Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Jerusalem, if I forget you"

My testimony has been strengthened greatly since being here. However, it did not come in one big "ah-ha" experience as I thought it would, but rather it has come by small and simple things. Things such as learning a fact in religion class, something someone mentions when passing me down the stairs, a quote from a General Authority sent from my mom, an email of support from a friend, or standing in a sacred site singing a hymn. All of these combined made this experience incredible. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to come to Jerusalem. I know that great sacrifices were made by many of you and I thank you!
There is a special feeling to this place, a feeling of being home. I don't know if that feeling comes because it has been my home the last four months, or if it is because I am part of the tribe of Abraham and therefore the land is partially promised to me, or if it is because I am in the right place, at the right moment, doing the right thing that the Lord wants me to.
"If these walls could talk"what stories would they tell. What secrets do they know? What heartache have they felt? Would it be about the Last Supper meal? Or Mary weeping against the Garden Tomb? Would it be the arch viewing the Saviors struggle to carry the cross out of the city walls up to Calvary? Would it be the story of the trees in the Garden in Gethsemane? Or would it be the waters of Galilee telling about Peter? Would it be the Mill teaching about the giant stone crushing a tiny olive?
I often feel as though time stops among the busyness and that I am taken back in time imagining what it would have been like during the time of the Savior or our Old Testament Fathers.
I have learned so many things while being here. If I had all night and wasn't so tired I would tell you but here are a few short glimpses:
  • These are holy people who first live their religion and then their life
  • There are two sides to every story. No one is ever fully right or wrong
  • The people don't fight over doctrine, just territory
  • Life is about serving others
  • If we "build walls" around others no good will ever come of it
  • Be kinder, more gentle, more caring, more considerate
  • Stop and ponder
  • I love nature
  • Walk with God
  • Learn from other religions and take away positive things that I can improve upon
  • NEVER take the temple for granted
  • Pray with all the energy of heart, soul and body
  • Time is relative
  • Wear your legs off in the service of the Lord
  • Peace can be felt amidst a war
  • Don't be worried about the future...replace fear with faith
  • Remember Lots wife
  • Strive daily to become more Christlike

*Isaiah 53: 3-5 He was despised and rejected

Don't allow yourself in your own life to take lightly the Atonement. He has been alone once and doesn't need to suffer it again.

I do know that my Redeemer lives. He is risen. He will abide with me throughout my troubles and my joys. The spirit of God warms my soul. I cannot doubt His magnitude, divinity, grandeur or Messiahship.

You don't have to see the Holy Land to stare at a pile of dirt to receive a testimony of Christ, but rather a testimony comes through prayer and obedience to His will.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Sahar is a member of the LDS church here in Jerusalem. Tonight she spoke with us about life as a Palestian and a member of the LDS church.
Sahar lives in Bethlehem which is currently in the West Bank and under confines of the Israeli army. She lives in an "outdoor prison" as she is surrounded by the walls that seperate her from everyone else.
I thought you may be interested to hear her story.

"I was born here near the Mount of Olives. I was raised a Palestinian. Life was not easy in a Greek Orthodox home. I did believe in God and Jesus Christ. I grew up Christian. I believed in God, but not in a loving God. I believed the Heavenly Father loved others but not Palestinians, therefore, he didn’t love me. I thought he hated us and that was why he was persecuting us. At a point in my life I considered being a suicide bomber because it would be easier to end the suffering. But I continued on with my life. I got a masters degree in D.C. by way of a great scholarship.

One day as I was reading the newspaper there was an ad for a scholarship for a university called Brigham Young. My brother suggested that I apply. I didn’t think I should because I had a scholarship, but my brother said do it just in case. I did apply and I was interviewed by President Brown, who did offer me the scholarship. I felt bad but I still wanted to go to D.C. People from the center came to my house. The scholarship at BYU was 1/3 less than the one in D.C. everyone thought I was crazy to even consider BYU. I don’t have a strong personality and I tend to do what people think I should do. This time I had a really strong feeling that I should go to BYU.

At the time I didn’t know what that feeling was. I pushed everyone back and I went to BYU. I felt at home immediately, but I decided before I went that I would never be a member of the Church. According to my grandfather, “Mormons marry more than one wife because they want to have many children. They have many children because Christ is coming and will be born to a woman so they have many children so Christ will come faster.” But than he added, “I met a Mormon couple once and they were very nice.” So I went to Utah and started school not interested in the Church.

General Conference came and everyone is telling me that they were going to listen to the prophet and I thought, crazy Mormons they think there is a prophet. So I went to see just what everyone was talking about. I don’t remember what exactly President Hunter said but I do remember that he was talking about the Palestinians and was so kind. And he even called it Palestine and not Israel.

After, I asked my friend to tell me everything and she did. The people in the room thought she was confusing me by saying everything at once. But to me it all made sense. I couldn’t believe that something could make so much sense. A friend gave me an Arabic Book of Mormon. After reading I didn’t even need to pray because I knew it was true. The more I went to church the more it made sense. I decided to get baptized and of course my family thought I was crazy, but I couldn’t turn my back on something I knew to be true with every fiber of my being. I didn’t want to come home because it was a miserable place before. But Heavenly Father told me to return to Palestine.

I did return to Palestine, only now I had added trials because my family tried everything they could to get me to leave the church. It was difficult for me to get to the Jerusalem Center to come to church, etc. But it was the happiest time of my life. This change of heart can help us find support during our trials. I had a change of heart that happened to me, as did Paul. Alma says, “They were in the midst of darkness but their souls were eliminated…the chains of hell…were they destroyed nay they were not….their souls did sing redeeming love and they are saved.” Many of you have experienced this mighty change just like Paul and I did. Life does become easier knowing that we have help during our trials. “Christ cannot prevent our hearts from being broken but he can help our broken hearts.” Camille Fronk. He has overcome the world and with his help we can overcome the world.

Daily changes in our lives. We can look within and know where we need to improve. Pres. Faust said, “Each one of us has been given the power to change our life. We have agency to make our decisions…in some way all of us need to change. Some of us have habits that need to be changed. These habits harm us or those around us.”

3 methods we can ensure we are changing:

1. Do the Lords will no matter what. Don’t let any one prevent you from doing what is right. Don’t worry about what others will think or say. He will stay by your side, others may not.

Coming to Church was very difficult to get into Jerusalem and was dangerous most of the time. For example, there are different ways into Jerusalem. There are back ways. At one point the only way to get into Jerusalem was to take a Taxi into the valley (we never drive on roads because that is where the soldiers are). You walk two or three miles. Taxi drivers cannot take Palestinians because their license will be taken away. One day I was walking the miles to church and the soldiers spotted me and shot at me. Luckily this nice man took me into his car and drove me to Jerusalem.

We have curfew. If you leave your house we are shot. I had to come give a talk for the branch jus like tonight. Randomly, there was this Taxi driver in front of my house and said where do you need to go? I have no idea where he came from. I had to hid in the taxi and we have to take back roads and driving on the hay field because he cannot be seen with me or put into prison.

If we try and do our best the Lord will help us. I know the Lord was carrying me every time when I came to church.

2. Allow Him to help us change.
We were tier gas bombed trying to get across a wall. It was not fun. It has nothing to do with your eyes watering, but it hurts your throat and lungs. Then the soldiers started shooting bullets at us in the university. Finally, a student was shot in the head while hanging a Palestinian flag on top of the University. The soldiers would not allow us to take that student to the hospital. As I sat there and watched these people suffer my heart was broken. I developed such a hatred for the soldiers because they wouldn’t allow us out to go to the hospital.

After I joined the church and came back that hate for the soldiers had dissolved from my heart. One day as I was trying to go to Church I tried the check points, like I always do, even though they never let me across. As I looked at that soldier the scripture “Bless them that curse you” I realized I didn’t hate them but that I don’t have feelings of love for them. The Savior wouldn’t command us to do something that is not possible.

“Pray unto the father…that you may be filled with this love…and become like him. We may have this hope to be purified as he is pure.” I prayed to Heavenly Father to help me love them.

If we ask for His help He will help us.

One year later and I went through the check point and they rejected me I finally felt love for the soldier. No hate or judgment but love. He was a son of God and that is all that mattered.

3. Trust the Lord and turn your life over to Him
We tend to worry too much. He is the potter and we are the clay. Let Him make a wonderful vessel out of us.

There are two kinds of changes. First is a mighty change. Second, are the little changes we need to make every day!

With the help of the Masters hand we can change. Become a new creature in Christ. HE chose me to have that mighty change. Without that I don’t know where I would be. It is not difficult to be a convert because I see where my life is today and it is so much better.

He bids us to come unto Him and to become His disciples. Keep Christ as the center and Savior of your world."

Monday, April 13, 2009

He is Risen!

Today celebrates life. This morning I woke up very very early to attend a Lutheran sunrise service at Augusta Victoria Tower. It was amazing to witness such a scene over the Holy Land and to ponder the significance of this day. I then attended a service at the Garden Tomb. It was not at all as I expected. It turned out to being an evangelist rock concert with people jamming out and shouting praises. It was so fun. We really are "celebrating" that He is Risen.

I would like to share with you some of my thoughts and feelings about the Savior Jesus Christ.

He is Risen. His influence on lives has never faltered, neither His love. Let us rejoice, not mourn the memory of a martyrs death. He opened the tomb, not to let others out, but to allow us to come in. Can you imagine what the apostles were feeling on this day? Grief, fear, doubt. They needed the comforting words of Jesus. In our own lives we perhaps have those same feelings. We too need to have a personal encounter with Him.

Was it still dark when Mary made her way to the tomb? How long had He been waiting for her? On that day she was distraught and in the depths of despair. Everything in her world fell apart in a matter of hours. Why are you crying? was the first question asked by the angels and also Jesus of her. It wasn't until He called out her name that she stepped out of her grief and despair. Jesus can bring peace to our broken hearts as well, we need not be afraid. The women didn't know if they should laugh or cry. On that evening as the apostles were waiting to be arrested Jesus came. He still comes when we are gripped by fear and unbelief. When they see Him their fear and belief gives way to faith and joy.

Thomas had to be sure when he saw the Savior. A week later, Jesus comes in His grace to Thomas and says the same thing He had one week prior. Thomas was filled with faith and courage. We need to stop doubting and believe and declare with out hearts--you are my Lord and my God. The Savior said to all "go and tell others." Like Thomas, we cannot hold on to Jesus ourselves, but share with others the message that He lives. We are here today because others became those witnesses by going and telling others.

Don't just rejoice in the resurrection, but go and tell the world!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

Being interviewed by a CBS reporter

"How holy or sacred a site is depends upon the beholder," by Cottle.
Hundreds of Christians holding green fronds marked Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, celebrating Jesus Christ's triumphant entry into the holy city two millennia ago.

This morning we went to the Holy Sepulcher, where 80 percent of the world believes the Savior was buried, for a special Palm Sunday mass/procession. It was beautiful to see Christians from around the world honoring Jesus Christ in their own way yet all were there for the same purpose. While there are so many things in the world that drift apart religions from one another, for one week all are united through Christ. I loved to see how excited everyone was as they rejoiced in singing their praises to God.

It was a beautiful sight and a feeling that cannot be explained.

While I don't know what I was doing or where I was when the Savior walked these streets the last days of his life, I do know that I now walk these streets as a witness of His life.

He was born to die that we might live.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A long time ago in Bethlehem

Bethlehem was incredible. It was possibly may favorite day thus far. We crossed the border into the West Bank with no problem and pulled into Bethlehem. Then we heard a Palestinian activist leader guy talk about their side of the war. Two main things that I thought about:
1. "Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Here they have the option for a Two-State solution, but they would rather get all their land back. This is a valid point. However, isn't it better to get something rather than nothing?
2. I cannot comprehend why the Jews are doing the exact same thing to the Palestinians that happened to them. The whole reason they came to "Zion" was to escape persecution, so they are persecuting others to receive that. It just doesn't make sense!

Next we went to Bethlehem University where Dr. Mussallam, our Palestinian teacher, talked to us about the border lines changing during all of the wars. Then we watched a film about the Six-Day War. It reminded me a lot of "Blood Brothers" a book that I read of Christmas break. We then were able to ask questions to a panel of Palestinian students. It was fun. One thing really interesting was there was a Palestinian girl who had studied in Denmark. She talked about how rude the Danes were to her. All I could think of was the Danes side of the story. The Muslims poured into Denmark, live off the system, don't respect the culture and brought high-crime.

The constant theme I am learning on this trip is that there are two sides to every story and no one is completely right.

We then went to lunch under a tent type. I had one of our Palestinian guards from the Jerusalem Center sit at our table and I drilled him on questions about what we had just learned and heard. He said that he and many others are in favor of a Two-State Solution and that it's the only realistic option. We also talked about Hamas, Bush, and security issues. During lunch we saw a nun drinking a huge beer and smoking huka. It was really funny.

After lunch we went to Bethlehem Square and did shopping for Olive Wood, what the town is best known for. I was surprised at how much cleaner and nicer Bethlehem was compared to the Palestinian area we live in.

Church of Nativity was neat to visit. This is the site they believe the Son of God was born. It was neat to think about; however, once again I struggled to really feel the spirit strongly or have it testify of the significance of that spot because it was so touristy and gaudy. I appreciate that church's have been built over all of these sites to preserve them, but I often feel that they built them just so they could make money. Most often I just feel it is not the way I would have imagined that Savior would have wanted it. The monks there kept yelling at us to hurry and take our pictures and quickly move along so that others could see the spot as well. It was too bad it was so rushed when people have made this pilgrimage from around the world to see and they cannot even enjoy a 2 second moment without getting yelled at.

We then went to Shepherds Field, which overlooks Bethlehem. There were no churches, no crowds, no relics just fields in the hills overlooking the city. It was a beautiful moment as we sat and watched the sunset. As we did so this young 12 year old boy came down the hill holding a beautiful white lamb. I couldn't help but think of the painting of the Lamb of God carrying the lamb around His neck. It was a neat moment. We then had a very special devotional. Several people told the story of the Saviors birth but from different viewpoints. Viewpoints such as Mary and Joseph, Elisabeth, Herod, the shepherds, and the wise men. We had some beautiful musical numbers. I especially enjoyed "Mary's Lullaby." I couldn't help but think what it would have been like to the mother to raise the Son of God. While I will never raise such a man, I know that I will one day be blessed to raise some of the children of God, what a humbling thought. Our teacher then recited from memory Luke 2 with the guitar in the background playing silent night. As I thought about this scene happening in this very land streams of tears rolled down my face as I reflected on the night of His sacred birth. What would it have been like? Where was I? What were my thoughts, feelings, and impressions at that moment? I was humbled with gratitude and humility to realize that the Son of God was born to die, that I might live.

I hope that this night will forever remain with me. That Christmas will never again be the same. Even though it is not Christmas time according to the world we are but a few days short of the anniversary of His birth, April 6. May we all take time to ponder what His birth means to us individually.

Friday, March 13, 2009


My friend Carly posted this on her blog. I thought it was too funny to not share.

10 Reasons why JC Life is like Hogwarts:

10. Drafty stone corridors, minimum 8 floors, secret passageways.
9. We live with the teachers.
8. 4 people to one room. Yes, I know, Gryffindor Tower has 5 people to a room, but close enough...and that's a lot of people in one room.
7. Heated volley ball tournaments. Obv. not as cool as Quidditch, but still fun.
6. We went on a version of the Hogwarts Express, only instead of going from London to Hogwarts we went from Luxor to Cairo, and the train (food especially) was vastly under par with how I envisioned the H.E.
5. The 8th floor women's bathroom is like the 5th floor Prefect's bathroom.
4. We go on trips into the city like they go on trips to Hogsmeade.
3. Mrs. Norris' descendants infiltrate the area.
2. The Oasis is practically the Great Hall, only instead of the ceiling mirroring the sky outside, we have floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the city.
1. Ophir* looks like Voldemort.*Ophir Yarden (Jewish professor) is a really cool guy and I mean that he looks like You Know Who in the nicest way possible. This pic was just too good to pass up.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is it a fence? Is it a wall? No, it's a Separation Barrier

Today my eyes were opened from the shades of blindness I have been wearing the past few months as I learned about the Separation Wall.

Israel's Separation Barrier, dubbed the "Apartheid Wall" or "Berlin Wall" by Palestinians, has increasingly attracted international media attention, largely due to the hard-to-ignore scale of the project. The most obvious historical parallel to the barrier is the Berlin Wall, which was 96 miles long (155 kilometers). Israel's barrier, still under construction, is expected to reach at least 403 miles in length (650 kilometers). The average height of the Berlin Wall was 11.8 feet (3.6 metres), compared with the maximum* current height of Israel's Wall -- 25 feet (8 metres).
Police car patrolling the wall

Israel's barrier is therefore planned to be four times as long and in places twice as high as the Berlin Wall.

"Friends cannot be divided. Enemies should!"

Learning about this wall that divides the Palestinians and the Israeli's, I was really surprised to learn how much they are depending on Obama to settle the dispute.

Danny, is a lawyer here in Israel and has a great involvement with government here and in the US, took us on a tour around town to teach us about the recent happenings. My understanding of what he was saying was that if Obama does not have Israel as his number one priority there is no more hope for a Two-State Solution between Palestine and Israel. The state of Israel will be shred to pieces and disintegrate. Not only does it have impact on Israel, but also on the United States. This will become a volcanic explosion for the U.S. and Christians as a whole. A professor here that I spoke with said, "We can kiss the Jerusalem Center goodbye. There is good chance we may be one of the last groups to ever come here."

Obama has the chance to shine on foreign policy if he makes the Two-State Solution his number one concern. I asked our speaker how realistic it was for Obama to make it his number one priority. Our professor said that Obama needs to just put cosmetic make-up on our economy and focus on foreign issues. If he doesn't the Middle East is planning on turning on the U.S. Obama is the last straw. I wasn't too sure how I felt about the accuracy of this statement, but all are entitled to their opinion. After all it is an educated guess. I feel bad for Obama, he has a lot on his plate and to have Clinton in charge of foreign affairs, yikes.

I don't have the answers or the solution. I don't know what should be done or how we can help. But I do know that we can pray that Heavenly Fathers will be done and then trust in Him. Whatever that WILL be!