Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I've been gone fishing, where fishermen became fishers of men

 This is from the roof of the Tiberias branch meetinghouse, where us four did a musical number for church.
 Putting our feet in the Jordan River.
 Susie, Jessica and I at Caesarea Philipi, which is where Christ asked Peter, "Whom say men that I am?" and Peter answered, "Thou are the Christ, the son of the living God."
 Storming Nimrod's Castle, a Muslim Fortress that brought the child out of all of us.
Imitating Elijah on Mount Carmel, where Elijah showed up the priests of Baal. Thank you, Spencer, for your playing-dead skills.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A few Galilee Photos

My entries in my journal from Galilee took up nearly a quarter-inch thick section of my journal, so I’ll try to adequately describe it in bite-size chunks that attempt to do it justice. But really, Galilee is something that can never be portrayed or communicated satisfactorily.
These are the names of some of the cities/places we went: Bet She’an (Old Roman City), Nazareth, Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Tiberias, Gamla, Mount Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration, see Matthew 17), Megiddo, Hazor, Tel Dan, Caesarea Philipi, Nimrod’s Castle, Chorazin, Sepphoris, Akko, Haifa, and Caesarea.
Beach at Galilee, seconds outside my door

 Shore at Tiberias
 Jamie and I holding motes up to our eyes while sitting on beams. Motes are a little tiny piece of gravel, and beams are those rock pillars.
 This bike ride deserves a post of its own. It was heavenly.  Just a few of us used our free afternoon to rent bikes and ride through beautiful countryside including a grapefruit orchard on a moshav (like a kibbutz but less socialistic). The intoxicating smell of the grapefruit blossoms, the good company, the perfect weather, sunset view on the sea...
 Roman aquaducts at Caesarea! I recognized this place from you pictures, mom!
Synagogue at Capernaum, where Christ gave the bread of life sermon and performed many miracles. There is a similar picture like this in the back of your LDS scriptures.

 One night we went to a fish restaruant and got St. Peter's fish! It was actually really good, and I don't consider myself a fish fan. Right off the bone, baby, eye balls and all.
One of my favorite field trips. We hiked to Gamla, a city that is on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee. It is seen directly across the mount of Beautitudes, so it is probably the city Christ was referring to when He said,  "A city set on a hill cannot be hid." Gamla was actually known for it's wicked ways, so perhaps He was saying, "Be careful how you act because everyone can see it." I love this scripture. I am sitting on some ruins of a synagogue there, which Christ probably taught and performed miracles at, for He went from city to city around Galilee preaching in synagogues and healing their sick.

10 Kilometers of Jerusalem Joy

On Friday about 45 of us participated in the first Jerusalem International Marathon! I ran the 10k (6.2 miles) and could not have had a happier experience. They say there were about 10,000 runners, and I believe it. It was packed. People were holding up signs for us written in Hebrew--I’m sure they were very inspiring even though I have no idea what they said. We were cheering on some marathon runners before our race, and they were so happy and touched by our encouragement. I can’t really describe the connection there is runner to runner. It was a tear-jerking occurrence for all of us and made our race worth every shekel.  It was just so awesome that every barrier between people was completely down, and we were all just human beings doing something hard together, with a common love of Jerusalem. There were men wearing kippas, girls running in skirts, old men and women and a few young kids, and even a blind man who ran the 10k.  Does a course get more unique than running through the Old City and running on the roads Jesus probably ran on? It was also cool to see words and hear small phrases in Hebrew or Arabic and, knowing the meaning and context of them, realize how much I’ve learned while I’ve been here. I didn’t know what a yeshiva was or know why a street would be called Balfour Street a few months ago. I didn’t even know what a tel was, and now I’ve been on dozens of them.
I was wearing my favorite “I am BYU” shirt, and so many people came up to me asking me about BYU. One guy said that BYU’s success in March Madness has really messed up his bracket. One guy saw us all in BYU shirts and just yelled, “Jimmer Fredette!” While I was running I saw some Israelis all in BYU sweatshirts and we both cheered “BYU!!!”  I don’t know how they are affiliated, but it’s just amazing how much people here know about BYU because of the Jerusalem Center. On our way home a very friendly elderly Jewish lady stopped and talked to us for a long time, and when she found out we go to Mormon University, she said she’s been to temple square in Utah and it is beautiful. In her New York accent she said we are just “delicious girls.” Then as we got near the center some neighbor kids we’ve befriended over the past few weeks wanted to play with us, so we played. We interacted with so many people that day, and I felt so good being a BYU student here.
And, I will probably never get dates (the fruit) as a post-run food at a race again.

Eilat of Fun

We've been home from Galilee for a few days, and I have so much to catch up on! Maybe I'll work backwards. Yesterday we had an awesome free day that some students planned. We got a bus to Eilat, a place on the Red Sea, and went snorkeling! We snorkeled, basked in the sun, snorkeled, and got some more sun. It was a very relaxing and beautiful day, and we saw some beautiful coral and exotic fish. Bright yellow fish, rainbow fish, and long sliver fish that look like swords frozen into place like knives in ice. The water wasn't too cold, the sun wasn't too hot, and it was a perfect day.

Yes, I snorkeled in the crystal blue waters that Moses parted.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sweet Galilee, where Jesus loved so much to be

We are currently in Galilee and having the most beautiful experience. This morning I woke up and went to the beach to read some New Testament, right as the sun was rising. I opened my scriptures and read in Matthew 13, "Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the sea side." It is such a sweet experience to sit by the sea that Christ sat beside, to swim in the waters he walked on and waves that He calmed, to visit the synagogues He preached in and worked miracles at. Our field trip to Capernaum the other day was one of my favorites. Capernaum was Jesus's hometown, more so than Jerusalem. That is where the woman was healed by touching His clothes, where He cast the devil out of the young boy, healed Peter's mother in law, where Christ gave his bread of life sermon, and many more miracles occured. We also went to the Mount of Beatitudes and place of the Sermon on the Mount. We alternate days of class and swimming at the beach with full days of field trips. We just got out of three hours of New Testament class, and I could have sat through  three more hours today. Christ's teachings are so powerful. Even though the world and our lives are stormy at times, I know He has power to calm it as he calmed the sea of Galilee, if only we seek Him and take his yoke upon us, learn of Him, and recieve rest unto our souls.

Paradise is being able to learn about Christ from inspired professors in a room full of the spirit, go ponder what you learned while sitting with your feet in the clear waters of the Sea of Galilee, and then do that again and again. I only hope that I can always remember this, and share this gift of being here with other people throughout the rest of my life.

More to come, with pictures worth ten thousand words. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Western Wall

Yesterday Sara, Jamie and I went to the Western Wall for a little bit. It was a Friday afternoon, and since we have to be home before sunset, we couldn't be there to see the joyous celebration that takes place each Friday evening to welcome in the sabbath. It was actually very empty since most people would be coming at sunset. These are some pictures I took yesterday. The Western Wall is probably one of my favorite places. I love seeing how devoted the people are to go there and pray. It makes me realize how important the temple is. We were there one night at 11 p.m. after a tour underneath it, and there were still scores of people praying, even that late at night.

Every crack in the wall is full of little papers with prayers written on them. They represent just a small fraction of the prayers being offered all the time. There are so many thousands of prayers, so many problems, and so much pain in the world. I sat and watched people praying yesterday, and thought about how thankful I am for prayer. I know that God hears and answers all the prayers in walls and in hearts. Even though the answers may not be obvious, immediate, or the answers we want; I know God is aware of what we need and wants to bless us.

There is so much to learn from the people I see here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Christmas in March

We went to Bethlehem this week for our field trip, and the little town welcomed us just as it did the Prince of Peace.

We began by going to the Herodian, Herod's summer palace. He had an upper and lower palace, lots of bath houses and a big swimming pool. These are the columns around the pool. Herod may have been the king, and his palace is pretty impressive; but I was even more interested in seeing the sites of my King.

We then went to Bethlehem University where our Palestinian professor also teaches. After a Q&A, we got to chat with some students. There are Christian and Muslim students there, and it is a fairly presitigious university. There are about 3000 students, and 70% are girls. While we talked to these girls, we sympathized with them because there are about 60 girls and 20 guys at the Jerusalem Center.

Then we had lunch in a Bedouin-style restaurant called The Tent Restaurant. Great pita bread.
Then we went to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity which is built over the grotto believed to be the birth place of Christ. It is the oldest church, built by Constantine and re-built by Justinian. We sang lots of Christmas songs. In fact, by the end of the day I think we had sung every Christmas song I know.

By far the best part was that night. We went to some shepherd's fields and several people did musical numbers. We had a short testimony meeting. It was so peaceful to sit there and look at the stars and see Bethlehem all lit up at night. The Christmas story is a story I never tire of thinking about. We're beginning the New Testament and studying the Christmas story a lot.

This is my roommate Sara and I in the shepherd's field before sunset.

Probably one of my favorite things about being in Jerusalem is that I think about of Jesus more. You don't have to be in the place He was born to think about Him, but when you are there you can't help but ponder on how the events of Bethelehm have affected you, as an individual. Even more, the events of Jerusalem have affected us. There would be no Christmas if there was no Easter.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fun after Finals

The past week and a half have been full of intense studying for our Old Testment, Arabic, Judaism, and Palestinian classes. We took our last two yesterday and had to celebrate last night. We only have two classes left for the rest of the semester!

 A few of us took a taxi to West Jerusalem and got gelatos on Ben Yehuda street. I asked the taxi driver to turn the Arab music up, and the stress melted right away. We found a park and spun on merry-go-rounds faster than the Disneyland tea cups on steroids. We took an elevator to the top of a 22-story hotel. We saw the end of a wedding in front of the Great Synagogue. We posed for pictures on statues, played tag, and looked at the few stars we could see.

We came home and had a late night field trip under ground under the Western Wall. I have literally been over and under the streets of Jerusalem...and Jerusalem is coming inside me.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Collection of Contemplations

This week we finished my dear Old Testament class. I can’t tell you enough how much I have learned and been changed by this book. I didn’t used to really like the Old Testament, but now I can honestly say that I LOVE it. I am so thankful for my professor, Brother Muhlestein, for opening my eyes to the countless applicable lessons in it and instilling in me a passion to study it throughout my life.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the last lesson he taught us, which is this: Eternal life is the greatest gift God can give us. To receive that gift, we must become like Him. We will not become a Christ-like being on our own. Thus, the commandments and the atonement are some of the greatest blessings to help us obtain the greatest gift of eternal life. These things, along with repentance and the ability to change, are some of the greatest gifts of this life, because they enable us to one day receive THE greatest gift.
I’ve also realized that trials mold us into being celestial material, too. Thus, trials are a gift because they make us better able to become Christ-like. We may feel that because we are following Christ, we should be exempt from pain and sorrow. While we will be blessed, we will also have to experience much pain to receive the reward. He will not completely remove the yoke or burden, but He will pull along beside us and bear our burden as we come unto Him. As Jeffrey R. Holland says, salvation is not cheap. How can we expect that following the Savior will always be easy, when His path was never, ever easy? (I highly recommend this talk, particularly the second half where he talks about this. If this isn't long enough,  you should also watch this video, too.)
I could write a post everyday for the next year each with a different lesson I’ve learned in this class alone. But, here is just a sampling of the treasures of knowledge I gleaned:
1.      Trust in God! So many times the Israelites forget the God who delivered them from Egypt and turn to false gods and idols. Yet, like He will for us, He forgives them after they repent no matter how many times they leave Him.
2.      Trust ONLY in God. For example, Nebuchadnezzar worshipped Jehovah, but He also worshiped idols like Ba’al and forced his people to worship Ba’al, too. If they didn’t, he would cast them into a furnace. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not worship anything but God, so they were cast into the furnace. They did not know that God would deliver them, but they knew He could. They were not burned, just as we will always be blessed when we choose to stand as a witness of God, even until death.
3.      Be faithful in hard times. Obedience does not always lead to immediate blessings. Joseph refused to lie with Potiphar’s wife and was put into prison for it. He could have wondered why God didn’t bless him for that, but instead he was faithful and was eventually brought up as high as he could go.  Job was faithful and had every blessing taken from him. Joseph Smith was faithful and was persecuted. Be steadfast and peace and happiness beyond our imagination will come.
4.       Do the best you can and God will make it enough. “God does not begin by asking us about our ability, but only about our availability, and if we then prove our dependability, He will increase our capability.” ~Neal A. Maxwell.  Many people in the Old Testament, like Gideon for example, felt very inadequate when God asked them to do something. We will all be asked to do things we think we cannot do. Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies.
5.      Do not give lame sacrifices. In Malachi the people offer blemished animals as sacrifices. Am I giving my best to the Lord, or whatever is convenient to give up? Instead of setting aside time for scripture study, do I just lamely read a few minutes when I can fit it in?
6.      To obey is better than anything. Saul was asked to destroy ALL the creatures of the Amalekites, but he saved their best animals to sacrifice. Sacrificing was a good thing and Saul had good intentions. However, God had asked him to destroy them all. Do I sometimes think that I am an exception; that my own idea is better than what the Lord said? No matter how good something is, it is never better than exact obedience.

Field of Gold

An uplifiting Sabbath....a walk in a field of wildflowers and olive trees...good company...religious conversations...70 degrees and sunny...a clear view of the city of Jerusalem

Just a few more things to add to my list of favorite things.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jog in Jerusalem

Dear Running,
It's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry I just got too busy for you and had to replace you with workout videos and riding stationary bikes instead, because the security guards at the Jerusalem center won't let me go out with you alone or before it's light. But our date at dawn this morning made me so happy! My love for you lifts me higher every time we meet up. We'd never experienced so much limestone together before, or so many moments when my mouth exploded with exclamations of "I can't believe I live here!" It was a beautiful run. Made me think of all the good times we've had through so many years of cross country and track, and all the beautiful scenes I'm able to see through you.  And even though our date was accompanied by five other people, to me it was just you, me, and the sunrise.  There is a 10 k run, a half marathon and full marathon on March 25th right here in Jerusalem. Lots of my friends are doing it, let's see if we can, too! We'll make some great memories running on the beach in Galilee in a couple weeks. And even though this week is finals week and I'm really busy, I'm going to make time for you because you keep me sane. See you at 5:45 tomorrow morning again, ok my love?

I've missed you,

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