Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jerusalem, I Will Never Forget You!

Four months ago I left the country in hopes to embark on a journey that would forever change my life. Jerusalem was an experience that did just that. Since I have been home so many people have asked me how Jerusalem was. This is a question that is so hard to articulate the words efficient to describe it. How do you describe an experience that is indescribable? Despite the impossibility of this task, I am going to try to at least convey some of my feelings regarding this experience.

Being uprooted from everything that was familiar to me, I was placed in a country that predominately had different people, cultures, and beliefs.  Learning about these people was by far one of my favorite things I got to do on this study abroad. I was able to learn so much about the Jews and Arabs specifically. 
I had both an Israel class who was taught by Ophir, a Jewish man, and a Palestine class taught by Bashir, an Arab. In these classes I was able to learn about the history and beliefs of these people. The coolest part in taking these classes was I was actually learning about the individuals who surrounded me daily.  I was able to apply what I learned in the classroom to reality as I checked out of the Jerusalem Center and explored the city.  I absolutely loved watching these individuals worship and live. The Muslim’s Call to Prayer was something that frequently rung in my ears. It went off five times a day, so as you can tell it was definitely a huge part of my Jerusalem soundtrack so to speak. And seeing the Jew’s Mezuzahs, Kippas, curls, and Shtreimel ( fuzzy hats worn by Haredi Jews) became a beautiful sight to me.

Jerusalem is a very interesting place. It is such a small piece of land that holds so much significance to so many different religions. In one day I could visit the Western wall, a extremely religious site for Jews. I could then leave and go to the Dome of the Rock, a sacred site to Muslims. Not to mention the sites important to Christians such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Garden Tomb, or Garden of Gethsemane.  
It is true that there is a lot of controversy regarding land and who should possess it. However, there is no doubt in my mind that both the Arabs and the Jews are good people. 
 Western Wall

Dome of the Rock

 Church of the Holy Sepulchre 

Garden Tomb

Garden of Gethsemane

Learning about the gospel was definitely another one of my favorite parts. I am somewhat ashamed to say that I had never really studied the Bible in depth before. However while living in the Holy Land I was able to study both the New and the Old Testaments. It was a unique learning experience because I was able to learn about a story in the Bible, and then go to the actual site people believe the story took place. It was just as surreal as it sounds. I constantly was battling with the overwhelming feeling of surrealism.  However having the opportunity to visit these sites was incredible.

One of the strongest lessons I learned in Jerusalem however, was the importance of conversion. While studying the Bible, specifically the New Testament, I was able to study the conversion of the early apostles of the church. I never paid enough attention to their conversions. It is extremely simple minded, but I use to focus on the strength the early apostles and disciples had to have in their life. Most all of these early apostles had a strong testimony of Christ, his atonement, and gospel. However I learned how important it is important not to forget the conversion process they all took to get there. The church and teachings were being changed from the Mosaic law to the higher law Christ brought. Christ spent time healing and lifting others, however he spent a great deal teaching those around him.   These early apostles had to undergo a conversion process just like each one of us.

If we want to be able to stand before the Lord and be counted as a true disciple of the Lord, we have to be actively working to it. Idleness is a sure and steady path to letting Satan deceive our hearts. It is important to always be working and striving to be a better disciple. This was testified to me in Israel. The pursuit of conversion is essential to our growth. We may have a testimony of this gospel, however we have to be constantly feeding our selves spiritually. We do not have the time or the means to relax in our spiritual pursuit
After three in a half months our last week finally approached us. Aside from trying to get everything done we wanted to, we were able to have district conference. At this district conference the Uchtdorfs spoke as well as the Porters. This was so cool. The Uchtdorfs ended up staying with us a whole week. IT was definitely weird staying under the same roof as them. It was the strangest thing. You would be walking around the Jerusalem center and all of a sudden you would see President Uchtdorf and his wife stroll past you. Talk about surreal. 

There is nothing like running into the Uchtdorfs in the Old City of Jerusalem. 

Our last Monday and Tuesday we were able to trace the steps of the last week of the Savior’s life. One of the most extraordinary things I got to do this study abroad was walk where the Savior walked. When many people think about Jerusalem, they think of being able to do this. However, Sister Porter gave a significant thought regarding this. In summary, she taught that we all walk where the Savior walked by doing good. If we are reaching out to others and helping, then we are walking where the Savior walked and doing what the Savior would have us do-regardless of location.  This brings me such hope and comfort. Even though I am back in America, I can continue today and everyday to walk where the Savior walked. 

"I may have walked where Jesus once walked, but what is more important to me is that today I can walk where Jesus would walk if He were still with us. I can listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost and minister to those the Savior would minister to today." 
                                                                            - President Thomas S. Monson 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Floating Away in the Dead Sea

So I decided the Dead Sea deserved a blog post. The Dead Sea was probably one of the coolest places I have ever swum in my entire life, well if you can even call it swimming. The salinity is 33.7%. To put this into context, most oceans salinity is around 3%. 33.7% salinity allows you to float so easily!! I honestly felt like a buoy, just bobbing around. It was so fun! 

The famous Dead Sea Mud

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Separation Wall

The separation wall is yet another thing that I never thought I would be able to see in my life.  I will confess that I did not know much about the logistics of the separation wall before coming to Israel. The separation wall is a huge concrete wall that geographically separates Israel from Palestinian areas. However I have come to learn since being here that it does so much more than just that.  My first vivid account with it was when I saw three men climb the wall, drop a rope and duffle bag before they proceeded to climb down the rope themselves.  This encounter had a stirring effect. This is when it really hit me that this wall is a real thing, that has real effects, in real people’s lives. It is not just some abstract phenomenon people talk about.

  I learned that people will hop the wall to find work on the other side.  This wall does more then to just separate the land, but it separates people from certain schools, hospitals, and opportunities. The way I saw those men hop the wall, I realized they had it down like an art. This showed me that this was not the first time they had done it.  This thought process also happens when I go through the various check points Israel has.

I know that in the world people have agency and that certain decisions and actions people or groups make can have lasting effects. I also know that people want things that contradict each other. But it makes me sad that although we have so much in common, we as a human race still cannot get along. We kill, hate, suppress, and destroy others. But the common question keeps coming to my head. WHY? Why must we put down others? I know that problems like the separation wall, wars, and other detrimental things can be complicated. Yet, if you think about it, these problems could all be solved if we merely just loved. What if we could just see the other person’s side and put ourselves in their shoes?

 If this experience has taught me one thing, it is to love. I feel that love can heal all wounds. We as human beings are such wonderful creations. It is a shame not to appreciate, cherish, and love all of God’s creations!

Sunday, April 14, 2013


Galilee is where Jesus was raised and spent most of his mortal ministry. He taught parables, healed the sick, and ultimately stood as an example to all. I was able to spend ten days in a kibbutz right on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was absolutely beautiful. Calling this experience surreal is an understatement. I consider it an honor to be able to have stayed in a place that once housed the Savior. It is unfathomable.

During my time in Galilee I was able to visit many biblical sites that were connected to Christ or his apostles. I wish I had time to blog in depth about every site so that I could share this experience with everyone. However, this would take days. I have decided that I would briefly describe some of the things I did that could give glimpses of this amazing place.

Nazareth is a small village that Jesus dwelt in. He is sometimes referred to as Jesus of Nazareth in the Bible.  Nazareth has churches that commemorate Him and His life.

This Crusader church was built over the traditional site of the first century synagogue. This synagogue is the synagogue where Christ’s family probably attended and where Christ announced his Messiahship in Luke 4.

The church of Annunciation commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she is going to bear the Son of God. This church had really neat murals on the wall on the upper floor. It also had beautiful doors that had various stories depicted on it.

The Sea of Galilee is the location where Christ walked on the water, calmed the seas, and fed the multitude of the five thousand.  Being able to cross the Sea of Galilee on a boat and stop and have a devotional in the middle is an experience that I never dreamed I would have.  I really loved our devotional. One of the things we talked about is how there maybe times that we feel alone or are being rocked on the waves of life. This life is full of stroms and tempests. However in the fourth watch Christ came unto the disciples on the water. Just as he came unto the disciples on the Sea of Galilee, He will come unto us. It might not be immediately, but our fourth watch will come if we remain faithful.

Mount of Beatitudes is the location where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount to his early disciples. This sermon is the key to bringing happiness. Beatitudes, or beatus in Latin, literally means blessed or happy.  President Harold B. Lee called this sermon “the blueprint for perfection.”We were able to read the sermon on site which was really cool. There is also a Roman Catholic Church of Beatitudes  at the top.

St. Peter’s Primacy commemorates the biblical account of  Christ asking Peter if he loved him three times. With the allotted free time I had to ponder, I thought of the exchange between Christ and Peter. I had to ask myself, “what will I do to show the Lord I love him?” I think this is a question we must all ask ourselves. Do we truly love the Lord? If so, what are we going to do to show him?

Capernaum was the home to Peter, Andrew, and possibly Matthew. Christ later referred to this as “his own city.” He moved to Capernaum when he was rejected in Nazareth. Christ performed many miracles here.

(A house people believed was Peters.)

Just like in Jerusalem, we as students have a very strict schedule. In Galilee we had scheduled classes that were sometimes three hours long. Our meal times were planned, and the time allotted to each site we visited was pre-planned. However we were also given some free days where we were able to hang out by the lake. During these free times we sometimes had optional activities. One day we were allowed to go rafting down the Jordan River. The rafting trip was calm and incredibly fun. 

Another day we got to go on a 2 hour hike in the Golan Heights. We at one point were 2 km from Syria’s border. We had a tour guide that took half of the students. The scenery was breathtaking.  It looked like Ireland to me...or at least how I picture Ireland. Two thirds of the way we were able to stop and swim in a water fall. All I have to say is the water was FREEZING!

We got to go to Church with the Tiberius Branch on Saturday( Saturday is when we celebrate the Sabbath.)  The ward was small, but it was so cool. There were people there with so many different backgrounds. For example, one of the sacrament prayers was said in Hebrew and a sweet woman, who had a translator, bore her testimony in Spanish. Despite these different backgrounds, the meeting was similar to the ones in Utah. That is one of the things I love about the gospel. No matter where you are at, no matter what your background is, the church functions in the same way. We sing the same songs, say the same sacrament prayers, have the same classes and topics, and are led by the same prophet and apostles. It is a really neat experience to have.

The building had a beautiful view of the Sea of Galilee.

Mount Tabor is one site that has been venerated as the Mount of Transfiguration. In order to get to the top you had to use shuttles. The driver of mine had a big mustache that was curled at the ends. As he was driving up the switchback road, he was listening to his music.Every time we turned he would whip his head and shake his hand as if he was whipping sweat off his face. It was funny.
At the top they had a beautiful church. After having a devotional, a priest gave us a key to unlock the room where people believe was the area where Christ was transfigured. It was interesting to go inside the room.  we could literally look up and see people worshiping above us.

Megiddo originally was inhabited by Canaanites. It later became one of Solomon’s chariot cities before being refortified by Jeroboam and Ahab.

After a hot day filled with field trips we got to go swimming at a watering hole. IN all honesty I thought we were going swimming in a dirty lake somewhere. However, I was pleasantly surprised upon arriving at the swimming hole. It looked like a resort! There were beautiful pools that had two waterfalls. It was man- made, but they made the inside and outside look natural.

The craziest thing happened here though… it had fish. Not just any fish, but fish that would eat the dead skin off of your feet!!! It felt SO weird. I wouldn't say it was a feeling I enjoyed...

Hazor was the capital of one of the greatest northern Canaanite city-states. It was conquered by Joshua.

“From Dan to Beersheba” is a saying in the Bible. This described Israel’s borders. Present day Dan was conquered by the tribe of Dan when they could not conquer their original inheritance in the Aijalon and Sorek Valleys.  This is where Jerobaom set up one of his two idolatrous altars (the other one is in Bethel.)   1 Kings 12:25-33

Dan also has a mud-brick gateway that could have been one Abraham walked through when he was rescuing Lot, his nephew, after he was kidnapped (Genesis 14:14).

Caesarea Philippi is where Peter testified of Christ. During Christ’s ministry many people had different ideas on who they thought Christ was. Some thought he was John the Baptist, while others thought he was Elijah. However, at Caesarea Philippi is where Peter testified that he knew Jesus was the Christ.

Nimrod’s Castle was a Muslim fortress. It honestly was like a medieval castle playground. I would be lying if I said I didn’t wish Eliza was there so we could play some imagination princess game like we use to.

Har Bental is a volcanic mound in the Golan Heights. IT had a great view. IN the distance was the road to Damascus where Paul was converted.

One of my favorite tender experiences in Galilee was conference. I truly came to appreciate conference.I will never feel the same when at the beginning of conference they welcome people from all over the world. At En Gev, the place we were staying, the internet was terrible. We were thus unsure if we would be able to watch conference.  A bunch of us crammed into a class room to try and watch the Saturday morning session. The Lord blessed us and allowed us to get all the way through with only a few glitches. 

 Sunday session was my favorite though. We were supposed to have our Ancient Near East class. Due to certain circumstances, our class was canceled. We then had the night( there is a time difference) to try and broadcast the Sunday morning session. The beach/ shore of the Sea of Galilee surprisingly had good internet. A group of students tried to get as many people off of the internet so that we could try and stream conference. To our great pleasure it worked!

 I couldn't help but sit there and think how blessed I was. I was literally sitting on the shores of Galilee where Christ had taught his disciples. And now, almost 2000 years later, I was sitting on the same shore watching current prophets and apostles act as the Lord’s mouthpiece. I was able to listen to the Savior's counsel and learn from it. It was incredible.

Every 15 or so minutes we would have to refresh the page because it would lose a connection. It was totally worth it though. It took us about twenty minutes to get through the last five minutes of President Monson’s talk. But we did not want to give up and we eventually got through the whole thing! 

Muhraqa is on Mount Carmel. This is where Elijah challenged the Priests of Baal. He partook in a competition to see who truly worshiped the real God. The challenge was to see who could set their sacrifice on fire. Obviously Elijah won.

The Baha’I Gardens were beautiful. The Baha’I is a religion that has over seven million members. They are accepting of most religions. They believe that all world religions have been progressive stages to reveal God’s will.  They accept Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.

Haifa Templer Cemetery was really neat. It held the graves of some of the earliest missionaries and converts to the church in that area.

Caesarea Maritima was a port city and was built by Herod the Great. He sought to supersede Alexandria, in Egypt, as the main trading center.  It became Judea’s Roman capital after Herod’s death.  IT is also connected with devote disciples. Philip  preached there. Peter baptized Cornelius, a Roman Centruion, and Paul was imprisoned there for two years before he was taken to Rome.

Galilee was incredible and I am so blessed that I can always study the Savior’s life!