Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All things are created and made to bear record of Christ

Since my last entry I've been to great heights, low lows (both emotionally and physically), and endured some extremely cold weather!

In the same day we went to Qumran: where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, Masada: a mountaintop fortress, and then the Dead Sea, which is the lowest elevation point on the surface of the earth!

Qumran

The Dead Sea Scrolls were found here! There were hundreds of scrolls that we recovered and translated, and much to our joyous surprise they found that the Isaiah writings from these scrolls were almost identical to the Isaiah writings we read today. What a miracle!!
At the bottom-middle of the picture is cave 4 and 5, where the biggest stash of Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Masada

In 66 AD, the Jewish Zealots revolted against Rome under the ideology of "Freedom or death!" Unfortunately, this ended in death, because seriously, who can take on Rome? Nobody.

Masada fortress, the last stand of the Jewish Zealot rebellion in 70 AD
You may have noticed that this place is really high up. You are correct, my friend. 10 points for Gryffindor. This location was the last stand of the Jewish Zealots as they resisted Rome. The Roman army besieged it, and you can still see remains of the walls and camps around the outside. They built a ramp to the top, broke through the walls, and found everyone inside dead. This is where the Jewish Zealots committed mass suicide because, true to form, they were either going to have freedom or death, but they weren't going to choose slavery.


View from the bottom level of Herod's three-tiered palace.
Look for the next two tiers towering above, the valley below, and the Dead Sea in the distance.

Dead Sea

They say that when you get in the Dead Sea, you become very acutely aware of every open wound on your body. I didn't experience that, actually... I felt just fine. However, after I got out of the Dead Sea, I was VERY acutely aware of every part of my body I didn't properly rinse off.

Because of the high salt content in the Dead Sea, you float very easily without trying! The thing to do, then, is to take a newspaper and read it while reclining.
Kirk Jeppesen reclining feet up while reading the daily paper

Then came the other fun part of the Dead Sea! There is more than just salt in here. There's all sorts of minerals, in fact! So the other pastime here is to smear nasty-looking all over your body (and sometimes hair), which makes your skin super soft! Plus you get to be legitimately black for a little while. Tell you what, though, my hands still feel soft from that day! Love me some Dead Sea mud.
Mud ladies, left to right: Kaitlyn Miller, Amanda Vogt, Reagan Nielsen and Lauren Nielsen



Megan and I got to be black for a day! Notice how I put it in my hair, Dragon Ball Z style.

Middle East Winter Storm

Hopefully you've heard by now about the intense winter storm which hit the middle east last week. It was equivalent to one of the worse snowstorms in Utah in any given year, but this was far outside the scope of normality in Israel. They usually get one light coat of snow every few years which melts by the end of the day. This storm, however, lasted for days! We had something between 6 to 12 inches of snow, and it was COLD outside! This was the biggest snowstorm that Israel has seen for over 50, maybe 60 years! We made snowmen and took pictures.

Normally you can see the city beyond that fence. Not this day!

Last Week of the Savior's Life

During this last week of our life in Jerusalem, we commemorated the last week of the life of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. There is a church built to commemorate just about every event of the Savior's life, and so we saw many churches during this trip. These include, but aren't limited to: 
  • Bethany - Christ stayed here each night during the last week
  • Bethpage - Christ got the donkey to ride into the city
  • Dominus Flevit - The Savior wept over Jerusalem here
  • Gethsemane - Jesus suffered the great winepress of the Atonement here. Just as the oil is pressed out of olives under the weight of stone, the blood of Christ was pressed out here under the deadweight of our sins, infirmities, and afflictions.
  • The Garden Tomb - Where Christ was buried and resurrected on the third day.

There is something you should know about this place that has special meaning to me. When I was 14, I went to EFY (Especially For Youth). It was there that I rediscovered the powerful testimony of Jesus Christ that I had gained in the pre-mortal life. I didn't gain that testimony here, but it carried with me. The scripture that helped me recapture that truth was Romans 1:3-4

"Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead"
This happens to be the scripture written on the tile at the top of the staircase leading down to the tomb. What a wonderful coincidence! Of all the scriptures they could have picked, they picked that one.

I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and that he lives. I don't know it because I came here. I know it because of the scriptures. But I certainly received a great reminder here that all things are made to bear witness of Christ.

"All things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me." (Moses 6:63)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Galilee is my favorite place in the world

Hey, folks!

It's been almost three weeks since I blogged last. A whole lot has happened! And yet what is there to tell? We're down to 9 days left in the Holy Land, and I've hiked so many tells and seen so many sites that I'm completely saturated with it all. We just watched the first presidency's Christmas devotional, and every time they mentioned a location such as Galilee, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Judea, etc... images flashed through our heads. We all laughed together when the story was told of the man who wrote the song, "Far Far Away on Judea's Plains" and then corrected it, saying they are more like rocky hills. Been there, seen that, blogged a picture about it! (See my last entry)

Speaking of pictures, they save me from many words. Here's some of my latest:

Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy came to visit us for district conference! The students got a special fireside with him on the night he arrived, and a Q&A session the night he left. One of his biggest points of advice was about balancing priorities in life during college. He said, "Dating first, and then the others!"

I'll get right on that, Elder Callister!
Me with Elder Tad R. Callister, of the Presidency of the Seventy

One day I went to the YMCA to play the carillon bells in their bell tower. The mechanism is like a really big piano where each key is a lever attached to a bell. Good times.
Me and MJ Boud playing the carillon bells. Look closely at that contraption we have our hands on!

Galilee

Galilee is easily my favorite place in the Holy Land. In fact, it's my favorite place in the world. If anyone asks me where I could be at the drop of a hat, it would be here. There is no wonder that Jesus Christ loved to spend his time here. When the winds aren't blowing (which are pretty darn windy) the peace just permeates everything so much. It's a really stark contrast against the hustle and bustle of the Jerusalem tourist trap. 
View of Galilee from Mount Arbel

There is a lot that happened at Galilee, but much of it is personal and it wouldn't be fitting to share here. But I can tell you this much: when I sat by myself on top of Mount Arbel on our first day in Galilee, I tried to set myself a goal for what I wanted to see happen while I was there. But as I prayed and pondered, no goal came to my mind. Instead, I left that mountain with a theme in mind. That theme is the story of Peter walking on the water toward Jesus. Ever since that day on the mount, I've seen how that story applies to so much of what we go through every day.

Surely when Peter jumped off the boat onto the water, it must have been a very singular experience for him. In that first moment when he landed on the water, everything in the world must have made sense for an instant. His faith was confirmed; nothing could go wrong. He knew that his faith in Jesus Christ was sufficient, and that he truly could put his trust in him. We have experiences like this, in which we powerfully feel the spirit and it feels as if nothing could go wrong in the world because of the truth that we know. And then, just as Peter did, we all continue to walk through the storms and chaos of life and eventually sink underneath the waves. Sometimes it is because of sin, and sometimes just because of distraction. But then we get to experience the grace of God as he reaches out his hand, lifts us back up to his level, and walks with us side by side back along the top of the water to the safety of our boat. And surely like Peter, we are never the same after those experiences.

I went to Galilee hoping to learn to walk on water, as Peter did. And I think I did.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

O... burning hills of Bethlehem?

I figured that title would catch your attention ;D I'll get to the burning hills in a minute

The Wall of Life

Last week a group of ten went to West Jerusalem to see the movie Ender's Game. I've been anticipating that movie way too long to let somebody's comments on facebook taint my expectations. I won't spoil yours either. After the movie, we wandered around a bit and stumbled upon a Christian cemetery with one of the most captivating murals I've ever seen in my life. It's called The Jerusalem Wall of Life Mural. This mural, which spans probably 100 feet, depicts the entire Bible story in one huge image. Or at least it will. It's still a work in progress. One portion of the mural made a significant impact on me with its beautiful symbolism. I'll let you figure it out yourself.

A small portion of the Wall of Life Mural


Bethlehem

We went to Bethlehem last week! On the way we went to the Herodium, a memorial to the earthly king Herod the Great. It ended in the shepherd's fields of Bethlehem, where the birth of our Heavenly King was announced.


The Herodium (inside):
One of Herod the Great's most grand palaces and also his burial site, built atop an artificially-enlarged mountain.

At the end of the day, we sat and pondered the birth of Christ on a hillside shepherd's field of Bethlehem.


Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem: still in use today!

We also saw an episode from modern politics when some arsonists threw some makeshift explosive onto the field across the way, and we watched a chunk of weeds burn and fizzle out. Some border patrol guys came and stopped whatever they were trying to do by shooting some smoke-like projectile toward them.

Note: Just in case your heart is racing, these were just some kids trying to start a fire. We were way, way out of their throwing range, plus there was no reason for them to aim at us.

The Shepherd's fields of Bethlehem. I saw a flock in the bottom of the valley, and a shepherd leading a different flock at the top of the ridge. It's still used for the same thing today!

O, burning hills of Bethlehem...

Anyway, here was the real highlight of that day. It goes back to a theme which keeps repeating itself in my life lately: "Yisra-el." Israel. God Prevails. He's in the details. I happened to stumble upon a quote that morning on Facebook. It seemed intended for me in two ways. First was that it referred to Bethlehem, to which I was going that very day. Second, it emphasizes that God puts us in each other's lives in order to influence each other, just as he puts the stars in the sky to influence each other. And in the scheme of the Plan of Salvation, stars can indeed represent people! Anyway, here's the quote:
"The same God that placed a star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has equal, if not more, attention to the placement of each of us in human orbits, so we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others, but warm them as well."
- (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "That My Family Should Partake", 1974, pg. 86)
Have you ever thought of that? God had to place the star in just the right spot thousands of years ago! And not only that, when he blew it up in a supernova, or whatever he did to make it shine, it had to be timed perfectly to coincide with Jesus' birth! And yet he gives just as much, if not more attention to you and me. Yisra-el. One of the reasons I am here right now is because of the people I needed to meet. God knows who I need to become and who can help me do it.

Now then! On to more adventures...


I'm an archaeologist!

Many years ago, the Muslim community decided to do some construction work on the Temple Mount. Turns out this is a really big deal, digging aimlessly with giant backhoes on one of the world's most culturally and spiritually saturated pieces of land. Yeah, that could have been thought through a little better. So the Israeli government jumped in and confiscated the dirt from this project, which was sure to be filled with pieces of history. I got to go sift through some of that dirt with my friends, and wouldn't you know! Megan Bassett and I got the find of the day: A Hasmonean coin! This was a half-shekel most likely from the Second Temple period, which covers Christ's lifetime. These were the coins Jews would use to pay for their sacrificial animal at the Temple.

Half-shekel coin, probably used to purchase animal sacrifices during the Second Temple period

I'll be famous! Megan will be... more famous!
Unfortunately we didn't get to keep the coin, and they actually find an average of one of these a day. But it was cool that we were the ones to find it!


Exploring the Temple Mount

Today and yesterday our class got to explore more of the Temple Mount. I guess I've never explained what that is, have I? Silly me, acting on assumptions. Brief history lesson: King David wanted to build a temple, but he couldn't because he was a king of war. So instead he collected the materials and built the foundational platform upon which the Temple would rest. His son Solomon then built the actual temple when he was king. That temple and its successor (2nd temple), are destroyed completely (Luke 21:6, Mark 13:2).

Temple Mount in the Second Temple Period (517 BC - 70 AD)


Temple Mount in front of the Golden Gate, which used to lead to the ancient Temple. It is now walled shut.
Shout out to the peeps in the pic! Jamison Peterson, Jordan Lenhart, Alena Tuttle, Makena Madsen, Cam Cardon, Kristen Fitts, Sarah Jensen (I hope that's you!), Emily Clifford, and Kinsey Ferrell (twice!)

As you can see from the sphere above, the Temple Mount is still around today. We explored the Kotel Tunnel, which leads along the side of the Western Wall, underneath all of the houses that are now built there. We saw some of the original stones from Herod's Temple (2nd temple) still supporting the mount. There are several stones which weigh 570 tons! How in the world do you transport something like that without electricity? I don't know, but Herod was a genius of a builder.

That stone on the right is massive: 570 tons!
Both inside the tunnel and outside on the south end of the mount, we also saw piles of rubble. This rubble is the very stone that was turned over when the Romans destroyed the temple. Much of it is still there!

Rubble from the destroyed templeStill sitting next to the mount 2000 years later!

Standing where Jesus stood

This morning, I stood at the old southern gate of the Temple mount, where most of the traffic in and out of the temple probably traversed during Jesus' time. Most places in Jerusalem aren't the same as what you read in the Bible, because they are buried some 3 meters below the ground. However, we're quite sure that the stairs at the south of the Mount are the same ones from Christ's day. And you know what that means?

I really did walk in the footsteps of Jesus today. I am a witness.

In the Savior's footsteps
Me standing on a stone where Jesus almost certainly walked.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

I have witnessed many things

So! Here's a few pictures to show you, so that I can use less words in today's blog entry.

As always, be sure to check out the latest on my photosphere album for some of the best-of-the-best.

So, let's start with the most important stuff first! I just had to buy this hoodie. It was worth it. A couple of us have this shirt now. Take that, name brands!
Lindsay Hawkins and me wearing our Pumba shirts. Take that, name brands!
(And Becca Pearson photobombing in the back =D )

Next up, I was thinking that maybe this is a little more important... I went to the zoo a week ago. Yeah, it was like most zoos. You know, there were animals and stuff. But! Here's what made this one interesting: the animals actually move around and do stuff! I swear that never happens in Utah. Maybe it's too hot there. So yeah, there were lots of monkeys, and they were fun to watch.

Speaking of monkeys... we went into the lemur section of the zoo, and there was a staff member there who would help lure them onto our bodies with a piece of food. We got lots of pictures of it. So fun! Oh yeah, and then at the end a REAL staff member came and told us we're not supposed to touch them. Turns out that first guy was uh... not a staff member. Whoops! Well, it was a whole lot of fun getting lemurs to climb all over us.
My room mate, Nick Hardy. Check out his band's new album!
https://soundcloud.com/robertandthecarrolls
Did I mention they have battled bands against Imagine Dragons? NBD...



One more thing! I guess this one might be important, too...
We went to Jordan for four days last week and saw some great stuff. Among them were:

  • Mount Nebo - where Moses looked into the promised land of the Israelites. On a clear day, you can see the mount of Olives and even the Mediterranean sea from there! Be sure to turn around to see the statue of the brazen serpent.
  • Machaerus - The traditional site of the death (beheading) of John the Baptist. It was on top of a mountain as well. They have a lot of those out here.
  • Jabbok River - Where Jacob wrestled the angel of the Lord. After prevailing against the angel he was given the new name of Israel, which means "God Prevails." Ever thought about that? Jacob put forth everything he had and won, and yet the moral of the story is that God prevails. He is in control. He is leading our lives. Ever since we visited this spot, God has confirmed this to me over and over. God prevails. He is in control. Things will all work out with His plan. Just stick with him, and you'll be okay.
  • Petra - One of the seven modern wonders of the world. It's a giant city carved into the stone walls of a miniature grand canyon. You'll recognize the structure behind me from Indiana Jones and the Last crusade, Transformers 2, or Mission to Mars. There are dozens of spots like this, but this one is one of the most well-preserved. The other one is the monastery, which you can see below.
"The Treasury" in Petra


"The Monastery" - a huge, huge structure at the top of a mountain with an altar inside.
See the photosphere album link for a much better-quality view

We may or may not have hired Kirk Jeppesen to sacrifice Melissa Boud to the pagan gods while we were at it...
I got to take a camel ride with Karren Hunsaker!

  • Bethany Beyond Jordan - The site of the Savior's baptism. It's a really special experience to visit there with the many other people of other faiths that believe in Jesus Christ. In fact, just across the bank we saw a group of people dressed in white being baptized.


I sat along the edge of the Jordan River, washed my feet in the river and thought to myself, "What does it matter if I wash my feet here or not? Why does it matter if I come here at all? God is not a respecter of persons. He doesn't consider one person more righteous because they go on a pilgrimage to see the River Jordan. So why do I care so much about being here?"

And then the Spirit whispered, "Because you can testify that you, too, have seen this with your own eyes. You are a witness."

I am a witness! Not only have I physically seen much of the Holy Land (and much more to come), but I am a spiritual witness of what happened here. God has always been involved in the dealings of the world. He has always been intimately involved in the details of my life. He is real. He is involved in your life, too. Pay attention! You may be missing what's going on in your own life! Just take a minute or two each day to look back on what He has done, and He will always show you what he did for you.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another day in paradise

Have I ever really talked about the stuff I’m studying out here? My blog probably makes it sound like I wander around doing tourist stuff all day. But I only do that once or twice a week. The rest of my time has been spent studying like the dickens. Or trying to recover from all the studying and test-taking we do. Let’s see if I can paint a picture of what our student life is like. Ahem.

Imagine you’re drowning… and then someone hands you a baby.

No, sorry… That’s Jim Gaffigan’s description of what it’s like to have 4 kids. As a side-tangent, I think anything less than 4 kids in my family would be boring! So sign me up for the drown club. I’ll learn to scuba dive! I’ve already been snorkeling. More on that later J

Well, I’m sure I could throw in a sarcastic remark about the designers of this program trying to kill us, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Our teachers here are incredible. We just finished studying through the Old Testament class in one block. Now, we did just cover over a thousand pages of scripture in about 8 weeks, but when going that fast, we obviously didn’t read every page. That being said, I’ve still spent easily a good 2 hours studying for each day of Old Testament alone. Now, combine that with comparable reading and/or assignments and class time for Field Trips class, Israel, Palestine, Ancient Near East, Hebrew and Arabic, along with 3 meals a day and an absolutely vital daily nap, and maybe you’re starting to see how much of a pressure-cooker school has been.

Good news, however! Next week is finals week for half of those classes, since they are on block schedule. So while they were all crammed in super-tight this first 8 weeks, that means that we’ll be done with everything but Ancient Near East and Field Trips as of next week. Then we’ll start New Testament, and start going on even more field trips! Next week we go to Jordan for 4 days. Guess what’s in Jordan, folks? Petra. I’m excited!

In addition to the adventures and schoolwork, life has also been intensely spiritual. I will never be the same. With 2 hours a day of scripture study, I’ve come much closer to the Lord than I’ve been in a while. I receive promptings every day as a rule. My journal is filled with impressions about myself and the world around me, and God has been molding me into a better person in such a way I can look back and see how fast he’s changed me! One of the most powerful spiritual experiences I had here was last Sabbath in a home teaching visit. My companion, Jared Sybrowsky, and I prepared specifically for the people we taught, and handled it like missionaries would prepare a lesson, really. As a result, we had the most powerful home teaching experience I’ve ever had in my life. Prayers were offered, testimonies were shared, priesthood blessings were given, and the spirit was present. I truly will never be the same again.
And with that, here are some of the fun things we did this week!

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

A water tunnel cut through 1770 feet of solid limestone rock. This brings the waters of a nearby spring inside the walls of Jerusalem to the pools of Siloam. This would give Jerusalem a water supply while under siege. (See 2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:4, 30)
Hezekiah's Tunnel, with Stephanie Leigh and Joey Nelson in the background

Red Sea

The very southern tip of Israel touches the Red Sea. So we drove down there in buses for 4 hours each way. On the trip, I finished Brandon Sanderson’s latest book Steelheart. I recommend it for fantasy / sci-fi lovers. Then we got there and went snorkeling in the Red Sea! Ah, good times. I swam around, realized how tiring swimming without a lifejacket can be, dropped my snorkel to the bottom, found a lionfish, and went to the aquarium. What a great day!
This cat was the security guard for the ticket booth. But you can bribe him with attention and he'll turn a blind eye.
Red Sea. That's Saudi Arabia behind us. We also saw the mountains of Egypt off to the south!
(Left to right: Jessica Steele, Amanda Vogt and me)
I became a temporary addition to the Red Sea Aquarium!

Olive Harvest

It’s olive season, folks! Last week we wandered all over the campus grounds to climb trees and pick olives. It made me miss rock climbing a bit. Anyway, we used those (and some more we had to purchase) to process at our on-site olive press to make authentic olive oil with our own hands! There’s tons of symbolism involved with olives and the olive tree, but the one thing I want to touch on is this: Olives, like sardines, are super gross.
IT BURNS! With Angela Cheney
So you soak them in brine to get rid of the bitter flavor and burning sensation. Then they are less gross. Then you pour them in that giant stone bowl you have sitting in your backyard (everyone has one of those, right?) and roll your favorite giant circular rock over the top of them until it looks like mush.
Olives before getting crushed
Me and Cam Cardon crushing the olives in an ancient-style... olive crusher.

Once they are mush, scoop it all into a basket with a hole in the bottom.
Sheri and Megan with some olive mush
But where do you put this olive mush once you’ve scooped it into a holy basket? On a rock, of course! Preferably the kind that has an olive press nearby. It makes the job a lot easier
(Pretend you see me at the olive press... low bandwidth is )
Then, as you can guess, you squish all of the baskets! And everything oozes out into a multi-level filter system. Each time the oil falls into a new container, it’s a little purer than before. This stuff isn’t nearly as bitter as eating an olive straight from the tree.
(picture with oil)
Olive oil is special because it separates itself from water and impurities. So you leave it in that hole in the ground for a day and it will separate out all of the impurities until it finally resembles that yummy stuff you put on your salad! Or in my case, it resembles the stuff I can use to give a priesthood blessing. What an adventure! And what an awful flavor I had in my mouth that day…

Passover

Even though the Passover takes place in the Spring, we celebrated it Thursday for the experience. Our wonderful Israel teacher, Ophir Yarden, lead out the whole thing. Now if your seminary experience was like mine, you may have celebrated a “best of” montage of the Passover in seminary class, where you read a couple scriptures and eat a few funky things. That night, however, we celebrated the whole Passover in all of its intricate, detailed glory. Actually, that’s not true. It took us 3 ½ hours with dinner included, and we still skimmed over some of the scripture reading that would have been done. It was quite the experience! Oh, and they ordered wine instead of grape juice.
Anyone feeling tipsy??
Luckily they caught that before too many of us took a sip. In that silly sort of way I kind of wish we would have found out after the fact! Wouldn’t it be hilarious for a bunch of Mormon students to accidentally get tipsy while celebrating a Jewish holiday on the wrong day? Ah, the stories we could have told…


Well, that brings us up to date! The people here are incredible. The friendships I’m making are wonderful. The food is exquisite. My feet stink… exquisitely. Something about the food and environment does that. Well anyway! The bottom line is that life continues to be an absolute pleasure out here. Every day I wake up in Jerusalem is another day in Paradise.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Time for a Turkish Picture Explosion

Good news, folks!

I've finally found a reliable (so far) method of uploading my photospheres to the web: Picasa! Good old Google. Of course they are the solution. But because I'm using this, I had to create a new link for my Google+ photosphere album. So forget everything you knew about the old album link, and use this one instead:

bit.ly/JCPhotospheres

The album is now currently up to 41 shots. Here's three reasons to check them out:

  1. All of them have a description of what you're looking at
  2. They may or may not include floating limbs
  3. Many of them point out interesting things to look for. It's like having a Holy Land Where's Waldo game delivered to your computer! Tourism + Your Childhood = Photospheres. 
You can count on this album being updated when I make a new blog post (as long as I have a new Photosphere, which is like, always) and it will often get updated between blog posts, as well.


So! Let me show you some of the photospheres from Turkey that I didn't get to show off yet. I told you about most of these locations in my previous post, but now you can see them f'real.


Courtyard of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (not Constantinople, remember?)


The Grand Bazaar, containing over 4000 shops. This is just one of a bazillion intersections.
Also notice the hole I tore in the space-time continuum. Don't eat Turkish beans.


The Pergamon Acropolis. Disneyland, eat your heart out. Check out the Temple of Athena, the theater and the valley below.
Also notice my roommate AJ and his twin AJ. What great guys!


Here's some rockin' seating in the Ephesus theater!... Get it? Please at least give me a pity-laugh. Ephesus contains some of the best ruins in the world, methinks. The city has been under excavation for 100 years. We expect another 100 years before we're done.

I'm holding a picture of Ephesus while standing in the picture of Ephesus.
See Bible Dictionary: Epheseption.

Nicea. Emperor Constantine's palace, where confusion all began in 325 AD, is under that water.
Actually, the confusion began when Satan decided he was the shiz.


Those are just a few of the best Photospheres. Finally, I'd like to take this moment to remind you that I'd like to remind you to check out my Photosphere album for the rest of the shots I got in Turkey, especially the ones inside the mosques. They are stunningly detailed, and really big. So now that I've reminded you of that reminder, let me give you the actual reminder, in which I remind you to check out my Photosphere album. That's what really completes this blog.

Shalom!
CJ

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Do 'ya neeeed a break from modern livin'?????

That's me on the right. Well, that's all of us on the right =D
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nqWNZl3Ou4
Wow, oh wow!Turkey has been a high-class vacation... from living in Jerusalem. What a life, right?

Let me apologize up front for the lack of pictures today. Not enough time to get them all online for you today. But keep checking out my Jerusalem Photosphere album, because this is what I spend most of my picture-taking efforts doing. Each photosphere has a brief description of itself, and I try to point out a thing or two to look for. This, along with my blog, will sum up my Jerusalem adventures quite nicely.

I did actually find out why they feed us so many nice meals out here. It's because there's a bacteria that the Turks are adjusted to, but we are not. So to be careful, they feed us really nice meals everywhere we go to keep us from... well... uncomfortable potty breaks.

But at the same time, they really are just treating us very well while we're out here. The first two nights here were spent in a 3- or 4-star hotel in Istanbul. Since my first blog we also saw (in Istanbul):

  • The Blue Mosque: a hop, skip and a jump away from the Hagia Sophia. Just as ridiculously huge.
  • The Basilica Cistern: the largest cistern (water storage bunker) in the world. It's featured in Dan Brown's latest book, Inferno. 
  • The Grand Bazaar: contains over 4000 shops. Unfortunately, I got jipped on buying Acqua di Gio cologne... they watered it down :S.
  • A ferry tour of the city by water.
Well! Then came the really fun part, when we left the wondrous city of Istanbul, and started road-tripping southward along the west coast of Turkey, visiting sites like...

  • Gallipoli (pivotal WWI battlefield)
  • Troy. Yeah, you heard me. Troy!
  • Assos, where Paul preached the Gospel. It's really high up and has some gorgeous views! I took three photospheres there alone.
  • Pergamon, one of the seven cities that John writes to in Revelation. This was the best sight I've seen so far! And I've heard Ephesus tomorrow will beat it. Anyway, Pergamon has an Acropolis, which means "High City." This is absolutely correct, as we had to ride a cable car to get up to the ruins! There was a Temple of Athena, an Altar of Zeus, an ampitheatre overlooking the city valley below, a complex water-storage system, a courtyard, and a library to name some of the things we saw! I took four photospheres here, and it still may not have got the feel for how amazing this place was.
Well! Now I'm staying in a 5-star hotel resort in Izmir, which is just outside of Ephesus. Think of the book of Ephesians. This is apparently going to be one of the biggest, if not the best highlight of our Turkey trip. I've already seen a video preview of the place, and it's mind-boggling. Prepare for lots of photospheres of the Ancient Roman empire where Paul preached the Gospel!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

So I was in Asia AND Europe today... nbd.

What's the best way to fly to Turkey?
By PEGASUS! (look at the wing)
Ah, the adventures begin. As if the adventures didn't already begin a month ago! Today began our first extended field trip. We woke up at 3:00 AM (Right when priesthood session started, actually) and flew to Turkey, where we will spend the next week!

Now if you were anything like me, you have no idea what's worth seeing in Turkey, or why anyone would go there on a religious-pilgrimage-style study abroad. Well, let me tell you. Now I know you. You're totally the kind of person that grabs your scriptures when you read my blog. Because let's be honest, everyone has those handy when they read blogs. A quick glance at map 13 of your scriptures would confirm that the Apostle Paul traveled all over Turkey on his missionary excursions. So we get to go follow in the footsteps of Paul!

So today we landed in Istanbul (not Constantinople) and immediately had our first meal in the city. It was a four-course meal at some ritzy place along the shore. At first we all saw them bring out this small appetizer and thought, "seriously? We woke up at 3 and we're starving, and your giving us this tiny little mushroom-crepe thingy?" But then when we finished that, they brought out more food, and then more food, and then dessert!

So after being thoroughly stuffed and tired, we set out to tour around Istanbul for the rest of the day. With only half a day remaining, we didn't see a ton, but what we did see was amazing!

1) First off, we drove over a bridge. Isn't that exciting!

...Why aren't you excited? Bridges are awesome. When's the last time you built something that could support cars while they cross a river? Seriously. But! Awesome architecture and physics aside, there was something special about this bridge. It is an inter-continental bridge! That's right, on the left side of this picture is Asia, and on the right side is Europe. Istanbul (not Constantinople) is a city of two continents. How cool is that?!
Asia on the left, Europe on the right

2) Next, we went to the Hagia Sophia. This thing is a massive piece of architectural genius! It was originally a Christian Cathedral, and the home of the Orthodox church. It was the largest church in the world for almost 1000 years! In 1453, when Istanbul (not Constantinople) fell to the Ottomans and became Muslim territory, it was turned into a mosque. Then when the Ottoman empire fell, it became a museum. So we got to go inside! I took 4 photospheres in the area. Check my Jerusalem Photosphere Album for all of those later.



3) After checking out the Hagia Sophia and the Turkish Archaeological Museum, we had a five-course dinner in the upper room of another seaside restaurant, which overlooked the view to these two continents. And now here I am in the Grand Washington Hotel! Not sure what the star-rating is here, but it's pretty nice in any case.

So! This week is going to be a great week. After being worked to the bone for the first month, it's almost like we're going on vacation, visiting amazing sites, eating great food and staying in nice hotels for a week. And yet all the while, we'll still be learning all about the sites and stories of the Bible.

And I'll tell you what, I've never seen the Old Testament come alive before like it has here. Seeing the sites is great, but it's really our Old Testament class that makes the difference. I read a lot for the class, but I get out what I put in. And as I've been putting all of this effort into my study, I've been feeling the spirit in remarkable ways. The Lord has been very carefully and intently guiding me to grow into what he wants me to be. There are ample opportunities here to feel the spirit. It truly it like a little piece of Zion out here, because we are of one heart and one mind, and I am always seeking to draw near unto the Lord.

Let me tell you what, folks. As you draw near unto Him, He will draw near unto you.

Stay tuned!
CJ

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How did I forget this?!

I was looking through my pictures this morning, and realized that I'd somehow left out one of my favorite photospheres! This is the view from the seventh floor balcony of the Jerusalem Center.

Edit: If you see a circular icon in the center of the picture, that means you can click on it and drag it around to see more. This is photosphere!



I'm hoping that the image embeds itself directly into the blog so that you can view it without going to another page, but I won't know for sure until I post it live, so here goes! Just in case it doesn't work, here's the link to one of my favorite photosphere shots:
Jerusalem Overlook from BYU Jerusalem Center

Post-post comment: It worked! But the quality is much better when you view it through the link, so use that if you want to look closer, such as picking out the Dome of the Rock down below.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Church-ception and Spelunking!

Finally! I found a moment with enough bandwidth to upload three whole photospheres! I'm so proud of myself.

Wow, where to even start. A week is a long time out here. Classes have been pretty hectic lately. However, they're still not as bad as my CS 236 class last Fall. Nothing will ever be as difficult as that, because at the end of the day, I can just choose not to do a piece of work and cut my losses. But in CS 236, every project built upon the previous one, so everything had to be perfect every time. And if not, every assignment afterward would automatically fail. So yeah, it's stressful sometimes, but never, ever so bad as it was a year ago.

Some good news from inside the center itself:
  • They finally finished remodeling the classroom area. You didn't even know it was being remodeled, did you? That's because I never mentioned it. But now it's done, and it's great! It honestly has given the whole place a different feel, especially because the windows all along the sides make it lighter than other places where we'd usually study. Plus, it has carpet. Soft carpet! Ahh...
  • In addition to making photospheres of our adventures, my other Memories Committee job is to gather photos from everyone. So I plugged my external HD into one of the lab computers and made it accessible to all of the other ones through the network. Once I did that, I set the background on each computer to shuffle through those photos. The cool thing is that as soon as one person adds a picture to the collection, it starts showing up in the slideshows on all of the computers! Oh, I miss being nerdy. I frequently have minor programming withdrawals.
But aside from the time I've spent living in this wonderful little paradise of a center, I've got to experience some great things! Here are some tales from outside the center. I have three pictures in particular, which will save me 3,000 words. That's so much less for you to read! You should thank me. But make sure to check them out in sphere view using the link below each picture or you're totally missing the point!

  • Ethiopian Church - On Sabbath (Saturday, remember?) a few of us went out to see the Ethiopian Church. It was totally silent inside, and there were carpets laid out all over the floors. In the center of the church was a basilica (which is pretty much a really old name for church / cathedral) which we couldn't enter, because it was fenced off. But we could look inside that dark doorway and see what looked like a shrine to Mary and Jesus. There was also a wedding shoot going on outside with a beautiful young Ethiopian couple! Congrats to them.
Ethiopian Church in central Jerusalem.
Notice the building inside the building.
https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/104141017599587335952/albums/5926027156243539297/5930520868237361458?pid=5930520868237361458&oid=104141017599587335952

  • Zedekiah's Cave - The bomb-diggity! Only 10 shekels for students. It goes something like 235 meters back (770 feet). So it was a lot of fun going down tunnel pathways and opening up to yet another big room! This is the supposed location where the rock for Solomon's temple was quarried out.

Zedekiah's cave, a quarry beneath the old city.
https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/104141017599587335952/albums/5926027156243539297/5930521309848778946?pid=5930521309848778946&oid=104141017599587335952

  •  Bell Caves - Just as bomb-diggity as Zedekiah's cave! They get their name from the bell-shaped domes, which are topped off by a hole. We came here with the whole center as part of our field trip across the low hills of Israel. this was also a quarry for... something. Acoustics are great. Lots of singing here. And it's familiar if you've seen Rocky III :)

The Bell Caves.
This should ring a "bell" if you've seen Rocky III
https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/104141017599587335952/albums/5926027156243539297/5930521642083710242?pid=5930521642083710242&oid=104141017599587335952

  • Underground Houses - Seriously, this week has felt like I lived in a movie. While visiting some of the more severe areas on our Monday field trip, we got to explore a series of underground neighborhoods carved out of the stone. I wish I could have explored it all! Some parts were fenced off, and some parts we just didn't have time to check out. But seriously, it was like a movie. I took a 1-minute video and ran down to the bottom of just one small finger of one of these neighborhoods. But there was so much more than what I could record! It was quite the adventure wandering through these cistern-like caves that once kept the people here alive!
Jared Sybrowsky and me at the entrance to just one of the caves

Next week we're leaving for Turkey. Last night they gave us an orientation on what to expect, and I'm pretty sure that Turkey is going to be one of the BEST EXPERIENCES EVER!

Stay tuned!
CJ

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Simchat Torah - Dancing with the Torah!

Tonight marks another victory for experiencing Israel at the expense of homework. I got a good chunk of it done, anyway :P Ever since we arrived in Israel three weeks ago, there has always been some holiday either going on, or coming right around the corner.


  • On our second day, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, right as we arrived. 
  • Then for the next ten days, the Jews will make an effort to fix relationships with each other, so that they can be ready for Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. This is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. On this day, after restoring their relationships with each other, we got to watch hundreds of Jews will gather to the Western Wall (inaccurately known as the Wailing Wall) and pray for forgiveness from God. Sounds familiar at all? We shouldn't approach the temple with unkind feelings toward each other. "If ye shall come unto me... and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee... first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you." (3 Nephi 13:24) Funny how similar we are to the Jews...
  • Just a few days after Yom Kippur, the Feast of Tabernacles (sukkot) began. This is the week-long festival when the Jews build booths in the street and on their porches to commemorate the booths the children of Israel lived in during their wandering in the wilderness. Everyone eats their meals outside in these booths, and some even sleep in them. I'll add a picture later, but bandwidth is being a bum tonight.
  • So then there's today. Sukkot just ended, so people celebrated Simchat Torah... the uh... day of celebrating the Torah. To show their close relationship with the Lord, the Jews get together to dance with the scrolls of the Torah. Yesterday night was when they did it in a spirit of religious reverence, but today is when they throw together a live band and dance like a real Israeli! And let me tell you, I am quite envious of the way Israeli people dance. It's just like you see in the movies! A simple, catchy tune with the one word lyric "lie" to which everyone claps and holds hands and goes around in circles. We JC students watched from a distance, but the high energy and expanding circles eventually enveloped us until the whole room was dancing together to celebrate the word of God! It's way better than Mormon stake dances. But here's the surprising part: boys and girls are separated during this whole thing. So while the girls were dancing in circles in one room of the building, we were dancing with all the boys in another. But no one had any quams about grasping hands with their brother and joyously dancing in the middle of a circle, almost like a country dance. It was one of the most remarkable, worthwhile experiences I've had here yet!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Jericho and Photospheres!

Today there's lots to tell about, and I probably won't be able to do it all before I need to go to Arabic class. So there's three main things I want to touch on. Here we go!

1 - Jericho Field Trip
Monday is our regular field trip day so far. We only had a half a day, so we really rocketed through the sites we saw. This week we went one of only 3 times to the West Bank. Paranoid people, don't you worry. We had security and are always aware when we go. Here are some of the sites we saw:
  • Tell Jericho: Home of The oldest city in the world... that we know of - Just in case you don't know, a Tell is a mound of earth, covering layer after layer of civilization. They are everywhere in Israel. I kind of didn't believe they existed at first, because my American upbringing just can't see the reason why someone would build new stuff on top of a bunch of old rubble. There are a few reasons why they did this throughout history, but let's just say the easiest one to understand is fortification. It elevates the city above everything around it, giving it a defensible position. That being said, below a photosphere (more on that later) on top of Tell Jericho. It doesn't even begin to explore what's there, but it's a start. We got to walk around this tell, look at the oldest standing structure known to mankind, the Neolithic tower, and even take a look at a trench dug in the tell, which let us see all of the different layers of earth. One particularly interesting layer is a black one, when the city was burned down and left in ashes. We could also see remains of a wall along the outside! Lots of cool stuff.
Tell Jericho (Photosphere)
The Neolithic Tower: The world's oldest known standing structure. 
It goes deeper down on the inside
  • Herod's Winter Palace - This is the Herod that was king of the Jews during Christ's time. You know.. the one that killed all the babies... and his wife... and his kids. He was a megalomaniacal, paranoid man. Lots of dead people around him. But he was also a brilliant builder. He built like, dozens of palaces, I swear. Some of the tallest mountains in the area are man-made. He would build up ridiculous amounts of earth and put a palace on top. The Herodian was the biggest, grandest one of these, and it's where he was buried. Some archaeologists just discovered his tomb about five years ago, and it's on display in a special exhibit in the Israel Museum right now. I've seen it. It's pretty cool.
  • Judaean Wilderness - (Matthew 4) This is the area where Jesus went to fast for 40 days to be with God. Notice the almost absolute barrenness of the landscape. Not much to eat other than rocks. On the way there, I had an experience I'll never forget. Those of you who have been on a road trip with me know that I don't get sick for anything while traveling. I can read a book while looking backwards in a car for 8 hours with no motion sickness. But as we were driving to this overlook at around 11:30 AM, I started feeling a bit queasy.  Lucky for me, Sister Woods had a little bit of bread for our bus when we got off. It only took 5 hours after breakfast and I started feeling sick as soon as I entered the Judaean Wilderness, but the Savior had no bread and no water out there for 40 days in the hot sun! I can attest from personal experience that it would have taken immense self-control to do what He did.
Judaean Wilderness Overlook (Photosphere)
It is so useful in my gospel study to be able to see the places that I read about in the scripture! It's fun to stand at the top of a little hill and your teacher point a few feet away, saying, "When Joshua came to conquer Jericho, his spies went to check the place out. Rahab the Harlot helped them do this. She lived right along the wall, so it would have been in this kind of a spot along the wall."  It's amazing!

Photospheres
Okay, so if you don't know about photospheres, you obviously haven't been around me much in the last year or so. I love photospheres! They are like a 3D picture that puts you in the center and lets you look all around you. One of my specific responsibilities on the memories committee is to take photospheres in some of the great locations worth capturing. This album is now public, and I update it weekly as we journey to new sites. So far it includes locations such as the Temple Mount (Dome of the Rock), the entrance to The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Beer-Sheva overlook in the Negev Desert, Jericho, Judaean Wilderness, and maybe 1 or 2 more I can't think of right now. Check it out!

There's always more to say, but never enough time to say it all. Until next time!
CJ

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Soccer with the locals!

Today I played soccer with some of the kids that live just down the hill! I had originally planned just to do homework with all of my free time today, but when the chance came up I knew I needed to go and be with the people here. And I'm so glad I did! There was about 10 of us from the center there, and about 20 kids. Some of us played soccer in our small, trash-covered dirt field, while others sang songs and played party games with the little kids along the sidelines. Their parents and older siblings would contentedly watch all of us from their balconies. They have obviously had lots of exposure to our students before. Suddenly I understand so much more why the little kids always like to wave at us and shout hello when we walk by their homes!

There was one little boy, Yasan, who decided he really liked me for some reason. I couldn't possibly say why! I wasn't even that great of a player. But he chose me anyway. There were a couple of times when I tried to swap out the goalie so they could go out and play, but as soon as he'd see me in the goal area, he would animatedly tell me to get my hide back onto the field! What a fun little group. I'm sure I'll be seeing more of them while I'm here :)



Sunday, September 15, 2013

Free day in Tel Aviv

Oh, what a great day of release! And what a strange schedule we have here. Weekends don't really exist for us out here. Instead, we have more of a... weekbegin. While all of you are having fun on Friday night, we are in church. But then by the time you get out of church in Sunday, like you are probably doing now, we're coming to the close of our free day. Today we went to the sea side city of Tel Aviv, which contains the ancient Port Jaffa (yes, think of the oranges).


According to Greek mythology, the king of Jaffa tired his daughter Andromeda to the rocks (left side of my picture) to sacrifice her to the sea god, Poseidon, in order to appease his wrath. Then along came some Greek hero whose name I forget..He skew the sea monster sent by Poseidon and married Andromeda! Story telling hasn't really changed in the last several thousand years, has it?

Like I said earlier, today was a free day, so we got to do whatever we wanted! I stuck with a group that went to a few small museums, toured the bazaar (which looks like a giant garage sale full of random, mostly useless trinkets), and finally ended on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea. It was REALLY salty, and actually quite warm. That was my first time swimming at my leisure in the open sea. I had snorkeled before, but that's a little different.. turns out it's really entertaining to just keep jumping into the endless waves that come to shore. Maybe I'll get the chance to try surfing another day if I end up going back.

On our way back, the bus driver turned in some techno music. The two girls sitting in the back started rocking out to it after a while, and so he turned the music up a little more. Then they danced harder, and I joined in. The driver giggled to himself and bumped up the Vikings another notch. After a few minutes, he turned the lights down low and we had an all-out dance party going on in our bus! My ears hurt by the end, but it was so much fun!!


What a relaxing day on the sea side. And now I'm back in Jerusalem, winding down and preparing for another crazy week. Classes begin tomorrow, starting with a field trip to the south to see Negev, which as brother Woods says, "it's so hot the lizards wear canteens for water!" Yay for being sweaty...

Would I rather be anywhere else in the entire world right now? Not a chance.