Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Unique Experiences in Jordan

I think I've traveled to Jordan about 11 times in the last 13 years (including 6 times to teach and 5 tours). Even when I'm here teaching I usually rent a car and with my map (and Canadian passport for safety) I try and see as many archeological sites as I can. I also try and just enjoy the diversity of this country and I've enjoyed driving in the desert until I was almost in Saudi Arabia and even headed down the road to Iraq a ways until I thought some wise thoughts! The students in class have kidded me that I know more, and have seen more, of Jordan than they have! This year (and in every past time I've taught here at the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary) I don't think any student has been aware of the 6th Century Byzantine Mosaic floor that is only a 1/4 away from the school. I have to show them pictures before they will believe me.
But often my highlight of any tour is when I have a chance to "get off the beaten track" and see the inside of the people and country. This past week has included several of these unique experiences in Jordan that I probably couldn't plan even with money but the Lord has graciously provided them for me.
Let me just briefly mention a few of them and include a picture of two for you

1) Preaching in Churches in Jordan. On this particular trip I have preached in an Arabic Church of the Nazarene near downtown Amman (1st Circle), at a Sudanese Arabic Church (2nd Circle) which ended up being attended by about 15 different Nationalities, and at an Alliance Church just outside Amman proper in a village called Marj Al-hamam. (also two chapels services at JETS with students here from 6 or 7 different nations). I'll also teach class for 56 hours including translation over the 18 days I am here in Jordan. I am planning to rest when I return (while, sort of, since Sharon and I leave for Israel and Jordan exactly one week from the day I arrive home!)

2) Eating and Drinking in Jordanian Homes. Years ago I would have had a hard time eating anything that wasn't from a cow and accompanied solely by potatoes and "normal" vegetables. God has allowed me to change and enjoy a wider variety of His good things. Here in Jordan I have enjoyed Arabic barbeque, Mansef, Maqluba (upside down rice and califlower or eggplant or ? with either chicken or lamb, Arabic coffee, Turkish coffee, Sahlab, and along with these meals in the tradional Arabic/Jordanian hospitality. Today I posted on Facebook the following post on my lunch today — Today I was the guest of the parents of Hassan (one of my student and a pastor of an Alliance Church in Marj Al-hamam, just outside of Amman) in Na'our, Jordan. They treated my in traditional Jordanian fashion which meant I felt I was royalty! I was fed lamb (his mother kept putting pieces on my place - I ate three!) and rice and nuts and vegetables and fruit and of course Arabic coffee (it comes in just a tiny cup but it is powerful and it was just wonderful). At one time this man owned over 100 dunams [25 acres] of land as well as sheep and goats etc. He sold much of it when land, this close to Amman, became valuable, and he kept a high hill on which he and all his sons (and uncles and cousins) now have beautiful, modern homes that would rival much of what I see in upscale Dallas. You can see the tall buildings of Amman in one direction (10 miles?) and in another direction (30 miles?) you can see the hills of Judea in Israel today.
I asked this 75-80 year old man numerous questions about his younger years in this land, the events of 1947-48 and 1967 when wars was in this region, and what it was like when he met the King of Jordan etc. etc. I was just curious and fascinated, and he loved my interest in his much loved land and country.
I have found when I serve my Lord, with what a times seems like some sacrifice, He blesses me with people and experiences that I couldn't buy with money. Today was one of them.

On Sunday afternoon I asked Hassan to stop the car so I could take a picture of the Almond Tree that was in bloom by the side of the road. As I took the picture an Arab woman came out to see what we were doing. As it turns out she knew Hassen's parents
The Almond tree that I originally was shooting can be seen outside on the other side of the road
quite well and so of course now needed to give them three bags of fresh vegetables so he could take them home. Once she met me and realized I was a guest in her country she INSISTED we come in for "just a moment" so she could feed us a little something (I had just finished a wonderful chicken meal at Hassan's home that his wife Rula had cooked). About 30 or 40 minutes later after I have eaten the BEST figs, almonds, sweet moist raisins I have ever eaten (and also I turned down oranges, apples, bananas, and the offer to come back for a
I'm kneeling down beside the "first wave" she brought in. Isn't it a beautiful room? You might never guess as you pass by outside.
meal of lamb!) and I have drunk fruit juice and then Arabic coffee (not the thick, dark Turkish coffee I often have in a home here). I was going to turn down the coffee but the pastor quickly informed me that this type of coffee signified friendship. It hardly tastes like coffee (it is made with water, lightly roasted coffee, ground with cardamom and boiled for about 15 to 20 minutes—not percolated or filtered—but boiled and this particular Arabic coffee had something else in it too but nobody could tell me what it was! But I saw it and felt it in my mouth - almost like rice?) In the past this type of coffee was used to conclude a negotiation or show reconciliation and so to refuse to drink this would be an insult. Here I am (an American/Canadian, male, professor, Believer in Christ), sitting in a very special hospitality room (attached to the home but with a separate entrance from the house entrance) being shown gracious hospitality by an Arab, Muslim, Bedouin woman! I'm glad I didn't insult anyone, I drank it, enjoyed it and look forward to having the opportunity to do this again! You can't buy experiences like this!

3) Unique Sites. This time I have been so committed to ministry (every day but one since I've been here) I haven't taken any trips solely for the purpose of sight-seeing and research. But on Sunday after dinner and before church I was privileged to see, on a private farm, a very ancient tree. It was huge, the men I spoke to disagree on its age (anywhere from 140 years back to a thousand years). No one could tell me for sure what type of tree it was (nothing that I have ever seen in my travels here in the Middle East that I can remember).

People sometimes ask me why I travel so far and work fairly hard when I could be at home with my family and grandkids enjoying my sabbatical (and let me say I enjoy every minute with my family and miss Sharon lots when I'm away). I do this because I believe the Lord has called me to do it. I think that this seminary in Jordan is strategically placed for such a time as this. There will never be any true peace here unless hearts are changed. The Lord can do this in Arab lives throughout this country and the surrounding countries. I don't do it for this great and enjoyable experiences I have "on the side" but isn't our God good to give them to me?
JETS hopes to move into their campus in August. However, they need about $400,000 to complete it to the standard the government is insisting on before they can take possession. Would you pray with me that the Lord will provide this?  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Preaching in Jordan

When I'm here in the summer (I usually come in July but because I'm on sabbatical it allowed me to come here in Febuary) I often see license plates from Saudi Arabia. I haven't seen many of them this time but I did see one that seemed to have some connection with the monarchy or at least government. I was wondering as I took the picture if a security person was going to start asking questions. Apparently I looked innocent enough and I went on my walk.
One of the real joys I have as one who enjoys both the Scriptures and the local church is the opportunity I often have to preach when I am traveling. On Saturday morning I preached in morning chapel at JETS with men and women present from at least 6 different countries. Sunday evening I preached at 1st Circle Church of the Nazarene whose pastor is a former student I taught at JETS, I was translated by a former student and translator I had at JETS, and in the audience was a former student and his wife that I taught at DTS in Dallas! Although I just had a little part in the preparation of these former students, what a joy it is to see them in ministry and to hear what God is doing through them.

In my class right now I have 3 students from Egypt, 1 student from Syria, 3 students from South Sudan, 1 student from Korea, and 3 students from Jordan. What will God do through these committed servants of His? Some of them have very little  and they have been through so much. I plan to give whatever I can to help them prepare to preach and teach the Word. 
If anyone reading my blog feels God wants them to contribute some money to these students, please just write me an email. You could send it to my home, meanwhile I could use my bank card to get some money and give it to them while I'm here. These students are a tremendous investment in reaching the Arabic speaking world.

Friday, February 8, 2013

First Week in Amman, Jordan

Today is Friday and in the Middle East this means it is the "Weekend" since the Muslims (who are the majority, except in Israel) take this day as their day of worship. The roads are pretty empty, stores are closed and the seminary here takes a break as well. If you want to reach your neighbors you can't offend them and today many churches will have services so that neighbors can come.
Saturday here is a regular weekday and so I will teach tomorrow from 9 am - 1:30 pm with just two 15 minute breaks. Four hours of classes a day can be energy consuming but of course I only have to actually speak for half that time since everything I say is translated into Arabic.
Tomorrow I will first speak in chapel at 8:15 am (on Wednesday the chaplain had a Jordanian "breakfast" for chapel time! [see the picture]) and then in the late afternoon I will head off to the International Church here in Amman to hear one of our DTS alumni, Jeffrey Townsend, preach. Sunday will be a "day off" here at JETS (Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary) since many Christian churches will have services, though often in the evenings since Sunday is a regular work day for most people. I will be preaching at the 1st Circle Church of the Nazarene (near the downtown of the Old City). This church is pastored by one of my first students that I taught here at JETS back in about 2003. Lo'ay and his wife Wafa (from Syria) are a wonderful couple that I enjoy fellowshipping with every time I come to Jordan. Their children Laith and Rula will be receiving some special treats I brought them from Texas!
In the past I have always visited Jordan (I think I've been in this country at least 11 different times) during the summer months (May to August) and so this is the first time I have been here in the winter and seen rain. In fact, on Wednesday it was foggy and rainy as I went for my daily walk.
On my walks this week I passed by a site I have visited in the past (none of my students here even knew that it was there even though it is just a 1/2 mile from JETS). It is a mosaic from the 6th Century. These days however, it is locked and the outside of the shelter is overflowing with trash. Can you imagine if in America we had a man-made relic that was 1,400 years old? We'd have it displayed is a modern building and charge an admission fee. Here in the Middle East there are so many ancient remains that most of them are not even properly preserved. But not everything here in Amman Jordan is ancient or rundown. I took a picture of a new mall that is being developed just a mile from where I am staying. They also have a great pedestrian mall with Starbucks just a half mile away, just a hundred yards from the Sixth Century mosaic floor (above). There is a real mixture here, ancient - modern, religious - secular, Muslim - Christian, etc. Jordan for the most part is a stable nation with the population not supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in the latest election and yet it is a monarch with a king who has almost absolute power (he can dissolve Parliament whenever he desires). Yet the people recognize that in many surrounding nations chaos reigns. I'd appreciate prayer as I seek to minister here. I need wisdom in what to say, what not to say, how to say what I need to say etc. The people who host me here are fabulous. I admire them for their commitment to this ministry here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Teaching in Jordan, 2013

I'm back in Jordan, teaching for 3 weeks at the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. I've been coming here since 2003 and it is thrilling for me each time I have the opportunity to teach our Arabic brothers and sisters (and they teach me lots too!).
This year I am teaching the Gospels and Acts course and I have 11 master's level students. They come from Jordan, Sudan, Egypt, Syria and Korea! It was exciting today to hear how each one is intimately involved in ministry even as they study here. I may be able to share, at least in general terms, some of their involvement in later blogs.
I left Texas on Saturday to fly to Tampa, Florida to speak twice at Bayside Community Church. They do post their sermons so if you are bored or intrigued or . . .  you can find the messages I preached at: (http://www.baysidecommunitychurch.net/home.html   OR http://bcctampa.sermon.tv/). On Sunday afternoon I left for the airport at 3 pm and arrived here in Amman, Jordan (via Atlanta and Paris) at the guest house on Tuesday morning at 1 am! Air France had some problems with the plane out of Paris and so I arrived about 4 hours later than expected. A quick sleep and then a cup of tea, chapel and class for 4 1/2 hours (9 am - 1:30 pm), lunch with JETS president Dr. Imad Shehadeh, an afternoon nap, dinner, some prep and now some blog time.
I think every Christian, if possible, should travel and experience "Church" in a different culture. This morning I sat and listened as Arabic voices loudly sang praises to our God. I prayed along with a brother and sister (though I couldn't understand their words except for just a few) but I knew they were praying in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. The devotional was kindly translated for me and it was a good challenge from Ezekiel 37. 
In the days ahead I hope to share more of what is happening here in Jordan and what the Lord is doing with, in, and through me these days.