Sunday, September 25, 2011


Our group got to spend an entire week in Turkey - a country that I hadn't really known anything about, but that I now love!  We did and saw so many amazing things!
  • We ate out every meal.  We had pretty fancy lunches and dinners - either buffets or multiple courses brought in by servers.  Sometimes the meals were pretty good, but I think we all got a little tired of white french bread and pasta and rice . . . since that was about all that actually seemed edible at many of our meals.  Dessert was usually either watermelon or strange little soggy cakes that seemed to have been drenched in some kind of syrup or honey.  One night, when the main course was brought out, we were each given a plate with a whole fish just laying there.  Yes, a whole fish.  I was actually pretty proud of myself for getting most of the meat out.
  • We stayed at a variety of hotels.  They were usually pretty nice - one was right on the beach!  (That was a pretty fun night - we had a beach bonfire and dance party!) Another hotel had a hot spring-fed pool.  Most of us were convinced, however that "nice" by Turkish standards is a little different from "nice" by American standards.  We still used bottled water to brush our teeth in the hotels and some people were convinced there were bedbugs.  But the last hotel was incredible! Really posh, with a super nice restaurant, a couple pools, among other things (it was really fun to explore). 
  • We experienced Istanbul - an amazing city of both Europe and Asia, rich with both history and modern urban life.  Here we saw some old monuments, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bizarre, the Basilica Cistern, and Hagia Sophia.  I could go on about how incredible each of these is. . . the architecture of Hagia Sophia especially just boggled my mind.
  • We took a boat ride through Istanbul.  This was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.  It was so fun to be on the water, seeing the amazing city. I loved it!
  • We saw the ruins of the ancient cities of Troy, Assos, Pergamum, Ephesus, Miletus, Hierapolis, Thyatira, and Nicaea, as well as the ruins of the Temple of Artemis.  I don't think I had realized how many Greek and Roman ruins there are in Turkey.  Really, I didn't know much of anything about Turkey before this trip.  We stopped at many of the cities associated with Paul's travels, some of the Seven Cities of Asia spoken of in Revelation.  I loved seeing the ruins.  This was so incredible, so fascinating to me.  I feel like seeing these ancient things has fulfilled something that I have longed for for much of my life. Some of the ruins were definitely, well, more ruined than others.  Some, like Ephesus and Pergamum, were absolutely incredible.  Incredible.  And to think - to imagine - huge cities where we walked, the columns and stones erect and the buildings complete, roofed, and decorated, and inhabited, people - not just tourists - walking around the streets . . . these places must truly have been spectacular wonders.
  • We spent a lot of time on the bus.  Talk about a road trip! - I think we drove about all over the west coast of Turkey and back around to Istanbul.  We saw city, coast, and countryside.  (We also saw Robin Hood and Tangled.) Really, though, it was fun to be on a bus with 40 good friends and some amazing instructors.  Each day we prayed, sang hymns, and heard the testimony of a classmate. Another highlight of the trip was listening to Brother Harper and Brother Skinner share insights from the scriptures, answer and expound upon some of our gospel-related questions, and talk about how they met their eternal companions (this was probably the most attentive our group was the entire trip).
  • We had a wonderful sacrament meeting in Bursa (at the really nice hotel) on Friday night.  Most kids were just in travel clothes - only the few guys who had been asked to help with the Sacrament had brought white shirts and ties.  This was one of the highlights of the week for me.  It was so neat to have that nice meeting all together.  The speakers shared excellent messages and the closing hymn, Each Life That Touches Ours for Good, well paralleled the warm friendship that was felt.  But the best part was how, perhaps more than any meeting I have ever attended, I felt like the focus was really on the Sacrament.  Sometimes we get into routines or traditions and forget the true meanings of what we are doing, but in that basement hotel room on a Friday night after a long bus ride, 82 kids and their teachers and leaders enjoyed a sacrament meeting that really seemed focused on partaking of the Sacrament of Jesus Christ.
  • We flew back to Tel Aviv last night and bussed into the Jerusalem Center around 3:00 a.m. (*** so tired!***  I couldn't even form a complete sentence for the lady stamping my passport at customs.) And now we're back home.  Home in Jerusalem. 

Week Two

Although this is a little delayed, I thought it would be good to post last week's events. 

Saturday (Sabbath) - District Conference
These meetings were so neat!  It was a combined conference with members of the Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Galilee branches and remarks from Elder and Sister Porter.  They talked a lot about humility and following promptings of the Holy Ghost.  The closing hymn in Relief Society was I Am a Child of God - a group of women took turns singing in their different languages, and we all joined in in English at the end.  It was so neat. 
In the free time we had in the afternoon, I visited the Garden Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Monday - Free Day
A group of students bussed to Tel Aviv.  We spent a lovely day on the Mediterranean beach and shopping around the flea market area of Jaffa.  I really need to work on this bartering business;  thankfully there was a male group member in the little shop with me when I found myself under the arm of the shopkeeper who was whispering in my ear, "You have beautiful eyelashes." Oh dear.  Nothing bad would have happened . . . it's just comforting to know you have friends around in a situation like that.  (Mom, Grandma, don't worry - they say things like that to everyone to try and get them to buy stuff.)  And the beach -- um, it was warm!  Crazy, novel concept: ocean water that doesn't induce hypothermia!  But there weren't really any good waves, it was a tiny little crowded beach just right there in the city, and I decided that I think I actually prefer good old Newport with the Winters fam.  :) 

Tuesday -- Field Trip to Jericho
When Brother Harper asked us what was cool about the field trip, my immediate thought was, "Nothing.  It was all hot."  But despite the sun, it was an awesome trip.  Now I can visualize the Old Testament city which was like an oasis in the midst of a desolate desert, and the wilderness where Elijah and Jesus wandered in solitude.  I sure wouldn't have wanted to stay there for more than about fifteen minutes, let alone forty days.

Wednesday -- Classes
Also, a small group of us went to Omar's olive wood shop -- this was neat because he really caters to church members and treated us like his grandkids.  He had pictures of himself with past prophets and carvings based on temple square statues and gospel art and Greg Olson images.  Pretty neat.

Thursday - Field Trip to Garden Tomb / Classes
The Garden Tomb is in a beautiful, peaceful garden maintained by some British Christian group.  I really appreciated how they emphasized that, while there is lots of speculation as to exactly where the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection took place, where these events occurred is not nearly as important as the truth that they occurred. 

Friday - Classes
I also spent a little time in the city, and then went to movie night: Part 2 of The Ten Commandments.  Good old Moses.  It's so much more fun to watch when we've all been reading and studying Exodus, and also when kids shout out, "hey look!- they're eating pitas! . . . with Nutella!"  (a staple of our Oasis cafeteria).

Saturday -- Sabbath
Church, walk to the Garden of Gethsemane (the group of kids I was with got in to an area of the garden that they don't let most tourists into, because we're Mormons - we have a good reputation here.  We took turns reading from the atonement accounts in the gospels.  It was really neat.), amazing fireside with Brother Skinner on the Atonement (this was incredible).

Friday, September 9, 2011

First Week

Already, I feel like I have to apologize for not keeping anyone following my blog up-to-date.  In my defense, there has been a lot going on!

My first chance to walk around the city was on a brief group orientation tour.  I'm not really sure what I was expecting - maybe sandals on dirt streets, street vendors under canopies, sacred and historical sites off on the outskirts of a big city? an old, crumbling city? I don't really know.  But Jerusalem . . . it's like nothing I've ever seen or experienced or even imagined in my life.  Here's what I experienced:
  • crowded, dirty, littered streets
  • limestone everywhere: paving the streets, built into walls and floors
  • so many people, so many different people
  • the goods of the little street shops crammed into small rooms, spilling out on the edges of the narrow, crowded streets, hanging overhead
  • "Mormon" some people observed as we passed . . . one man was saying "Googars?"
  • intimidating drivers - crossing the street is like playing frogger
  • and everything is so close!  - right in the middle of the city, standing by a busy street with a man blowing his flute/recorder at us saying "you buy more, we love you more; you buy less, we love you less" - and there, right there, is the entrance to the Garden Tomb.
  • and then, passing from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem on the Sabbath and experiencing a huge difference: broader, cleaner streets that were almost completely empty - West Jerusalem is a Jewish community; East Jerusalem is mainly inhabited by Arabs
And then we started classes!  I am taking an Old Testament class and am in awe at how much I am learning from reading - sometimes about 10 chapters a night - and lectures.  We have an Ancient Near East course which is sure to be extremely informative, and two Modern Near East courses - one taught by an Israeli instructor and one taught by a Palestinian.  Those classes are amazing.  I walk out feeling overwhelmed by the the rich, new perspective being presented and am not sure if I'll come home at the end of the semester feeling very knowledgeable or feeling like I've just stepped off a roller coaster . . . probably both.  I have a beginning Hebrew class taught by a wonderful woman who also teaches us so much about her Jewish culture.  And I'll get a credit for participating in field trips!

What amazing field trips we've had already!  There is so much I could say, but I'll just tell briefly about some of the places I've been:

We traveled to some key lookout points from which we observed the amazing city of Jerusalem, including a hill that overlooked Bethlehem, from which we sang "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Once in Royal David's City."  We've also been able to sing in a couple amazing chapels - it is such a wonderful experience to sing sacred hymns in such special places with this very talented group. 

Today I went to the Israeli National Museum.  We had an assignment to view all the items on a long checklist, and as we were running out of time, we had to hurry a bit - walk quickly by the displays of Romans and Egyptians, and after four hours, I've seen evidence of millions of years of human life!  I'm filled with lots of thoughts and feelings, but a phrase I heard that probably gives the essence of what we were feeling is, "the world is real." Wow - here's tons of artifacts, ancient items and records that really exist from the places and people and cultures that I've been taught my whole life to believe existed, once upon a long, long time ago . . . in a place where I am right now.  Oh, and I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls.   (I have to note that another main thought on my mind right now is how grateful I am for the scriptures and for a knowledge of God and His dealings with, and plans for, His children.  It is so wonderful to know what our purpose is here on this Earth.)

And tonight, Friday night, we went to the Western Wall - the remnant of the outer retaining wall of the Temple Mount built in the days of Herod.  This was an amazing experience.  The Western Wall - or "Wailing Wall" - is probably the most sacred place on earth to the religious Jews.  It was amazing to watch the crowds gather, to watch the Sabbath begin as the sun set.  The wall itself was an amazing structure, and crowds of people - men and women in separate sections - came to pray at the wall, some pushing little written prayers into the cracks of the wall.  There was such an air of solemnity, of reverence, and of awe of the significance and sacredness of the place.  And then, a little further from the wall itself, crowds were celebrating: dancing and singing songs of praise in Hebrew.  This was truly an amazing place.

What an eventful week!  Oh, there is so much more I could tell, so much I could elaborate further on!  I hope that this blog helps my family and friends have a small taste of what I am experiencing.  I have also been writing daily in my journal, of course, so hopefully I will always be able to look back on and remember the things I'm seeing, experiencing, and learning here. 

Shabbot Shalom!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Our Journey to Jerusalem

I am so glad to finally be here at the BYU Jerusalem center on Mount Scopus!  Our journey here was quite the adventure.  Tuesday morning Mom dropped me off at the Salt Lake airport, where I met up with the 50 or so other students on my flight to Phoenix, Arizona.  (The other 30 had gone already on another flight.)  In Phoenix, our flight to Philadelphia was delayed . . . then cancelled! Our group spent about six hours in that Phoenix airport as our group leaders (fellow students) talked with agents, called our BYU trip leaders, passed out meal vouchers, and the rest of us got to know each other a bit.

We eventually were shuttled to a nice hotel in Phoenix.  I felt like I was on vacation - wonderfully comfortable beds, meal vouchers for the great hotel restaurant, shuttle service to the nearby pool and mall - with 50 other college students!  I'm sure the hotel staff was terrified.  It turned out to be such a wonderful group to be a part of.  We came together so well.  Our group leaders were wonderful; they kept in touch with the BYU trip leaders -who must have been working like crazy to get us to Israel in less than the week the airline told us to expect - and they kept us well-informed.  We were allowed to use a conference room where we held meetings in the mornings, played name games and do-you-love-your-neighbor, and met for evening devotional.  I was able to go with a small group to the Mesa, Arizona Temple and Visitors Center.  We thought we would have to pay for taxis, since it was out of shuttle range, but a generous shuttle driver overheard our group and agreed to take us anyway.  That was such a blessing and a wonderful experience.  By Wednesday evening, we all felt like good friends.

We were handed new travel schedules Wednesday night.  I believe our group was broken up into 11 smaller groups, all leaving between Thursday and Saturday.  I was lucky enough to be one of the 12 leaving Thursday morning.  We flew from Phoenix to Charlotte, to Washington D.C., to Frankfurt (my first time overseas!!), to Tel Aviv.  With only slight difficulty - some cancelled tickets, lost luggage and such - we all made it out of the Tel Aviv airport, were greeted by a faculty member, and were bussed to the Jerusalem Center, where more group and faculty members welcomed us.  I am still so exhausted, a little confused as to what time it is supposed to be, overwhelmed a bit by the reality of being in a completely new part of the world, and so, so glad to be here.  "Welcome to Israel" - that's what the man next to me on the plane said as we finally landed.