At this very moment I am in the richly green land of Galilee practically living on the Sea of Galilee. As you can all imagine, it’s absolutely INCREDIBLE! It’s impossible to describe how absolutely beautiful it is here so before I get you all rallied up about how amazing Galilee is, let me catch everyone up on my trip to Bethlehem last Tuesday. I know it’s totally pathetic that this is so outdated but it was finals galore for me last week so please forgive me. To start off my unforgettable experience, we visited the ARIJ Applied Research Center (which means absolutely nothing to you or me since I don't even know what the first part stands for). An expert on the Palestinian refugee problem spoke to us about a plethora of things but it was a total wash for me as I struggled to stay awake the entire time. I sat directly in front of him, which I realized later is the worst spot EVER, but I wanted so badly to sit in this huge comfy office chair that was most definitely the best seat in the house. After that, we visited the Bethlehem University where my Palestinian Modern Near East instructor, Dr. Musallam, teaches full-time. We watched a renowned documentary film on three Palestinian cities that were taken over by the Israeli Army after the Six-Day War. I honestly have nothing else to say about the film because I was out cold for a full 40-minute nap. I’m sorry to say this, but I’m becoming more and more like my constantly sleepy father as the days pass. I felt so refreshed and was extremely happy afterward though so nothing to complain about there. After the incredible film, we had an open peer discussion with four of Dr. Musallam’s students. I was so impressed with their knowledge about the current Israeli conflict and learned a ton about what is really going on that is disguised by the media. There is too much to reveal now so let’s just say, the Jews aren’t the only ones who have suffered a fateful massacre. The best part of the day was when we visited Shepherd's Field, located right inside the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Although it was March 17th, which is St Patrick’s Day in case you weren’t sure, we had CHRISTMAS in Jerusalem. As we sat on that hill overlooking my beautiful home in Jerusalem and looking back at the city of Bethlehem singing Christmas songs and reading Christmas stories, I began to ponder about the miraculous birth and glorious mission of my Savior, Jesus Christ. I was sitting at the exact midpoint between the places where He was born and where he was later crucified for the sins of all mankind. I realized then that I was in the very land where my Lord performed many miracles, taught in the temples and synagogues, bled from every pore so that I may never have to suffer alone, and then died for me that I might live. I knew at that moment that my Savior lives and that he loves me so very much that he took upon himself all of my pains, trials, and weaknesses so that I may find peace through his infinite and eternal atonement. Although I have always known that my Savior cares for me and that he is always there for me when I need him, I received such a stronger witness of his continual presence and selfless sacrifice that chilly night in the peaceful land of Bethlehem. I know that is one of the many reasons I have been given this opportunity to study here in this holy land and for that I am truly grateful.
I am sitting outside the Jerusalem Center right now on the grassy area located on the 7th floor taking pictures of the beautiful flowers and writing in my journal. It is the first day of spring here in Jerusalem as well as the Palestinians Mother's Day so it's a special day. The flowers are blooming and it is perfect weather outside so life is wonderful! We had the most amazing sacrament meeting today with marvelous messages shared about trials, the resurrection, and the keys of the gospel. The Spirit was so powerful as it manifested to me of the truthfulness of the things that were being said. What made the meeting the most incredible Shabbat here thus far was the FOUR musical numbers which were all so awesome! The BYU Student Choir, in which practically everyone is a part of here, sang "This is the Christ" for prelude and "My Kindness Shall Not Depart From Thee" which is about Joseph Smith when he was imprisoned in Liberty Jail. We basically sing every Shabbat which is wonderful but I love hearing other people share their talents too. Aleni, an amazing pianist, played a gorgeous piano arrangement of "I Stand All Amazed" which I might just have to get from her. The final musical number of the meeting was a 6 person duet of all girls singing "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" in which I accompanied on the piano. I don't want to be biased or anything but I believe it was a perfect way to tie together all the talks and other music shared. I am so grateful for the influence of music in my life and thank you parents for pushing me through those horrible years in junior high when I absolutely HATED anything that related to the piano in any way, shape, and form. I am so glad you forced me to continue lessons until I graduated high school since it did provide much income for me all four years of high school. Music is such a wonderful blessing in my life and can be an extremely powerful witness in all aspects of the gospel. I am so happy to be living here in the Holy Land and experience life outside of America. These past two weeks since being home from Jordan have been way busy with midterms and finals in all of my classes. I am officially done with Old Testament class and my Old Testament Field Trip course (which is seriously a graded class), Arabic, and my Israeli and Palestinian Modern Near East classes. Although it is sad to not interact with my teachers who actually live here and learn first hand from them about the constant conflict in this sacred land, it is a great relief to only have two classes to worry about now until my time is finished here. I have learned so much on my journey here and have been introduced to different perspectives of life in the Middle East that I would never understand unless I was witnessing it with my own eyes. I know I say this a lot but I truly feel privileged to be a part of this incredible program and learn about the life and ministry of my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
So I know it’s been a super long time since I last posted, which is probably a relief to many of you, but it’s time for me to catch you up on all my happenings whether you like it or not. This week was filled with some wonderful opportunities to serve right here in Jerusalem and provide relief to children not too far from my current home. Although it was crazy with finals in four of my classes, one of the favorite parts of my week was getting the chance to do Humanitarian Service as well as work with children in the community. For Humanitarian Service, we make hygiene kits for children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It’s an ongoing project that happens once a week and it’s great fun!!! We have races to see how many bags we can make in a certain amount of time, which is totally lame I know, but we try to bring excitement into the process in any way possible. The following day, a group of us went to the Gypsy Community Center where we were able to teach English lessons to Palestinian children one-on-one. I worked specifically with this 13 year old girl Laila who was absolutely hilarious! My job was to come up with simple sentences that had the words who and which in them and you wouldn’t believe how hard it was! We played Hang Man also, after helping her finish her homework first of course, and we laughed a ton about the ridiculous words we both came up with. I am definitely going back to spend time with Laila (and the other children too)because it was awesome to be amongst the kids in the community that have such a sweet spirit about them. It made my week less stressful and it was better serving others than being wrapped up with my own concerns. I LOVE serving and believe full heartedly that it makes everyone a happier people.
So I'm combining a post about the Jewish Purim holiday (celebrated in Jerusalem on Tuesday) and the Separation Wall Field Trip from yesterday even though they have absolutely no connection with each other. Just bear with me as I begin with the Purim celebration. A group of us went to a Jewish synagogue nearby to commemorate the deliverance of the Jewish people from Haman who tried to exterminate the Jews. As we all know, or I hope everyone knows, Esther interfered and saved the day! Men and women read each chapter of the book of Esther in Hebrew and every time the name Haman was said, everyone hollered and screamed with noise makers or any other annoying thing that causes headaches. It was fun for about 45 minutes until I started to get super tired and eager to get back to studying for midterms and finals this week(weird I know). Everyone dresses up in costumes like Halloween but the Jewish people don't celebrate Halloween at all; the customs are similar to our pagan holiday with lots of candy for the children and a lot of drinking for the adults. I didn't really have anything to wear so I threw a soccer jersey on from Egypt and wrapped a scarf around my head and then asked my roommates what I looked like. They both said Rambo right away so that was that. I seriously had no clue who Rambo was or who Sylvester Stallone was for that matter but whatever. It was a way fun experience! Yesterday afternoon we took a quick outing to go see the Separation Wall (which resides in our backyard). This barrier was built in 2001 by the Israeli government in an attempt to keep the terrorist groups out of Jerusalem. Essentially, it separated the West Bank from Israel. There is tons of graffiti all over the wall where people have expressed their sour feelings in every way, shape, and form. Let's just say, it's not so pleasant. It is really sad to see the people so divided and to see families being torn apart because I have learned to love both people. I pray for a solution to be met in the future but neither side is willing to compromise in order to form a two-state solution so who knows if it will ever happen. As of right now, the Palestinians and Israelis are living together peaceably (or should I say) tolerating one another to the best of their ability.
Hello again everyone! Life has been extremely busy here like always with a trip to Tel Aviv Friday and a half-day “Herodian” exploration. Yesterday was an inspiring field trip that was informative and quite a humbling experience. We visited the David Archaeological Park which was the main public access to Herod’s Temple Mount and was most likely the setting for Jesus’ various visits to the Temple. It was amazing to see the remains of Jerusalem’s main streets along the Western Wall and touch the actual stones hurled off the walls of the Temple complex by the Roman soldiers in 70 AD after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. We also walked up the steps to the “Double Gate” and “Triple Gate” where the Jews were to enter and exit the temple. Among Jerusalem’s many archaeological sites, I can now say I have walked on the exact streets the feet of my Savior touched and stood on the threshold where he and his disciples would have entered and exited into the holy grounds of the temple. It was an incredible experience and one that I will cherish for the rest of my life because I was able to stroll along the roads of Jerusalem where the pulse of life echoed through the streets once upon a time. What an amazing opportunity I have been given to see the stories of the Bible come to life and how grateful I am to be here in this Holy Land walking exactly where the footsteps of my Redeemer trod.
After four extremely long days in Jordan, we spent a hot winter day in Tel Aviv visiting the Diaspora Museum, Independence Hall, and Old Joppa. Our tour guide at the Diaspora Museum was so cute and had such a wonderful spirit about her. We learned about the different kinds of synagogues established around the world as Jews began to flee Israel and the lands of Europe to escape the brutality of the various nations that had ruled their land over the course of its existence. The diaspora or dispersal of the Jewish people to America has caused many to establish their own way of life in the different corners of the world. How amazing it is to me that amongst so much persecution in the Jewish nation, they have stayed strong as one nation to create a unified religion. We visited the Independence Hall next which was way cool since it would be like touring Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Honestly I have no more to say about this building since I was dozing off through the entire introductory movie and the informative seminar about that marvelous day on May 14, 1948 when Israel finally became its own sovereign country. Our teachers let us lose after that and we were giving the choice to explore the Flea Market, the Sukk (Jewish Market), or go to the beach. You’ll never guess where everyone rushed off to...the MEDITERRANEAN SEA!! It was so funny to me to watch as everyone sprinted off to take a dip in the ocean as I was strolling along and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Thank you parents for raising me in Southern California!! After 10 minutes of skipping rocks and taking some pictures, I convinced some people to come explore the Flea Market. After finally figuring out what direction we were supposed to go, we were all so exhausted and sweaty from walking around so much that we found a Smoothie/Ice Cream Shop instead. It was an incredible experience and definitely became the highlight of my day. We met up with our teachers once again in Old Joppa to see the gulf of Jaffa, the oldest port in the world, where Jonah fled from the Lord and where historians think he may have been swallowed by the whale. Tel Aviv was quite the adventure and after many hours spent in the draining sun, I was ready for some peace and quiet.
If you are just signing on to read about my marvelous trip to JORDAN, you might want to start at Day 1 so the sequence of events could flow much nicer (just a thought). Our final day in Jordan started off with an amazing experience visiting the Mosque of King Abdullah, a memorial to the late King Hussein's Grandfather, which was a beautifully ornate building. The girls got to play dress-up as we were required to wear scarves covering our hair and these long black Harry Potter ropes. The guys didn't get so lucky as they could wear short-sleeved shirts. It was an informative experience to learn more about the Islamic faith and I was actually lucky enough to see a Muslim man recite his morning prayers and see with my own eyes the faithful conviction displayed. We then went to the Temple of Hercules which is larger than any temple in Rome itself. There really isn't much more history behind it so we all just took tons of pictures pretending to be ridiculously strong like Hunchules himself (By the way...this site has nothing to do with the Disney movie which is quite unfortunate). Our very last stop before it was time to go back home was the Jordan River which was the site I had been dying to see all week long (figuratively of course). Before I even got a good look at the place where Jesus Christ was baptized, I had a funny incident with the bus that must be shared. So I have this huge scab on my elbow due to some intense soccer matches and as I was walking carefully off the bus, I some how slipped on the step and fell flat on my butt on the ground. My elbow hit the stairs while on my trip downward, and my scab just busted open with it hanging by a thread as all the teachers and the lucky students that saw my clumsy act started freaking out and surrounding me. It was totally not a big deal to me and did not tarnish my pride in the least bit but some people made such a scene about it that it ended up being a traumatic experience. I think some people thought it was my skin that was scraped off so it was funny to me. It was quite an entrance unto the site of the river Jordan so it made for a unforgettable memory. Visiting the place where my Lord and Savior set the example of baptism for all that would follow after him was quite an incredible experience and left a lasting impression on me. Although no one is exactly certain where John the Baptist actually baptized Jesus Christ, I honestly don't care. All that really matters to me is the understanding I have gained over my years in primary and beyond that my Savior, although perfect, performed this ordinance that I may have the glorious opportunity to return to live with him again if I stay faithful to the covenants I have made and continue to follow in the footsteps of my Savior. Now that I am done describing my happenings in the beautiful country of Jordan, my next posts will be about my all-day field trip in Tel Aviv yesterday and about our half-day "Herodian" Field Trip tomorrow which I have no clue what that means but stay tuned, and you will know what I mean soon enough.
The next morning we were lucky enough to sleep until 7:30am which is totally pathetic that we think of that as sleeping in but I guess that is my life right now. Our first stop was Jabbok River which was the site where Jacob wrestled with an angel but our bus couldn’t quite make it there without breaking down for an hour and a half. I guess we weren’t meant to go or something because we had to move on to our next visit to the city of Jerash which stands as one of the best preserved Roman cities in the world. There’s not much else to this incredibly well-maintained city except to say that I had the funniest time taking tons of pictures by ginormous old pillars and rocks that were ten times as big as me! The Amman Roman Theater was absolutely amazing because it was built into the natural slopes of the city with an integrated stage. To end our hot day in Jerash, we all watched a Roman reenactment of chariot racing and Gladiator fighting. Although it was one of the cheesiest thing EVER, it made for a good laugh. We had lunch at the grandest place with the biggest pitas alive. The food was epic and might possibly be one of my favorite meals thus far. After our unforgettable lunch, we met with the Branch President in Jordan and had an amazing meeting learning about how the church has grown here in the Middle East in the last ten years and how the members stay strong amongst the isolation they face here. I became motivated to be an example to those around me although we are forbidden to discuss any aspect of our religion. After arriving back to our hotel, all the students were off once again for your choice of the Mecca Mall or the Auto Exhibit. Since it doesn't excite me so much to look at old cars, a group of us went exploring in one of the biggest malls I have ever seen! We decided to hit the bowling alley where I achieved an all-time high score of 126. It was fun to relax and talk with the locals and was interesting to see the contrast between the modesty and uptightness of Israel versus the modernized city of Jordan with skimpily-dressed women just like home sweet home. Next...Mosque of Famous Jordanian King, Temple of Hercules, and the JORDAN RIVER
So our teachers told us it was going to be absolutely freezing in Jordan with snow in the forecast but we were lucky enough to have the most amazing weather you could imagine with zero clouds or snow around our hotel (with the exception of the snow from the previous night). We spent our entire day in the infamous city of Petra which became the center of a Roman province called Nabatea and was later inhabited by Byzantine Christians. Boring I know but I feel like I have a duty to share some bit of history so you don’t perceive me as being a daydreamer who never pays attention, although I must admit, it sometimes happens. Petra is famous for being a city whose cemetery was carved largely out of the sandstone rock with carved facades. The real cool part about Petra had to be the Treasury or “Temple”, in reference to Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade (which I have actually never seen all the way through). Although that building was humungous and quite a site to see, the other amazing adventures included a 870-step hike to the top where an old Monastery resides, an incredible “sacrifice view” where animal sacrifices were performed (crazy I know), and another strenuous hike to the High Place to get another view of the grand scope of things just in case you missed it the first three times. It was a long and tiring day but definitely well worth all the sweat and tears (no tears were involved, it just sounded good). We were off to Amman for our next adventure but not until me and my roommate Christine were safely secure on the bus. Explanation...we were in the bathroom taking pictures of the toilets which were nonexistent holes in the ground (childess I know but it was such a phenomenon that we couldn’t pass it up), when our bus left without two of its members. As soon as we realized we were alone, we began hitch-hiking aimlessly through the streets of Petra. We walked back to our hotel which was only 5 minutes away and asked the receptionist if he had seen two huge Mormon buses and he told us they were 200 meters up the hill. Although we thought that was kind of strange, we continued on our way until we realized he was lying and we walked back down the hill to discover the buses waiting right where we had started. I’m not quite sure how we possibly missed our bus but I learned a great lesson that day. Be at the right place at the right time and your life will be much less stressful. Next...broken down buses and more old Roman cities.
It’s been awhile since I last updated with a four-day trip to Jordan and a fantastic day at Tel Aviv yesterday that exhausted me completely. It was like Egypt all over again! Our trip to Jordan was incredible and too short if you ask me, but we visited some amazing places and I had a wonderful time. I was healthy and well the whole time which was a blessing so let me dive into all my happenings. We left Monday morning at 7:00am sharp with enthusiastic excitement for our adventure away from home when only 15 minutes into it, we were all sound asleep (at least I was). Our first stop was Mount Nebo where it is believed by most scholars that Moses stood atop to visualize the Promised Land and where he was supposedly buried. We know from the Joseph Smith Translation and from the Book of Mormon (specifically the book of Alma) that Moses was translated. It was super cold and windy there so it was a quick stop as we moved on to the city of Madaba where an important Byzantine map of the entire Holy Land was depicted on the mosaic floor at the St. George Church. Historians have used this exact drawing to reconstruct the Byzantine Near East, including the Galilee, the Jordan River Valley, the coastal plains, the city of Jerusalem, and Egypt. Then it was off to Petra where snow covered the grassy hills on our drive to the Petra Palace Hotel. It didn’t quite hit me until the white fluff disappeared, that it had actually snowed so even though I’m not in freezing cold Provo right now, the snow still followed me to the Middle East. Since we only had one night to spend in Petra, all of us princesses and princes (referring to the hotel name if you didn’t catch my lame joke), we had a night out in the extremely quiet and mellow streets searching long and hard for a certain hotel with “THE BEST ICE CREAM IN ALL OF ASIA” (FYI...Jordan is in Asia). It wasn’t all that miraculous but we made the most of it. That concludes day 1 of JORDAN. Next...PETRA and HOW DOES IT RELATE TO INDIANA JONES?