Church in the Galilee is one of the most amazing experiences that I think I have had here. As we were on our way over there, Bro. Emmitt was telling us about the people that were in the branch. He knows them not only because of his work here now, but he lived here while doing his PhD program for a year, and some of the same people are still around. I will admit that I was skeptical of the branch when I was told that Elder Holland likes this place better than the JC, maybe it was a little bit of pride in where I go to school, not to mention how neat the JC is, but after walking into the only piece of land that the church really owns in Israel, I don’t doubt him for a second. We had both the church service and a fireside with the members, so after telling you the logistics of the place, I will tell you about the wonderful people that live here.
The branch building is set up on the hill in Tiberius, right across the lake from Ein Gedi, the kibbutz that I am staying at. It has a great view of the lake and on a clear day they said that you are able to see most of the places that Christ would have spent his time at when preaching here in this area of the land. What an amazing haven they have created here, a little haven where the Spirit can come and reside without restraint. The building is a renovated house that TONS of work had to be done on to make it work. Now it is a beautiful building in which you can go out on the porch adjacent to the chapel and look out over the sea, or for a better view, just go on the roof and look around! The spirit of even just the building itself was amazing, and the story of the people makes it even better.
The church is not recognized in Jerusalem, so that is one of the main reasons that we cannot preach here and have all these restrictions on what we can talk about. Coming here I thought that would be inconvenient for me, but i never realized the implications that would have for the members here. The Book of Mormon is not allowed to be published in Hebrew, and neither can the Hymn books or any manuals. Now, most people in Israel know more than one language, but it's not always the same 2nd language. In the branch building when you walk in, everything looks normal, except for the fact that there are 4 sets of song boards on the wall, one for each language represented in the branch. In the small branch of about 15 members there is English, Spanish, Russian, and Hebrew. The song book in Hebrew is a terrible Baptist one in which we were told is really hard to use because of the way it is translated. Hebrew is the common language for everyone, and so it is normally the one spoken, but because of the restrictions, the Sunday School teacher has to read the manual in Russian, translate it into Hebrew, and then another translation happens for the couple members that still only speak English (mainly the service couples). Can you imagine the rest of the meetings?!
Because the BOM can't be in Hebrew, there are many youth that have gone through the branch that never get to read it for themselves, and so their testimonies really are weak for a while till they are able to somehow find things out for themselves. A few of the youth have fallen away over the years and while this makes the families sad, they know that they are supposed to be here in Israel, so they just go with the Lord. So many sacrifices have been made though the years to make this branch work and grow, the members here are amazing. The problem is that the foundation of this church is getting old, and while this was never really brought up, I did wonder what was going to happen when this generation runs out because it doesn't seem like there is anyone to replace them. There is going to need to be a miracle soon to make this work for too much longer. The branch is also augmented by a church group in Haifa which is made up of Filipino's either going to school there or working. It is an interesting area of the church, and I hope that the Lord will continue to bless it.
We then had a short little stop at a place called Yardenit, which is the commercialized location of where Jesus was baptized int he Jordan. There is a kibbutz there that runs the location, you can buy your little white outfit to go down and dip yourself in, but be careful, because as you watch people go down and dip themselves in, realize that they usually choose not to wear anything underneath those robes, so when they get wet.... yeah, that was an oops... not fun! But it was neat to see all the cool fish that were swimming around and the muskrats too. Also there are panels all around the walls of the place that give the account of the baptism in almost any language that you can dream of. I thought that it was a neat experience all in all.
Anyway, it was a great shabbat in Galilee, it is a great little place to be, and I will keep that little branch in my prayers!