Saturday, January 24, 2009

I know that my Redeemer lives

This will be brief (compared to my usual style) but I feel like I need to share it. We're leaving in just a few short hours for Egypt and I won't be able to write for a week and a half, and I don't want to forget this feeling while it's still so fresh inside of me. Today was one of the most powerful experiences I've had since I've been here.

Today we went to the Garden Tomb.

It's been so incredible to see every site we've been to and I have already been awe-struck so many times, but there was something different about the Garden Tomb. I can't even put it into words really. But there was a whole different feel there. It just felt so.....sacred. Even with hundreds of people around, I might as well have been there alone, in peaceful solitude. Every place we go to speaks differently to each person. For some reason, this place spoke to me, and it's not even necessarily a fact that this is the right place, but just being there where it could have happened, feeling the spirit, and thinking about what my brother went through for me both before and after His crucifixion was a very humbling thing . The feelings I had were so powerful, they actually took me by surprise. We had the opportunity to sit there in the Garden, where many believe that Jesus Christ our Savior may have been laid and resurrected, and ponder the significance of what that means. I don't tend to be much of a tear-shedder, so you can imagine my surprise when we began singing "I Know That My Redeemer Lives," just feet away from that sacred place, and by the end of the first verse, I felt tears streaming down my face. The words that I've sung hundreds of times were filled with so much more meaning and feeling than they ever had been before. I wasn't expecting it, but I couldn't stop. I wish there was a way to truly convey how I felt sitting there without sounding cliche, but there really isn't a way to adequately describe it. It really was one of the most powerful experiences I've ever had.

Our tour guide there, a Baptist preacher from the south, left us with a really interesting thought. He said when you enter the tomb, "it's not important what you see there , but what you don't see that matters."

He really is risen. He really did overcome death, and because of Him, I can too. He went through every imaginable thing for me, and I am so grateful that through the power of His resurrection, one day, I will have the chance to fall at His feet and thank Him for the precious gift of His sacrifice.

He lives and grants me daily breath. He lives, and I shall conquer death. He lives my mansion to prepare.

He lives to bring me safely there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What? Americans? Are we that obvious...?

Hey! Okay, I’m really gonna try updating this thing a lot more often just because when I don’t, there is so much to write about and catch up on that I keep putting it off because it’ll take me so long! So my new goal is to try to do it every day/every other day and we’ll see what happens. All of you are welcome to read or skip what you want and I'll probably never find out. But to be fair, we do some pretty awesome stuff here so you should tune in. Since going back to fill you in would take so long, I’m just going to start writing from now and try to catch you up as I go!

We had SUCH a cool field trip today! (We go on field trips about once a week around the city). I’ll try to be brief about it but most of you should know that I don’t really work that way. So today we went to Kotel Tunnel which was once an old Jewish part of the city, but now lies underground beneath what is today a Muslim part of the city. To give a little background, (I didn’t know most of this before), during King Herod’s reign (who is commonly known as an amazing architect), he built the temple mount, which was a HUGE platform for the Jewish temple to be built on. When the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D., a lot of the mount was destroyed as well, but the western wall of the mount remained. Today, it is the most sacred site for the Jewish religion, because it is the closest they can get to where their temple once was. (Today, the Dome of the Rock, an Islamic structure, sits where the Jewish temple once was, so Jews aren’t really allowed anywhere near it).

So today, we explored the underground tunnels of this old Jewish city, walking on the very stones that have been there for over 2000 years. We touched pillars and stones that have the mark of Herod, meaning that he and his builders placed them there that long ago. We followed the western wall of the old temple mount all the way down and it was amazing to see the architecture of it. The incredible thing to me was how precise the stones were that made the wall. I’ve heard Herod was a master architect, but that is no joke! He didn’t even use cement or any kind of substance to bind the stones. They were cut so perfectly that they stacked right on top of each other and were sturdy enough to last over 2000 years. It’s crazy! I know it probably doesn’t sound that cool to tell you about, but it was so cool to see. I still don’t understand how they even got the stones up onto the wall. They were HUGE! One stone weighed over 500 tons! It was so big and they chiseled out the entire thing from the quarry and transported it in one solid piece to the wall. It’s just amazing the things that civilizations before now were able to accomplish without the tools we have today. Really, it was SO cool.

Today, the small portion of the western wall that is above ground is considered very sacred to Jews and is known as the “Wailing Wall.” They go there daily or weekly to read the Torah, touch the wall, and rock back and forth as they pray. Because it is such a holy place, they believe their prayers are better heard there. In fact, they consider the wall to be so sacred that they write their pleas to God on small slips of paper, fold them up, and then tuck them into some crack or crevice in the wall. If you walk up to it, you won’t see a single crevice in the wall that isn’t packed with tons and tons of tiny pieces of paper. The whole area is especially busy on Friday evenings, which is the start of their Shabbat or Sabbath. And last Friday, our teachers decided to take us there to see it.

This is where the story gets really funny. Our teachers told us that all the boys have to wear a kippa on their heads (a really small Jewish cap) and all the girls should wear a scarf, covering their heads. Well, of course, all the scarves we all have here are VERY bright-colored and flashy, but we were told they would work. So just before we got to the western wall, we all fixed our scarves, even going the extra mile by tucking all of our hair up inside the scarf, just in case that was custom. We didn’t want to stand out at all so we were trying EXTRA hard to fit in. Oh how funny that is now.

So we got to the western wall, and the girls separated from the boys (have to be on different ends of the wall). All of us girls tried to act casual in our jeans, hoodies, and bright-colored scarves wrapped tightly around our heads. As we go exploring, each of us begins to notice on our own that NOBODY else there is wearing a scarf, and NOBODY there is wearing bright colors at all. All the women are in dark, neutral-colored dresses and skirts. At one point, I was standing up on a higher surface and looked out over all the women, and every single scarf I saw was a Jerusalem Center student, trying to fit in but oh-so-obviously standing out. It really was a funny sight. So one-by-one, we all ended up taking our scarves off as we walked around. So then, one of my friends asks one of the Jewish girls there why no one else is wearing a scarf. The girl proceeds to tell her that only married women wear scarves. Not only that, but scarves worn the way we were wearing them meant you were Muslim.


We show up to the most sacred place in the Jewish faith, on the Jewish Shabbat, looking like married Muslim women. So much for fitting in! Luckily, I don’t think anyone got upset at us at all. It was probably just funny to see the Americans making fools of themselves. Haha, oh man, it was good stuff.

Anyways, on a more serious note, it really was fascinating to see what happens there. I think one of the greatest things I’ve come to respect about Judaism is their devotion. Their faith is manifest in everything they do. And as I walked through the crowds of women, seeing them waiting just to touch their fingers to the sacred surface, and then once they reached it, showing so much emotion as they poured their hearts out in prayer, I was filled with such a strong admiration for them. It really made me realize how truly dedicated they are, and how much more I can improve in my own devotion to the gospel that I believe in. It really is the center of their lives and it was such a humbling experience for me to be a witness of that.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Life in the JC...

Hello! The above was my very first view of my new home! I know I haven't written for a whole week and there's so much that's happened already that I need to tell you about! But there's so much that its impossible to put it all in one post. Before I start telling you any of the details of the activities we've done, my sister reminded me that I haven't really told y'all of the day-to-day things we've been up to and what life is really like at the good ol' Jerusalem Center. This will be our topic for this evening!

First off, I love the people I've met here. I live in an apartment with three other girls, (Valorie, Alexis, and Allison) and we all get along so well. We spend a lot of our time just laughing at each other uncontrollably. Total there are 77 people in the program and we're already forming really strong bonds with everyone. I love it!

The classes we're taking are really interesting too. Right now we have Old Testament (that will switch to New Testament during the second half of the semester), Judaism (taught by a local Israeli man named Ophir), Islam (taught by a Palestinian man named Adnan), Ancient Near Eastern Studies (taught by a BYU professor who knows SO much about EVERYTHING!), and Hebrew (which is a blast! We're learning the alphabet and have so far learned a new song in Hebrew each class). My professors are all so different in their teaching styles and material, but each have something so special to offer. I love the diversity that we get. We also get to have lectures by the faculty as well as guest lectures really often (usually a few times a week). There's a LOT of reading, but the classes are really interesting.

The food. There's a lot of it. And its usually really good! The cafeteria serves us three meals a day, and they're big meals. It's all really good, the only thing is that it all seems to have the same flavor. They have a spice here, I think its called Zatar...? Something like that. Anyways, they put it on almost everything they cook. But its alright, because its good stuff. I'm in love with a fruit here I'd never heard of called a persimmon (sp?). I'm determined to find them in the states when I come back! We also eat pitas like nobody's business. I swear we go through hundreds in a day! Pitas with everything! Pitas with hummus, pitas with peanut butter, pitas with pasta, pitas with sandwich meat, pitas with honey, pitas with everything! They're so good!

Let's see, what else....our schedule is pretty different every day. It seems like we usually tend to have class in the morning and then after lunch we'll usually have a few hours of free time when we get to go to the city (as long as its safe) and have adventures! Then after dinner we tend to have lectures, activities, or informative movies showing. Then its off to bed! But they mix it all up every day. Sometimes we'll have the same class for three days in a row and then it'll be a week before we have that class again. I've discovered that it really is a lot easier to go to bed early here because we wake up SO early! Most days we need to be up and ready by about 6:30/6:45am!

The Jerusalem Center is such a beautiful building. It's eight stories high on a mountainside (Mount Scopus, just across Kidron Valley from the Mount of Olives), so every level you stand on has a balcony with a beautiful view of the city. This picture doesn't do it justice at ALL but I took it myself so I'm putting it on here anyway. It can at least give you an idea of what the center's like. I love this place!
Oh wow, there is SO MUCH MORE to tell you! But I think I'll need to save that for another day, perhaps tomorrow. I'll begin to tell you about all the adventures we have that shake things up. But for now, I better get to bed. 6:30 comes very early. Good night!!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Shabbat Shalom!!

Happy Sabbath everyone! It seemed a little strange at first to have the Sabbath on Saturday, but it's actually not bad. It still feels like the sabbath. I guess the day of the week doesn't really matter much, as much as what your focus is on that day. It's just when I think about going back to class tomorrow morning (Sunday) that it seems a little off.

Our first experience with the branch was awesome. Our choir met for the first time this morning and we sang a few minutes later during Sacrament Meeting, and since the choir is made up of 74 of the 77 students here, we outnumbered the congregation by quite a bit. There are some great families here. Most of the members of the small branch are Americans here working in the consulate (sp?). And there are more kids than I expected, which is especially significant because I got called to work in the primary!! I'm so excited! I haven't even been to a primary class or sharing time or anything since I myself was a wee primary child 12 years ago, but I now I get to do sharing time once a month. I definitely wasn't expecting this calling but it was a very pleasant surprise. The kids are all adorable. A handful, but adorable.

On a side note, I wish I could post some pictures on here to give you guys a little eye candy, but we're not allowed to download any pictures here, because the band-width is too narrow for that much activity (apparently that's electronic talk for "the computer system can't handle it.") So, unless something changes, I won't be able to post pics. But all of us are trying to see if there's a way we can, so I'll be working on it.

Things at the center are great. We went on a walk through the Old City on Thursday and it was so incredible. We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and passed by the Garden Tomb (but we're going back there later), and saw the parts of the wall around the old city that are authentic. It was SO neat. There's still a lot we didn't make it to, but the parts we did see were incredible. I don't think you could have wiped the awe-struck look off of my face for anything.
Oh, funny story. So we were walking through the old city with our teacher giving us facts and pointing things out the whole time, when this street vendor from a little pizza place suddenly yelled out to us, "Hey, come in here, this is where Jesus ate pizza!" We've been told that everyone in the city knows who the "Mormon students" are as soon as they see them, but I guess they really do! So when I eat there, I'll let you know how it is.

The only hard part is that we haven't been allowed to go back out of the center in the last few days, until further notice. There's nothing really bad going on, there are just some Palestinian demonstrations in the Old City, so until they're finished we're under lockdown. Okay okay, not really like that, but we will definitely be excited when we're allowed to go exploring. It really doesn't feel dangerous at all. They take extra precautions to make sure we're always taken care of and that security knows where we are and how to get ahold of us anytime. I've really never felt so safe.

Oh wow, this place is beautiful. Our sacrament meeting was held in the auditorium, which is on the top floor of the center, and we faced a window that was the length and height of the entire wall with a view overlooking the whole city. It was breathtaking. I just sat there during the talks, hearing what they were saying about the Savior, looking out that window, and thinking about how lucky we all are to be here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'M HERE!!!! and I'm EXHAUSTED!!!

This is the email I sent to my family two days ago, which was my first day in Jerusalem. I'm posting it because it says a lot of what I was feeling, and what I'm still feeling!

Hey everyone!!!
I made it!! It was a LONG day, very very long day. I just wanted to write you real quick and let you know I'm still alive. We had a flight from Salt Lake to Denver to Washington DC to Vienna to Tel Aviv, and it was awesome getting to know everyone, but I'm SO tired. We got here to the center at about 5:00pm which over there was about 8:00 this morning, and I hadn't slept as much on the planes as I'd hoped (and being the procrastinator I am, I hadn't slept at all the night before I left. Mom, you were right). Since the faculty wants us to recover from jetlag asap, they wouldn't let us go to sleep until bedtime tonight. Haha, they even told us specifically when we went to our rooms to take our luggage there that we were not allowed to lay down on the beds at all. I can't say I blame them. I'm pretty sure every one of us would have been out in a matter of seconds. So instead, they've done their best all day with keeping us "busy." We've been on the go since we got here. We had dinner, a few orientations, and a tour of the center, and now they've finally told us we're allowed to go to sleep and I've never been so excited. But let me just say this before I go, this place is unreal. I can't even begin to describe how beautiful the building is alone. It's huge with marble floors everywhere and HUGE ceilings with big archways all over. And it's all light-colored with SO much natural light, its just so serene. I was staring wide-eyed at everything as we walked through. Not to mention that from just about any window (including my balcony) you can look out and see the Old City, with the Dome of the Rock just staring you in the face, as you hear the Muslim prayer call in the background five times a day, which is a single male voice singing (and its beautiful), and you can hear it all through Jerusalem. It's unreal. I still can't believe I'm here. This is the chance of a lifetime, and I don't even know how to express what I'm feeling just standing here thinking about how lucky I am. Thanks for all the support you guys have given me in helping me get here. I'll keep you guys updated and give you more details later, maybe tomorrow if there's time. We're going on a walk through the Old City tomorrow so I'm sure I'll have loads to tell you about. But for now, that's it. I can barely keep my eyes open and I'm pretty sure I stink of travel. I'm gonna go get nice and clean and lay down in that blessed bed and sleep soundly until sunrise when the prayer call sounds again! Love you all so much!!!!