Ok I know. I haven't updated my blog in way too long, meaning I've probably lost all of my readers. So for those few who have held on to the hope of reading my posts again, this post (and the next two or three that I'll probably write tonight) is dedicated to you.
Now that that's out of the way... Bethlehem! We went on Tuesday, November 1. It is definitely not the "little town" we sing about anymore, but rather large with its own university. This was our first stop of the day. At Bethlehem University we had a tour of the campus, listened to one of the priests, and had a Q&A session with some of the students. It's a Christian school, but about 70% of the students are Muslim. The school is a really awesome example to me of how religions really can be integrated peacefully, even here in the Holy Land where it seems practically impossible. Over time, the University has faced a lot of hardships because of its openness and determination to teach all willing students, but it has continued to provide an affordable education to students from both Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. Bethlehem is in the West Bank (Palestine), so if the students live in Jerusalem, they have to pass through the separation barrier everyday. Without the wall, it would be about a 20 or 30 minute trip, but with the wall, it can take up to 3 or 4 hours! Everyday! It just depends on the mood of the soldiers at the wall that day. Hearing that really opened my eyes to some of the ways that "the conflict" affects the people of the land. While we as students have seen a little bit of the separation and conflict in Jerusalem, visiting with students showed me how real the political situation is and how it plays into these people's lives everyday. Students from Bethlehem haven't even visited Jerusalem because their identification won't allow them through the barrier. It was fun to walk around the campus with some of the students afterwards and see them interact with each other. It's a tiny campus and student body (especially compared to BYU), but I liked that cause then I felt like I could get a feel for all of it.
After the University we had lunch at the Tent Restaurant. You guessed it, the restaurant is actually a Bedouin tent. Following lunch was our tour of Bethlehem, concluding in Manger Square, the main plaza in Bethlehem in front of the Church of the Nativity. The Church of the Nativity is a little plain on the outside, but I really liked the inside. The ceilings were wooden rafters with beams, and then there was a clerestory of windows and some mosaics along the nave. Most of my time in the church was actually spent in line to go to the grotto underneath. Kind of unfortunate, but I'm still glad I did it. When else am I going to be able to see the traditional site of the Savior's birth? Never. So I saw it. I really liked it, but our tour guide kind of rushed us through so I didn't have as much time as I would have normally wanted. But that's alright, because my favorite part of the field trip was still to come- the Shepherd's Fields. As the sun was setting, we all went to a hillside outside the city walls, overlooking Bethlehem. It was amazing to sit there and watch the stars come out over this holy city. We read the account of the nativity, and right as we got to the part about the shepherds watching their flocks by night in Luke 2, a flock of sheep passed right behind us on the hillside! Talk about bringing the scriptures to life! It was so cool. Once we finished reading the story from the Bible, we sang Christmas hymns. I love Christmas songs so much (it's actually my favorite genre of music), and it just made it even better singing them in Bethlehem, where Christ was actually born. I didn't think it was possible for me to love Christmas songs more than I did, but it is, cause I love them even more now. When we sang "Angels We Have Heard On High," I felt like we actually the chorus of angels proclaiming Christ's birth to the shepherds, bearing testimony of the coming of our Lord and Savior. We also had some time to sit and ponder, which was my favorite part. I just felt so much joy! I don't think you could think about the birth of Christ without being so happy. There I am, sitting on a rocky hillside overlooking the town of Bethlehem, under the stars, having just sang Christmas carols, thinking about baby Jesus, and picturing the angels coming to the humble shepherds. Life doesn't get much better. I am infinitely thankful for the birth of Jesus Christ, because without his birth, we would not know the way, which he showed to us through his life, death, and glorious resurrection. I know that Christ is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem.