Saturday, January 24, 2009

Not Feeling So Good

So today we all went to the Garden Tomb with our teachers and had a little tour of the supposed place where Christ was resurrected. We sang four hymns together before we left and I was so encircled about with the Spirit that I could not hold back my tears as we started to sing the third verse of How Great Thou Art. It hit me so hard that my Savior loves me so much that He bled from every pore for all of my wrongdoings and died on the cross that I may live with Him again. It was an amazing experience that I will NEVER forget! Well my batteries died before I could even take my first picture so sorry about that (remember...patience is a virtue). I'll definitely be visiting it again when I'm a little more cohesive since I woke up in the middle of the night with a cough, chills, and a slight fever. Don't worry about me though because I got a priesthood blessing tonight and I'm really good at fighting colds. I'm just about done packing for Egypt (we leave way early tomorrow morning at 5:30am) so it's just about bedtime for me. I won't be able to bring my laptop or get any Internet connection there since Egypt is a third world country so goodbye until next Sunday night or Monday when I'm back in my home away from home. I hope everyone has a wonderful week! Until next time!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Biblical Zoo

So today I felt like a little kid all over again (not like I never act like that all the time anyways) but seriously, it was such a fun day! A huge group of us took a bus to Central Jerusalem where we got to visit the famous Biblical Zoo in all of Jerusalem. It's not really about the Bible at all except that the Visitor's Center was Noah's Ark (corny I know...) I loved seeing all the different kinds of animals from lions, tigers, and bears, OH MY (sorry I just couldn't help myself) to birds, elephants, zebra, giraffes, monkeys, cheetahs, goats and groundhogs. The weather was absolutely perfect today, not too nasty hot, not too cold, but jusssssssst right. My favorite animals were the chimpanzees and the PENGUINS!! This one little chimp was being so hilarious banging on the window we were peeking in and showing us his cool tricks. I'm not quite sure if he was annoyed with our presence and wanted us to leave or what but I sat mesmerized for a good 20 minutes. I think I was squealing more than the two-year-old girl who was next to me. My top favorite animal by far was obviously the penguins because they have such a mellow life waddling around with their heads bobbing back and forth with every step they take. I get so happy to visit them whenever I can! It's so fun to be a kid every once in a while, try it out. That's how I live every day of my life!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kotel Tunnel Tour

Today we went on the Kotel Tunnel Tour (as the title states) which is below the Western Wall Plaza, NOT under the Temple Mount which may endanger the religious edifices above us so no worries. It was so much fun except for the way weird smell following us the whole time. It was so nasty. Our guide said it was from the excavations that go on continually but I think otherwise (interpret however you would like). Anyways, this project to expose more of the Western Wall began in 1967 after the Six-Day War to unveil various structures that were present during the different periods throughout Jerusalem's history. Since most of the wall is blocked by the Muslim Quarters today, the wall can't be seen in its entirety (its a total of about 500 meters long). Many artifacts from the Herodian period like streets and other monuments have been discovered in the vicinity of the Temple Mount along with other sweet archaeological findings. Now that I have put everyone to sleep with all these boring facts, I will quickly end before I've completely lost you. In conclusion, it was so cool to have the chance to do some underground exploring away from the busy sidewalks of Israel and walk through secret passageways and tunnels that live beneath our feet. Who knew all that was there! So this other picture has nothing to do with today's adventures at the Tunnels but I thought it was funny! While we were shopping in the Old City on Monday, one of the shop owners was trying so hard to convince us to buy a skirt from him that he actually gave us a little fashion show. It was hilarious but if you aren't laughing, I won't be offended. I guess you just had to be there! Peace out!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

FREE DAY - En Kerem!!

That's me, if you weren't sure, trying to steal our shuttle bus while the driver was absent! Today was a completely free day for us to do whatever we wanted!! It was amazing!! A huge group of us decided to go to En Kerem which is the birthplace of John the Baptist. It was such a quiet and amazingly peaceful town to explore so we went wild! We visited a Russian Orthodox Mission for women only although we somehow sneaked some guys in with us. It was hilarious! While we were walking around the church, we noticed this lady following us with a jar of water and a little whip thing so we didn't really know what she was up to. We tried to talk to her but couldn't understand a word she was saying so we pointed to the water curious to know what it was for. Before we knew it she was splashing our faces with this holy water and giving us a blessing of some sort. I'm not sure what religion I am a part of now since I may have been baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church. It was a funny experience! After that we realized we were trapped inside this Convent and tried forever to figure out how to escape. Maybe that was our punishment for renouncing our faith but no worries, we all made it out alive and well. We did some more exploring after that walking through people's backyards and up and down hills and cliffs. It made for a very tiresome day but it was fun for once to not know where in the world we were and to get away from the crazy busy and noisy streets of Jerusalem. I felt like I was lost in Italy or some European town that was absolutely dead silent with about 20 people I saw all day long besides ourselves. It was great to be outside and have a day to create my own adventure in whatever way I wanted. En Kerem is definitely going on my top 3 favorite places yet!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Garden of Gethsemane

My second Shabbat here in the Holy Land was amazing like it should be! The branch is awesome and the few families with kids we have here are such happy and knowledgeable people who are totally in tune with the Spirit. Right after church, a huge group of us went to the Garden of Gethsemane which is about a 10 minute walk from our mansion of a home in which we eat and sleep (besides that, we are outside exploring as much as possible)! To get to Gethsemane, we walked through Orson Hyde Park which was absolutely gorgeous! I'm not sure exactly what is significant about this place except that it was dedicated by Orson Hyde who was an original apostle in the first quorum of the twelve. I hope I have that right! Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong. I won't be offended...that's a hard feat to accomplish in my family! After we finally made it to the site of the atonement (WO I just got chills when I wrote that), we were led into this private area of the Garden that is usually locked. Whenever they see the BYU students coming, the gates are opened! GO COUGS!! As soon as I walked into that sacred place, I couldn't help but start to wander around to find a spot where I could sit alone and ponder. I found a little stump that I could sit on while thoughts started flooding into my head so I whipped out my journal and began writing. It was such a peaceful experience to reflect on what my Savior did for me and the great sacrifice it was for Him to take upon himself all of my weaknesses, pains, and temptations which account to plenty to bear I'm almost positive. I could not help but thank my Redeemer continually for the life He has given me and the opportunity He has provided for me to relieve myself of any trial or hardship I choose to place upon His shoulders. What an amazing blessing and comfort that is to me that nothing is too hard for the Lord and that I will NEVER have to suffer alone! What a glorious principle that is for me to understand and I find such hope and happiness in that assurance! I wish to end with a statement by my Savior to His Father in Heaven as He suffered extreme pain for my sins and all of yours, "nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." As Elder Maxwell once stated, "The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar." I pray that I may more fully understand this concept in my stay here in Israel and that I may become closer to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Shalom to all! BTW... The picture of the olive tree is where I sat in the garden to write in my journal.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wailing Wall On Shabbat!

I was finally able to get a picture of the Wailing Wall so here you go! It's much grander in person, trust me! Today we had the amazing opportunity to celebrate the beginning of Shabbat which starts on Friday at sundown. It was so fun to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving to God with the Jewish people and to take part in their sacred day. Before we left for the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall or Kotel (all three names are correct), we had to learn a little bit about the nature of this holy site and what rituals were appropriate to participate in. Although many may think that the Western Wall is part of Solomon's Temple, that's not true. It is a part of Herod's Temple which was built on top of the first temple built by Solomon. The Wailing Wall is GINORMOUS but not nearly as high as it was during the time of Christ's life and ministry. The thing that blows my mind about this holy place is the fact that the Western Wall was the exact wall that Christ looked at daily and touched with His precious hands. We were told before that we were not allowed to bring our cameras because they would be confiscated if they saw anyone taking pictures so sorry there are no new images to look at for now but we can go back any other time but Shabbat and take pictures so just be patient and I'll be sure to post them! Our teachers told us to bring scarves so that we didn't completely feel out of place but I felt totally ridiculous and out of place with my scarf ON! Unlike Muslim women, Hebrew women rarely keep their heads covered. With all of our brightly-colored and intricate scarves, we stood out like a sore thumb! It was way embarrassing and many women came up to us to tell us we looked like dumb Americans so we quickly got the point. You would think after so many years the Jerusalem Center has been to the Western Wall that they would know we looked comical. Maybe that was the point! None the less, it was a way cool and very different experience that I will never forget! The Jewish people's love and excitement for the upcoming Shabbat made me reflect upon how I look forward to the Sabbath and what I do to prepare for this special day where I am given the blessing to renew my baptismal covenants and strive to be more Christlike in the new week ahead. I have gained a greater appreciation for the importance of the Sabbath and the need to rest from all our cares so that we may reevaluate our lives and change the necessary things that will make us that much closer to returning to live with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ once again. Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Geography Field Trip

That's me on top of the Nabi Samwil Synagogue with all of Jerusalem behind me! Today was our first field trip!! Woohoo!! Although we stayed within 15 minutes of Jerusalem, we were able to have some amazing views atop some important historic structures that really brought things into perspective for me. Our first stop was the Seven Arches Overlook (this site is named after a hotel that sits behind it so there is really no special meaning behind it). It was absolutely breathtaking to look at all of Jerusalem from just one spot of land! What a humbling experience it was to see the beginning of my journey start to take off as I saw the scriptures come to life right before my eyes. Right below us was a Jewish and Muslim cemetery that was kind of creepy but cool in a way. To the right of us sat three churches at Gethsemane that were absolutely beautiful! One of the churches is called St. Mary Magdalene who was a devote follower of Christ and whom is believed by some religious sects to have been His wife. I thought this assumption to be quite strange since I have never heard of that prediction ever before. All we know for sure is that she was present at Christ's Crucifixion and at the Garden Tomb which makes one speculate that she was the grieving wife and widow but I don't agree with that so moving on. On the opposite side lies the City of David or the Canaanite/Jebusite town or Zion or whatever the heck you want to call it. In case you're confused, Jerusalem has multiple names that are all correct depending on what time period you're talking about. The City of David became the name of Canaanite/Jebusite Jerusalem after some conquest. I'm having a brain fart right now and can't think of who conquered it so sorry! Anyways, directly in front of us was Mount Moriah where Abraham obediently sacrificed his son Isaac as an offering unto God. As we all know that didn't actually happen but there are some sweet correlations between Christ and Isaac as it states in Jacob 4:5 that Isaac is a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son. You should check it out more in Genesis 22 as well! At that same site now stands the Temple Mount or King Herod's Platform with the Dome of the Rock smack dab in the center. The platform contains the original stairs that Christ walked on which is totally insane! There are very few sites in Jerusalem that have not been repaved in modern times and that is one of them. We then went to the Augusta Victoria Tower which has been converted into a hospital by the British long ago. Interesting is the second largest hospital in all of East Jerusalem. Not that crazy of a fact but that's all the exciting news I got from that site. Next we visited the hill outside the Elias Monastery (we weren't allowed inside for some reason). It was freezing cold with the wind blowing super hard but the trip was all made worth it when out of nowhere, a HUMONGOUS herd of sheep appeared over the horizon in perfect sync with what my teacher was talking about!! It was hilarious! The sheep were all around us so it was way cool but they were nasty dirty so there was no way I was getting close to them to contract rabbis. I think one of them read my mind or something because it started charging toward me right away. I flipped out but skillfully, I still managed to take a quick picture because it was just too cool. I got in big trouble by these little Palestinian kids who were with the sheep because they didn't want us taking pictures unless we had money to pay for them. Being the obedient spirit that I am, I succeeded at taking a couple more pictures without them looking! Our last stop was Nabi Samwil which means the Prophet Samuel in Arabic. This church/mosque/synagogue (I'm not exactly sure what to call it) was the supposed birthplace of the prophet Samuel but sorry to burst your bubble, it's not! Samuel's real birthplace is farther east in the village of Ramah. We got to see tons of Orthodox Jews who worship there and I was trying to take a picture of them secretly with their sweet ringlets they have on both sides on their face by their ears but I could never get one without them looking. Somewhere in the scriptures it talks about curls or ringlets or something so every night they go to bed with two curlers in their hair. I don't even remember the last time I wore curlers...I think it was probably those little pink spongy ones. Well today was a very exhausting, extremely cold and windy yet informative day. One lesson from today seems to stick out in my mind the most. It is, the better we understand the Holy Land geography, the better we understand the Old and New Testament. I believe that one of my purposes in being here this semester is to do just that; I am so excited to learn more about these sacred texts and I feel so privileged to be given this incredible chance to gain a more firm and steady testimony of the Holy Bible. President Hinckley has once said that we are a biblical church which means we are commanded to teach from, bear testimony of, and read from the Bible just as often as we study the Book Mormon. It is important that we understand the doctrines contained in the Bible since they contain the same principles of love, charity, and sacrifice that we see in the Book of Mormon. I am so grateful for this opportunity to study in this Holy Land because every day is a new discovery for me, whether it be about myself or about the glorious gospel in which I hold so very near and dear to my heart. Shalom until my next adventure!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Hello from the Holy Land

Here is the amazing view from my patio!
So today is Saturday and my first Shabbat (Sabbath) here in Jerusalem which is totally weird to say but what the heck, I'm in Israel! All of us students live in a little branch with a couple families who are here working at the UN or finishing up grad school which I think is way cool! So we meet in this auditorium on the very top floor (there are 8 levels) with ginormous windows overlooking all of Jerusalem. Let me tell you how hard it is to focus on what the speaker is saying when you have the Dome of the Rock staring at you and the rest of the Holy Land right there in your face. It is an incredible site! This week has been absolutely exhausting with orientation meetings galore and hundreds of pages assigned to read for classes. I'm being completely serious here! I am already drowning in assignments and I only had two classes yesterday! This better not last for four months or I'm out of here...not really but I might consider it. Well I arrived here Wednesday evening at about 5pm completely drained from the 20 hour flight and 9 hour time difference I encountered which totally messed up my whole system. My body is slowly but surely overcoming the jet lag I have been experiencing. It is so surreal to me that I'm actually in the Holy Land barely a mile away from the place where my Savior, Jesus Christ suffered for all of my pains, sorrows, and temptations. It is absolutely incredible! Thursday morning bright and early (no sleeping in for us), we were given the grand tour of East Jerusalem which houses the Old City and a little bit of West Jerusalem. As of right now, we are not allowed to go into East Jerusalem because of the Palestinian and Israeli conflict. Last night there was an attempt for cease fire by the Israeli government but that has been denied as of early this morning. The bombings going on in the Gaza Strip are about 48 miles away from the Center which seems dangerously close, but we have been told that the rockets can't reach more than 25 miles which means we won't be touched. Something else to consider is that we are about 2 miles away from the Dome of the Rock which is the third most holy site in all of Israel. According to Islamic history, this is the place where Muhammad ascended to Heaven; therefore, no Israeli or Palestinian in their right mind would ever attempt to bomb that sacred shrine. So no one should be worried at all that I might blow up into pieces any time soon. We are definitely being watched over.