Most of us will only see the Holy Land through scripture study—but Garth and Kathleen Holyoak of the Arcadia Ward, Scottsdale Camelback Stake, have only to look out their window. The Holyoaks were recently called to fill a service assignment to the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies for a period of eighteen months.
“We want everyone to understand that this is not a mission calling” says Sister Holyoak. “We are a service couple because the Church has signed a non-proselyting contract that no one at the Jerusalem Center, including students, will share any of our beliefs.” Instead, their focus includes building good will on behalf of the Jerusalem Center and the Church with the local Israeli, Palestinian and Christian communities.
The center’s building is on Mount Scopus overlooking the Mount of Olives, the Kidron Valley, and the Old City (Jerusalem). Students attend the Jerusalem Center as part of BYU’s study abroad program. There are currently eighty-two students attending. Students enroll in Provo and travel to the Holy Land, where they live in the center for about four months and study a core curriculum focusing on Old and New Testament, ancient and modern Near Eastern studies, and language (Hebrew and Arabic).
Sister Holyoak, an accomplished organist, holds a music degree from BYU and will be the resident organist for the center. This prestigious position has been held by tabernacle organists and other gifted musicians including Robert Cundick and Parley Belnap.
Sister Holyoak is the organist for the student branch that meets on Saturday (the Sabbath in Jerusalem), and she also conducts a student choir. Members of the Church visiting the area are welcome to attend, but are asked not to invite non-members to attend Church services. The Church’s agreement assures the State of Israel that no efforts will be made by its members to lead individuals in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to take an interest in the Church. This agreement applies to all Church members, whether they are residents, short-term visitors or tourists.
Sister Holyoak also gives short organ recitals on the center’s Maracussen tracker organ Wednesday through Friday as part of the tours conducted through the Jerusalem Center.
As a music couple the Holyoaks are also in charge of the carillon bells, located in the 152 foot tower on top of the YMCA building. Sister Holyoak plays the carillon bells in the Old City each Sunday from 11 a.m. until noon. A carillon is a musical instrument composed of at least twenty-three bells which are played from a keyboard and is mechanically connected to the bells in the tower. The keyboard has broomstick-shaped keys that are played by the carillonneur with loosely formed fists, and pedals that are played with the feet. Along with playing the bells, the couple shows students how to play them. These carillon bells are the only ones in the Middle East.
The Holyoaks are truly enjoying building goodwill through music. “We are still learning our duties,” says Sister Holyoak, “and are excited to have this opportunity.”
You can check out the Holyoaks’ blog at TheHolyoaksintheHolyLand.blogspot.com.