Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Last Days

I’m home! Even though I came home this week, I want to share with you the beginning of my week before I left the Holy Land because it was one of the most uplifting and inspiring couple of days of my entire life. And hopefully that can rub off into this email and into your lives.

Last Shabbat, August 7, we had a program called the Triclinium. The triclinium is the way that the table was set up for the Last Supper. It’s basically a U-shaped table, so three sides and two of them face each other. Basically the program was just reading John 13-17, having 3 musical numbers, hearing our District President (who is also the academic vice president for the program) speak to us, and then personal time. I definitely wasn’t expecting any sort of drastic personal revelation or anything, but I had one of the most intimate and personal experiences with the Holy Ghost. During my personal study time I just had such an amazing experience. Here’s what I wrote I my journal afterwards: “I prayed to Heavenly Father that I would be able to fee His spirit during this experience, and I think that it worked because I’m crying (multiple tears were falling down my face) which never happens. I read my document of ‘The Living Christ’ to see if there was anything that I could add to id. I couldn’t really think of anything until I read my patriarchal blessing. I just had the strongest impression (while I was reading it) that Christ is my advocate. He will do everything in His power to bring me home to my Father. I have a feeling that it’s gonna take a lot of work on Christ’s part, but I know it can happen. I don’t know how, but as long as I try my hardest it can happen. It kinda astounds me that I had this strong of a spiritual experience after I asked for it, but I guess that’s an answer to prayer.” Basically I just had a really strong impression from the Holy Ghost that Christ is my advocate and that He will do everything in His power and never give up on giving me eternal life. I know that I have to do my part, but as long as I try my hardest, Christ will get me everything I can. I think the other really cool thing about this experience was that I asked Heavenly Father that I would get some personal revelation during the program, and it came like a flood! I was astounded at how strongly the spirit hit me, but I was so pleased and happy to know that my Father heard my prayer and was kind enough to bless me with that revelation. I just want to testify that our Father knows us. He sees what we’re going through, hears what we ask for, and wants so much to give us every little blessing He can if we ask for it and are righteous. Anyways, it was a pretty amazing program for me personally.

Sunday August 8 I went to Tel Aviv! It was one of our free days, and a big group of us decided we wanted to go to Tel Aviv one last time and play on the beach all day. So yes, I had no worries such as homework or anything, so I just sat on the beach for six hours, played in the water, slept, read “Dear Lovey Heart, I’m Desperate” (a book about a love advice column in a high school newspaper. It was pretty epic. :) ), and just had a great day by the beach. One of the best things that came out of that day was an amazing tan. When you all see me you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I got a really good Middle Eastern tan while I was over there. I am pretty dark, and it’s amazing. :) Haha. Anyways, the day in Tel Aviv was amazing. The water was super clear again, and the sand is still the softest sand I’ve ever felt at a beach. Who wouldn’t be utterly happy with that?

Monday August 9 was the first day of the Last Week of Christ’s Life. Background: in two days, we visit every place that we know that Christ visited in the last week of His life. We started early that morning in Bethany which is where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. We went to Lazarus’ tomb (or the traditional site of it). We talked about how Christ raising Lazarus from the dead was the biggest and most impressive miracle that Christ ever did, and as such it started His downfall – within a week He would be hung on the Cross. We learned that the reason why this was the catalyst for the Pharisees and Sadducees to really start working on killing Christ because so many people were starting to follow Him and they were losing their power base. Anyways, just in case you wanted to know.

Our next stop was Bethpage which is where two of Christ’s apostles were sent to get a colt for Christ to ride in on. We learned that a colt is a baby donkey that has never been ridden or broken. This was significant because Christ was riding a perfect donkey without any blemish (just like He was without blemish), and it was also miraculous that He could ride an unbroken donkey. His triumphal entry into Jerusalem begins His walk to Gethsemane, Golgotha, and the Tomb, and we talked about how sometimes the hardest thing to do is just start something. But we know that our Father is looking over us, and if we just trust in Him once we start it usually gets easier. Next was the Church of the Ascension, and then Dominus Flevit which is where some believe that Christ wept over Jerusalem, but while we were there we also talked about the Olivet Discourse given in Matthew 24 about the 2nd Coming. I can’t even explain to you how much I learned about the 2nd Coming from that chapter on that Mount. We also read from D&C 45, so that’s another good resource.

Anyways, our lunch stop was at the Orson Hyde Garden which is run by and paid for by the Church, but we aren’t allowed to go in there usually because less-than-reputable people are usually in there and they cause some trouble with us, especially for the women. Anyways, while we were there we talked about Orson Hyde and his mission to and dedication of the Holy Land. Our teacher proposed the idea that Orson Hyde essentially started the Zionist movement and the ability for the Jews to acquire land in Israel. Okay, we ate in the garden, and then we were off to the Upper Room. We talked about the Last Supper and Christ instituting the Sacrament. We learned that breaking the bread is literally like the tearing of Christ’s flesh during the Cross by the nails, while He was flogged, etc. Our teacher bought some real bread, and each of us had the chance to literally break a piece of bread and eat it in the Upper Room while thinking about how the sacrament is so symbolic of breaking Christ’s body. Let’s just say that this day was completely amazing, and I couldn’t even imagine that they next one would be even better. Anyways, that night we had our pre-departure meeting just telling us about how to get home and how to check out of the center and stuff.

Tuesday August 10 was the rest of the Last Week of Christ’s Life. We left that morning by walking in silence down the Kidron Valley, through the Orson Hyde Garden, to the Garden of Gethsemane. While we walked we listened to my teacher’s LDS mix on his ipod. That day we had Brother Brown with us. Let me just give you a little background on Brother Brown. He is the District President and the Academic Vice President of Academics over the program. He is a retired BYU professor, and he is the most reputable man I know. He was one of the 5 editors of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, is the foremost authority in the church on the book of Luke (he’s writing a 1000-page commentary on Luke as we speak), and did an entire film series called “The Messiah, Behold the Lamb of God” (which is actually coming out on DVD this week at Education Week). So ya, he’s a pretty amazing man to say the very least. And one of the coolest things is that he was the one who wrote the entry on Gethsemane in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. I learned that Gethsemane literally means olive press in Hebrew. Christ came there and was pressed by the weight of our sins that it made Him bleed from every pore. (Another little random fact – olive oil is red when it is first pressed. Coincidence? I think not.) Brother Brown also suggested that the temptation came to Christ at that time to release His own life because He had that power. For us, it would be like the temptation of suicide. Christ took upon and felt EVERYTHING in that Garden so that He could help us through what we’re feeling, even suicide. Another thing we learned from Brother Manscill (my New Testament teacher and my mentor) was that when Christ took upon Him our sins, He became guilty and that’s why the Father had to step away from Him and let Him do it on His own because He was no longer ‘worthy’ to have the spirit because He was experiencing the guilt and pain of the sins. And yes, this was all taught right where it happened. Next we walked to St. Peter Gallicantu which is where most people think was Caiaphas’ (the Jewish High Priest) palace. At this place we talked about the arrest in the Garden and the three Jewish trials – first by Annas (the former High Priest), then Caiaphas (the current High Priest), and then part of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish legal court). While we were there we discussed how at least 6 or 7 things about these trials were illegal according to Jewish law, but nonetheless they condemned Christ to death. The charge was blasphemy because He was claiming to be the Son of God, even though that is completely valid and not blasphemy at all. Next we walked to the Church of the Flagellation which is where scholars believe was Pilate’s home. When the Sanhedrin brought Christ to Pilate, they changed the charge from blasphemy to treason against Caesar because Christ was claiming to be king of the Jews. Both Pilate and Herod Antipas found no fault in Christ during all three trials because Christ said that His ‘kingdom was not of this world.’ Pilate really wanted to release Christ, and he tried three different ways for the people to have compassion on Christ. First, he tried to get them to release Christ as the Passover Scapegoat, but instead they chose Barabbas. Plan B was to scourge Christ and beat Him up so that they would look at Him and have compassion on Him, but that availed nothing as well. The thing that finally got Pilate to condemn Christ was that the chief priests said basically that they would tell Caesar that Pilate wasn’t his friend. At that point, Pilate gave in and condemned Christ to be crucified. I really think that Pilate had good intentions, but when it came down to it, He couldn’t withstand the peer pressures. At that point, Christ walked with His own cross (until He couldn’t do it anymore) to Golgotha where He was to be crucified. Our next stop that we walked to was the Garden Tomb. There we talked about the Crucifixion and even more importantly the Resurrection. I learned that all of the pains of the atonement suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane were again administered while Christ was on the Cross as almost unimaginable as that is. After our discussion in the Garden Tomb there was time to bear testimony, and I definitely knew that I wanted to. This is what I wrote in my journal after this experience: “I was able to just bear testimony in the Garden Tomb. I basically just testified that I know that Christ is my Savior. As we’ve been walking the path that Christ took, the reality of the pain and suffering that He endured just got to me as I bore my testimony (I was crying again – don’t worry, this is not normal at all for me). But it was just confirmed to me that Christ did all that and suffered all that because He loves me and cares about my eternal salvation. I am so grateful for the opportunity that I’ve hd to come here to the Holy Land and learn more about my Savior and have my testimony strengthened. I think I can say that my resolve to do good and be a follower of Christ has never been higher. I love my Savior.” That night we had a closing fireside. We had 9 students speak about how they’ve grown closer to Christ or learned more about Him or something like that. The thing I loved most about this was that every single person did grow closer to Christ or learned more about Him, but what every person learned was completely different from everyone else. That just shows you the power of the Holy Ghost and how personal it is for each of us. This was probably one of the most spiritually uplifting days of the entire program.

Wednesday August 11 was our last day in Jerusalem, and we had it completely free. Jane, Jared, and I hit all of the major sites in the city. We started in Gethsemane,

then went to the Western Wall, then the Dome of the Rock, then the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and then the Garden Tomb. We also had some interspersed last-minute shopping in there. This day was great just because I was with my two best friends going to places that most people in the world would kill to see. I mean, they are the three most holy sites in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. And I visited each of them in about an hour.

The Gummy Stand - Delicious!

The rest of the afternoon I finished packing, and that night we had a closing dinner and memories slide show. We also gave out paper-plate awards, and I got ‘Most Angelic Voice’. That made me happy because we have some great singers. :) That night I just stayed up and watched movies because we were leaving so early that it was pointless to try to sleep.

Thursday August 12 was the longest day (literally) of my entire life. We had breakfast at 2:00 am, left at 3:00 am from the Center, and our first plane to Vienna left at 7:00 am Israel time. To make it short, I traveled for 32 hours to get home, and I didn’t get home until 1:00 am Friday morning because a couple of our planes were delayed. It was a very long and exhausting day, and it felt good to be home and see my family.

These past couple of days I’ve just been trying to reorganize my life and see everyone I want to see. I thought I was ready to come home, but once I was home I was ready to go back. Friday afternoon it just hit me that it was all over. It happened SO fast, way too fast for my taste. I felt so alone because I was used to being surrounded by my 80 siblings. No one really knew how I was feeling, but they did. I miss my new family so much! Don’t get me wrong – I was completely ecstatic to see my family in SoJo, but I am just so close to those kids. Let’s just say that one good thing about school starting in a few weeks is that I’ll be able to see almost everyone again! This entire experience is something that I will remember and cherish my entire life. I can’t imagine how comparatively boring and unfulfilling my summer would have been if I didn’t go on this trip. This has completely changed me and my testimony for eternity. I have never been so fully immersed in the gospel and the spirit as I was in Jerusalem. I am so grateful to my Heavenly Father for blessing me with this wonderful opportunity. It was much, much more than I deserved.

Since this is my last email, I just want to bear my testimony to you all and let you know that I know that Christ is my Savior. I know that He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, took upon Him all the weight, sins, pain, anguish, grief, sickness, temptation of the world just so that He would know how to succor us and bless us with peace when we are going through our small, seemingly insignificant trials. I know that He endured hours and hours of pain because He loves us so much and wants to give us the chance to return to live with Him and our Father again. I know that if we will use the atonement – both its cleansing and enabling power – keep our covenants, and endure to the end, the dream of exaltation will become a reality. I know that the Holy Ghost is a true and powerful force in the world, and I know that He testifies of Christ and His mission. I know that our Father in Heaven knows each of us so personally that He even knows when seemingly bad things are the best things for us in the long run. He hears our prayers and is so willing and quick to reply if we have the faith and patience to listen. I know that Christ is my Advocate with Father, and He will argue my case until His lips turn blue because that’s how much He wants me to be with Him. I know that Christ lives, that He overcame death and sin, and that through Him we can be given all things. I testify to you all that these things are true, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thanks everyone for keeping up with my journeys in the Holy Land. I hope that you have been uplifted and inspired by the things that I’ve shared with you. Keep the faith!

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