Friday, December 27, 2013

Holy Land Pilgrimage

 In 2013 a cry went out from near the great Salt Lake
To join a pilgrimage of sorts, despite some risks to take.
To a land far away of ancient mien, they would fly 
     and ride and hike,
led by a band of merry souls named Karen and Ron and Mike.
An Aussie came, a Kiwi or two, some Canadians and a Brit
A bunch of Americans, of course, and two sets of sisters, to wit.
They were lawyers and doctors and writers and sages
And realtors and bankers and jacks of all traders.
But in one important aspect they did all agree
To Jerusalem they must go, and the Sea of Galilee.


Sadat took the reins when they landed in Turkey
With blue Aegean skies and the ocean not murky.
The lands round about lay in ancient ruins galore,
So they snapped and they clicked till they couldn’t anymore.
Then off to the heart of old Constantinople they journeyed,
To view the Blue Mosque and the palace next door, they hurried.
The Spice Market and Grand Bazaar were next on the docket
Where money of all kinds flew out of their pocket.
With leather and rugs and spices in tow,
The fabled isle of Patmos was the next place to go.
They hiked up the hill to the alleged address,
Where ancient John the Beloved put quill to papyrus.
And in his poetical symbolic way
Prepared those who would read it for a far better day.


Then with feet turned toward Jerusalem into Jordan they crossed,
And walked ancient Petra which the Nabataeans lost.
The carvers who labored there to worship and memorialize,
Would be rolling in their graves if allowed to realize,
That their beautiful and sacred cherished mausoleum
Was teaming with hawkers and vendors ad nauseum.
The Bedouin tents dot the hills with their camels so touching,
Till up with their diet cokes and cell phones come rushing.


From the depths of the Dead to the Galilee Seas
We followed the Jordan midst date palms and trees.
Near the river so verdant we beheld with our eyes
Water so sacred where The Son was baptized.
Tiberius and Carmel, Tabgha, Tel Dan
Were places next seen, where travelled The Man.
From Beautitudes heights, to calm Galilees banks,
We boated in darkness, in awe and with thanks.


Next on to Nazareth, they trekked through the land
And followed His footsteps, and learned of his commands.
Capernaum, so favored, where the Savior did teach,
His disciples to love God, and broaden their reach.
In Bethlehem singing brought joy to the earth,
At Nativities centre, the place of his birth.


Finally, at Jerusalem, the pilgrims arrived to
See old city and Temple Mount (the place of some strife)
The western walls prayers and Solomon’s Porch
To Antonia’s cells, sit of Jesus’s cruel scourge.
St Annes’ church so lovely, which held a surprise
French Mormons heard us singing, that Mike had baptized.
Next, our intrepid travelers, their courage to test,
Donned shorts and some sandals, Hezekiahs tunnel to best.
For the feelings they felt, their hearts barely had room,
As they visited Golgotha and the garden tomb.


With money, time and energy blown,
Soon hearts and feet turned toward home.
In many directions, each one did return
To family and loved ones, for whom they did yearn.
And with them they carried deep in their heart
A greater love for the Savior, that would not depart.
And oft in their thoughts as they lived through a day,
Their minds would wander Jerusalem way.
And oft times for the cool breeze of Galilee yearn
And hoped against hope that someday they’d return.
But maybe some will, and maybe some not,
Yet each of them harbored this singular thought:
That their time in the Holy Land had changed them a lot.

Written by Denise Murray with Assistance from Jay Rush 

Kerry & Tina Miller, Denise & Gordon Murray

Making silk thread at the carpet factory in Turkey

Baptisms in the River Jordan

Christian Group from Kenya
Dr. Michael Wilcox describing the valley

Hi Diane,

Sorry this took longer than I'd hoped.  With our trip to Hawaii after the Holy Land and Christmas, things got delayed.  I so appreciated your sweet husband reading it to our bus, he has an amazing voice.  It was an honour and privileged to share this trip with you.  If you ever come to Calgary, remember you have a place to stay. Best wishes for a great 2014!   Warmly, Denise

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tom's Sacrament Meeting Talk - Dec. 15th

Elder Stokoe talked on the atonement -- "Joyful for us today. . . Agonizing for the Saviour at the time of endurance."  

"Sitting in the Jerusalem Center in a sacrament meeting on Saturday, for that is when sacrament meeting is held, Saturday, one sees an inspiring sight.  The seats of the auditorium slope downward as in a Greek amphi theatre, and as the floor levels out, a huge rectangular wall of glass reveals a sweeping view of the city of Jerusalem on a hillside.  The buildings are white in colour, stacked row upon row, layer upon layer, top to bottom and side to side.  It is a marvellous sight to behold — this city, rich in biblical history, a city dear to the Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Historically, Jerusalem was destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.  The oldest part of the city was settled around 4,500-3,400 BC making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.

Leaving the Jerusalem Center, you weave through streets till you arrive at the secluded foot of the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  A tall wall surrounds the garden ensuring isolation from surroundings.

Forty-four days ago I entered the Garden of Gethsemane, entered the Garden Tomb where Christ's body once did lay, and stood beneath Golgotha—enroute home after serving a mission in South Africa.  As I entered the Garden of Gethsemane, I walked upon the path that encircles the 8 ancient olive trees growing there.  A low rectangular barrier prevents anyone from walking among them.  

The original trees at the time of Christ are gone.  However, when an olives tree is cut down roots can grow a new tree.  The trees there today are around 900 years old.  Through regeneration the location of each olive tree in the garden today, could be the location of each tree at the time Jesus was there with his disciples.  I gazed at the 8 olive trees and wondered where Jesus may have knelt and prayed.  Was it by that tree, that tree, or this tree.

And as storytellers of oral history pass on the tales of past event, likewise I wondered if the roots of the trees at the time of Christ, passed on to the succeeding generations of trees, what the original trees witness and felt, the night Jesus knelt and prayed unto the Father, and assumed the sins of the world.

And as I gazed, studying and pondering the olive trees, this is the story they symbolised to me.  The tree trunks are gnarled, with slanting grooves descending the turn from top to bottom—as though wave after wave of pain grooved the trunk through which great drops of sap oozed and dropped to the ground.

Along side of the grooves, are thick crusts of bark, knotted and buckled, as though forced upward due to extreme agony from within.

The lower boughs outstretched and dangling like drooping arms bearing the weight of tremendous burden, symbolised the cry (Matthew 26:39)  "Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;  nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."  At this moment a scripture comes to mind (D&C 81:5)  ". . .Succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees."  This is what Jesus needs at this very moment.  (Luck 22:43, 44)  "And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him."  And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

The Atonement of the Saviour in the Garden of Gethsemane culminating on the Cross at Gologtha and "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,"

And the Resurrection of the Saviour culminating in the angels' declaration "Why seek ye the living among the dead?"  He is not here but he is risen" are the greatest triumphs of the Saviour on behalf of mankind during his 33 years on earth.

Gazing at the green leaves of the olive trees, as they peacefully rustled in a gentle breeze beneath the blue sky and the radiant sun of Jerusalem, they suggested that final triumph.

People from all over the world visit the Garden of Gethsemane, and undoubtedly, each person may see, think and feel differently, and take from it what impression he or she may.  As for me on that day, standing in the Garden of Gethsemane —that is what those special moments with the olive trees suggested to me. . . "

Wonderful!  Thank you for sharing this very personal experience with us.

Sister Wood

Monday, December 23, 2013

Deng Gatluak

Deng graduates from Nelson Mendela University next month and expects
to return to his home in Juba, capitol of South Sedan, where he will work as a civil engineer.
Hey Stokoe's thanks so much for writing to us. I appreciate it. You've been going to many places already! That must be exciting to confirm and learn more from Bible history.
Thanks for your concern over South Sudan. Am also worried. They say things are getting better but it might escalate and the damage has been done already. I hope it never happens again and that there maybe peace but as you said God watches over His children.
Keep well and Merry Christmas to you too. We'll update the handout for that lesson as well.

Kind Regards

Diane Stokoe e-mailed her Institute students on December 22nd:


I've been thinking about all of you.  Especially when we were on the Isle of Patmos listening to Dr. Michael Wilcox explain John's revelation.  He cautioned us not to take it literally.  It's poetic and figurative, a method of expression which was used at that time.  We visited the cave where John lived and dictated his vision to a scribe.  The horsemen (famine, death, violence and wickedness) have ridden throughout human history and should not be assigned to one particular seal or time.  The rider on the white horse with the bow (Revelations 6:2) is not Jesus Christ.  He would not ride in company with those horsemen.  Please update the handout on Chapters 55 & 56 which we covered in the make up lesson on October 2nd.  We also enjoyed visiting four of Paul's seven cities in Asia Minor--including Ephesus, Sneyrna, Sardis and Phildelphia. 

I am so proud of all of you for graduating  and I especially appreciated the guidance and direction of Brother and Sister Sherbert.   We wish you all the best in 2014.  I've been watching the news and am very concerned about Deng and what is happening in South Sedan.  However we know that Christ is in charge and is mindful of his children and of all nations.  We have many wonderful memories of the time we spent together and wish you all the best in the new year.  Sincerely,  the Stokoes


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Billings Return & Mandela's death

Dear Family and Friends,

This will come as a surprise to many of you but we have left the Congo and have returned to our home.  JoAnn has had some health problems that have caused us to come home for medical attention.  We got home on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and spent Thanksgiving Day with some of our children in our home.  We are looking forward to seeing all of you.  Thanks to all of you for your support while we have been gone.  The email messages that you have sent have given us the lifts we have needed in order to endure the many challenges we faced.

Leaving now left much of the responsibility for training in the hands of the Congolese we had trained to be trainers.  The time had come and we have confidence they will be able to carry on and grow as they encounter new challenges on their own. 

We hope all is well for each of you and that you will have a most enjoyable holiday season.

Best regards,

George and JoAnn

[We attended George and JoAnn's December 29th mission report with the Kents and their open house where we learned that JoAnn was accidentally electrocuted while reaching over her stove.  Electricity traveled through both arms.    Since they were scheduled for release in a few weeks they opted to return rather than fly to Johannesburg for medical treatment.  JoAnn is gradually recovering.  She has lost strength in both arms.  The rhythm of her heart was affected.  She is lucky to be alive.]

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

We spent December 6th watching the news broadcasts on CNN.  When asked if he had any regrets, Mandela said:  "No.  I just followed my heart. "