I haven't written on here in a while, so this post will cover a lot! Included are my experiences from Egypt, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Garden Tomb.
Each week, we travel around Israel to significant historical and religious sites, especially those mentioned in the Bible. As we visit these places, our professors read with us the stories which took place there. Doing this has helped me see that these stories are very, very real. We visited Jericho, where we learned about both Zacchaeus and Christ's visit to his home and blind Bartimaeus who begged by the wayside and received his sight from Jesus. We visited the valley of Elah, where David confronted Goliath and the Israelites defeated the Philistines - then we learned how to sling stones in that very same place. Check out this video of the learning process here. Today, we visited Neot Kedumim, an Israeli national park that preserves the agricultural traditions and plant life of Ancient Palestine. We herded sheep and goats, as so many of the significant people of the old testament did in their lives (think Abraham, Isaac, David, etc); we made and ate unleavened bread cooked on fires that we started. These traditionals are beautifully simple and simply beautiful.
If you ever want to be amazed by every site you see in a country, I'd highly recommend a trip to Egypt. I don't think I've ever been to a place so consistently and unbelievably grand. The famous pyramids of Giza are spectacular and deservingly labeled wonders of the world. Beyond them, however, the Karnak Temple (with its massive pylons and impressive hypostyle hall) or the Valley of the Kings (the site of 62 elaborately planned and decorated underground tombs for the pharaohs) are also among the most amazing places I’ve ever explored. I've climbed through pyramids and tombs of the ancient Pharaohs, felt the Egpytian hieroglyphs carved into stone, and
While in Egypt, I spent some time reflecting about my purpose in being there. I wanted more out of my experience than simply witnessing the ruins of one of the grandest ancient civilizations. As I was praying and pondering about this, I felt impressed that one of the major things I needed to take away from visiting Egypt was to understand that the many happy, friendly Egyptian people I met there were simply people before anything else. From
Overall, Egypt was a dream – one of the most amazing experiences of my entire life. I expressed that feeling to one of the administrators at the Jerusalem Center who traveled to Egypt with us, and this was his response: "I’m seventy-five years old and I think that was one of the coolest experiences of my entire life." Beyond our time spent at some of the most incredible buildings in the history of the earth, we spent an evening on a boat floating down the Nile River and dancing like true millennials, we rode camels (as mentioned earlier), we got really, really tan at the hotel pools, we took ANOTHER trip down the Nile (this time in a sailboat!), visited amazing mosques, I found a bunch of Malaysians wandering around Cairo and Luxor (exciting to me because of my mission in Malaysia), and explored the National Museum in Cairo, where we saw some of the most important pieces of art in Egyptian history! I was particularly fascinated by King Tut's burial mask; it’s now among my favorite pieces of art EVER. Egypt was a dream, and I’d highly recommend adding it to your bucket list.
Speaking of bucket lists, visiting Egypt means that I have now been to 6 out of 7 continents – Africa is another one crossed off my list! Now only Antarctica remains... :)
Also, enjoy this great selfie with a sphinx.
the garden of gethsemane
The Church of All Nations sits at the base of the Mount of Olives, the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane is an garden of olive trees and is the very place to which Christ retreated (along with his apostles) on the night of his betrayal. According to LDS tradition, the Garden of Gethsemane was the site of Jesus' worst agony during the process of performing the Atonement for our sins. In this very garden, Christ asked for the bitter cup to be taken from him. In this very garden, Christ bled from every pore in absolute agony. In this very garden, Christ overcame sin and became the Savior of us all. Thus, it is a sacred, sacred place. It is a beautiful, beautiful place. There is a quiet feeling there that rivals the spirit of profound peace I've only experienced in LDS temples. I felt very close to my Savior and my Heavenly Father while there.
On my mission, I came to love a children's song titled "Gethsemane". It's a simple, beautiful song which celebrates Jesus Christ's victory over sin, pain and death. My friends and I listened to it while standing in the garden together. Here are my favorite parts:
yet he went willlingly
The hardest thing that ever was done
The greatest pain that ever was known
The biggest battle that ever was won
This was done by Jesus.
The fight was won by Jesus.
That simple but powerful climax of the song rang out in my mind over and over as I stood looking at the grizzled trees of the garden and the beautiful mosaics of the Church of All Nations. The fight was won by Jesus! What a message. What a glorious, glorious message.
the garden tomb
Though the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (which I wrote about previously) is the traditional location of Christ's tomb, there is another site viewed by many as the potential place where Christ was buried – the Garden Tomb. Before coming to Jerusalem, visiting this location was one of the top things I wanted to do. To be honest, I expected to have the most profound spiritual experience of my life there. Christ’s victory over death is the pinnacle of my faith. Providing that Jesus of Nazareth truly was raised from the dead on the third day, and if that event took place here at the Garden Tomb, I expected it to feel like a sacred place.
We visited the Garden Tomb at the end of the first week here in Jerusalem. I didn't write about it earlier because that life-changing spiritual experience didn't happen for me. In fact, the garden felt much more like a touristy garden with a tomb cut into a stone wall. Only after we gathered together as a group of students and began to sing hymns there did I begin to feel the quiet influence of the Spirit. Was this not a sacred place? Or was it my fault that I didn't feel what I so expected and desired?
After that first visit, I planned on going back and revisiting the Garden Tomb at a time where I could have a more quiet, personal experience. Though in my first visit, I didn't feel what so many had testified they felt there, I was determined to go there again and this time, I wanted to do those things that i’ve found help me draw closer to God - specifically, sitting by myself, reflecting, studying the scriptures and praying.
I finally had the chance to go there again last Sabbath afternoon, and while there, I had one of the most personal encounters with my Savior that I've ever had. I know, independent of any other man, by the voice of the Spirit of God, that Jesus is the Christ! I know that He lives. I know that He actually exists and breathes, and that if we were to meet him today, He could embrace us just as we embrace each other. What a privilege to have that confirmed to me in a such a sacred place.
I took away two major things from this experience: number one, spiritual experiences can't be rushed and frequently don't happen in the timings that we desire. Just as people I taught on my mission often needed to pray several times before they received a divine witness, I needed to visit the Garden Tomb several times before I could feel God's presence there. Frequently, patience and trust are required in spiritual things.
Number two, while sitting in front of the tomb, I began picturing in my mind the events that perhaps took place here – the great stone in front of the entrance being moved aside and the doorway being filled with the Savior of the world, triumphantly returned to his now-perfected body. I imagined that moment when the Savior stepped outside of his Garden Tomb and embraced his angelic companions. As I pictured this scene, I realized that the Savior's Resurrection essentially meant the victory was won! In the very moment that Jesus Christ rose again, we won. Good triumphed over evil, the final outcome of the world became certain. Jesus' resurrection carried the victory. Any consequent struggle between good and evil – the struggle that you and I engage in – is not a battle over the final decision, but rather over the margin of victory. With every soul saved, with every man and woman won to the cause of Christ, the victory becomes more complete and more wonderful.
The battle is won, my friends! Will we help make the victory even sweeter?
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