Me and Dad on the Mount of Olives
Orson Hyde Memorial Park, Jerusalem, Israel
Part of me can't believe I haven't written anything about this past month's most amazing adventure since it happened a month ago now. The other part of me totally can believe I haven't written about it because there is so much to say and there is so much I continue to process.
Going to Israel was a dream come true for me. I loved every moment of that trip and try to live it over again everyday in my mind. The sights, the smells, the feelings, the sound and the memories of lessons learned.
Life pre-Israel was crazy for lots of reasons but life post-Israel will be different because there is this whole structured academic part of my life that has come to a close for the time being. I've never known an extended period of time without school of some sort so this could be interesting. But I'm glad it wrapped up prior to my departure. When we flew out of Salt Lake and landed in New York I spent a lot of time (because it was the world's worst layover) writting about all the things that needed to get out of my brain. I wrote, and I typed and I wrote some more. It was fabulous! And then when we hopped on the plane to Tel Aviv, I let it all go and just let myself be completely consumed by where I was, what I was doing and I didn't even think of what was back in the USA (besides, mom, LB, Craig and my dear friends) but work and research was no where in the viscinity of my thoughts. That was refreshing and one of the best feelings I know!
And so I was for 2 weeks in Israel, the land of the mortal ministry of my Savior Jesus Christ. We went to every major (and most every minor) historical site and Christianity related site while we were there. From the coast of the Mediterranean and Caesarea and Haifa to the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights including Dan, to Tiberius, Capernum, and the Arbel. We watched the sunrise over the Galilee every single day we were in Galilee. We went to Megiddo, the Jezreal Valley and Beit Sheran We traveled through the Jordan River Valley experiencing Masada, Qumran and the Dead Sea. We went up to Jerusalem and walked up, down, around, and under the old city. We welcomed in Shabbat at the Western Wall, we went up on the temple mount, we ate Shwarmas and falaful and ate magnum ice cream. We heard the 4:20 am call to prayer every day. We went to Bethlehem and sat in Shepherd's fields. We learned great lessons at the Church of the Nativity. But as we sat at the Pools of Bethesda, that for me is where it all came together. The climax of the trip. And then of course the south wall ruins and the Garden Tomb. What holy places indeed.
The birth, life, ministry and death of Jesus Christ is so important to me. And equally as important is the fact that his life neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. While he walked that Holy Land, I know that there are other Holy Places that he continues to walk today. I'm so grateful to know that while I wouldn't trade my experiences in Israel for anything, for the depth and breadth they have brought to my understanding of the Savior's life, I don't have to go to be in the places he was, I can go now to the places he is...his holy houses.
As I walked the holy land and felt holiness in holy sites, I watched some other pilgramidge-ers like myself respond very differently to these holy places. I could tell that for some of them...this was it. The closest they would ever feel to be to the Savior Jesus Christ. And over and over and over again I learned lessons that taught me that I have so much to be grateful for. I am so blessed. And ironically enough...in the place I wanted very most to share these truths, I was unable to do so. What a paradox. But at the same time, it wasn't hard to keep my mouth shut about saying more than I'm a Mormon because what I noticed is that people noticed. I can't tell you how many times we would walk through the old city and hear people say, "You a Mormon?" It happened at least on a handful of occasions and it wasn't because I was wearing a BYU shirt because I never did.
In an October 2005 General Conference address, President Faust taught this truth,
I recently recalled a historic meeting in Jerusalem about 17 years ago. It was regarding the lease for the land on which the Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was later built. Before this lease could be signed, President Ezra Taft Benson and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, agreed with the Israeli government on behalf of the Church and the university not to proselyte in Israel. You might wonder why we agreed not to proselyte. We were required to do so in order to get the building permit to build that magnificent building which stands in the historic city of Jerusalem. To our knowledge the Church and BYU have scrupulously and honorably kept that nonproselyting commitment. After the lease had been signed, one of our friends insightfully remarked, “Oh, we know that you are not going to proselyte, but what are you going to do about the light that is in their eyes?” He was referring to our students who were studying in Israel.
I think what was said in reference to those BYU students, stands true for those members of the church who visit the Holy Land as well, what about that light in their eyes?
My heart swells with gratitude as I think about these experiences and just how much my testimony has deepened because of the things that I experienced and the things that I continue to experience as I continue to study and learn. My heart also swells as I think of the many people who made this trip for me. Seriously...its amazing how "luck" can put you together but honestly...there's no luck in the matter.
As a member of our group said, "We've seen all the things we've read about, now we will go home and read about all the things we've seen." That is the best gift of the trip...the memories that bring me back to the things I experienced again, and again, and again.