Sunday, April 20, 2008

One Year Later...

It occurs to me that, after writing about so many of the amazing experiences that the Jerusalem Center offers, I had never written about the post-JC times... So here's an update, one year to the day that we got home.
Jerusalem never leaves you. I'm certain that Jill still hasn't gotten over the chocolate pillow cereal addiction, and Tanner is probably still trying to recover from the nourishment he received at Samir's hand. :) But to describe exactly what I mean, on the bus ride from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, we students, alone, had our own devotional. We had already left a few of our number behind, as family had come to pick them up and they were showing the sites of the Old City to their loved ones. During the ride, phone numbers and addresses were recorded, and my roommate Jake read from Psalm 137:5-7. "How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy." Needless to say, Jake wasn't the only one crying. :) But luckily we have been able to keep the spirit of Jerusalem alive for the past year.
Several of the JC people decided to room together. Actually, most of them decided to. I was one of the few that didn't live with others, but scarcely a week went by without seeing and hanging out with at least one friend from some of the best months of my life, and scarcely a month passed without some kind of get-together with at least 15-20 people showing up.
As far as personal lives go, I have to let you know that, out of the 16 guys and 28 girls, 3 guys are married(Tyson married Cambria and they're expecting!! Woo Hoo!), 2 guys are engaged(Mike is marrying my little sister, Rachel, in 4 days! Don't worry, I still love him and will probably forgive him eventually :) ). 4 girls are on missions with several who also have their papers in. 2 girls are married and 2 more are engaged, and all in all, 18 have graduated! As far as returning, There are two girls with plane tickets for this summer, and three more with plans to return this summer. Maybe they'll be so kind as to search out and bring back the bits and pieces of our hearts that are lying scattered throughout the Holy Land from Dan to Beersheba. They do have a weight limit, though. :)
The most common question that people ask differs greatly from the one we got before we left: "What was your favorite part?" That's a question that I've never been able to answer. I don't think I could decide between the peace of Galilee with its testimony of the life and works of Christ and sitting on the benches of the Garden Tomb early one Sunday morning while reading the accounts of the Resurrection and realizing that where it happened is of little consequence, but the fact that it did happen makes all the difference. I don't think I could choose between celebrating prayer with Muslims in the Salahadin Mosque in Cairo, feeling more loved than anywhere other than my own home, and dancing and celebrating Purim in a Jewish school in West Jerusalem with a good friend as our guide making sure no one knew we weren't actually Jewish.
But after a year, the beauty of Jerusalem in the spring still comes back to you with every new blossom. Your nostrils still long for the smell of pungent spices in the crowded streets of the Old City and you swear you can hear the shopkeepers yelling "Asherah! Asherah!" in an afternoon at the mall. :) Of course, I don't want this post to sound melancholy, but the fact is, Jerusalem is a lifetime. I now repeat my previous advice with this in mind, that anyone who goes should live, love, and learn, and their lives will never be the same.

Friday, April 20, 2007

All Good Things

Three and one-half months ago, students stayed up till all hours of the night packing, trying to figure out what to take with them to Jerusalem. A few had lost the packing list, so they were left to their own devices and a little bit of luck. Well, last night, students stayed up till all hours of the night, trying to figure out what to take home with them. The amazing thing is, this is my last blog entry on the Jerusalem Center. It has been a wonderful experience, and it's been fun lettin you know about it as well. The memories constantly flood into my mind, the visit to Haram-es-Shariff, the beautiful view from each balcony of the Center, the peace of Galilee. So, while I am writing this from my home computer, I will do my best to not make it melancholy. The experience was too wonderful to end it off that way.
I thought that, since I'm sure that future JC candidates are reading this page, I will focus on a few things that will be important to them. First of all, never go into a shop like an uneducated tourist and say, "Now, is this one of those shops where you bargain for things?" It gave me pain to see an elderly couple from the States walk in and say that. Invariably the shopkeeper will suppress a smile and say, "No, no, I give you good price here. No bargain." Just know that, except in grocery stores and the mall, price is always relative.
Second, yes, the food really is that good. Just beware of a few things, "Beef Tang" is incorrectly named, but surprisingly good. Use your imagination to figure out what it might be, then comment on it. :) The mixed grill is also quite good, as long as you don't contract the dreaded "Liver Shiver," or "Chicken Heart Bop," both coveted moves on a dance floor, not in the cafeteria. Aside from those two menu items, the rest is perfectly normal and, in my opinion, quite excellent. The showers...Wow. I hopped in the shower at my parent's house this morning and was sorely disappointed. The water pressure at the JC all but left me completely bald. Don't turn it on all the way the first time, ease yourself into the best showers anywhere.
You're going to be spending a lot of time with these people. I absolutely love everyone that was there with me and hope to be their friend for life. However, there were times that I needed to get away. Take those times. Go out on the lawn by the second level. Spend time in the Dome or the Biblical Garden. Hide out on your balcony, play your harmonica in the bomb shelter (that's what I did). You'll find that if you don't you'll have a much harder time being happy with all your friends. After you take that time, take the time to do things for the other people in the group. If they need to go somewhere, accompany them so they can. It may be hard at times, but you'll never regret helping a friend out.
Breanne White is credited with this idea. Every night at dinner she took the time to tell everyone at her table an attribute or trait that she admired about each of them. I personally think that it's a tradition that needs to live on. Breanne rarely missed a night, and we all benefited from it.
You'll hear this fifty times before you leave, but if there is one bit of advice that I'd give you, it would be to hold of on judgement of the local cultures and people. Don't base your opinion of different groups on the actions of a few individuals. My opinion of different groups there has changed drastically. I love Jewish people and they have been through trials a pain throughout the centuries. They have been misrepresented, but the greatest misrepresentation of today is that which is directed to the Arab people. I don't know if it is possible for me to love a group of people more than I do them. I admit that once or twice I may have had a bad experience with a few, but I can't even believe what I thought before I left for Jerusalem.
Most of Jerusalem is underground, and I mean that literally. Many of the stones that you walk on today are 12 to, in some cases, 50 feet above where people walked in the times of the Old and New Testament. Enjoy those trips to the different sites and be sure to take good notes. You'll thank yourself later. Some people hated the "Field Trip Notebooks," but I can't think of anything more useful than an entire notebook dealing with facts, scriptures, and personal impressions from each site.
The Jerusalem Experience is life-changing. I know that for me, quite beyond the changes in the social scene and ideas concerning current events, the most significant changes have come in my understanding of the scriptures. Ideas and concepts in the scriptures come alive when you see the land where they were written. You gain different insights that simply amaze, but more importantly, you gain a greater understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ as God's divine Son, our Savior, and our Redeemer. You also come to realize just how blessed you are to be a member of His church. You come to realize that you have a certain light about you that people immediately recognize. So my final advice is to go, learn, do, serve, and love. Your life, if you let it, will never be the same.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Easter to the Tune of Prayer Calls

Easter in the Holy Land. I never thought this would happen to me. There were a lot of beautiful moments during the Holy Week. My favorite would have to be going Thursday night to the Garden of Gethsemane and reading all four gospel's accounts of the events in Gethsemane. We then read D&C 19 and some Book of Mormon accounts of Christ's suffering. After about an hour of scriptures, prayers, hymns, and meditation, the five of us that went came back to the center just before dark through the Orson Hyde Park, just a stones throw away from the Garden. It was beautiful being there on the anniversary of the exact night when Jesus took our sins upon him.
The next day, tens of thousands of people thronged the streets as the cross was carried along the traditional orthodox "Via Dolorosa." These pilgrims were then complemented by the thousand of Muslims getting out of morning prayers. These two groups were then complemented by the orthodox Jews that were in town for passover, heading all over the place, but principally in the area of the western wall. As I was walking back from the Ophel Archaeological park on Thursday, I counted 49 double-length busses bringing Jews from all over to the Western Wall. Suffice it to say, it was jam-packed.
My experience with the crowds came the next day. A few of us decided to go to the "Lighting of the Sacred Fire," a Catholic ceremony where the priest enters the Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and, supposedly, his lantern spontaneously lights. The amount of pilgrims was suffocating. Our group managed to be at the front of the crowd near the police officers and it was a good thing. There were a few people from the back that were constantly pushing forward, trying to break through the police line and get into the church--the police were trying to get everyone out before they let anyone else in. I, myself, being caught in the middle of push and shove started to feel seasick. :) I'm merely grateful that I stand head and shoulders above many there, as I got the occasional whiff of cool air. We stood there crunched-in for at least 45 minutes. I no longer have a personal bubble. It was funny when a guy in our group, who has an inch and 40 pounds on me, finally had enough with the people pushing from that back. He turned around and helped the police with a little crowd control. He honestly created about 4 feet of breathing room around him where there was no space to begin with--all with his football-like tactics.
Our last stop was the sunrise service at the Garden Tomb. For someone who has never been to an evangelical service, it was an eye-opening experience. All in all, the timing was right, and I think I could probably make a good evangelist, I can rock with the best of them. :) One interesting comment. It is interesting to note how different translations of the Bible imply completely different concepts. My KJV teaches some amazingly profound doctrine with regards to man's origin and destiny, but the Bible that the pastor uses completely changes the wording so that all the symbolism that I have come to cherish is lost. I'm so glad that we have leaders that are inspired of God to help us understand the scriptures and that we have additional scriptures to help clarify the plain and precious truths that Christ and his prophets taught.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


A wise teacher once told me that responsibilities are like juggling a bunch of balls. Some are made of rubber and some are made of glass. Some you can drop every once in a while, and some you absolutely can't. I figured that the finals that I just took today, plus the end of semester projects, were balls that I couldn't drop. So for those of you that feel like you've been bouncing up and down because I haven't done an entry in a while, just know that the rubber ball is back in circulation again. :) Honestly, I'm sorry I haven't had time to write more. It's always on my mind.
Well, I'm going to finish the Galilee field trip with a few comments on Caesarea Phillipi. For those of you that don't have an LDS King James Bible, I've included a picture of the headwaters of the Jordan located at Caesarea Phillipi. If you look at the picture, you'll see hundreds of gallons of water spilling over the different terraces. Just know that the wall you see along the back, plus some areas that are to the left out of the picture, is where all that water is coming from. The water literally emerges from the bedrock. It melts from the top of Mt. Hermon and flows underground for...well...I don't know how far. But it hits the thick layer of bedrock and just comes gushing out of the ground. Something similar happens at Tel Dan, several miles away to the northwest.
This area was once the capital of Herod Phillip's tetrachy in the North. When Herod the Great died, just shortly after Jesus' birth, his kingdom was divided between his three sons, and Phillip was given the Galilee. If you look in the background of the picture, you will see a large cave where, previous to a large earthquake, the water used to come from. Phillip built a temple to Caesar over the flowing water. He also built one to Pan, the little goat god with the pipes(He's the god of war), one to Nemesis, the goddess of divine retribution, and to the sacred dancing goats...ummm...
Well, for those who would like to know why we went here: it's really pretty. But this is where, in Matthew 16, Peter declares "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is interesting to see the huge bedrock and hear Christ declare that the rock of revelation is what his church will be built on. From this rock of revelation flows huge amounts of living water. The imagery is amazing.
I will decline to comment on the bonfire that some students built our last night there, but I was the naysayer in the whole affair. Luckily it turned out okay, as my frantic babblings were swiftly ignored. :)
Anyway, after Phillipi, we dropped by Acre and a few other places, but unfortunately Caesarea (not Phillipi) closed early for Passover. Caesarea is a huge city down on the coast about 30 miles north of Tel Aviv. Herod the great built it and, much to his Jewish ancestry's chagrin, here established the first example of emperor-worship, as the Romans worshipped their emperor. He also established an amazing port city that rivaled even Rome in it's splendor. We took some time in the bus outside the gate and enjoyed some little bit of the scenery.
When we got home, Jimmy was waiting there with the favorite meal here, chicken with some great barbecue sauce. He also managed to have some "chocolate pillow" cereal, as some people here would probably go into a coma if they didn't have it. :) Then we all managed to crash into bed.

Monday, April 9, 2007


When it rains, it pours. But luckily we haven't seen any rain since we got back from Galilee. It did pour on us the last day, though, when we went to Acre. But, if rain refers to schoolwork, then we've been drowning:). We just took our New Testament midterm, finished our scripture journals, and, well, some of us have finished the research paper (10 pages, so not too bad). I wrote my paper on "The Gates of the City of Jerusalem." It sounds really cool if you say the title in a James Earl Jones-like voice. Go ahead, try it.
Well, sorry about the personal indulgence there. I promised I'd tell you about Galilee, and I'll do it in chronological order. I'll try to make it not sound like a travelogue.
In the New Testament, there are various reference to the Decapolis. Well, Bet She'an is one of those cities, it also boasts one of the best Roman baths in the area. I'd always heard of roman baths, but I'd never really known what they were before I came here. Well, get ready for the history lecture.
The Romans loved to feel clean and they would have huge bathhouses dedicated to just that. In any bath, there would be three rooms, the caulderium, the tepidarium, and the frigidarium. You can tell easily enough what they are from the base words but I'll give a little background. The caulderium was hot, really hot, but they didn't exactly have a hot water heater to do that. The entire floor was built up on little, 4" wide columns that were about 18 inches high. Just outside the room was a huge fireplace that would force hot air underneath the floor and through the ceramic tubes in the walls. Suddenly, with a hot floor and ceiling, just add water and you get a smoke-free sauna. In this room, they would use blunt knife-like objects to scrape their skin completely clean.
After the caulderium, the tepidarium was an intermediate room with warm water. They would have stayed here for a little while to cool down before heading to the frigidarium, where they would take a nice, cold dip to finish off. After that, you could probably get a nice massage, and hopefully no one had stolen your clothes at the entrance.
Near the town of Nazareth you'll find the ancient city of Sepphoris. In the days of Christ this would have been a bustling metropolis, while the town of Nazareth would have had no more that 500 people, according to some scholars. Well the roles are completely reversed now. There is an interesting question that we should ask: "Why did Joseph, who's tribal inheritance was in Bethlehem(and hence, he went there to be taxed), end up in Nazareth, hundreds of kilometers to the north?" Some people have speculated that when Herod Antipas ordered the rebuilding of the city Sepphoris, which was destroyed when the city rebelled, Joseph may have come north for work. It's just a theory, but an interesting possibility. One thing that we learned here is that the actual Greek word for Joseph and Jesus' profession is better translated as "Craftsman" or "Master Builder," implying work in wood, stone, or metal. This especially relates to stone and metal. Since most construction was done in stone in those days, this makes sense.
I'm going to keep loading the new insights on you. :) Peter and Andrew, brothers, were both born in Bethsaida, but they didn't stay there too long. They moved to Capernaum, just a few miles away, and set up shop there. It is thought that between these two cities, on the northwest shore of Galilee, is where Christ issued the call "Follow me." This isn't because of convenience, but due to the fact that there are seven warm springs on a hill in this area. These springs flow down and cause slightly warmer water, which provides more abundant food for fish. We can see why Peter, James, John, Andrew, and other fishermen, would want to set up shop here.
Capernaum wasn't discovered until the 1800's. It is almost entirely built of beautiful black stone, with just a synagogue and what people assume to be Peter's home, built out of a lighter color. It is interesting to think that Christ spoke of people that dwelt in darkness, while the dark interiors of the homes in the area actually mirrored the spiritual darkness that he spoke of. It is here that he did some of the most memorable and important acts of his ministry. He raised Jairus' daughter from the dead. The woman with the issue of blood was healed. He healed the centurion's servant. The 70 were appointed and sent forth. Peter caught the fish with a coin in its mouth for the temple tax. He discoursed on the Bread of Life. The list goes on. But Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Corzin, though they saw great miracles, were slow to have faith in Jesus, and they were cursed for their lack of faith. The evidence shows when you think that each city had at least 15,000 inhabitants, and they were all completely lost for thousands of years.
I'll tell you about Caesarea Phillipi, but there's a lot to do tonight (We have to finish our musical number for tomorrow night's concert). So I'll bid you adieu.
btw, that is my absolute favorite picture of Galilee. It's taken from Mount Arbel, and I think it captures it perfectly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Well, my back is red from lovely sun on the shores of Galilee. No complaints, though. Galilee was awesome. If there were two places in the world that could be more polar opposites than Jerusalem and the Galilee, I'd be hard pressed to find them. Less than a week before we left it snowed in Jerusalem, and less than a week after we left I was burned crispy because, for the first time in a long time, I refused to put on sunscreen. The palm trees provided just enough shade for those on land, but I really didn't leave the water much that day.
I'd say that the main difference between the Jerusalem and Galilee is the peace of Galilee as compared with the constant movement of Jerusalem. Where Jerusalem looks almost nothing like it did at the time of Christ, Galilee seems completely unchanged. It was so inspiring it even brought out the poet in had to dig reeeaaaalllly deep.
Our time in Galilee was by no means all fun and games. We had two religion class periods and one NES class every day but the sabbath and the field trip days. It might drive the point home when you realize that you are covering the entire gospel of Luke in two class periods...that means two reading assignments. However, the schedule was purposely set up to give us three entire afternoons free so that we could just spend some pondering time on the shores of Galilee. The New Testament comes to life in Galilee just way the Old does in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. It was amazing to sit on the shore of Galilee reading the account of Christ walking on the water or his different travels around the area and see the exact locations where he would have walked, sailed, and preached.
This is just a teaser entry. It's late right now and I really need the sleep, Elder Holland's orders. I will write again soon, though.

Saturday, March 24, 2007


There are so many "traditional" sites in the Holy Land. The traditional site of the burial of Absalom, the traditional site of the devils going into the swine, the traditional site of the burial of St. George's second-favorite dog, etc. The fact is, many of the traditional sites were established in the 3rd, 4th, 5th centuries, even later. So how can people know that an event occurred in a specific area 400 years earlier? Well, archaeological evidence often points to a site, but it's a science that is up to debate.
Just for Mormons, we can be relatively certain about a few sites. Two modern prophets have been to the Church of the Nativity and said, about the grotto, that it was close by that the Savior really was born. They have said similar things about the Garden Tomb. Well, it was really quite special being down in the grotto. I bent down and touched the silver star that marks the traditional birth place of the Savior. It was actually oily, as if there was a ceremony during which they annointed the star, and it tasted like olive oil...just kidding, no way was I going to taste it.
The church was absolutely amazing. It is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world, having survived both Islamic and Persian raids. The old, Byzantine mosaic floor is visible through trap-doors in the current floor. The pillars are made of limestone but were polished until they looked like marble. There are actually 3 different churches that have their own little sections and they constantly squabble over who gets to do what.
Outside there are tons of tourist-hungry shopkeepers (the wall really put the squeeze on their source of income). Our group alone completely cleaned out the immediate vicinity of its Bethlehem Blankets. (They're beautiful little blankets. A lot of LDS people bless their babies in them.) My sister even bought an olive wood carving of her namesake, Rachel. Once again, my frugality complex shone through, and I limited my purchases to a few blankets. I'll have to get over that eventually, and I will, I just want to make sure I'm getting what I really want with my money. Oh, BTW, the picture is twilight over Bethlehem, from a shepherd's field. The mountain in the background that looks like a volcano is the Herodian, the huge stronghold that Herod the Great built.
After Bethlehem we spent several hours in a field that is still used by shepherds. After eating for a while and enjoying some quiet reflective time to read scriptures and ponder, we had a beautiful little program with Christmas carols, Luke 2, and testimonies. It was something else to sit on a hill where shepherds lived and worked at the time of the Savior's birth. You could look over the hills to the old city of Bethlehem and just imagine that the angels were appearing to the Shepherds. After the angels left, they might have just looked up and seen the candles in the windows of Bethlehem. They then would have run straight across the fields, maybe they took the road, but they went straight up to Bethlehem and worshipped the Babe in the manger.
This next week is pretty busy, we're headed up to the Galilee until a week from Monday. If I can get access to the Internet, I'll let you know what we're doing. If not, you won't hear from me 'till we get back.

Swimsuits and Sweaters

As I was looking for an open dryer yesterday, I found that one person had put just two items through the wash: a swimsuit and a sweater. Far from being perturbed by the amount of items, I found that this is a perfect depiction of a winter semester in Jerusalem, from Dead Sea swimming to Shepherd's Field freezing, all within 36 hours.
As you can tell, we went to the Dead Sea last Wednesday on a field trip. By far, it wasn't the only thing that we did that day, but it's about the coolest thing I've done in a long time. The Dead Sea is 1370 feet below sea level and, due to the diversion of river-water for crops, is falling quite rapidly, as in 1 meter a year. It is also the lowest dry place in the world.
If you've never swum in either the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake (well, there are a few more saline lakes), there really isn't a way to adequately describe it. As you dip down, you have absolutley no feeling of falling. I wouldn't even call it floating, I would call it suspension. We took turns curling into a ball and letting others in the group spin us around. If you push yourself up out of the water and try to sink down, you invariably don't get in past your chin, and all the time you can feel a film of salt and other minerals on your body. As long as you don't let it get in your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears (ears aren't too bad), you feel just fine, but if you swallow some, you'll have a sore throat for a month. :)
Before the Dead Sea, we hiked to the top of Herod's Fortress, Masada. If there is one word to describe Herod, it would have to be paranoid. He was constantly in fear of three things: his family, his subjects, and his nemesis, Cleopatra. To qualm these fears, he spent enormous amounts of time and energy to build several places of refuge, Masada being one of them. He even built a mountain. He built it. It's called the Herodian, and you can see it from the hills around Bethlehem. Many years after his death, Masada fell into the hands of Jewish Zealots, and the story has it that they held off Roman forces for months and, instead of submitting at the very end of the seige, they robbed the Roman forces of their victory by committing suicide. Kind of a gruesome ending, but every Israeli schoolchild is taught the story. The unofficial theme of the Israeli army is "Masada has fallen, and it will never fall again!" There were 2 women and 5 children that didn't commit suicide, and they preserved the story.
We also went to Qumran, the site of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This area was the ancient home of the Essenes, a group of hyper-religious, insanely strict jews, who even went to the point, some scholars argue, to say that using the restroom on the Sabbath day constituted a Sabbath-day violation. They probably lived in Jerusalem until they got really mad at the High Priest, at which point they went to live by the Dead Sea. The most suprising thing about this area is that the scrolls that they had hid 1900 years earlier were not discovered until 1947. They were discovered by a young Bedouin shepherd boy who found a strange crevice in the course of a normal day. He threw a rock down, heard breaking pottery, and the greatest archaelogical discovery of the 20th century was unearthed. Go figure.
Well, I'd better break this entry off. Don't worry, I'll talk about Bethlehem, just in the next entry. :)
(btw, a huge shout out to Breanne White for giving me her pictures of the Dead Sea. I was too busy swimming.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

¡Baila Baila!

Even in times when finals are bearing down on you, you can still find time to have a little fun. Last Wednesday, just before our dignitaries got here, we had a "Western Night" at the snack bar (Did I mention that we have a snack bar? It's open every night from 9-10.) Well, the western night became a line dance party, the line dance party became a swing party, and then we just dropped the pretense all together and had a "whatever you happen to be able to do, or not do" dance party. I prefer to call my dancing "Raw, untamed talent" as Danica so aptly put it. Of course that was refering to my "Irish Dancing." The picture is of Jane and Carly. Jane was nice enough to let me snag her pictures, but on the condition that she got honorable mention. Well, here it is. :)
Aside from seeing an already exhausted Landon lift the great Matt Durham high above his head in a bird-like fashion, we've been busy both with finals and with making the most of the experience. Today we went to the Archaeological park that is right outside the Al-aqsa mosque. It was quite interesting walking around on ruins that date back to the time of the Second Temple, because most of streets from that time period are at least 20 feet under your feet.
That's another interesting thing about Jerusalem, the city has been destroyed and rebuilt so many times that the ground level from 2000 years ago is at least 10-15 feet below the current ground level. We all decided that the rocks and dirt in Jerusalem have actually evolved to the point that they reproduce, kind of like coral.
Anyway, tomorrow is our little float in the Dead Sea! We also get to go to Masada, a mountaintop fortress built by Herod the Great (well, his men built it, you know), and Qumran, where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Enjoy the rest of your day!!

Welcome to the Jerusalem Center!

Well, the people that we said that to are probably more qualified to welcome us, they've been here much more than we have. But this last week a breath of fresh air coursed through the building in the form of Elders Holland and Samuelson and President Kearl, as well as all their wives. We've had plenty of opportunities to interact with them and get to know them better. I've discovered that once you're in a conversation with them it's just like you're talking to your grandparents, you just don't know them quite as well.
It's a different experience living in the same building with an apostle and a member of the Seventy. Almost every student has a story to tell about a quick conversation when they ran into them when they were by themselves. For example, somehow both Elders Holland and Samuelson found out that I'm into computers, and each in their turn has called me a "techno-geek." :) Not in any disparaging way, just as a statement of fact. We all know that "in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established," and "whether by mine own voice, or the voice of my servants, it is the same" so I guess that my being a "techno-geek" is doctrine now. The other students say "He hugged me, twice!" "He patted my head!" "He liked my broken-leg trick!" We all loved the District Conference, followed that evening by a Q&A session especially for the students. They got here Thursday, will be here on goodwill errands until Tuesday, and then they fly out again.
It's not too common that the Brethren would be able to come all the way out here, but when the Center closed, a lot of good relationships and ties were put on the back burner. Now that students are back, it's time to reestablish those ties, so the Brethren are happy to come out and see their old friends after a very long Sabbatical.
Just so people know, President Kearl, the dreaded Econ 110 professor, is one of the best men that I've met. He's direct, he lays the issue down as only he knows how to do, but you always know where you stand with him. He's also a very insightful and humble man. Well, no one likes a kiss-up, so hopefully he doesn't actually read this.
We have exactly a month left here. We're in the middle of our first round of finals that includes Old Testament, Arabic or Hebrew, Palestinian-Islamic History and History of Judaism. After this week, for the rest of the semester, we have double-time in our Near Eastern Studies class and, finally, the New Testament. We actually started the New Testament for class this morning and I can honestly say that if you want to understand the New Testament, read the Old. Whereas I normally would have just glossed over the first four chapters of Matthew, I found so many connections to previous reading that it took me at least three-times longer than it normally would have.
Well, I'd better sign off, but I can't do so without offering a big "Congrats!" to my cousin, Conrad, and his wife, Donica, who just yesterday became mommy and daddy. So congratulations, and I expect to be able to hold every one of my new cousins, nieces, and friend's babies when I get back in a month.


Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Safety, the Best Option

If I could choose one phrase that I heard more than any other before I left it would probably be "Wow, don't get blown up." Well, with all the trouble that we see on TV and read in the newspaper, I can hardly blame everyone for thinking that. For the benefit of the 88 students that will be coming here in the Spring (and, I should say, for the benefit of concerned parents), I think I should talk about the actual situation inside Jerusalem, inside Israel proper, and in the other countries that we visit.
I'll start by saying that I haven't met a bad person here. I haven't felt unsafe at any moment. I may have felt uncomfortable once or twice, but I was new and green (I wouldn't consider myself an expert after two months, but I'm not entirely ignorant). Jerusalem, a city of 800,000 people, actually has a lower crime rate than the Provo-Orem area. It isn't perfect, for example, just last week a young Muslim man died. But that was the first death in nearly 2 years. Even in the riots that occurred last month, there were no deaths, there were just injuries. Students spend 80% of their time in Jerusalem, if there ever are any problem, there are always rumors that precede it, and students are always kept clear of any areas that might be sources of contention.
Last week we were in Jordan. Jordan, just like most other places in the Middle East, is safer than most cities in the United States. We spent several hours wandering around Amman, Jordan's capital, after dark. Even Egypt, though chaotic at times, was absolutely full of people that loved to have you there.
I should stress, however, that all is not well in the Middle East. There are very specific rules that keep us students safe. For example, we always have to go out in groups of three, with at least one male in the group if we are going to be out after dark. This is principally due to the "curiosity" of young males around here. We westerners would call it sexual harassment. It has been known to progress to actual physical contact, but not when the rules are observed. I'm talking to Liberty, a friend of mine, and she says that there is a definite difference when there is a guy in the group, even during the day. Men aren't nearly as forward, teenagers tend to keep their distance, and the only comments are "One man, two women!! Lucky man!"
As far as physical security, we are well taken care of here. We don't act stupidly, and we don't really have much to worry about. Concerning security of the young ladies in the group, every guy here is ready and able to go with a group of girls and lend their presence. Basically, we recognize there are risks, there are risks to jumping off your bunk bed in the morning, but the risks are greatly controlled and the rules are specific. Aside from seeing Matt Durham eaten by a giant steel lizard, I feel safer than in Deseret Towers.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Free Days, the Cure for Everything Else

As much as we love learning about the scriptures, studying Near-Eastern history, looking at tells and running around the area, the occasional free day is always a welcome break. Last time we went down by Gaza, but this Friday was a day unlike any other.
300 kilometers south of here is the northern tip of the Red Sea. This is Israel's southernmost border and a huge tourist town named Eilat has been built there. To tie it into the scriptures, Solomon built a navy, and they set out from that area, previously called Ezion-Geber. I was actually kind of shell-shocked when I went there. It was much more like a beach town in Europe or the South, and two months in a highly orthodox community leads you to expect that everyone must dress that way. Scandalous that people should wear shorts! :) I soon learned to ignore it and it turned into a relaxing day filled with, well, nothing that we had to do, just a few things that we wanted to do.
The few things that we wanted to do included, lying on the beach, playing frisbee on the beach, snorkeling (a first, for me) just off the beach, and lying on the beach. Coming from someone who's had a full-time job every summer since he was 13, this relaxation was a new experience, but one that I could get used to, every once in a while. :) There is a beautiful coral reef about 6 kilometers south of town in an Israeli National Park that is 3 kilometers long and 200 meters wide. I've long been mortified of deep water, but aside from the few moments of panic at the start, snorkeling alongside thousands of fish, sea snakes, and even a little octopus was one of the most relaxing experiences I've ever had.
After several hours just taking it easy on the beach, swimming out to "Moses' Rock," the most beautiful area in the park, and enjoying the sun, we headed back to town to quench the obvious thirst in the group for largely inexpensive goods. The girls in the group, on average, bought at least 2 skirts each, and the sunglasses, interesting jewelry, and ice cream stands were frequented. Don't ask me what I bought, you'll be sorely disappointed to find that it was confined to dinner and an ice-cream bar. There's the frugality complex shining through. :)
I'll get a picture up that someone in our group took, but he hasn't posted on facebook yet. In the meantime, enjoy this picture from
Y'all have a great day.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

Well, it's been a few days since I've written, but that's because we've been in one of the few remaining monarchies on earth, officially called the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. It was one of the most incredible, yet rushed, experiences that we've had this semester. We saw everything from great Roman cities of the Decapolis (mentioned often in the New Testament) to Petra, an area that looks just like Canyonlands, if you ignore the huge monuments that are literally carved out of the sandstone walls. To orient you, I can mention that "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" was filmed in Petra. The huge facade in the sandstone that, in the movie, contains the cave where the Holy Grail was kept is about a mile down the canyon. All these amazing sites that we see make me regret not having an amazing camera (That's going to be my graduation present to me...It's official). You can honestly spend days at each site and still not see everything that you want to.
The thing that stood out to me the most about Jordan is the King. King Abdullah II has been king for over 10 years. His father was King Hussein. Everywhere you go you see pictures of him, on walls, bumper-stickers, postcards, everywhere. Honestly, most everyone in the kingdom seems to love him and he seems like a very good man. The term "Hashemite" comes from the name "Hashem," who was the great-grandfather of Muhammad. Every king of Jordan is a descendant of Hashem, and they all seem to love that connection to Islam.
One of the nights we were able to spend time with a bunch of members from the Greater-Syrian district of the church. The district president that we met is responsible for members of the church from Egypt to Jordan to Syria to Lebanon. The restrictions on proselytizing are mostly the same in those countries, except that if people ask questions, a church member can answer. If a Christian wants to be baptized in the church, in some countries they can. But it is against the law in all of those countries for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. After the meeting on the state of the Church in the area, we spent time in broken-English and broken-Arabic getting to know the members. It was so much fun!
Other places that we were able to visit include the traditional site of Jesus' baptism (it's on the border between Israel and Jordan, but it's easier to access from the Jordan side.), the traditional site of the miracle of the Swine, and several others. The site of Jesus' baptism is associated with several other events, the crossing of the Jordan River by the Children of Israel, just before their conquest of Jericho, and the crossing of Elijah and Elisha just prior to Elijah's ascension in the chariot of fire. These sites are all described in a similar manner in the scriptures.
Unfortunately for us, the river Jordan has been largely diverted away for agricultural purposes, so the height has dropped about 20 feet. Instead of being 40-50 feet wide, it is about 12-20. It also is very dirty, but I touched the river Jordan and saved 1/2 liter of water anyway. It's sitting on my shelf downstairs.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Church in Israel

When the Center was being built, there were protests all over the city of Jerusalem because of the "Mormon Missionary Center," as they called it, that was being built on Mt. Scopus. The students had been here for decades, but the thought of having a permanent residence for the Mormons was opposed by 80% of the residents of Jerusalem. All during construction, those in charge received threats of violence, censure, and foreclosure of the lease.
Even though the Church had previously agreed to a non-proselytizing (apparently the word "proselyte" isn't a verb, it's only a noun) condition here in Israel, BYU decided that a firmer commitment was needed. Jeffrey R. Holland, who was the President of BYU at the time, obtained a signed statement from Howard W. Hunter and brought it to Israel. After he arrived, protesters gathered outside his hotel, but rather than stay inside, he went out and talked with each protester individually. After his visit, instead of 80% of the people being opposed to the Center being built, only about 30% were opposed. The rest of the construction was still rocky, but bearable.
The non-proselytizing agreement is one that every member in Israel, and not just the students, abide by. Before we left, we were informed that the only correct answer to a question that dealt with our beliefs was "I cannot talk about the matter." The direct result of this agreement means that, to this day, there are only 3 known native-Israeli members of the Church. Up until yesterday we only knew about two, but a guy that was baptized in South America and came back to Israel finally found the church here after years of separation. His parents (his father was a Rabbi) and his mother were both killed for their beliefs in the church, and since then he's never told anyone that he's a member. I can't say his name, nor will I give any personal information past what I've already said, but he's a fascinating individual.
One more bit of AWESOME news! In two weeks there will a dedication of the first LDS chapel in Israel --in Tiberias by the Galilee. Jeffrey R. Holland is coming to dedicate it and will be staying at the Center with Elder Samuelson and Dr. Kearl for a while. We're so excited!! They'll actually be staying in the Center and even though they'll have a really busy schedule, we may actually be able to eat with them and talk with them for a while. Elder Holland will also be giving a fireside for the branch here.