Saturday, May 29, 2010

Just Another Week Living and Walking Where Christ Lived and Walked - No Biggie

Hello everyone! I am excited to be updating you all on my life here in the Holy Land. I am loving my experience thus far, and I wouldn't trade being here for almost anything! This past week hasn't been super exciting with trying to get back into classes and studying, so rather than giving you all a day-by-day rundown of my life, I'm just going to elaborate on the highlights.

Last Sunday, May 23 was a fun day. We took a field trip to a place that is like living in Bible times. We did activities that they would have done back then such as herd sheep,
fetch water from a well, and make our own unleavened bread (if anyone wants me to show them how to make the bread when I get back let me know! It's actually really good, especially with honey).
It was actually a pretty fun day overall, but I am definitely grateful that I live when I do. We are blessed with so much technology in this age, and for that I am grateful. I wouldn't be able to live like they did back then. I am very impressed with them and all of the hard manual work they did.

This past week we also had a 3-day, double-elimination volleyball tournament. My team didn't win, but it was fun to play a team sport and get to know a different side of the students here. I definitely miss playing team sports, but it was good to get out and play again. I also refereed some of the games which was a new adventure for me, but I actually did pretty well. I kept the score straight which is basically all that's necessary right? :) Anyways, it was way fun.

I was also able to go back out into the city after being in Egypt for a week which was great. I bought another nativity and a pair of sandals. I love how I said that I wasn't going to buy anything until like July because I wanted to have time to think about my options and make good decisions. But ya, I've bought almost everything that I want already. Great... Haha. Who would have ever known that I loved shopping so much?

But the best thing I did this week was very unexpected. Last Wednesday, May 26 was a weird day. A lot of things just didn't feel quite right, and that was manifesting itself in many different areas of my life. I called my mom that night to just talk and check in with her. When she asked me how I was really doing, I just started tearing up and got all emotional. Now, I am not an emotional person usually. I don't cry very often, so this was weird for me. It was especially weird because I really am completely loving my time here, and I felt completely fine until she asked me how I was doing. Anyways, we talked about why I was feeling a little off, and the call ended on a good note. That night the Center was also hosting a concert by the University of Utah Singers which is a 48-person audition choir. I hadn't planned on going because we had been told that pretty much all of the tickets were sold out. Immediately after hanging up the phone from talking to my mom, I went upstairs to study, and I was told that there were plenty of seats for the concert if I was interested. I decided that I didn't really need to study, and I took the opportunity to hear a great choir. From the very first note they sang, I had chills running throughout my entire body, and this lasted the entire concert! Their music was so comforting, and it brought me so much peace about my situation and my feelings. This experience taught me three things:

First, I learned (again) of the power of music. I have always had a special place in my heart for music (especially singing), and I again felt the power and peace that it can bring into a life. When I get back to Utah I want to join a choir again (if I miraculously find the time) so that I can bring that feeling to other people.

Second, I learned (again) that Heavenly Father is completely aware of us and our situations, and he blesses us with numberless tender mercies. I hadn't even really prayed to my Heavenly Father about my homesick feelings because they were only for a moment, and Heavenly Father still blessed me with exactly what I needed. He didn't even need me to tell Him specifically what I was going through and He knew. He not only knew, but he also blessed me with His mercies. I am so grateful for a Heavenly Father who knows me well enough to know what I need exactly when I need it - and I didn't even know that! I am always amazed and how Omnipotent our Father is. It still boggles my mind.

Third, I learned that (again) that Heavenly Father usually meets our needs through other people. I got what I needed through those who were willing to share their talents. I want to be an instrument in God's hands so that I can fill someone else's needs.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to go to that concert, and I thank my Heavenly Father everyday for the tender mercies that He constantly blesses me with. I want you all to know that I know that we have a loving Heavenly Father who loves us and always knows what we need when we need it. I have learned that lesson many times over while I've been here. I am so grateful for Him and His care and concern for my life.

Anyways, most of this week was spent in preparation for midterms which are this week, so other than this not much happened. I will let you all know how my midterms go, and if you every think about or pray for me just pray that I can do well on my tests this coming week. :) Loves!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Egypt Is For Lovers - And Pyramids, Sand, Heat, Wind, Sphinx, Sinai, Camels, and So Much More

I have to warn all of you before you read this that it is epically long. So beware - if you begin you have a long ways to go.

Well, I just returned back to the Jerusalem Center from Egypt for a week last night. I have done and seen so many things in the past week and a half that I have a lot to tell all of you. But I am going to start with last Sunday, May 9. The real adventure begins there, and it is only fitting that we start at the beginning.

Sunday, May 9 was a free day. A group was organized to go to the city of Tel Aviv and just explore and go to the beach and so on. There were many things to do such as museums, shopping, and just perusing around the city, but I just wanted to lay on the beach. And I did just that - for over 6 hours - without any sunscreen. Ya, bad idea on my part. It was a great day - the beach had the softest sand that I've ever felt, the water was amazing, and I loved swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. However, that night I was not so happy. I got one of the worst sunburns that I have ever had. I was already in pain that night, and I knew it would only get worse. But again, it was my own fault, and I can't complain too much. More details on this to come.

Monday, May 10 was a field trip day. We were able to go to the archeological site of Jericho. This was the place where Joshua captured the city and the walls of Jericho came tumbling down (according to the song). It wasn't all that special, but it was a good field trip day.

Tuesday and Wednesday May 11 and 12 weren't too exciting either. They basically consisted of lots of classes before we left for Egypt, Egypt orientation, doing laundry for Egypt, packing for Egypt, and everything to do with Egypt.

Thursday May 13 was the epic start to my adventures of Egypt! We left at 6:30 am and starting driving towards Egypt. We made a couple of stops along the way at Tel Beersheba (the possible place where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob could have resided) and the Wilderness of Zin. We did a hike in a canyon within in the Wilderness, and it was pretty epic.
It was a very steep climb out of the canyon, but it was fun to not have to sit in the bus the entire day. That night we stayed over at a kibbutz right outside the border of Israel. For those who don't know, a kibbutz is basically the law of consecration put into practice. Essentially it is a self-sufficient living environment. Everyone in the kibbutz contributes to make sure that it is functional. Everyone's salary, whether working in a job outside the kibbutz or working within the many enterprises that the kibbutz has, goes to the kibbutz, and they get about $200 a month back for their services. This may not seem like very much, but all of their food, housing, bills, cars, gas, everything is provided free of charge for them. It is a very interesting set up, and I don't think I could live that way unless the Lord commands it. Haha. The leader of the kibbutz took us out on an adventure in the sand dunes that occupy southern Israel. We did a 20 minute hike up the top of a hill, and below us were the biggest sand dunes I have ever seen (but I have never seen the sand dunes of southern Utah). We had about half an hour to just goof off and play around on the dunes. After that we were told to spread out from everyone - no one was supposed to be visible to us. We then had a certain amount of time to just sit, think, contemplate, meditate, and just be by ourselves. This time was very insightful. My life is so busy that I don't know if I've ever had that much time to just sit and think about my life, my goals, my future, my testimony, and anything else. After a certain amount of time (I think it was like half an hour or so), we had a piece of paper on which we were supposed to write down our thoughts. I thought/wrote about so many things. Many of them pertained to my future and the uncertainty that lies ahead for me. It honestly got me a little nervous and feeling quite unsure of myself. But through all of my doubts towards the end of my writing time, a great peace came over me. The Spirit bore witness to me that basically everything will work out in Heavenly Father's way and time. I shouldn't be worried about it as long as I keep the Spirit close to me and a part of my life. Everything will work out. In the end, everything will be okay. It was so reassuring to feel the Spirit and have it testify to me of those things. The desert really can bring the Spirit into anyone's life. Anyways, it was such an amazing experience, and my testimony of the Holy Ghost was strengthened greatly. That night we slept over at the kibbutz, had a BBQ, swam, and played volleyball. It was a great day full of adventure.

Friday May 14 we actually crossed the border into Egypt. The rest of the day basically consisted of driving - we drove from 10:30 to about 4:30 with two rest stops. Ya, long day. One great thing was that we were able to have a sacrament meeting that afternoon. In Islam, their holy day or 'sabbath' is on Friday, and with Egypt being an Islamic country, the Church holds their meetings on Fridays. That concept is still so foreign to me, but it's kinda cool. It was also very refreshing to have a spiritual boost after a long day of sitting on a bus for like 6 hours.

Saturday May 15 was so awesome! The first thing we did was see the Great Pyramids! We even got to go inside one to where the tomb of pharaoh was. Man, it was awesome. I think that the pictures are better than anything.
And yes, we did make a human pyramid in front of the Great Pyramids. Original, I know. Haha.The only way to describe them is - HUGE! They seriously are so big. It still blows my mind that they were built like 4500 years ago. Then we went to see the Sphinx - the big stone structure with the head of a man (signifying wisdom and knowledge) and the body of a lion (signifying strength and power). They are also awesomely huge, and again I got great pictures.
They are also huge and pretty awesome. We then went to a papyrus factory where we learned how to make papyrus. That night we took a plane from Cairo, which is is northern Egypt, to Luxor in (more) southern Egypt. The only way to describe Luxor is - HOT!!!!! I thought Cairo was hot - ya, not compared to Luxor. One of the days we were there it got up to about 120*F! Pretty hot? I think so. Anyways, once we got to Luxor we just went to the hotel which was a 5-star Sherton, ate dinner, and went to bed.

Sunday May 16 was a very early day seeing as how we were trying to beat the heat. We left at 6:00 am to go to the Valley of the Kings. This is where the latest pharaohs were buried. Think that they have excavated over 60 tombs, and we were able to go inside three of them. One thing that amazed me was that the original paint on the hieroglyphs was still there. Things that were painted over 3500 years ago still had vibrant color. I can't even describe it. We also go to see King Tutankhamun's tomb and his mummy. Haha. It was pretty gross but cool. That night we were able to take a little boat ride on the Nile River and then take an hour long ride on a camel!!! This was the funnest thing that I did the entire trip! On the camel ride we were able to ride through the rural and agricultural lands of the local Nile farmers. It was cool to see the real side of the story in Egypt and experience the beauty of the country up close and personal. And again, I got such amazing pictures!
That night we had some free time, and I of course went shopping. What else would I do with my free time? Haha.

Monday May 17 was the amazingly hot day that I was telling you all about before. Oh man, it was so hot! Anyways, that day we went to the temples of Karnak and Luxor. They were temples built by the later pharaoh's. They weren't that particularly special except for how awesomely huge they were and what amazing hieroglyphs they had.
We spent the morning touring those two temples, had lunch, and then had a free afternoon. I just chilled at the hotel because it was so hot, and I was also exhausted. That night we took a night train from Luxor back to Cairo. Oh man, this was an experience in and of itself. I don't know how many of you have ever been on a night train, but they are so crazy. It's pretty much like an airplane but a train instead. It was so small - there were two beds that came out of the wall, a small little sink, and a communal toilet. Man, it was so awesome! It was way fun just because all of the students were there together. And we had some great girl talk that night - Haha! And I surprisingly slept pretty well which I wasn't expecting, but hey, I'm definitely not complaining.

Tuesday May 18 we got woken up on the train at 4:00 am! Again, the early mornings were starting to catch up with me. Anyways, we arrived at the hotel, had breakfast, and then set out to see some Coptic (Egyptian Christian) churches and then the Egyptian Museum. This museum has so many amazing things in it from all the different ages of Egypt's history. The most amazing thing that they have are the treasures found in King Tutankhamun's tomb. There was so much gold, jewelry, statues, chariots, and huge coffins. Unfortunately I wasn't able to take any pictures inside - lame! After the museum we went the Hark Rock Cafe for lunch!
Oh man it was amazing!!! Oh, most of you don't know that dietary restrictions we had there. We weren't able to drink any of the water because they just filter the Nile water which has raw sewage running into it so we had bottled water the entire trip. We couldn't eat any fresh fruits or vegetables that couldn't be peeled because they wash their fruits/veggies in the Nile water. The dairy was questionable. If any of you know me, the fruit and vegetable restriction was horrible for me! All I ate pretty much the entire trip was rice, bread, and cooked vegetables. However,I did survive. Anyways, so yes, the Hard Rock was a nice treat. After Hard Rock we had time to go shopping at a huge local bazaar which had tons of tourist trinkets. That was pretty much the day.

Wednesday May 19 was pretty much a driving day. That morning we did visit some Islamic mosques which were cool, and then we headed on the road to the base of Mt. Sinai.
It was such a fun bus ride! I definitely grew a lot closer to the people in my group on that ride. Once we got to the hotel we had a really early night because... Well I'll explain in tomorrow's notes. :)

Thursday May 20 we got a wake up knock at 2:00 am. Yes, that is correct, 2:00 am. We left around 2:30 and got to the base of Mt. Sinai around 3:00 am. And then, we started our hike to the summit of Mt. Sinai. Yes, this is the Mt. Sinai in which Moses communed with the Lord, saw the burning bush, received the Ten Commandments, etc. And we hiked it at 3:00 am. It was about a 2 hour hike, so we got to the top around 5:00 am. It wasn't too horrible because I took it slow and wanted to enjoy the hike up there. It was kinda weird because we could not see anything except what our flashlights could show us. We were so oblivious to what we were actually walking across. Once we were up to the top, we sang various hymns while we watched the sun rise over the amazing landscape before us.
I don't think I have ever seen anything so beautiful and breathtaking in my life. We were up there for about an hour and a half, so we got to see the entire sunrise.
And yes, I took loads of pics, but you can see them all when I get back. After we came down from the summit, we had a little testimony meeting for those who wanted to share their thoughts. It was really uplifting to hear the testimonies of my friends and fellow students. We then came down from the mountain which was just as treacherous as going up. Once we got back to the hotel I showered, ate lunch, and then loaded onto the bus to come back to Jerusalem. We drove to the Egyptian border, crossed the border (which took over two hours for everyone to get through), and then drove on to Jerusalem. We got back to the Center around 10:00 pm. I then got on my e-mail (of course that was the first thing we all did!), and then called my mom. I had missed being in contact with everyone, especially my family, for the week. I didn't end up getting to bed until about 12:30 am, so I had a 22.5 hour day.

Now for my reflections on this entire experience - I absolutely loved the amazing things I saw. Like I said previously, I still can't comprehend how people built such awesomely huge and amazing structures over 4000 years ago! I definitely gained a greater appreciation for their amazing dedication. I also learned a lot about the religion of their ancient culture, and I think they had some light given to them from God. They were very concerned with the afterlife and making sure that they did everything to return back to the Gods and become a God themselves. Umm, sound familiar? It was really cool to make connections between their various beliefs and what I know to be true. I am definitely also much more grateful and aware of my living conditions - clean water, clean and healthy food, and a floor not made of dirt. I don't think I really understand how much I've been given. Actually, I know I don't, but this trip definitely helped me realize how truly blessed I am - physically, materially, and spiritually. I am so much closer to the other people in my program now. When you are in close confined quarters like a bus for an entire week it's kinda hard not to get close. I love these people so much!!! I am so glad that I had the opportunity to see all that I did, but I sure am glad that I am back at the Jerusalem Center again. It feels like home now, and I am definitely done with traveling.

Anyways, thanks for listening to me rant and rave about my amazing adventures in Egypt. I hope you all enjoyed, and feel free to comment!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

May 2-8 (creative title, I know)

This past week has been even more amazing than my first. I have done so many amazing things and seen so much more of this amazing city. Let’s start with last Sunday, May 2. Sundays for us are free days. We usually don’t have any formal plans so we can do whatever we want. I went to the Wailing Wall located in the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews come to this place to say special prayers to God because this is the most sacred site to them. The Jews believe that the Wall was a part of Herod’s original temple, although it was actually only a part of the retaining wall around the temple. They come to the wall, write prayers on paper, and put them in the wall. This is a major site of pilgrimage for Jews. I was able to go and put my own prayer in the wall. Even though I don’t necessarily regard this place as sacred, it was still a spiritual experience. It made me realize how grateful I am to know that I can pray to the Father whenever, wherever. I don’t need to write a prayer on a paper in order for Him to hear me. I am so grateful for this gospel!

Mondays are usually our field trip days. This past Monday, May 3 was our first formal field trip outside of the Old City. All of the places we visited gave us a different view of the Jerusalem and its relation to surrounding areas. One of the coolest stops was a hill called Deir Elyas! Our professor told us that Elder McConkie made a statement that the hill we were on was probably the place that the angels came to announce the birth of Christ to the shepherds. And what’s even cooler is that there was a real live shepherd with sheep on the hill! It was super duper cool.

And yes, my fanny pack is hot.

Tuesday May 4 was pretty much a class day. I wasn’t even able to go out into the city because I had classes all day! The academic rigor is pretty high, which I wasn’t expecting, but it’s definitely pushing me which is always good. I’m taking Ancient civilizations, Islam, Judaism, Old Testament, and Hebrew. I think that Hebrew is probably my favorite class thus far because it is the easiest and our teacher treats us like first graders because we are on a first grade level. I’ve already learned 9 Hebrew letters and how to use them to spell English words. It’s pretty much awesome.

Wednesday May 5 I went to the Dome of the Rock. For those who don’t know, this Dome sits on the temple mount where the Temple of Solomon and Herod’s temple rested, the place where Christ went to the temple. The Muslims took over this site when they conquered Jerusalem in the 600s AD, and instead they put a Muslim mosque there because they think that their prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven at that place. Tourists are only allowed in during one hour a day, and I was lucky enough to get in. This place is gorgeous and huge!

Even though I don’t believe in their religion, the Muslims sure can build great buildings. After we left the temple mount I bought my olive wood nativity! It’s so gorgeous, and I got a super duper good price on it (only $50 compared to $250 originally).

Thursday May 6 was a homework day. Not too exciting. But we did have a fiesta that night to commemorate Cinco de Mayo. We Israelis can certainly hold a good Mexican party. 

Friday May 7 I was able to go to the Wailing Wall again. Tonight's celebration was different than any other night there because it was the beginning Shabbat or the Jewish Sabbath. The place was packed! It the welcoming of the Shabbat was different than any other Sabbath celebration that I've ever seen. I thought that it would be very subdued, quiet, and peaceful, but it was anything but. The men were especially crazy. Huge groups of them would get in a circle, dance around, sing a song, and just be loud! These of course were only the more "secular" Jews. The ultra orthodox ones, the Hasidic ones, definitely separated themselves and made sure that they weren't participating in those activities. They were on completely opposite sides of the compound which was very interesting. The women were also a little wild and crazy, but nothing like the men. I was able to participate in the big circle of women dancing which was very fun. One interesting tidbit to note is that many ultra orthodox women shave their heads. I was told that it is so that they aren't attractive to other men but only their husbands. But out in public they wear wigs. It's a weird phenomenon. I would think that they would want to be attractive to their husbands so they would wear a wig in the home and only a turban or covering out in public, but I guess I just don't understand. Once I saw a few of them with wigs, I couldn't stop looking for them! You could tell which ones were wearing wigs because their hair was just too perfect. But overall it was a great night. We had over an hour to be there and experience this celebration first hand. Definitely one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

Saturday May 8 was Shabbat again. We had a member of the First Quorum of the 70 with us, Elder Pieper. He definitely taught some great lessons.

Overall it’s been a great week! I’ll try not to be so lengthy next time, but I just want you all to experience this with me!

Saturday, May 1, 2010


Hello again from the Holy Land! I am doing well and loving life so far. This experience is definitely one that I will never forget and will change my life forever.

Today is Saturday, May 1, and we had our church services today. Here in the Holy Land they hold Sabbath on Saturday because that is the traditional day on which the Jewish Sabbath is held. It is totally throwing me off because I keep thinking that it’s Saturday and that tomorrow we have a field trip and such. Anyways, it’s definitely different but I am adjusting well.

We also had Fast Sabbath (not Fast Sunday because it’s not Sunday) today. The auditorium that we use to hold sacrament meeting has huge windows that look straight out onto the city of Old Jerusalem. Today was a bright, clear, and perfectly beautiful day.

As I partook of the sacrament I was able to look out onto the place where Christ instituted the ordinance of the sacrament and performed the atonement. That was completely incomprehensible to say to least. I am here! I am where Christ walked, taught, healed, atoned, bled, died, was resurrected, and returned to His Heavenly Father! Like I said, this is still surreal to me. I am so lucky to be here and have these experiences.

I was also touched today by my fellow students bearing their testimonies. I am definitely here with an elite group of people who I do not measure up to. They are all so humble, full of the spirit, and true disciples of Christ. As I heard them bear witness of Christ and His atonement, I felt so inadequate to them. They all had such solid testimonies, and they were all so eloquent with what they had to say. I felt the Spirit as each person who bore their witness of Christ. It was so special to feel the Spirit so strongly on the first Sabbath in the Holy Land. I definitely know that I need to step it up while I am here so that I can gain a stronger testimony of Christ and His role in my life.

Even though I feel inadequate and not up to par compared to some of my fellow students, I want you all to know that I do know that Christ is my Savior and Friend. I know that He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane for me, He sweat drops of blood for me, He was crucified and died for me, and He was resurrected for me. I know that He loves me and knows me perfectly, much better than I know myself. I am so grateful that I have this gospel in my life to bless me and bring me true happiness, because I know that this is the only real way to be happy. I love my Savior, and I hope to live my life to make Him proud and be able to return to His presence one day.

This is a song that I found that has meant a lot to me and the relationship I have with my Savior.

“I Am” Nichole Nordeman

“Pencil marks on a wall, I wasn't always this tall
You scattered some monsters from beneath my bed
You watched my team win
You watched my team lose
Watched when my bicycle went down again
And when I was weak, unable to speak
Still I could call You by name
And I said, Elbow Healer, Superhero
Come if You can
You said, I Am

“Only sixteen, life is so mean
What kind of curfew is at 10pm?
You saw my mistakes
And watched my heart break
Heard when I swore I'd never love again
And when I was weak, unable to speak
Still I could call You by name
And I said Heartache Healer, Secret Keeper
Be my best friend
And you said, I Am

“You saw me wear white by pale candlelight
I said forever to what lies ahead
Two kids and a dream, with kids that can scream
Too much it might seem when it is 2am
And when I am weak, unable to speak
Still I will call You by name
Shepherd, Savior, Pasture Maker
Hold onto my hand
You say, I Am

“The winds of change and circumstance blow in and all around us
So we find a foothold that's familiar
And bless the moments that we feel You nearer

“When life had begun, I was woven and spun
You let the angels dance around the throne
And who can say when, but they'll dance again
When I am free and finally headed home
I will be weak, unable to speak
Still I will call You by name
Creator, Maker, Life Sustainer
Comforter, Healer, my Redeemer
Lord and King, Beginning and the End

“I Am
Yes, I Am”

I am sorry that this post is so long! But I just wanted you all to know of my testimony of the Savior. I am so grateful for the chance I have to study in this place and learn more about my Savior. I hope you are all doing well, and feel free to comment on this and update me on how you all are doing! Much love!