Saturday, April 4, 2009

"...he departed into Galilee..."

Ever since primary I have repeatedly heard the stories from Christ’s ministry. Subsequently, I created images, drawn from who knows where, of Christ and his surroundings as he went about his Father’s business. After spending ten days in Galilee, I was able to recreate the New Testament images of Christ. Jesus is no longer the blue eyed, fair skinned, brown haired guy I always had in mind. He’s got dark eyes, bronze skin and black hair. He didn’t spend most of his time around a dusty, arid, stony city—but a picturesque, hilly, forest-green Galilee. The fisherman’s boat was small, not large, and the synagogue where he declared his ministry was no bigger than a living room. The woman who washed his feet with her tears did not do so as he sat at a table—nor did the last supper happen around a typical table; rather, he was laying down on his right side, his feet reclined backwards as he faced the other men around the food. The mount of Beatitudes was more of a hill, and the Sea of Galilee is a lake—a big ol’ fresh water lake.

We took a boat ride over the Sea of Galilee. At first, the weather was a bit stormy, all windy and cloudy. That's when we sang "Master the Tempest is Raging." Afterwards, just as we read the account about Christ walking on water, the sun burst through the clouds. This was the highlight of the trip for me.

I tried walking on water. I'm not sure if it was my faith or my blue shoes, but it worked.

A rainbow over the beatiful scenery of Galilee

One of the many spots where we sang hymns, this particular synagogue is where Christ declared his ministry.

Over looking the Jezreel Valley, where Armageddon is to take place. We started it a bit early.

The famous Jesus boat.

Making pittas over a fire.

This is what an Old Testament scroll from Jesus's time would have looked like.

This is the cliff where Christ cast the legion of spirits into the swine. It's now covered in mines from a past Israeli-Syrian war. JJ got too close to a mine, which took off his leg.

'Casey's Fortress.' Whoops, I mean 'Nimrod's Fortress.'

This depicts Elijah killing the wicked preists of Baal. Cool story.

This is a tomb stone of the first LDS missionary in the Holy Land. Guess where he's from? Farmington!! Represent! This made my day.

Peter's house in Capernaum.

There is a certain, inexplicable empowerment that comes from gaining accuracy in one’s mental imagery. Knowing that I am that much closer to recreating the actual event gives me great satisfaction. My trip to Galilee brought me that much closer to the truth, whether that truth is Christ’s eternal message or the finer details of how one of Peter’s caught fish may have looked.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Seperation...No Breathin!

If you ever thought building a wall on the southern U.S. border was controversial, then try talking about the Separation Wall. Here is as short of a summary as possible about the history and problems associated with the Wall: Ever since Israelis declared their independence in 1948, there have been a series of wars between them and neighboring Arabs and Palestinians, resulting in some controversial territorial boundaries. In many cases, the Palestinians were forced out of their homes (so goes war) and into the West bank, the Gaza Strip, and neighboring Arab countries, creating “temporary” camps numbering around 5 million Palestinian refugees. Some Palestinian extremists resorted to suicide-bombings (a.k.a. homicide-bombs) in Jerusalem to fight back for their land. The Israelis responded by building a huge wall to regulate the flow of persons between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel has a right to build a wall in its own country, however the wall intrudes into the West Bank in several spots (the West Bank has its own Palestinian political authority, but it’s under Israeli military occupation). Since the wall’s existence, there virtually have been no suicide bombings. But many other problems have resulted: The Wall separates families from each other, from schools and hospitals. It’s big, ugly, and runs through peoples yards and streets; it has devastated economies, particularly those dependent on tourism (when we visited Jericho, I saw an huge multi-million dollar hotel-resort that was completely abandoned); many people have to line up at 4 a.m in order to get through the checkpoint to work in Jerusalem, only to return at 10:00 p.m—others simply lost their jobs.

I have passed through the wall on a few occasions, but last time was my favorite. We spent the day in Bethlehem, mostly at Bethlehem University, where we watched a documentary about a Palestinian village that was forced to evacuate by the 1948 Israeli Army. The director was there to answer questions (the film took first place at the last Dubai independent documentary film festival), as well as a panel of 4 college students who answered questions about life in the West Bank and their opinions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I sat next to another student named Jasmine who spoke to me throughout the movie, and after the presentation we played a short pick-up basketball game with some other students. The overall feelings I got from the students was that they are eager to learn, eager to make a difference, eager to make peace, but very upset and annoyed at the way they are treated and the barriers (physical and social) between them and the Israeli youth. Dr. Mussalem (our Christian Palestinian professor of Islam who grew up in Bethlehem)walked us through the streets he grew up and took us to his favorite restaurant. We never felt unsafe—the contrary, we were welcomed warmly and I want to go back.

This is the spot of the manger.

This is a mosaic of St. Jerome, who, while in this room, translated th Bible from Greek and Hebrew to Latin

The guy in all black on the far right is an Orthodox Greek minister. He made some of the girls turn around and leave the church for laughing while in his church. Good times.

The panel.

People can make wishes if they put their fingers in these holes, and place a coin in the bottom hole. I wished for world peace and a remote control car.

Eating dinner in a cool tent. Best food ever. I sound like a girl.

We had a Christmas devotional, full of Christmas songs, stories, and memories as we overlooked Bethlehem. Nothin' like celebrating Christmas in March.

The streets of Bethlehem. It is hear where I bought a unique nativity set made of Olive Wood. The set shows the three wise men seperated from the manger by a giant wall. Quite the political statement (which I'm trying to stay as objective as possible for now) but I think it said alot about Christ's message. Jesus was born. He lived, died, was risen. So much seperates these people, these cultures. Even Christ came as a sword, seperating families, peoples, even thousands of years later. So much seperation. But underneathe it all there's the possibility to connect. The realization that we are all sons and daughters, human beings, here with a purpose. I'm sounding preachy but I can't wait for the day when walls are non-existent.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Utah's 6th National Park

Did you know that Southern Utah extends into the Middle East? They call the place Petra, but I call it summer’s home. Last week in Petra was the first time I’ve felt at home in a long time (including Bountiful) even though I’ve never been further away from home. I could have sworn I was in Zions, Capital Reef, or Bryce Canyon as I climbed the red baked sandstone cliffs and hiked up the sandy desert trails and slipped through the narrow slot canyons of Petra. I half expected to hear Uncle Wayne fake a warning about rattlesnakes in the brush ahead or hear Aunt Trina tell Jade to stop leaping over cliffs. It was all so surreal.

Petra is the 2nd of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World. I am the 1st. Here are some pictures of 2 different Wonders of the World colliding:

All of the sandstone mountains are covered in tombs and houses carved right into the stony mountain walls by the 5th century Nabataeans. The Bedouins (modern nomadic people like the Gypsies) later began living inside these tombs. Fun to explore.

Recognize this place? I walked out with the gift of immortality. But no girl.

This is me on a donkey. Sideways. I rode on it all the way up to a monastery, scaling slippery cliffs. People kept checking out my ass on the way up.

After Petra we visited Jerash, which is the largest, best preserved Roman architectural city outside of Italy. Once again, I experienced Deja Vu having been in Rome a year ago. All roads do lead back to Rome.


Inside one of the Roman theatres, some military-retired Jordanians started playing Scottish music for us, to which we had a small African style dance party. It must have been an interesting sight to see a bunch of Americans dancing like Africans in a Roman theatre with Scottish music played by Arabs in Jordan.

The big picture on the right is the Jordanian King. He has blue eyes because his mom is British. The people here love him and there are pictures of him everywhere. The two guys in the middle are Princes.

After the tour we watched a bunch of middle-aged Jordanians reenact Roman battles and Gladiator tournaments. Horrible acting + cheesy costumes + obvious choreography = hilarious show.

We got to hangout with the actors afterwards. Violence is so fun.

Jordanian food is the best. I could have eaten ten of these huge, fresh out of the oven, thingies. I am tempted to call them tortillas but I know I shouldn't.

These are the girls before they entered the main mosque in Jordan. Moddest is the Hottest.

The river Jordan. This picture is kinda silly but the river Jordan was a beautiful, peaceful place. We had time to reflect in the cool breeze, dip our hands and feet into the river, and listen to Brother Wilson teach. My mind brought me back to my own baptism and reconstructed the images of Jesus's baptism.

When I first received my 3 1/2 month Jerusalem itinerary, I looked forward to Egypt, the Old City, and Galilee so much that I really had no expectations for Jordan. Jordan was a pleasant surprise, a country full of friendly people, incredible ruins, and biblical history. It reminded me that while I do love to travel and experience what's out there, one place remains at the top of my "favorite places to go" list, and that's Southern Utah. So, Mom and Dad, don't forget that while the Pyramids of Egypt and the Treasury of Jordan are absolutely magnificent, they will never quite live up to my memories of summer campouts to Southern Utah with the fam.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Love is Scary

When you think of Jerusalem’s landmarks, you think of the Dome of the Rock, the ancient city walls, the Holy Sepulcher, Hebrew University, and David’s Tower. Yet surprisingly, in a city full of universally recognized landmarks, the BYU Jerusalem Center has earned its spot on the Jerusalem Landmark Hall of Fame. Strangers around the city know where the center is and rave about its beauty. Here are some brief points that shed some light on the miraculous development of the JC:

*The first two Westerners to cross the Israeli border after the 67’ war were two BYU faculty members.

*After staking out available property for the site, church authorities showed Pres. Kimball the various spots. After showing him the last land spot, Pres. Kimball walked past it and onto a spot of land that was not available and said, “This is where we will build.”

*The church received a lot of opposition. In fact, there are over 20 binders filled with articles about the JC construction and the resulting controversy: People held protests outside during construction; currency circulated throughout the city was stamped with “Take your missionaries and go home, Mormons”; City members boycotted the JC building contractors by telling them that they will never again build in Jerusalem if they build the JC; the land was owned by a Palestinian family who agreed to BYU’s leasing as long as BYU committed to sending 10 Palestinian students to BYU each year on a full-ride scholarship; no proselytizing of any sort is allowed by Mormons in Israel, if they do then BYU has agreed to immediately leave—there are even some ultra-orthodox Jewish “spies” that have pretended to investigate the church in order to trick members into proselytizing; the first group of students to live here had to sneak in overnight and into an incomplete Center.

*Now that all is said and done, citizens flock to the JC every week for free concerts put on by renowned artists who wait several months in order to play in the JC’s beautiful auditorium. The JC is built to act like a living organism—the natural sunlight permeates the center, creating moving shadows and distinct shades of light. The JC was built right into the mountain, as if the mountain’s layers have been peeled aside. Windows engulf the walls, bringing the outside city into the Center. Even the corridors that lead to the student dorms resemble streets in the Old City, with uneven roofs, streams of sunlight, and stony parameters. The JC architect (who was threatened to be boycotted) went on to build the foreign ministry and Supreme Court, due to the reputation he gained for crafting the beautiful workmanship of the JC. He even changed his company’s name to MOR-company, the first three letters of Mormon.

*The mountain we are on is full of ancient burial tombs, and Israeli law requires contractors to stop digging/developing if they find a tomb. It’s quite the miracle that there were no tombs where JC contractors dug. Only surrounding the Center. Our director said that this is because God has preserved this land for centuries.

*There is nothing like the main auditorium. Sacrament meeting is spectacular in the auditorium. In fact, aesthetically speaking, last Sunday was the best sacrament meeting I have ever attended (and I am not one to exaggerate). Jerusalem is going through a drought and many prayers have been offered for rain. During sacrament we experienced a magnificent rain storm. Deep gray clouds bellowed above the old city, the rain bathed and darkened the dusty hills and house tops, and, best of all, the speakers spoke accompanied by both the Spirit and huge lightning bolts that sprawled across the sky in the background. We had a beautiful violinist play in between speakers, who was also accompanied with rolling thunder and electrifying cracks in the sky. Everything came together to put on a powerful show that I will never forget.

The Jerusalem Center truly is a landmark amongst landmarks.

So what have I done to fully take advantage of the miracle-laden center? Partied. While the days are filled with adventures in the city, the nights are filled with equally intensive partying. We have dance parties, dress up parties, FHE activities, movie nights, giant games of Signs, Basketball, Volleyball tournaments, ping pong, foosball, choir practices, talent shows, well-known forum speakers, massive study groups and firesides (we had Bishop Burton and his counselors speak to us a couple weeks ago—He’s a big guy with a big hand-shake and a big heart). To give you a more detailed example of the sort of fun we have here, let’s talk about Valentine’s Weekend:

Friday the 13th was kicked off with a dance where all the girls dressed up as Zombies and other creepy things (lots of dark makeup, crazy hairstyles, and mismatched clothes). Afterwards, my roommates (Matt and Josh) and I planned the perfect Friday the 13th prank. Imagine the following:
You’re sitting in one of the foyers at midnight with a couple other girls when you see Josh and Matt walking up the stairs. You ask them where they are going, to which they reply, “Oh just checking out a secret tunnel under the center. Wanna come?” Within a few minutes you are outside the center, stepping through some bushes into a deep stairwell that leads to darkness. The stairs are uneven and ridden with dry leaves and rotting boards. Your hands grace the damp walls as you descend the stairs. Using the dole glow from Josh’s cell phone, you barely make out two abandoned cement rooms. You and the other girls inch along, clinging to each other in the pitch black cavern. Matt coaxes you in, “Let’s go in that room and explore.” You carefully walk in and pull out your digital camera, deciding that the flash from your camera will reveal the dimensions of the room. FLASH. You look at the screen of the camera—that’s when you notice that there’s a man, dressed in black, lying motionless against the wall with a pillow case covering his head. You let out a deafening scream and claw for the doorway.

I was the guy in the pillow case. There’s only one thing more satisfying then discovering that a cute girl likes me—and that’s scaring a girl. Which is the easier of the two.

This is the actual photo that Chelsea took, responsible for the scream...

The next day, Valentine’s Day, we delivered a rose to all seventy girls living in the center. The day before, Steve, Stephen and I went to the Mahane Yehuda Souq, a huge Jewish market that is full of fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, and treats. The market fills up with people on Fridays as everyone does their last minute shopping before Sabbath begins in the evening. We bought the roses (all the guys tipped in) and snuck them into the center.
Throughout Valentine’s Day, Ryan, Josh, JJ, and I were hired by the “In-center Student Committee” to go around to 8 different people and sing songs to them. Students and faculty purchased singing-telegrams that included a treat, a message, a song, and sometimes a dance. The four of us guys invented raps and lyrics that went along with songs like “For the Longest Time” and “So Happy Together.” We performed at dinner, ward prayer, in the lounge, and even under the balcony outside.

Whether it’s scaring girls half-to-death, or spouts of chivalrous romance, Valentine’s weekend is a good example of the diversity of fun that we have in the Center.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I don’t know what I like more—the inherit history of a site, or the history I make while I’m there. Every site I visit has a remarkable story, with remarkable people in remarkable times. The history of a particular site paints a beautiful picture which I can then hang on the walls of my memory, but can’t I throw in a paint stroke of my own? History is a collective memory, a painting in a museum. I’d rather take that painting home, play with it, and then hang it up on my own walls. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

I'll never forget seeing the supposed Garden Tomb where Christ’s body was laid. The garden tomb that lay at the feet of Golgotha, where Christ hung miserably. The garden tomb that’s open and empty, which is precisely the reason why graves are emptied and gates to immortality are opened.
But even more, I’ll never forget joining a large group of Christian Nigerians, who gathered in an arena near the tomb to listen to their pastor praise the Lord. I heard them singing Gospel songs and clapping their hands so I approached them timidly, secretly jealous of their joyous, rhythmic worship style. They immediately pulled me in, along with four other students, until I was sitting between two Nigerians who put their arms around me. I caught on quickly to the Nigerian songs, swaying patterns, and Hallelujahs—who would have known that worshipping could be so exhilarating? We ended with big long hugs and lots of picture taking (they went crazy with their cameras) and the guy next to me gave me his phone number. On the outside, these people were as different from me as it gets—literally, black and white. However our one common denominator was a belief in Christ, which sets aside all differences.

The Tomb

I’ll never forget exploring the ancient walls of Jerusalem. I walked on top and looked down at the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim quarters. I ran my hands across the embrasures, slits in the wall through which archers shot their arrows at invading armies. I explored underneath the Western Wall through deep crevices that revealed sections of the original wall that existed during Christ’s time. I saw the road (buried several feet underground) on which Jesus must have walked and the gate he passed through to get to the temple. I explored Zedekiah’s Tunnels, which are manmade caves underneath the city where they excavated rock to use in building the city.
But even more, I’ll never forget reenacting a chase scene—perhaps Nephi being chased out by Laban’s servants—where Josh and JJ pursued me across the very top of the wall, leaping over sharp breaks in the wall. Or making friends with the tour guide underneath the Western wall, who gave me his email address so that one day he can take me out to some hidden oasis springs outside of Jerusalem. Or hiding alone in a dark cavern during a game of Sardines in Zedekiah’s Tunnels.

Exploring the original temple wall, beneathe the Western Wall

I’ll never forget visiting Jericho, the city that the Israelites conquered just outside their homeland. Jericho is not only the lowest inhabited city in the world (1300 ft. below sea level), but it is thought to be the oldest continuously-habited city in the world. I saw the Jericho Tower, the oldest manmade structure in the world (10,000 years old) and Herod the Great’s summer vacation home.
But even more, I’ll never forget reenacting the destruction of Jericho’s walls. I built a small wall out of rocks, then Steve and JJ marched around the wall (the Israelites circled the wall 7 times) while Josh blew the Ram’s horn. The wall then miraculously fell apart (JJ kicked it).

I’ll never forget seeing the valley of Elah, where David slew Goliath. The valley where two armies, the Israeli and Philistine, met and watched a small shepherd boy, who was ordained to be the next prophet and king by the Prophet Samuel, take on a 9 foot 9 inch (or 6’ 9”—depending on whether you consult the KJV or the Greek Septuagint, which is probably more accurate) military giant. Young David dropped everything and raced toward the battle, offering himself as the player in what was sure to be a suicidal combat.
But even more, I’ll never forget standing forty yards from Goliath (a painted cardboard box stuck on top of a 9 foot pole) with a sling in hand. I took special care in selecting smooth, golf ball size rocks, then launched them in an attempt to hit the Goliath in between the eyes. Lined up with thirty-five other students, we barraged the beast with sailing rocks until he was left with a hole in his face. Chris, the victor, ran to Goliath and severed his head with a stick. Good times.

Goliath. An exact replica

History comes alive when I do more than just read a textbook, or visit the site, but when I make it not only his story, but my story.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Walk like an Egyptian

Egypt was incredible. Every hour was a new adventure, one after another. Where I might usually create a lifelong memory once a month, in Egypt it's every hour. Hence on the time specturm of memories, a week in Egypt was a lifetime. Here is just a glimpse:

The marketplace in Egypt is called a “Bazaar.” Which pretty much sums it up. Everything there is bartered; from the taxi driver on the way there, to the ice cream bar on the way out. Before long, I felt like an expert barterer—but in reality I probably got ripped off. I was with four girls and every merchant yelled out as we passed by. Whether it was yelling out the price of a scarf (which lowers drastically as you walk away) or a flirtatious “compliment” (‘Hey Casanova! I give you seven camels for one of your four wives!’). It was fun at first, then annoying, then frustrating—they all compete for our attention and often followed us down for blocks trying to convince us or get very close to the girls. It really was a bizarre experience where every emotion is felt one after the other.

We took little boats down the Nile. They say that Egypt is the gift of the Nile. Kind of like Jeffrey is the gift of Farmington.

Moses must have entered Luxor Temple, a holy place for the Pharoah and his priests. Having walked through an enormous stone building where there were several columns this big, Moses knew that man can accomplish some incredible feats. Yet after speaking with God, he said, “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed."

We hiked up Mount Sinai at 2:00 a.m. On top, snuggled up with the others, I thought about how Moses trucked up this mountain 8 times. The air was frigid, but the sunrise was spectacular. Someone once said that a sunset is God's signature at the end of a miraculous day. If so, then what's a sunrise? Maybe he's testing out which ink color to use for his signature.

I don't know what I am doing to this pyramid but all the other tourists were doing it. I remember learning about the pyramids in elementary school. I have wanted to see them since.

At the Hard Rock Cafe in Cairo, the servers played We Will Rock You, and YMCA to kick off the dance party. It would be the fourth dance party that trip.

My camel's name was Obama.

We took a camel ride through a small village. Does anybody know what noice a camel makes?