Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bells, Archeology, and the Nativity

Family and Friends-

Hello again from the Holy Land! I am grateful to be writing you again this week. It’s been another exceptional week here, and I would love to share my wonderful experiences with you. And yes, I am currently sitting in the Garden Tomb, where a few believe Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected, as I write this.

Sunday July 18 was a free day in the City. I was able to go to the local YMCA and play the carillon bells with the organist from the center. I played the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer” just because it is one of the easier hymns to play. We are not allowed to proselyte here in Israel, but this doesn’t ‘count’ as proselytizing because no one knows the hymn tunes, and if they did they are probably already members. Most people just think that it is a nice melody being played by someone. A large handful of us were able to play at least one song, so our hour up in the tower was used quite well.
And don't you love my shirt?

After we were finished being musical geniuses my group just came back to the JC to prepare for our New Testament midterms that we had on Tuesday. That night I also went to the Jerusalem Center Concert Series. This concert was again, like so many of the others, completely amazing! It was a string quartet of two violinists, a violist, and a cellist. They played a Mozart piece and a Schubert piece. I seriously felt like I was living back in the 1800s like in ‘Pride and Prejudice’. It was such a great concert experience. I seriously love music!

Monday July 19 was an optional field trip day. That morning we went to an archeological dig at Gath. The biggest reason why people know Gath is because that is where Goliath was from. The cool thing about this dig was that you could see about 3500 years of history being uncovered right in front of our eyes! We saw a civilization from before Abraham, about 2500BC, and there was also the remains of a Crusader fortress built in about 1000 AD. I never thought that something like that could really interest me, but surprisingly I was quite surprised and intrigued by what I was learning at that site. Maybe I’ll change my major to archeology. Haha. Not likely, but it’s a good thought right? That afternoon I came back to the center and just took a nap for like two hours! I studied more for my test that night and that was pretty much my day.

Tuesday July 20 was the big day for our test! I did pretty well on it, after the curve! Before our teacher curved the test, the average was 72%! No one would have gotten an A if it wasn’t for the curve. Oh man, we didn’t do very well. After the curve I did get an A however which was very nice. After our test and another two hours of class we had a blood drive. I tried to give blood, but I wasn’t able to because my hemoglobin levels were too low, drastically low. That afternoon I went out and did some shopping with some of my friends. I decided that I am now an official shopping addict! I would honestly much rather go out into the city and shop rather than site see. That is so horrible, but it’s so fun! Hopefully this addiction won’t follow me back home to the states because I don’t have the money to be spending! Haha. That night I took a break and watched a movie after my long day of tests, class, and shopping.

Wednesday July 21was our ‘Christian Jerusalem’ field trip. Within the Old City, there are different quarters for the different religions in the Holy Land. There is a Christian quarter, Jewish quarter, Muslim quarter, and Armenian quarter. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, and St. Mark’s Church. The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer was simply amazing! It was a huge vaulted ceiling, white-walled, simple church. I loved it mostly because it was so simple and didn’t distract me from worshipping. Even though I have been to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a couple times before, it was really cool to actually know what I’ve been looking at for the past three months. One thing that is so funny about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is that there was an edict made in the late 1800s by the Ottomans that said that nothing could ever be changed in the Church from that point forward. So the Church has remained in the exact condition that it was in when that edict was made – the same lamps, layout, everything! Even with its abnormalities, this Church is the most holy site in the Christian world because it is where most believe Christ was crucified, taken off the cross, and buried in the tomb. A little overwhelming? Only slightly. I asked my teacher if it was where he thought it all happened (compared to the Garden Tomb), and he said archeologically yes. However, he feels the spirit and can worship at the Garden Tomb. So we don’t really know where it all happened, but the Garden Tomb is definitely much more conducive to the spirit and just has a greater feeling of peace. St. Mark’s church is one of the contending sites for the Upper Room where the Last Supper was held and where Christ appeared to Thomas after His resurrection. I don’t know how much I believe that that was the site, but it was cool to think about. After the field trip I just came back to the Center again because my knee has been bothering me and I didn’t want to aggravate it any more than needs be.
These are some of the skirts that we had to wear in a church in order to be 'modest' enough. Awesome.

That evening I went to a basketball game! Haha. A few of the boys here formed a basketball team that plays against one of the semi-pro teams in East Jerusalem. We were lucky enough this time to be able to go and watch them play. We even have official shirts. :) Unfortunately we lost the game, but it was a fun experience to see our boys play against some ‘real’ players.

Thursday July 22 was a great day! That morning I had to go to the doctor’s to get my blood tested for my hemoglobin and hematocrit levels. It was a quick and painless blood draw, and I was back before breakfast was even over. I found out later that day that my hemoglobin and hematocrit levels in my blood are very, very low. Basically that means that I’m not getting enough iron (which is what carries the oxygen in the blood), and therefore my blood cell level is extremely low as well. As a result, I have been really tired and haven’t had as much energy as normal which I didn’t really realize until I found out I had the issue. But I’ve gotten some iron pills to get me back into the normal range, and I’ll pursue the problem after I get home. So no worries, I am on top of everything and am doing just fine. Anyways, that morning we had our Jordan orientation! I get to go to Jordan on Monday for four days and three nights. We get to see Petra and Amman which will be great! I don’t know much about Petra, but I’ve just heard amazing things about it, mainly from people’s watching of Indiana Jones apparently. Haha. Anyways, that afternoon we had another field trip! We have been packing them in because we only have 2 and a half weeks left! Anyways, we went to one of Herod the Great’s fortresses, and then to Shepherd’s field.

Pics from Herod's Fortress

This place is a field overlooking Bethlehem. Each group goes there every semester and reenacts the nativity scene. We had Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and sheep, three wise men, and an angel chorus. I sang the song ‘O Holy Night’ in a quartet. This whole experience was probably one of the most spiritual that I have had thus far in the Holy Land. For some reason the Spirit just spoke to me so strongly that everything I know concerning the gospel is true! I know that Christ lived, died, and lives again! I just wanted to shout from the rooftops that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the World! I think if I would have done that I could have gotten in quite a bit of trouble because that would break my non-proselytizing agreement with the government of Israel. :) Haha. But seriously, one of the best experiences that I’ve had so far while studying here.
View overlooking Shepherd's Field
Jane and I being angelic :)

Friday July 23was a typical Friday: four hours of class in the morning, lunch, humanitarian service activity (our last time! We made 11,000 kits this semester!), then out into the city in the afternoon. I went to get some pizza from the Old City and to interview the pizza place owner for an assignment for our New Testament class. I didn’t get any pizza, but I got some for my friend who couldn’t come out into the city with us that day instead. My friends told me it was spectacular however. Then last night was the informal talent show, and oh my goodness it was amazing! I’ve never seen so much preparation and effort go into a fun talent show like this. We had skits, funny songs, jump roping, a time lapse video, and a ‘creeper slideshow’ which had creepy pictures of all of us taken at random times. The best part of the slideshow was just the fact that it poked fun at a lot of inside jokes and events that have happened this past semester. I know that I say this practically every email, but I love these people so much! I can’t believe that in 19 days it’s going to all be over! Don’t get me wrong, I am excited to be coming home to see you all, but this has been such a wonderful experience. I have never felt so close to the spirit and had so few distractions from doing righteously. This is probably the closest anyone could ever get to living in heaven because everyone is trying to grow closer to their Savior, there are very few distractions, and we basically live in a temple. I definitely don’t want to leave the feeling of holiness that I have with me basically all the time, but life must go on I suppose.

Saturday July 24 has also been a typical Sabbath. We had church meetings this morning which focused on keeping the commandments and being the Lord’s Hands here on the earth. That’s one thing that I’ve been trying to work on the past week or so is looking at what I can do to be God’s Hands and bless others’ lives through me. I didn’t feel like I had really done anything that merited me being God’s hands, but as I sit here and think about it I did have a few experiences that I didn’t even notice. First off I was able to do the humanitarian project which provides better hygiene for thousands of people in Israel. Second I brought some food back from the city for some people who couldn’t get it themselves. It wasn’t even a burden to me, but I was able to help them out I guess. I love how little acts of service can seem so insignificant to those doing them, but to the receivers they are worth so much. Anyways, and now I’m just sitting her e in the Garden Tomb contemplating Christ’s glorious resurrection at a possible site of where it actually happened. Overwhelming? Completely.

I hope that you are all doing well and enjoying your lives back at home. Keep me updated with what’s been going on in your lives! I’ll see you in a few weeks!

Much love, Chelsea

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