Visiting the Saints in the Holy Land
Saturday I was blessed to be able to attend a district conference held at the BYU Jerusalem center. In Israel, the local branches meet on Saturday rather than Sunday in keeping with local custom and tradition. At the conference, the district president was released and a new district presidency was called. There were about 100 people in attendance though I was told that each branch typically has 50-100 members ( including children). This is a small number, but more impressive when you realize that there are basically no natural born members aside from very small children born to immigrant families. I was essentially the only Jewish + Israeli Citizen convert that I encountered. There is no missionary work in Israel due to restrictive policies agreed by the church in regard to the building of the BYU center. I was struck by the diversity of background that I encountered. I met Russian, Filipino, Argentinian and Bolivian members along with Americans residing in Israel for either study, work or diplomatic service.
The Tel Aviv branch is primarily Filipino as many come to this country as domestic servants. I think this involves some very interesting international relations questions that I would love to see someone study. Filipino and other international workers in Israel are often in a precarious legal and social position. Human rights organizations have written about the difficult status of domestic workers in Israel ( One of the nations with the largest proportion of foreign workers). It was very encouraging therefore for me to see the young Filipino members considering serving missions or attending BYU. It seems to me that the church offers many of them a pathway towards success that might otherwise be denied them. In this way the church influence seemed profound and positive in the lives of these saints.
I met Cristian who is a twenty year old that just received his mission call to New York City (Queens/Brooklyn/Long Island). We spoke about the difficulty of living his values when none of his friends are Mormon and due to the peculiar agreements he cannot even speak about his faith when asked. I was encouraged by his dedication to his faith. It must be difficult living in a part of the world where you are one of the few Young Single Adults and where you meet with little but hostility.
At the District Conference the District President announced that a former Patriarch living in their ward had been reactivated by special permission of the Quorum of the Twelve. There is one patriarch assigned to the Middle East but due to diplomatic problems it seems he cannot go to Israel unless he is permanently assigned there. This new patriarch will only remain in Israel for three weeks and so the Saints there have a limited window in which to get their blessings. I know that my Patriarchal Blessing has been an immense blessing in my life and I am excited that these Saints will be able to receive theirs at last.
The district is also planning its first ever district temple trip in November. All of the members will buy plane tickets and fly together to Switzerland to attend the Swiss temple. They are waiting until November because that is the period in which air fare is likely to be the cheapest. The cost would still be around $150 round trip per person.This really made me appreciate how easy it is to visit the temple from most places in the U.S. Over the summer, my BYU ward really excelled at temple attendance. We had an average of more than 20 people go to a different temple in Utah every single weekend (Draper, Bountiful, Manti, Provo, Salt Lake, Oqurih Mountain, Mount Timpanogas—I also went to the Jordan River Temple). I really could sense what a positive impact group temple attendance had on the ward. I am happy that the Israel District will be able to receive those blessings together.
The speakers bore powerful testimony overlooking a stunning vista of the Old City of Jerusalem, including the church of the Holy Sepulture and the Dome of the Rock. It was a profound experience for me to be able to enjoy the company of fellow saints in the Holy Land.