Saturday, September 12, 2009

Heaven on earth?

Woah. My heart is SO full- sounds cliché… but I’m not sure how else to put it. I am overwhelmed. It has been a beautiful last few days. Today especially.

----> You can't really tell... but that's a cannon going off for Ramadan- let the party begin!

I love, LOVE my Modern Near Eastern Studies class. It’s split up into two sections- one is taught by a Jewish teacher about Judaism, and another is a Palestinian Christian about Islam. I don’t need these credits… the grade probably doesn’t technically matter… but studying is such a treat here. I can feel my mind and heart opening and things are starting to make more sense. Learning more about the history, beliefs, and practices of these people cause me to love and respect them more, and causes me to truly reflect on my own testimony and I have become even more grateful for the truths that I love and hold on to.

The Western Wall was a beautiful experience. Beautiful. The moment we stepped into the entrance, we were caught up into a group of Jewish girls and started dancing and singing with them. We so obviously didn’t fit in, and they didn’t care- the joy and love was tangible. Watching the dancing rabbis, the weeping women, and the reverent children was truly moving. I put my prayer into the wall- and I really caught a glimpse of how sacred it was to the Jews. They are such loving and righteous people- I felt honored to witness their devotion and love for God. As I was standing and watching, a French literature professor from Berlin started asking me questions about what was going on there. After talking for a while, this woman, “Maggie” stopped and asked, “What are you? Who are you?” I explained that I was mormon, and she said, “Then what is with you? Why are you like this? What do you believe?” This killed me. I had to explain that we promised not to talk about our beliefs- that is the Israeli law. She continued to say “well… is there anywhere we can meet and talk more? I need to know.” I really couldn’t. I would have loved to. We did invite her to a concert here at the center tomorrow night- and I promised her I would go with her. I’m so excited- she was great.

I love the branch here. Saturdays have truly become my favorite. The students make up a good portion of the members, but the few members that are here are beautiful. They come from all over- some are here temporarily for visits, or business, and some are here permanently at great sacrifice. Our relief society president is a beautiful Palestinian woman that went to graduate school in the states and joined in the states, and has to cross over from Bethlehem every week- sometimes it’s dangerous and just hard- but she does it so gladly. There are a few Palestinians that joined in other countries- and they endure so much to have the gospel- and they are so grateful and dedicated. I am blown away by the mutual gratitude present in all the meetings. Everyone is so different- from all over the world and have so many different stories and backgrounds- and it’s wonderful to feel the unity in Christ. Everyone is so solid- there is not a doubt that this is truth. It’s like a mini-celestial experience to sit in the beautiful chapel overlooking the Old City, listening to beautiful music and beautiful people testifying of Christ- basking in the Spirit. I still can’t believe I’m here. I don’t think this will ever get old. Ever.

We went to the Garden Tomb today. It was incredible. I’m really not sure how to describe it. It was hard to tell which was more impactful- the actual site, or who I was there with. It was wonderful to see so many Christians of different sects making their own pilgrimages- unified in Christ. Everyone sang their own hymns in their own languages- all full of love, devotion, and belief in Christ. The highlight of my whole day was watching a group of Fijians belting out their hymns in their language- full of so much passion, and Spirit- as I found myself being overcome with emotion- I missed my dad so much. Dad- you would have loved it. It was similar to going to the Western Wall- different beliefs, different people, different language- same God. I know that God hears all of our prayers. We are all His Children, and He loves us all- no matter the sect, nationality, or form. I am constantly reminded of this. I am so blessed and grateful to be here with these people- to have the incredible opportunity to witness and experience such faith and love- and to so strongly feel of my Savior’s love. Nothing else matters. I don’t fear the future… so many concerns I had before seem beyond ridiculous. It’s liberating. :)

I can’t believe I have experienced so much in such a short week and a half. I’m still pleasantly surprised to look out the window in the morning and see beautiful Jerusalem. It’s unreal that I live on Mt. Scopus- RIGHT NEXT to Mt of Olives. We were told today that when President Kimball was viewing potential land… that they were taking a detour and walking around on the Mt. of Olives when President Kimball just took off walking by himself and they ran after to follow him. He stopped on this random plot of land and said, “This is the place.” They didn’t know if it was even for sale… who owned it… but through great miracles and severe persecution- this beautiful and sacred center is here. That’s where I live.

My life rocks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

We're alive! We promise!

You may have read about the shooting in East Jerusalem today,
and while we actually walked right passed it without knowing on our way
to the Western Wall, they got us safely onto buses at 8 o clock and hurried us back to the center.
Ramadan is a crazy time. They keep us safe around here though, so nothing to worry about.
That said, kali and I have fallen in love with the Jewish people.
We welcomed shabbat in the most incredible way.
The devotion we witnessed tonight was so beautiful. So touching. So real.
I put a prayer (I wrote it in french. It seemed more secret that way) in the wall and fed on the energy of the women around me. It seemed almost expected when I heard about the police and soldiers covering the place where the trouble had happened right outside the wall. They were pouring in while I was praying for the peace of jerusalem with the swaying energy of those around me.I hummed some songs with the other girls. I didn't understand the language, but I didn't need to.
best though, was the eye contact and big grin I shared with a Hasidic man on the other side of the wall separating the men and women. It wasn't anything but pure "Hey. too."
shabbat shalom!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Oh, hey!

Much more to come with pictures galore, I promise! (This dang server. You have to upload at 3 in the morning when no one else is on)

But just for a quick update before I forget:

Monday we went to
  • The Augusta Victoria Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives (The german lutheran pastor there was the wife of the pastor at the Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, which we attended the service of on Sunday)
  • The Greek Orthodox Elias Monastery honoring the prophet Elijah. BEAUTIFUL ceiling and walls. Super overlook of Bethlehem, olive trees. and so forth.
  • Nebi Samwill; a mosque and synagogue honoring the traditional burial place of the prophet Samuel (though the scriptures say he was buried in Rammah. Rammah? I have too much information in my head in the form of foreign languages that I mix it all up constantly.)
  • A few glorious viewpoints where we finally got a little oriented as to where everything was. We could almost see the dead sea. RAD.
Today we went to Zeddekiah's cave; a rediscovered quarry place of the second temple (and maybe even the first! They call it Solomon's quarry, but you never really know here what actually happened and where it happened and who owns it. It's fun) Big old caverns that stretch all under the old city and have graffiti from the 1800s.

I am amazed that I am really here every morning when I wake up.
I sit on my balcony and read about the destruction of the temple, simply look upwards and see the temple mount.
Every night I listen to the beautiful harmony of grand Christian bells ringing the hour, mixing with the sweet sound of Muslim children playing, honking horns, and a delicious breeze blowing through the olive and pomegranate trees.
This is real. It's a city of civilization after civilization, built on top of each other, each fighting for their chance to live and dominate and worship their God. Built and rebuilt, beauty and decay, love and hatred, sacred to so many. Ripped apart time after time, and yet somehow in front of me so amazingly whole.
I feel so lucky to be apart of the glorious chaos.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Bit of Belation

Sorry I've been so naughty and not posting (jet-lag/ JERUSALEM), but Kali has done a phenomenal job of summing up our beginnings. All I can really add is some pictures and what we got to do today on our Geography Field Trip. I'll split up my posts though so as not to bombard you. I feel like I've crammed so much information, direction, orientation, and olive oil into my brain the passed few days, I might implode.

Here's a little from our first Holy Sunset, a few hours after we
 arrived at the center. A couple friends and I listened to the call to prayer
from a very nearby Minaret and soaked in the magic. {How lucky are we to be here during Ramadan!?}
Can you feel the Shalom?

Yesterday was such a great adventure with my best friend. It was a completly free day dedicated to the exploring of the city. We finally got a few guys to go with us- and that made things much more comfortable and easy.

We went to a German Lutheran service at this beautiful church and listened to our organ player play for the service. The acoustics were incredible, and though it was hot and german- it was neat to be there.

Uh oh... I can't figure out how to turn this picture, nor delete it. Bummer. Sorry

THEN... we walked along the walls of the old city and nearly went around it all. It was really cool to look down into the living quaters and schools and really start to see how people live here.

Oops. I don't think we were supposed to see this...:)

Umm... I think I LOVE arab babies. yup. Look at those eyes!

I'm definately a naive and silly American girl here. An arab man said something to me in a very thick accent, and I thought he was talking about his falafels when I repeated, "They're half the size?" then he said, "NO! Oo 'ave nice EYES!". I'm so clueless here... but I'm workin' it out.

We're doin' good.