Best Fourth of July ever!! I was a little bit bummed that I wasn't going to be in the United States for the Fourth this year.  It's one of my favorite holidays of the year.  I love BBQs, fireworks, and hanging out the family.  It just seems to festive! I am starting to get the point where I missing somethings about the States.  Let's just say that I can't wait to have some cheesecake and blueberries when I get home :)
Nevertheless, it was a holiday well spent.  We began our Christmas celebration at the Herodian, Herod's palace just south of Bethlehem. Those kings sure knew how to build! There was an underground system of tunnels that led to all the cisterns.  I felt like a five year old playing hide and seek while I was down there :)
From the Herodian we made the short drive to Hebrew University.  We spent some time listening to students talk about their experience and then we had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with them.  All of them were Palestinian and live behind the Separation Wall.  Two were Muslim and seven were Christian.  It was interesting to talk with someone who my age here.  I feel like I spend a lot of time with older Israelis and Palestinians.  I loved being able to see how similar I was to these students.  They like to spend time with friends and worry about getting a job after college just like I do.  They listen to a lot of the same music and the girls like to shop :) It was so nice to have a connection with people.  They briefly touched on the conflict between Israel and Palestine and how much they wanted peace.  I admire them so much for making the best of their situation.  They did not have bitter feelings, but simply wanted to resolved the conflict peacefully.
After a delicious lunch (oh man, do I love pita!), the group took a tour of the Church of the Nativity.  The Church was beautiful! The nave was this cavernous room with an ornate altar at the end.  Underneath the alter is a grotto or cave.  Here is where Christ is believed to have been born. There is a star marking the site and other relics around the grotto.  It was so different from anything that I had imagined, but at the same time it seemed appropriate.  It was so humble and peaceful.  I loved it! Once we came up from the grotto we entered the Church of St. Catherine. This is the church where the midnight mass is broadcast from every Christmas.  The acoustics are amazing! We sang a few Christmas songs and it was the most amazing sound ever.  Ah, I can't even describe it.
The last stop on our trip was Shepherd's Field.  Shepherd's Field is on the north side of Bethlehem and looks into the city.  It is literally just a field.  I loved that there was no church or buildings.  It was so easy to imagine humble shepherds being told of the Savior's birth by a heavenly messenger.  Our class had a mini Christmas program where we had a few musical numbers and then sang hymns as a class.  We were then given time to reflect, write in our journals, and read our scriptures.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Christ.  I am so grateful that He came to this earth and lived an exemplary life.  It was an honor and privilege to celebrate His birth in Bethlehem and I will cherish this memory forever :)

Chapel at Bethlehem University 

Joan and I at the Church of the Nativity.  This star is where the birth of Christ is said to have happened. 

Inside the Church of the Nativity 

Ashlyn and I in the cistern tunnels of the Herodian

George, one of our security, and I 

Classmates and I in the cistern tunnels 

St. Catherine's Church 

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