As part of our time in Jordan we had the profound privilege of being in the same places where some of the most significant moments in biblical history took place. It really is hard to put into words the sense of wonder that we experienced. There was one significant aspect of experiencing Jordanian culture that caught me off guard though we experienced it multiple times as the week progressed.
Jordan is bordered by Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Obviously, that region has been filled with tension over the years. Although we were assured by our friends in Jordan that we would be “safe”, I was still a bit nervous. I had never been to the middle east and my kids had never been out of the country. But, what we discovered was something beyond “safe” which I will explain in a moment.
Our first full day was a jump into the deep of biblical history. From our hotel in Madaba we headed out into the hilly desert of Jordan. It is beautiful in a unique way. It is also barren. It was not long until we were standing on Mount Nebo. It is not really a mountain but more like a high plateau overlooking the valley towards Israel. Mount Nebo is where Moses looked out into the promised land after leading the Israelites through the wilderness for 40 years. It is where he died. My first thought as we stood there was, “I completely understand why the children of Israel complained.” The land felt unforgiving and completely exposed. I can’t imagine 40 years out there. No running water. No A/C. No electricity. Just rocky, hilly desert. But off in the distance you could see the hope of shade and water, the Promised land. I can’t imagine what Moses and the Israelites felt when they realized they had made it.
From there we drove a little further to one of the most overwhelming places I’ve ever been, the place where Jesus was baptized. It is referred to as Bethany Beyond the Jordan, which is an area a few hundred feet from the actual Jordan river. There is a “pool” that is fed by multiple springs and connects to the river. While we were there the springs were mostly dried up. All I could think about was Jesus walking into the water to be baptized by his cousin, John. Then hearing the voice of perfect love say, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased” and the Spirit descending on Him. We were standing in that spot. Our feet walked where Jesus walked. Our eyes saw what He saw.
Believe it or not, there was more to that day but I want to try to explain something that happened to us multiple times in our journey. We were told before the trip that one of the values of Jordanian culture is hospitality. Hospitality can be misunderstood as meaning “entertaining people”. Biblically speaking, hospitality means to love strangers and welcome them in for their benefit. We first encountered unexpected hospitality when we were having dinner one evening in the ancient city of Umm Qais while watching the sunset over the Sea of Galilee (yes that was an amazing thing to witness). A Jordanian family came and sat at the table next to us and asked in English if we were americans. They began to explain that they had just built a new house about 3 miles from there. Within 5 minutes of the conversation we were being invited to come stay with them in their new home. They were genuinely disappointed when we were not able.
A couple of days later we were walking through the ancient city of Petra. In the movies it is where Indiana Jones found the Holy Grail. In real life, Petra was the capital city for the Nabataean Empire dating back at least to the 2nd century BC. It is also thought to be the place where the frankincense and myrrh that was given to Jesus after his birth came from. Petra is enormous.
All along the trails through Petra, locals sell handmade gifts to make a living, Many of the locals live in old tombs carved into the walls of Petra. It is like going back in time. As we were visiting with one local at her gift stand, we found ourselves sharing a cup of hot tea with her and talking about life in Petra. Quickly she turned the conversation to, “you should stay and come to my home for dinner.”
The next day our experience of hospitality went to a new level. Unfortunately there is not enough space for every detail. We were headed to spend the night in the desert of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum has been a filming location for multiple Star Wars movies and any movie that involves Mars. It is breathtaking.
We had to meet our host along the way so that he could lead us into the desert to our camp. We met him at a “coffee shop” that looked like an abandoned roadside fruit stand. He approached our car and spoke to us through the window, “before I take you to camp we will go to my house to have tea with my family.” After driving off road through the desert we came to his home in a small desert village. There we were, five Americans sitting in the home of a Jordanian family we had not met until 15 minutes earlier, being treated as family. Through our teammate who spoke Arabic, we spent time getting to know them a little. They were incredibly kind, trusting and welcoming. But to take it another level, the next morning after our night in the desert, he took us back to his home for more tea. This time we were there for even longer. Now that we were “old friends”, we had the most incredible conversation about life, our different cultures, family and our different faiths. His family is Muslim. At one point I told him how honored we felt to be welcomed into his home and treated so well. His response was simple, “How can I say that I have a God who loves me, if I don’t treat you with the same kind of love.” Wow. Then like in our other encounters, he wanted to stay for dinner.
Over and over we were students of the Jordanian people on what it means to practice hospitality. We did not deserve to be welcomed in but we were. We were strangers and we were loved.
There is so much more to be said but in the spirit of Peter, James, and John in Matthew I will just say, “Lord, it was good to be there.” For me, Emily, and James to have this experience was a gift.