Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Healing Power of the Master

Exactly 30 years had passed since that day at Bethlehem University.  Events of that day are engraved upon my memory...every detail, every image.

It was October 29th, 1987. I had been attending Bethlehem University as a new freshman for almost two months.  I was 16 years old and didn't know where my life would take me. I remember the students preparing for the demonstration that day, and remember wondering why they were demonstrating. I was still not aware of the political turmoil that surrounded me.

The university gates were closed, and the fence that surrounded the university prevented anyone from leaving except at the entrance. But, the Israeli soldiers came and stood by the entrance and started firing tear gas inside the campus to stop the demonstrating students inside.  The smell of tear gas filled the campus. Luckily, we smelled only a little of it in the science department where we were. 

A few minutes later, injured students started to be carried in. Some had passed out from tear gas and some had gun shot wounds. I remember all the blood and sadness that filled the halls. Our little clinic of our small campus could do nothing for those wounds.

Then he was brought in...Unlike the others, he was not moving...Suddenly everything changed. Isaac had been shot in the head by an Israeli soldier. Sadly the soldiers would not allow him to be taken to a hospital. For two hours we all stood there in silence as Isaac fought for his life. Then, finally, after the mayor intervened the soldiers allowed him to be transported to a hospital. 

When they rolled him out and I saw the bullet wound in his head, I was able to see and understand. I felt that I had matured 10 years and my eyes were opened. As the students sang "It is alright if we die, if we will but root death from among us..." I realized why they were demonstrating. I realized why my people started the first uprising later that year. It was to protest against these very injustices. That demonstration held that day at Bethlehem University was to commemorate the slaughter of the Palestinian people in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982. 

When the soldiers took Isaac from the hospital shortly after and desecrate his body, I too, wanted to demonstrate. When I found out that Isaac, who was in his senior year at the university, was from a poor family and his family was waiting for him to graduate so he can work and support his family as his father was unable to find work. When I learned all this, I too wanted to demand justice. My heart was filled with darkness and hate. 

The more injustices I saw, the more depressed and sad I became. 
I got so depressed that I wanted to die. I went to demonstrations and stood in the front hoping to be shot, but I was not. 

When I think of that person (me), that teenager who was angry and depressed, I feel she has gone a long way.  The light of the Gospel and the peace of the Savior has filled her life and she has found healing and hope through the atonement of Jesus Christ. This change is possible for all of us.  Elder Holland said: "I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines."

I am giving a fireside today to the youth in our stake. I am talking about conversion and using the analogy about how olives turn into oil. One of the quotes I plan to use is this one from Elder Oaks:
"The purpose of the Gospel is to transform common creatures into celestial citizens, and that requires change."
Olives and oil look different. In order for olives to turn into oil they must literally be crushed. Unless we are willing to change our very core, we will never make it to the celestial kingdom of God.

The main reason I am no longer that depressed sad teenager, is mostly due to the trials I faced and to the Savior's healing power. His touch healed many sick people in Palestine over two thousand years ago. But, His healing touch still heals many hearts today. He has healed mine. 

I testify that as you hold on to His hand that is stretched towards you, He will heal your heart. He will bring into your life a kind of peace and joy you have never experienced. He is the king of king, Lord of Lords, He is the light of the world, a light that shines in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not, He is the Prince of Peace. I testify the He loves you and that, to Him, you are of infinite worth. I testify that He still reaches out to you with love. May we all grab hold of His stretched arm and let Him lead us back to His mansion above.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

My beloved Homeland

I want to pay tribute to my country and to my people...
Palestine, a small country in the Middle East, was chosen by the Savior Jesus Christ as His birthplace. He, the creator of the world, picked my country to be born and raised in.  In Bethlehem he was born in a stable and placed in a manger. He, the king of kings, made his bed with the animals in a stable. In Nazareth He grew up and walked on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. In Jerusalem He suffered, bled and died for me and for you. In a dark tomb he lay for 3 days, then rose to break the bands of death and bring hope to all. Jesus Christ traveled the dusty roads of Palestine blessing the people, healing the sick, raising the dead, and changing hearts.

My heart aches as I see the suffering of my people in Palestine. They lack all human rights and have been suffering under Israeli occupation for 70 years now and counting.

Item 13 (Human rights) Freedom to move. My people are denied that right as they are living behind walls and checkpoints.
Item 15: Right to a Nationality...I am Palestinian, what does that even mean when Palestine is a country that does not exist on maps. I google it and it says Palestine is a state which consists of the West Bank and Gaza and has it's capital as East Jerusalem!!?? What? Maybe if Google says we have an official country then maybe we do. Yet what shows on the map is Israel. This is the illusion some people are led to believe: that we have a state and are enjoying the freedom we have never tasted.

Item 17: the right to your own things...what of the hundreds whose lands have been taken and homes demolished?
Items 5,10: the right to trial, innocent until proven guilty and no torture...Don't even know where to begin on those. My late brother in-law was arrested many times, held in jail for 6 months each time with no trial, tortured each time.  Many Palestinian prisoners are now in Israeli jails for no obvious reason.

Those amazing Palestinians who have suffered much still stand strong, still have faith in God and still move forward. 

I miss my country...I miss the beautiful hills (well maybe not those with settlements on them), the seas, the rivers and flowers. I miss hiking those hills, picking wild flowers, exploring caves and running up and down the old streets of my town. I miss every shop, every rock, every tree and every person. I miss the olive trees we used to pick this time of year. It is hard work but it brought me close to my land and to nature...

Sometimes I feel I sold my country for a taste of freedom and a taste of peace. I could not handle being captive, being humiliated, being persecuted, being oppressed anymore so I left and came to the United States. This country is not home, it will never be home. As much as I love its people, the Americans, they are not my people. The food does not taste the same, the streets are different, the culture is different and I feel like an outsider sometimes. But, the alternative is too difficult. My heart can't handle living in Palestine anymore and watching the pain and suffering of my people. I can't bare to look at this ugly concrete wall that has torn my country to pieces...

I don't know if you can watch this movie about my town. Thanks Akram for posting it on Facebook. You do need to log on Facebook to watch it. It reminds me how homesick I am...
Beit Sahour Movie 

It was said: "Every people have a country to live in...but we have a country that lives within us." Palestine will always live in my heart, my little town of Beit Sahour and its people will always be part of me.  I hope to visit my beloved land soon...

I am in the process of doing my papers to become a US citizen and won't be able to go home until the paper work is complete. I am sacrificing a lot to have a nationality, not the one I want (I would like my Palestinian identity). I, and the university where I work, have spent so much time and effort to make this happen. Hoping that one day I will have an American passport. A passport many countries will respect and honor.  How sad... It makes me sad that I have to be far from my country, to go through all this process just to gain a little bit of freedom and dignity and obtain a few of the human rights that I never had as a Palestinian. It is sad that I have to be someone I am not, just to get people to respect me and not label me as a 'terrorist'.  I wish there was another way, but there isn't.    

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Because of Him...

It is a beautiful day outside and even though the temperature is not as high as I would like it, I love the sunshine and the clear skies.
Amazingly enough there is still a little bit of snow in my back yard! Yesterday I thought I would avoid cold Rexburg and go to Idaho Falls...well, I thought if there is a little bit of snow in Rexburg, there won't be any in Idaho Falls. Wow, there was SO much snow down there. But, it was so beautiful. I do like the snow (the first few times it snows), but then I kind of get tired of seeing white all over. I start to miss the green trees or even the brown soil. But for now, I would say it was quite beautiful to see the snow and to go to the Idaho Falls temple.

Time is going by fast, I can't believe more than one month has passed since we started the semester.  I still don't know most of my students' names. I feel horrible as I keep asking them for their names.  Actually last week was so stressful that I was forgetting a lot of things. I would even forget to write the rest of the word (or number) as I am writing on the board. My students would go: "you meant to write 11, but you only wrote 1..." Then I would think it was Thursday when it was Friday, or silly things like that.

That is why this Saturday, I decided to do nothing...I went to the temple and then just rested. It was nice...

On Friday I gave a talk to the Ririe Stake. I honestly have never heard of Ririe and didn't even know where it was. I thought my GPS would find the Stake center just fine. It turns out that the place that my GPS found was not a church, but a house. I tried to use my phone...well, my phone has no internet service there. I tried to call the Stake RS president...well, she had left her phone at home.

I asked directions from a gas station, I think the lady there has never gone to church, but she gave me directions to a place she thought the church was. Well, it was not there...

As the time of my talk was getting close, I honestly had no idea where to go or what to do. I stopped, said a prayer, then turned around and went down a little road and there was a church right there! Could that be it? I stopped and asked a woman there, "Is this the Stake Center?" She said it was. I don't know if she knew how happy I was at her answer.

The women there were amazing. I don't think I ever gave a talk where everyone was so focused and interested. I met so many great women and girls. One of the main messages that I felt Heavenly Father wanted to convey to the women was that we can do all things through Christ...

The atonement enables us to do many things because of the Savior.
We can be resurrected because He was...
We can have Charity because He did (and he can teach us)...
We can learn to forgive because He forgave (and he can show us how)... 
We can become clean because of Him...
Our sins though red, can become as white as snow because of Him..
We can become perfect one day because He is perfect...

I am giving a fireside for the youth of our stake in 2 weeks. I am looking forward to that one as well although speaking to the youth is always hard...It takes a lot of thought and prayer to know what Heavenly Father wants them to hear and what will have the most effect on them. I just love the youth in this Church and am always amazed at their strength and goodness.


Sunday, October 8, 2017

Look Around and Lift

It has been a good week. The temperature dropped briefly and it was so windy yesterday. We seemed to go from Summer to Fall so quickly. My trees have lost a lot of their leaves in just one day from all the wind yesterday. Then today I woke up to snow! It was pretty, but did not last long. The weather improved quickly. It did seem like we went from Summer to Fall to Winter in a week. I guess you never get bored that way.

I went to the Spori Summit this weekend. It is a yearly event that our university organizes. We go and spend a night at the Sky Mountain Lodge and this is my first time going. I learned a lot (and ate a lot) and enjoyed the beauty found there in the mountains.

The only bad part is that I didn't get much sleep. I mean it was a nice lodge, but I am not a camper. My back just does not like any bed. Good thing it was only one night.

I tried to take a picture of the snow today, but it just did not work well...

I got to teach Sunday School today...One thing that I have been reflecting on is how we hardly see those around us. No one wants to talk to anyone anymore.  Many are depressed, but they don't talk to anyone about it.  I walk down the hall at the Ricks building on campus and all I see are students either looking at their phones or who have ear plugs on and are listening to music. Do we look around and notice those in need around us? 

Our lesson today was about the Handcart companies who got stuck on the plains and suffered so much due to starvation and to bitter cold weather. The saints in Salt Lake rushed to their rescue. We often desire to help and rush to help those in need when a tragedy happens. After the floods and hurricanes many went to Texas and other areas to help. But, sister Oscarson's talk keeps coming to my mind, are we helping those around us? Are we noticing those in our path that need help and reaching out to them? 

I sometimes don't know what to do, but maybe we should look harder and ask Heavenly Father to show us who needs our help today.  My neighbor made me treats today and had her kids drop them off. We can do just small things like that to reach out to others. 

The Savior would seek after the one, His mission is a mission of rescue. Ours should be that as well. We must search and gather and love His lost sheep.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

General Conference and Elder Hales...

I just got back from Utah after being down there translating for general conference. It was a great weekend aside from a few challenges. 

The drive down was HORRIBLE. I spent 6 hours on the road when it normally takes me 3-4 hours. Construction and traffic everywhere...I was also trying to get things done before I left and I was so tired by the time I got to Utah. Luckily my friend Emily had a great meal for me even though she didn't know I was coming.  I finally got to the hotel and tried to finish translating some of my talks, but I was so tired. I decided to go to bed, but did I sleep? No...The fridge in the hotel room was making banging noises. I actually thought the noises were coming from the hallway and didn't realize it was the fridge until 4 am after I had been up all night.

The first day of translating for conference was interesting to say the least. Half way through the first session, our language coordinator came to me and said: "Can you go to Provo right now and translate the movie Legacy for a Jordanian delegation that is here?" I agreed, but he told me they needed me there at noon and it was already 11 am. I would have to run to make it. As I left the church office building I realized I had obtained conference tickets for the Saturday afternoon session that I was going to give to my friends. If I leave now, I won't be back in time to give them the tickets. I tried to call them multiple times, but they didn't answer. Thinking quickly where to leave the tickets for them, and asking around, people told me that the ticket office at the conference center is the best place. Well, after walking in that direction for a while, I realized I had no time to walk there and back and still get to Provo by noon.

I got back to the conference center, left the tickets with the translation desk at the bottom floor and decided to call one of the people in our translation team and coordinate with them to have the tickets delivered. Well, it turns out that having two identical envelopes in your purse is a bad thing because half way down to Provo my friend calls and says, there are no tickets in this envelope you left. Looking in my purse, I realized that I left the wrong envelope at the translation desk.  It was too late to turn back now!

My friends were so excited to be able to go to general conference and I felt so horrible for making such a stupid mistake!

Well, the sad thing is, I got to the law building at BYU right at noon! I mean I ran and drove like a crazy person, but I was there on time!! BUT, they didn't start the movie until 1:30. Seriously?? I was pretty upset to say the least...but I got over it because it was a great opportunity to translate that movie. I actually was feeling angry still until I heard two Jordanian men talk about how great the movie was and that made all my effort worthwhile. 

I didn't make it back for the second session of conference. I went out and had bad middle-eastern food, even though it was better than anything I would eat in Rexburg.  

Today was a much better day. Translation went well. One of our Arabic team members, Ehab, got sick so I did one of his talks in addition to mine. One of my students Durid from Syria came to help. And we had him do a few things to sub for Ehab.  So, we were pretty busy that first session. 

Elder Hales was scheduled to talk and they filled his talk time with music. I had a dream a while ago that President Monson died conference day, but it was Elder Hales that died today. 
President Uchtdorf said the first time that President Monson was watching general conference from his home yesterday. Today He said President Monson is at home only. This indicated to me that President Monson would soon die too.

I am sad for the loss of Elder Hales. I got to know Elder Hales in 1997 when my friends came to pick me up from the airport and said they had another couple to pick up arriving at that time. It turned out that those arriving were Elder and Sister Hales.  I was impressed at how nice Elder Hales was as he offered to push my cart, and offered me his suit jacket when I was cold. I was also impressed at how much he loved his wife and how he worried about her because she was not feeling well at that time.
(I know this is a horrible picture of me, but I didn't want to make Elder Hales pose again for another picture)

We took the Hales on a small tour before we headed towards Bethlehem. Elder Hales had never been to Bethlehem and they were excited to go. But, when we got to the Israeli checkpoint at the entrance of Bethlehem, the soldiers would not allow us in. I wanted to shout "Do you know who you are denying entry to?? This is an apostle!" After some argument they said they would allow me in, since I lived in Bethlehem, but everyone else had to turn back.

I managed to convince the soldier to let everyone through just so they can drive me home and promised him they would leave right after. Elder and Sister Hales wanted to stop by the church of nativity (the place where Christ was born), sadly when we got there it was late at night and the church was closed. But, we stood at the door and read the Luke account and sang Christmas Hymns. It was an amazing experience.

They then drove me to my house. I was reluctant to invite them in because my mom often says bad things about the leaders of the church and I worried she would embarrass me and offend Elder Hales (as she had no idea that he was a leader in our church). But, my family and especially my mom was kind to say the least. 

I was touched by Elder Andersen's talk on how Elder Hales actually wrote a talk he was going to deliver..and how in his talk he talks about meeting the Savior and being ready. I also was touched by the kindness and love of President Nelson who felt impressed to leave conference fast and so he made it just in time to be with Elder Hales during his final moments on earth. I am sure as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Nelson feels responsible for all the apostles and has a great love for all of them.

We will surely miss Elder Hales...
I am grateful to be part of this amazing church and being led by these amazing leaders who love us and care about us.

The three main messages I got out of Conference were:
1. Read the Book of Mormon.
2. Go out of your way to serve everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, or culture...
3. Trials will come, but they come only to make us stronger. Peace can come through the Savior of the world.