BYU Jerusalem Center alumni revisit the Holy Land—’it felt like coming home’

A photo of the alumni participants in front of the Dome of the Rock. On a trip organized and planned by volunteers from the BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni, participants revisited some familiar sites. (Photo by April Cobb)

A select group of Jerusalem Center alumni were able to revisit familiar sites and stay in the Jerusalem Center once more on a trip organized and planned by volunteers from the BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni Sept. 4-15.

April Cobb, chair of the alumni organization, said, “I want people to be able to go and remember their experience, draw closer to the Savior, build their testimony and strengthen their families through the experience.”

Cobb said she first had the idea for an alumni organization in 2019, after the 30 year anniversary event for the Jerusalem Center. The board was established in 2020, and BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni started getting more volunteers to assist in running every aspect of the organization.

As the alumni visited each spot at one church, they learned about the significance of the location from the scriptures. This trip was organized and planned by volunteers from the BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni. (Photo by April Cobb)

“This trip is put on by volunteers, not paid people,” Cobb said. “We’re trying to fulfill a mission.”

That mission, according to the organization’s website is to “promote the Jerusalem Center’s contribution to our lives,” and they aim to do that by following their five core goals to remind, connect, collect, teach and give. 

Cami Pollard, an alumna who first stayed at the Jerusalem Center in the fall of 1992, was reminded of that experience on this recent trip. “It was very emotional to actually be sitting in the upper auditorium again, partaking of the sacrament as I did weekly 30 years ago,” Pollard said.

Students are enrolled in classes while staying at the Jerusalem Center, typically learning about the New Testament, Old Testament, Jewish civilization and more. Oftentimes, Cobb said, there are visits to places that line up with what the students are learning in their classes, such as the Sea of Galilee.

When Erin Madsen first visited the Sea of Galilee while studying abroad in 1992, she said it was the most impactful experience for her. Her group was on a ferry during a storm, which brought to mind the story of Christ on the Sea of Galilee. The next day, Madsen said it was completely calm. 

“Anytime I’ve been afraid, I’ve sort of thought about that moment and remembered that the Savior could bring peace again, no matter what the fear and confusion might be,” Madsen said.

The alumni posed for a photo on a mountain in the Golan Heights overlooking Syria. This trip was organized and planned by volunteers from the BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni. (Photo by April Cobb)

Madsen met her husband, Michael, while they were both on the study abroad program. Michael said being at the Jerusalem Center is “a constant reminder of the things you’re learning about.”

Alumni on this trip still had the opportunity to learn while in Jerusalem. Cobb said they brought a retired religion faculty member from BYU to “bring the spirit into it and go over the related scriptures with us so that we can relearn as we go.”

For several participants on this trip back to Jerusalem, it has been decades since they’ve been back to the Jerusalem Center. 

In order to be eligible for revisiting with the BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni, applicants must be over the age of 30 and alumni of the program, according to Cobb. Applicants must also be a member of the BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni organization, which they can join through the website

The BYU Jerusalem Center Alumni brought several alumni back to the Holy Land to revisit the Jerusalem Center and other familiar sites. Alumni must meet certain requirements before being able to revisit Jerusalem through the organization. (Created on Canva by Trevor Myers)

Cobb emphasized that she wanted it to feel like returning to be a student. While it may be a foreign country with different customs, Cobb said most alumni feel like they were returning to somewhere familiar.

Madsen said, “It felt like coming home.”

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