (HOORAH!) was Beth Shearim which had a small memorial dedicated to tombs of various rabbis. Although there wasn’t much to see, we made the most of our short stop and had fun taking pictures inside the tombs (I’m pretty sure I laid in an occupied tomb once upon a time). After that, it was back to En Gev where I basked in the sun until our concluding class program. I was hoping to end on a spiritual note and take advantage of the incredible opportunity to be 10 feet away from the Sea of Galilee but things went a LOT different than I expected with Scripture Charades (I swear us Mormons are quite peculiar sometimes), people telling high school dating stories, and April Fool’s jokes being played on everyone. I left feeling frustrated so I decided it would be best to end my Galilee experience with a morning walk on the beach watching the sun rise over the horizon and spend some time reflecting on the lessons I gained as I spent 10 days following the route of my Savior’s ministry. When it was finally time to leave for home, it was definitely a bitter sweet moment. Jerusalem will always hold a special place in my heart since it has literally become my home away from home, but Galilee was an experience that will last for a lifetime. On our journey home, we stopped at another Roman city in Galilee called Sepphoris where the Jewish Mishnah or commentary on their “Bible” (I don’t want to complicate things so let’s just kept it at that). There really wasn’t much to see except more rocks and ruins and 5 different mosaics. We visited Mt Carmel next and read a story about Elijah the prophet since he supposedly lived there. Our last stop of the day was Templer’s Cemetery in Haifa. This site housed graves of 19th century LDS missionaries who served in the Holy Land. I had absolutely NO CLUE that missionaries ever served in the Middle East at all. Although their lives were cut short due to fatal diseases, it was cool to see the inscription on their headstones which read, “A missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” What an awe-inspiring testimony-building experience this entire trip was for me and I am so grateful for all the knowledge I gained about my Savior’s life and ministry. I pray that it may bless my life for future generations to come.
Today was a tiring day of getting on and off the bus about a hundred times as we visited four historically significant sites and stopped at every overlook imaginable to get the best view of the same valley just in case it may have changed from the last time we looked at it. Seriously though, it was ridiculous but I had a fun time. Our first site was Hazor which was an important city during the Canaanite Era that was taken over by the Israelites under the direction of mighty Joshua. It was cool to see the other half of our group there since we have been segregated all week. That was pretty much the coolest part of this place. Tel Dan came next and was amazingly green with flowing springs and the cutest little black Hebrew children roaming around with us. It was cool to see a Middle Bronze arched gateway built around the time of Abraham and see the idolatrous altar built by Jeroboam where the Golden Calf was worshipped. I don’t know if the animals were bigger back in the day or what, but the altar was GINORMOUS. Caesarea Philippi was our next visit where Christ pronounces to Peter that “upon this rock I will build my church.” In Greek, Peter means petros (small rock) and rock means petra (bedrock). Christ is the only sure and steady foundation of the Church but he needs our help in accepting and magnifying our callings to keep the church from falling apart. Our Savior could easily run the church by himself but what a privilege it is that he delegates to his children different duties because he trusts us and wants us to learn from our mistakes. Our last “official” stop of the day was Nimrod Fortress which was originally built by the Crusades, later destroyed then finally rebuilt by Muslim rulers. NEXT POST...WESTERN GALILEE!
Our first stop of our long, but interesting, day in Lower Galilee was Beth Shean which was a political and cultural center for the Romans once upon a time. We looked at old, humungous columns and ancient toilets which were just amazing and then climbed to the top of this hill for a better view of more archaic rocks and ruins. I’m not a huge history buff if you couldn’t already tell from my exhilarating explanation. I am more interested in the spiritual sites that have purpose and meaning to my eternal exaltation. Next we quickly visited Beth Alpha Synagogue to watch a cheesy video and look at a mosaic of Jewish symbols and signs of the zodiac. Gan Ha-Shelosha was our next stop where we got to go swimming in this HUMUNGOUS pool that was absolutely beautiful! The sun was shining, for the most part, so I attempted to get some color on my very pale sun-deprived legs and then we had to leave for Afula to get falafels and ice cream. The box lunches provided by the Kibbutz consist of two loaves of bread, one piece of fruit, and a gross wafer chocolate bar. I’m not into eating massive balls of fat and oil (“falafel”) but I was content with my dark chocolate ice cream bar. Our last two stops of the busy day were Nain, where Jesus Christ raised a widow’s son from the dead, and Mt Tabor which Christians have long since acclaimed to be the site of Christ’s Transfiguration. How amazing it is to sing hymns of praise and speak about these stories and events sitting in the actual places they occurred. These are the sites that really strengthen my testimony and motivate me to study my scriptures with greater purpose. Today was absolutely incredible, like every other day in this gorgeous city, as we had class all morning along the shores of the Sea of Galilee (aka the Sea of Chinneroth, Lake of Gennesaret, or Tiberias). Whichever name you so choose is morally and politically correct. Moving on...the rest of my afternoon from 1pm – 5:45pm was spent reading, writing, talking, and listening to my ipod on the beach in an attempt to finally get some decent sun on my legs. I succeeded to get some color back into them which was incredible and made me so happy! I got lost in my own little world today and imagined myself back in California soaking up the sun at San Clemente beach. It was a very relaxing, mellow, and perfect day to prepare me for my NEXT POST... UPPER GALILEE!
New Testament class today was one of the most amazing religion classes I have EVER been in! It is amazing how much a teacher can cram in for a three hour class and how much I learned actually paying attention and trying hard to soak up everything I could. Although I have always felt that the New Testament is easier to read than the Old Testament, I am discovering new stories and insights that I have never noticed before. After a marathon of class time, we were off on a nature hike in the Jezreel Valley to see the beautiful green plains, colorful flowers, and an incredible waterfall. We had a guide with us to lead us away from the mines that were dispersed throughout the course of our path but the funniest part about it was that I didn’t see one dangerous zone the entire time. So kind of pointless in my opinion but I guess we wouldn’t have found the waterfall if he weren’t there so I should be more grateful. The water was WAY too cold for me to feel any temptation of getting in but there were some people from my group who did jump in and regretted it later as they were shivering the entire walk home; I was dry, happy, and loving life like always. Then it was off to a memorable adventure at the “Fish Restaurant” to devour the famous St Peter’s Fish (Tilapia). I know this is going to put you over the edge Mom but the fish was nasty oily, super bland, and not excitingly amazing. To ensure that we got the full experience, my roommate Emilie and I shared half a mini pizza and part of the fish. We had fun taking pictures with our dinner and made the most of our crazy escapade. We went for ice cream and shopping in Tiberias but since it was Shabbat, none of the stores were open except for one gelato stand that had the most incredible Thai coconut flavor in the world! It was ridiculously good. The following morning I slept in for the first time since I have been in Israel and boy was it the best thing that has ever happened to me. Well not quite but it was amazing not having to set any alarm and then relaxing the rest of the morning. We quickly visited the Jordan River Baptismal Site before church at 3:30pm. Even though there weren’t any baptisms going on, it was cool to visit the place. Then it was church overlooking the Sea of Galilee which was quite distracting but the messages shared through music and words were amazing and brought me to tears at times. It is going to be so hard to go back home and have sacrament meeting without the most unbelievable views in the world! I will actually have to look at the speaker and listen...lame. To conclude the night, the teachers hosted a fireside telling the stories about how they met and fell in love. It’s funny how we have been told that dating is off limits at the Jerusalem Center, yet there has been TONS of hooking up lately as “small town syndrome” has officially kicked in. Always juicy stuff going on in Jerusalem. NEXT POST...more field trips and SUN!!