Saturday, June 20, 2009

JETS New Campus

Today I spent the morning in class with the students. One of the students, a Syrian named Sana'a who is married to a Jordanian, gave a great devotional on Isaiah 6. Steven Anderson presented the first lecture on the "Unity of Isaiah." and then I taught the next two lectures on Isaiah 1–6. This week each of the Master's level student needs to present a 5-10 minute devotional from Isaiah. We ended classes at 1:00 pm (Jordanians tend to eat lunch and dinner later than we do). After driving Hany home, to make sure I knew the way to his church for Sunday, Habil (acting academic dean here at JETS) took us out to the new campus that has been under construction for over two years.
There have been numerous delays in this great building project including unexpected taxes, a collapsed roof, costs for steel and concrete that tripled, etc. It is located in the hills outside Amman where you can see Mt. Nebo and the hills of Samaria in the distance. The campus contains a number of uncompleted buildings that are just waiting additional funding for completion. This new complex will be capable of training up to 500 Arabic speaking students as well as serving as a conference center for the 5 evangelical denominations in Jordan. In this picture (taken from the lower part of the property) you can see the prayer tower, to the left the academic building, to the right the administration building and library, and underneath these buildings are the cafeteria, chapel/gym etc. and in front of it all two Americans (Stephen and Steven) dreaming of someday teaching right here! The picture of the outdoor amphitheater is taken from on top of the prayer tower (Steven took this picture and many of the others I have put on this blog over the last few days with his good camera [thanks Steven]) shows the foundation of what will seat about 2,000 people. And in the future, if the Lord was to provide, there would be apartments for faculty and dormitories for students beyond the ampitheater. Just think of what God could do in such a complex! I believe it could certainly help to change the evangelical church in the Arab world and, Lord willing, even beyond.
The president of JETS, Dr. Imad Shehadah (a graduate of DTS) is in the states right now challenging God's people to give so at least the essential parts of this campus can be completed so students can be trained here this very next year (right now JETS occupies rented facilities). Would you pray with me that God would provide the needed funds? (the JETS website is: I am looking forward to completing my course this week but already thinking about when I could come back.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Northern Jordan

Today was Friday and no classes so we hit the road and traveled north. Well, first we started south-west down to the Jordan River valley near the bridge over to Israel. Close to the Jordan River we turned north and began to drive up through this fertile valley where Jordan grows vegetables and fruits. We drove right through the area the children of Israel would have camped before crossing the Jordan to Jericho. I'm sure the owners of this land are wealthy but it appears many of the people who live and work here and not too well off. All the way along the 50 miles or so were villages with road-front shops where you could purchase anything.
We stopped at Dayr 'Alla (the site where the extra-biblical Balaam inscription was found that is now in the Amman museum), saw the Jabbok where it comes down to the Jordan (close by is the ford of Adam mentioned in Scripture), and then stopped at Pella. Pella is one of the Decapolis cities and is the place where early writers said the Christians of Jerusalem fled before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. I got greeted by the "guardian" of Pellas with a "kiss" on both cheeks because I had had tea at his place two years ago and bought a few coins from him too! A glass on mint lemonade, some interesting conversation, a great overview of the site from the balcony of the resthouse (with places in Israel such as Bethshan, Mt. Gilboa and even the top of Mt. Tabor visible in the land across the Jordan) and then a hot walk around the actual site with Roman, and Iron age ruins and also one of the earliest Canaanite temples ever discovered.
Then up the Jordan until we reached the Yarmuk River which flows down from between the Golan Heights (Israel) and up the river Syria and the side of the river we were on which was Jordan. Along this stretch we probably went through about 6-8 army checkpoints.
A long winding climb up to the top of the mountains of Gilead and there is the Decapolis city of Gadara, whose region is mentioned in Matthew 8:28. Again, like Jerash, this city has two theaters, a long (2/3 of a mile?) Cardo paved, column-lined street, and many ruins in the midst of archaeological restoration. The interesting thing is that most of this city is not made out of the common white limestone but rather the black basalt (volcanic) rock found especially in the Golan region where there are a number of extinct volcanoes. In the distance is the Sea of Galilee where I sailed on a boat just one month ago!
Finally a late lunch at that great international restaurant "Popeyes Chicken!" in Irbid (another Decaplis city but no time for a visit to the Tel), (by the way Layth, the young 4 year old boy whose home we ate at knew all about Popeye, spinach etc. because he sees the cartoons on TV here!)
Then back along the highway to Amman with a quick side trip where we saw the great city of Jerash from the heights of the mountain NE of it.
Since our return around 4:30 pm I have spent 4 hours preparing for Monday's class (I think I'm prepared for tomorrow [Saturday] classes) because I know Sunday will be an interesting and busy day after preaching in two churches (more about that on Sunday night)! Now the local mosque is calling Muslims to pray over the loud system. A great reminder for me to pray to our God through Jesus who visited the Decapolis region in his ministry. I'm not sure if you have been counting but I think we have now visited 5 of the Decapolis cities since I have been here to Jordan (and Bethshan for #6 but that was a month ago!). Can you name them?
I enjoy getting comments about this blog so feel free to comment!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jonah, Jabbok, and Jerash

Today in class we covered the book of Jonah. Steven Anderson, the Ph.D. student who is here with me, carefully presented material that answered common objections to the literal nature of this book. It seems to me that students here don't have problem with the supernatural and so are not bothered by many of the concerns of students in North America. I then spent about 2 1/2 hours going through the book almost verse-by-verse with application. The students really seemed to enjoy the classes.
After class one of our students Fares, who also works at JETS as the acting Dean of Students, took us for a good lunch at KFC! Just like at home but a little more limited in choice (Pepsi, Miranda Orange, or 7Up) and the smoking in restaurants can be like a reminder of days gone by in America!
This afternoon Chris, a wonderful British man who has lived in Jordan for almost 2 decades and who teaches a course in Geography of Jordan, gave us a great tour to Jerash (Gerasa in the Bible; see Mark 5:1; Luke 8:26). On the way we stopped at the Jabbok River where I got my picture taken with Chris. This is the river that Jacob crossed in Genesis 32 and where he wrestled with God. Today much of the water is used by the booming Jordanian population.
North of the Jabbok is one of the greatest Decapolis cities, today called Jerash. After entering through a monumental gate the city's main street called the Cardo (heart) must stretch for a mile. You walk past the Hippodrome, the South Gate, the Temple of Zeus, the South Theater, the Oval Plaza, the Macellum (meat market), the Nymphaeum (public water fountain), the Temple of Artemis, past lots of places still to be excavated, the West Bath House, the North Theater, and the North Gate. When you see many of these places you are reminded of the struggles the early Christians often had: should we go to the theater were many seats are dedicated to gods, are the house races and all that goes on a place for believers, do we eat the meat in the market since it has come from the temples, what should we think about the gods/statues in the niches at the major cross streets, how should we think about the inscriptions on the gate about the Roman Emperor being the lord, the autocrat, etc. etc.?
Now I am back in Amman, tired, a little hot, but thankful for this unique opportunity I have to teach the Bible and visit the land of the Bible at the same time. I am thankful for all the Lord's blessings today.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Classea and Chapel

This day started by noticing a shepherd (he is located in the lower left center with a red head covering on) with his flock of goats outside the guest room window right next to a newly build apartment building. The old and new somehow still existing in a balance and in tension here in this culture and country. In fact this balance and tension is seen everywhere in Jordan with BMW's of the wealthy competing with the donkeys of the poor on the road. Men in robes and young men in blue jeans, ladies in long dark dresses and others in the fashions of modern American side-by-side. They are building the first skyscaper in Amman (actually twin buildings one of which just had the crane collapse up some forty stories!) not far from 2,000 year old ruins. What a place!
I taught Hosea today and had a great time doing so. I must admit that teaching with a translator, even one as good as Hanna, is tiring because it is somehow harder to relax. Maybe my age has something to do with it too but I still love to teach. After classes we attended chapel that was run by the student council here at JETS. A wonderful time of singing, praying and then a humorous skit with a good message. A good day topped off by a visit to Amman's Burger King restaurant! Tomorrow are classes on Jonah and then a visit to one of the Decapolis cities Jerash.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Death and also Pastor Lo'ay

This morning I arrived at class to discover a number of students upset due to the death of the father of one of the Jordanian students (her name is Faten). He died suddenly last night and the funeral was held this afternoon. A number of students wanted to go to support her so I offered to end the class early at 12 noon. I spend the 3+ hours (8:15-12:00) teaching Amos 3–9. What a joy to seeing students listening, writing, asking questions in Arabic. When I gave them the chance to share and pray with each other over a number of challenging items I had discussed in class they began immediately and, often with arms around another person, shared and prayed. By the way, when I ask a student to open the class in prayer it is no 10 second prayer! With great passion they pray, often loudly building to peaks, with many agreeing with "amens" and "hallelujah." I don't know what they are saying since I don't want to interrupt the prayer with translation but I am convinced that our Lord is hearing some heartful prayers.
Late in the afternoon I drove to an older section of Amman, near the Roman theater area, and had a great time of fellowship with Lo'ay Abou-Layth, his wife Wafa' (a Syrian) and their four year old son Layth. Lo'ay was in my class two years ago and is a pastor of a Nazarene church in addition to being a student at JETS. He has faithfully been building this church body over the last 6-7 years and now there are new members and young people coming. They renovated the building (including AC!) and as you can see there are about 60-70 seats in a beautiful, modern looking sanctury. They live above the church and the meal Wafa' prepared was great, including fruit and ice-cream for dessert! Lo'ay translated for his wife. I bring small gifts for both the adults and children when I visit and the Nerds candy for Layth was a big hit!
We got back to the guest rooms at 8:30 pm after driving through the most challenging traffic you could care to find! I told Steven that I want him to take a picture out the car window for another blog and he asked me if I wanted him to lose a limb! They have traffic circles here and it is every man for himself. Pray for me! The nice thing about driving here however, is I get to use my horn to let people know I'm here, nobody gets upset, and I have yet to see an accident — though no car is without wounds!
Tomorrow is teaching 3 sesssions on Hosea from 8:15 am to 12 noon followed by chapel.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Classes and Machaerus

Today I had a great time teaching Amos 1–2 for over three hours! It is quite something when mentioning Bozrah, Rabbah (Amman), Gilead and a number of other places to realize that they are just a few miles away from where I am teaching! But amazingly most of the students have never been to these places or others like Machaerus where we spent the afternoon.
Machaerus is the location of one of Herod the Great's palaces and it is believed to be the place where Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14:1-12; Mark 6:14-29). It is Josephus, the Jewish historian, who actually identifies the place of the death of John as being at Machaerus. This hilltop fortress is about 7 miles east of the Dead Sea on a hill that would be easy to defend. We saw the remnants of the Roman siege ramp, the huge water cisterns, the foundation of the aqueduct, and some of the foundations of the walls of the palace. In the midst of this dry and barren land I noticed a large(60+) goats grazing on the hillside on what must be really tasty rocks! I took a picture from near the top of Machaerus of these goats. Can you see them in the center of the hill, just straight down from the summit? They are above and below the line of rock that you see crossing the hill.
I decided to invite a former student of mine here at JETS, Hany, to come along with us since he had never been to Machaerus. Hany is auditing my course since he has graduated now with his M.Div. He always shows up for my classes here and is a real delight. He is an Egyptian single young man who is now pastoring an Iraqi Church here in Amman. I understand from others the people of the church just love him. He preaches at least twice a week, visits his members 2 or 3 days a week, fasts every Monday and gets up to pray with some church members every morning from 5:00-6:30 am! He does all this for a salary of about $400. a month, barely enough to get by after renting an apartment, paying for bus fare, food, clothes. If I had a $1,000 available right now I'd give it to him knowing that every dollar would bring great eternal rewards through his ministry. He is busy, the church is growing (through new families who haven't been going to others churches), and many of these Iraqis will, in the future, be a witness in their own country too. But when he heard of this course that I am teaching he decided to get on the bus for an hour or so after the prayer meeting and come to school to drink in the Word! Oh that we all would have such dedication, drive and desire. What a treat to hear him share in his broken English his joy in the LORD. I was planning on taking him to Pizza Hut for what for him would be a special meal but on the way back from Machaerus he got a phone call that someone in the church needed him. We dropped him off on the street of his "apartment" with a promise to take him out for dinner before we leave Jordan. I can't wait for the blessing of hearing him share over a meal.The picture on the right are the two of us on the top of Machaerus with the Dead Sea in the distance. Can I ask you to take a moment and pray for Hany, and myself, in our service to the Lord? Thanks.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

First Sunday in Amman

Today I woke up to find my computer "ringing" beside me and when I opened it who should appear but my lovely wife Sharon! It is amazing that with Skype I can see and hear my wife from over 7,000 miles away and I don't have to pay long distance charges which speaks to my Scottish background (thanks Mom)! It was 6:30 am Sunday morning here but 10:30 pm Saturday night in Texas.
We (Steven Anderson and myself) went to the Christian Missionary Alliance Church at the 2nd Circle here in Amman for Sunday worship. It was a well attended service although Sunday here is a normal work day for many people. The largest service here at the church is on Thursday evening. The pastor preaches 3 different services a week and there are another 14 services for people of different nationalities, children, youth, women's etc. The service today was all in Arabic but a translator sat beside us in the balcony and translated for us. The service contained a number of great, energetic songs and hymns (accompanied by organ, piano, and electric keyboard), a solo by a young lady, a number of prayers, and then the sermon and closing announcements, offering and prayer. I felt very much at home although not being able to sing in Arabic was a disappointment when I saw how much they were enjoying themselves as they sang. The church is in a beautiful, modern building and has another building beside it where they offer free medical care and English classes as a means of doing good and winning the right to be heard. After church is an hour of coffee and cake before everyone heads home for lunch. After leaving the church we took a drive around Amman (saw one of the largest Starbucks in the world) and noticed that the American Embassy, which is huge, was well guarded (we choose wisely not to try and take pictures!).
Then we went to the Hashweh home for a lunch. I have gotten to know Albert Hashweh over the years (he runs Visions Tours, a Christian tour company in Jordan) and he has always been exceptionally kind and generous with me. The entire Hashweh family was there and so there were about 20 adults for a wonderful meal. The Hawhweh family is a well-known Christian family who has been successful in business and extremely involved and generous to the Christian church here. Besides the three lamb dishes there was chicken, rice, salad, humus, yogurt, corn, and a few other dishes that tasted delicious. It was Albert's 5 year old daughter's birthday and so we celebrated in song and with a fireworks candle in the middle of the dining room!
Now I am back at the guest rooms of JETS preparing for tomorrow's classes. I will teach 3 sessions (two 1 1/2 hours and one 1 1/4 hour) on Amos so pray for me, the translator and especially the students!