I know this is out of the ordinary for this blog. Normally I post commentary on the scriptures but I recently passed the year mark since arriving in Jerusalem for the first time and I want to reflect on the time I spent there.
How I Ended Up in Jerusalem
Two years ago, my sister went to the BYU Jerusalem center. I was living in Malaysia at the time as a missionary. I got all the pictures and emails of the cools things she was doing and quite frankly I was jealous. After all, I was the one majoring in the Ancient Near East. I thought it would be so cool to walk where our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ walked. I longed to see the land where the Bible took place. I wanted to feel a connection with the land. This is my heritage.
One of my mission friends has an aunt that teaches at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center, and so he applied and was accepted shortly after we returned to America in July of 2015. If I was going to apply to the Jerusalem Center, it would have to be something I did before I got normal life back up and running.
I prayed about it and felt that I should spend the fall 2015 school semester transitioning from living in Malaysia and getting my life plans back in order. I had missed the July application deadline and considered my fate sealed. However, come mid-October, I was told by a family member I should reconsider that choice and apply. I was informed that I could probably still get in since not many men went on this study abroad. So I did.
I blitzed the application and interviews and managed to secure enough funds to go and off I went.
Arriving in Tel Aviv
The flight was extremely long. The 80 of us that went didn’t know each other at all. Once we touched down in Tel Aviv, we were met by the professors and their families. We boarded two buses and made the long journey back to Jerusalem. While everyone was happy to have finally arrived, we lacked the energy to stay awake.
Classes, Field trips and the Old City
It seemed we jumped right into school. We had language classes, religion classes, as well as Near Eastern history classes. All of us were determined to succeed and soak in as much knowledge as we could. It was neat being able to learn about an event in Jewish history or from the Old Testament and then later that week go see where it happened. The scriptures were brought to life in a way I couldn’t imagine. Our professors especially helped us.
The Jerusalem Center wouldn’t have been nearly as fun and special if it wasn’t for the professors. In addition to teaching classes, they were our tour guides on the field trips. We spent half the semester with one professor and the other half with another. During that time we grew to love them and their families. When the time came to change professors for guides, we were all heartbroken and wondered how we could ever come to love our other professor when the one we had was so good.
From the get go, we had field trips every week. We explored the Old City, and virtually every other significant sight in Israel, Galilee included. While these field trips were fun, they tired us out because there was a lot of walking and they were usually all day. Especially the ones where we went to other countries. We were blessed to spend a few days in Jordan as well as a week in Egypt. We saw both Petra and the Pyramids. Each site left a mark on our memory that won’t be easily erased.
One of my favorite things about spending the semester in Jerusalem were our free days. As long as we had enough people in our group, we could go out to Jerusalem and explore. We went to the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and many other churches. I loved being in the Old City in the morning, right when the shops were starting to open and the crowded streets were empty. It was easy to feel peace in those moments and contemplate what it must have been like thousands of years ago.
Since being home, I’ve often reflected on the things I saw, the experiences I had and the friends I made. All of which are very special to me. The bond that I forged with the Holy Land and the friends that were with me is strong. It’s not something that can be easily expressed verbally or in written form. It’s hard to for people to understand exactly what you went through, learned and felt, without being there. Every time I see paintings of Christ in Jerusalem, I think back to my time there. Yes, there are even times I get choked up. I miss it so much. It’s one of the few places outside of America that I wouldn’t mind going back to. It’s a home away from home. Who doesn’t want to go home?