Editor's note: Deseret News and Church News writers are chronicling the ministry of LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson as he and other church officials travel to Europe, Africa and Asia during the next two weeks. Sarah Jane Weaver reports today from Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM, Israel — Just inside Damascus Gate, the Old City here is brimming with hurried activity.
A boy carries a pallet filled with freshly baked bread, steam rising above it. Locals rip open the fresh loaves and sprinkle them with za’atar, a fragrant seasoning made of sesame seeds, thyme, salt and sumac.
Women sit on ancient cobblestone streets and sell grape leaves, sage and parsley. They weigh the herbs by placing a bag on the bottom of a hand-held scale.
The city bustles again as some answer the “Call to Prayer” and others follow the “Stations of the Cross.” Many here begin their day praying and touching the sacred Western Wall, while thousands more visit the Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock or the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Into this city of kings and prophets comes President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, bringing a message of hope here to Jerusalem, part of a two-week tour that will span the globe.
"We want to focus on the Lord Jesus Christ," said President Nelson, who arrived here Friday night from London with his wife Sister Wendy Nelson, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Patricia T. Holland, and others.
Because of the significance of its history, Jerusalem — located in the crossroads between Europe, Africa and Asia — becomes the central stop on President Nelson’s ministering tour that will also include stops in Kenya, Zimbabwe, India, Thailand, Hong Kong and Hawaii.
The walls surrounding the Old City were built almost 500 years ago, yet the markets inside those walls also bear the signs of a modern era. Air conditioning ductwork runs along the ancient quarters. And armed guards secure the area — a part of the world considered sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Guards and the threat of violence have been a part of the city for centuries as well, as conflicts continue to embroil the Middle East. Friday Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers along the border separating Gaza from Israel. And press reports note continuing Mideast tension as countries, including the United States and Israel, search for responses to the violence in war-torn Syria.
Yet the mission of the man revered as a prophet to 16 million members of the LDS Church is to focus attention on the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, who walked these streets, brought his Gospel to the world and whose disciples believe overcame death through resurrection.
President Nelson took time Friday evening to overlook the Old City from the BYU Jerusalem Center, an eight-level building set on five acres on Mount Scopus, overlooking the Mount of Olives and the Old City.
After visiting London and addressing a diverse group of LDS Church membersgathered in the Hyde Park Chapel, President Nelson’s delegation continued the trip that includes visits to eight countries in 11 days. Cassidy Heaton, 24, a BYU Jerusalem Center student from Ogden, Utah, said people come from all over the world to visit Jerusalem and it is historic to have President Nelson and Elder Holland here.
“This is where it all happened. The most important person to ever live on the Earth … lived here and died here and was resurrected here,” she said, noting that now the person she believes is prophet of the Lord will continue Jesus Christ’s ministry here.
Holly Castleton, 22, also a BYU Jerusalem Center student from Mesa, Ariz., finds great significance in the fact that President Nelson has arrived in a place “so familiar” to the Savior.5 comments on this story
“President Nelson is the mouthpiece of the Lord,” and this is the place “where it all started,” she said. He will address those gathered at the Jerusalem Center Saturday at a Jerusalem district conference.
President Nelson’s visit also holds great significance for the Church. In 1972, Harold B. Lee became the first LDS Church president to visit Jerusalem, according to information compiled by the Church History Library. Spencer W. Kimball and Gordon B. Hinckley also visited Jerusalem as LDS prophets in 1979 and 2000, respectively.