Recently returning from a three-year assignment at the BYU Jerusalem Center, Ancient Scripture Associate Professor David M. Whitchurch delved into the center's history which began as early as the Restoration.
Whitchurch shared the remarkable and miraculous journey of Elder Orson Hyde's journey to the Holy Land during the 1800s.
"He went to bed one night but before falling asleep he started thinking about 'the field of [his] future labors' when a vision was opened before him," said Whitchurch. "For the next six hours he did not close his eyes as he saw, among other things, 'the cities of London, Amsterdam, Constantinople and Jerusalem.' He was then commanded to go to the cities he was shown in vision."
After gaining approval from the Prophet Joseph Smith, Orson Hyde embarked on his journey to visit those cities in his vision.
Whitchurch recounted many stories about the challenges and miracles Orson Hyde faced on his journey to Jerusalem. Some challenges included being rebuked by the Prophet Joseph Smith in a local newspaper, almost starving to death while on route to Beirut and encountering a civil war in Lebanon. One major miracle on his journey, however, was receiving a purse of gold while he was preaching in Philadelphia before crossing the Atlantic.
In the decades following Hyde's dedication of the Holy Land, Latter-day Saints continued to travel to Jerusalem which, according to Whitchurch, eventually sparked the idea and subsequent approval of the BYU Jerusalem Center. But building the center was not without its complications.
"Construction on the Jerusalem Center started in the summer of 1984 and continued non-stop until 1988," Whitchurch said. "Once construction began and people found out the Mormons were involved, there was an immediate outcry to stop the project. The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community were determined to put an end to the center and to stop any potential missionary activities that would result with a Mormon presence in the Holy Land. Every sort of pressure possible was brought to bear against the Church and the university."
After the completion of the building, however, the feedback from the community was quite positive.
"President Jeffrey R. Holland took Mayor Teddy Kollek on a tour of the building," said Whitchurch. "Mayor Kolleck hardly said anything until toward the end when he said, 'You have taken the most beautiful piece of property we could have given you and have done more with it than I thought possible. I consider it the most beautiful building built in Jerusalem in recent years.'"
Whitchurch concluded with a few thoughts on the current situation in Jerusalem.
"I have every confidence that a day will come when those who live in Jerusalem and the Holy Land will come to terms," said Whitchurch. "Last week in a phone conversation with Eran Hayet, I told him I was speaking at the BYU Devotional and asked if he had anything he wanted me say. He told me that 175 years ago Orson Hyde came to Jerusalem to pray over that land. He said, 'tell them we need to continue those prayers today.'"
Next Devotional: Homecoming Opening Ceremonies
The next BYU Devotional be the Homecoming Opening Ceremonies on Tuesday, October 11, at 11:05 a.m., in the Marriott Center.