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?