Feb. 12, 2009
Auburn, Ala. - * This story will run in the Winter Edition of Tiger Roar Magazine later this month. To obtain a copy of Tiger Roar Magazine contact Tigers Unlimited at 334-844-1151.
By Jessica Franklin
She went there to see how the other half lives, to intensify her faith, to glimpse history.
She came home with a new perspective.
During Thanksgiving break, redshirt freshman softball player Aurora Salter spent 10 days touring Israel with her mother, Maria, and a group of about 80 people.
"I have a strong desire to be a missionary overseas," Salter said. "I just wanted to go to another country and see a different perspective. We take stuff for granted over here, even our safety. It was just an eye-opening experience."
After landing in Tel Aviv, the group traveled by bus to the Galilee area and later to Jerusalem.
"The real reason I went over there was to make the Bible come alive," she said. "It is one thing when you read about the places. It's another thing when you actually see them and can visualize where they walked and where they actually did their ministries."
Her tour covered natural landmarks like the Mount of Beatitudes, the Valley of Armageddon, the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of Olives, and religious sites such as Golgotha, the Temple Mount, the Palm Sunday trail and the site of the Last Supper of Jesus' disciples.
She swam in the Dead Seas, sailed across the Sea of Galilee, was baptized in the Jordan River, and took communion at the tomb of Christ.
Taking a swim in the Dead Sea provided a moment of relief from some of the serious overtones of the trip.
"The salt level is so high that you float," Salter noted. "Nobody can sink. You can try to sink, but it is not going to work. One of the things they told us was not to get our hair wet, because if the water gets in your eyes it will burn. That was a cool experience, just floating there with ease. You could take a book out there and just relax and be fine. You could have a water bottle floating next to you."
After that, a trip to the Garden of Gethsemane carried special significance to Salter.
"The part of the trip that meant the most to me was the Garden of Gethsemane. The Church of Nations is built on top of the rock that Jesus prayed on before he went to die on the cross. It was emotional, to say the least. I had to build up a little bit of courage before I went up there and looked at it."
During the drive to Jerusalem, the tour stopped to see the ruins of Massada. This ancient getaway of King Herod overlooks the Dead Sea and is surrounded by ancient Roman cannon balls and the remains of Roman camps.
A second stop was at Beit She'an, an old Roman city, filled with amphitheaters and coliseums.
"That was my favorite site to tour around because it was kept pretty well intact," Salter said. "You could see the mosaics on the ground and the roads and the different marketplace areas. I love history, especially ancient history like the Romans. Actually being in the city is much different than just reading about it in a textbook. It was cool to be able to walk around where they did their plays and their chariot races."
Salter said she was surprised at the density of Jerusalem and Nazareth and the close proximity of the surrounding countries.
"On the bus ride up to the Golden Heights, you look over to your right and see Syria, and to your left is Jordan. All that is separating them is a barbed wire fence. You see all these signs about landmines and stuff. It puts a new perspective on things. Once you are over there you realize how close danger is all around Israel."
Salter described the tension that fills the streets of Jerusalem.
"You are not used to that when you are over here; some people might not believe what you believe, but over there it is a lot more personal."
She noted the interaction between people of the Jewish and Muslim faiths was one of the most eye-opening realities of her experience.
"It wasn't strange to see kids younger than me with machine guns strapped on their backs, just walking around town," Salter said. "In Israel, everyone has to serve a few years in the military; girls and guys. They all have their weapons on them, even the ones in civilian clothes."
Social friction between the two groups intensified on the Friday of Salter's trip. It was the Muslim holy day of the week and was the same day as hotel bombings in India.
Muslims gathered on Mount Moriah, also called the Temple Mount in Judaism, for their holy day. Currently under the control of a Muslim council, there is a strict ban on prayer by non-Muslim visitors.
"There were more people there (on Mount Moriah/the Temple Mount) than usual," Salter said. "We couldn't go over to that side of town. I was a little nervous because you could hear them shouting their prayers all the way up on the Mount of Olives. You could tell they were rallying about something; that was a little uneasy."
A similar experience occurred when the group toured the Temple Mount.
"On the Temple Mount there is an area built over where they think that the Holy of Holies was before the temple was destroyed," Salter noted. "It was like a church tour group, so at every site they were giving little lessons. We were talking about the Holy of Holies, and at the end we bowed our heads to pray."
Their tour guides were alarmed and quickly instructed the group not to bow their heads. The area is under strict Palestinian control, and access is limited.
"They are very strict about it," Salter said. "It is one of those things that you never think about- `wow, I'm not allowed to pray here.' I definitely felt uneasy. The Palestinians have machine guns ready to go- not that they would shoot Americans- but you are stepping on their toes and you don't want to push them."
That day, Salter learned how to deal with those tense situations.
"You have got to stand for what you believe, but you just got to be smart about it. Like our guide said, you can pray, just pray with your eyes open."