Thursday, May 15, 2008

Updates from Jordan

Here are the daily updates that I sent the PR office while I was in Jordan. These can also be read (and the pictures viewed) at

May 8

Things have gone safely and smoothly. Jordan is nice. It is not quite as Western as Israel (though as I say that I am looking out the window at a KFC and Fuddruckers), but the people are very friendly. I think I would say that it feels more relaxed than Israel.

I haven't done much touring yet, but I did get to the Jordanian Antiquities Museum yesterday. I got to see the Copper Scroll and some other cool things. I had heard that the Hezekiah's Tunnel Inscription was there, but I couldn't find it. You know some people believe this is the first area that Paul ever preached in. In Galatians he talks about going to Arabia for several years. Some think that this is the part he went to.

The program here has earned a great deal of respect in the Amman community. They teach and evaluate Arabic for a number of individuals and businesses in the area. Philadelphia University here in Amman accredits the academic program, but it is Fred and his staff that make it a going concern. The opportunity for students to get 12 hours of Arabic (both spoken and written) out in one summer is very impressive. They do some classroom work in the mornings and use their Arabic in the afternoons. It really does feel like this would be preparing our students for the world as it is rather than as it was. Mandarin and Arabic are two of the fastest growing languages today. If we want our students to be in good position for jobs, I think we need to continue to investigate programs like this. And, besides, it is hard to love our neighbor when we can't speak to our neighbor.

Once again this trip has reinforced the idea that people are people everywhere. Children laugh and play. And we all have five fingers as the nice man in Jericho reminded us. Sitting in this place and with these people it just eludes me why we can't find peace in this world.

I can send some pictures when I start touring more earnestly. In the meantime, I am attaching a photo of the Temple of Hercules in Amman. Probably around the second century AD. It is also located on the spot that David and Israel may have been fighting for when he had Uriah killed (so that he could have Bathsheba). Remember this area is the region of the Ammonites, which is after all where Amman gets its name.

May 9

I had a breakthrough today. For years I had heard Arabs use the phrase "I love Americans. I hate your government," and I never really understood it. I am finally beginning to understand. In most Arab countries, the government is invested in one person. In the case of Jordan, a king. The people have no say in government policies and programs. The king makes the decisions. Viewing the West with that eye, it is easy to divorce people and government and "love Americans and hate the American government." Having a government "of the people, by the people and for the people" is an alien concept.

Unfortunately, while Americans benefit from Arab naiveté, Arabs suffer from American naiveté. We look to the Middle East and assume that all Arabs reflect the policies of Arab government and extremist groups. I think unconsciously (I hope unconsciously), we assume that the actions of a few with power reflect the feelings of the majority.

I suppose the realization of that has let me feel even safer in this place. Remembering that people are people everywhere. Most people are decent, hard-working individuals who love their family and love to make new friends. Some are open and friendly. Some are rude. It doesn't matter if you are in Rome, Ga., or Amman, Jordan—people are people.

Stereotypes are hard things to lose, especially when you don't even realize you are doing it. I suppose that is why study abroad is so important for our students. It is really only away from home that you can truly see yourself. Once you are away from a culture that shares your perspective, you can better see what you believe. Sometimes it isn't pretty. Maybe these trips can help remind us that every individual is created in the image of God and is loved by the divine.

BTW, the photo with food is at a Yemeni restaurant. The food was glorious. You tear off a piece of bread and then pick up some "laham marroum" which tastes like sloppy joes with onions and tomatoes. Yumm. The students in the photo are from California Baptist University.

May 10

Today the group went out to see the baptismal site of Jesus. This was Bethany "on the other side" of the Jordan River. So, the Jordanians can lay claim to the best location for the site. This site was venerated back before the fifth century AD, so this site has a lot of history on its side. As you look at the picture, you can see that at this place, I am standing about 15 feet from Israel.

Jordan's banks aren't so stormy these days. Even as late as 1967, the Jordan River was 50-75 feet across. Now, with Syria, Israel and Lebanon using the sources upstream, you can see the trickle that the Jordan has become here, near the entrance to the Dead Sea.

It made me think about our consumption and the recent drought we faced in Georgia. We have seen wars fought over oil, but I am certain in the very near future we will see wars fought over water (hopefully, not between Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama). It has made me ask myself a couple of questions. Am I a good steward of God's gifts to me? Or, do I waste?

I think sometimes I do pretty well. After all, I turn off the water to brush my teeth and during my shave. But, I do waste a lot as well. I might stay in a shower too long or forget and leave the water hose on. But, I as have experienced this VERY thirsty land in Jordan, I hope I am more keenly aware of the gifts that God has given me, and I am a worthy steward of them.

May 11

Well, I attended my local Baptist church today. I decided to attend one of the local mega-Baptist churches. There were about 25 people in the worship service today. This is one of the larger congregations. They have eight worship services during the week, so the congregation is really about 150-200. Also, since Sunday is a workday in Jordan (not a day of rest), it would be as though I went to church on a Monday from 10 a.m. - noon.

The service was beautiful. They sang songs. Men and women prayed from their hearts. The sermon was passionate and challenging. Of course, it was all in Arabic, and I understood about five total words in the service (thankfully, they used those five words several times). I truly understood what it means to "join our hearts" in worship. Though I didn't understand the words, their love and hospitality was evident.

Of the 5.5 million people in Jordan, only about 6,000-7,000 are evangelical Christians. These Christians memorize scripture because they don't know if there will come a time when they can't have a Bible. They want to own church buildings (not just rent) because it is easy to close down a rented church, and they want their congregation to endure. They are Christians in a land that is hostile to them – where secret police roam college campuses to make sure no one is evangelizing, and pastors are hauled into police stations to answer questions about evangelism.

Somehow my faith seemed small sitting in worship with them today.

May 12

It seems fitting with the new Indiana Jones movie coming out that we should visit Petra today (site of the climax of the last Indiana Jones movie). Indiana Jones fans will want to know that I was inside the Divine Treasury at Petra (in one of my photos), and there was no knight, no booby traps, and no Holy Grail. There were, however, lots of tourists. Petra is Jordan's no. 1 tourist destination and a wonder of the world.

After spending the day there, I can safely say that it is everything it is cracked up to be. Imagine a city carved out of the rock faces. If you look closely at the picture, you might notice that this building was not "built." It was carved. This is a giant sculpture to look like a built building. There are facades like this all over the site.

I also rode a donkey up to the Edomite high place (also one of my photos). I don't think I will ever read the book of Obadiah the same again. This was the region of the Edomites, who "hid in the rocky places." It was an experience I won't soon forget.

The trip is almost over, and I can say that I have learned a great deal about this country and its wonderful people. The standard conversation in every taxi cab is:

"Where are you from?"
"America! Oh, welcome, welcome."

Jordanians are a hospitable and gracious people.

I may be able to squeeze in one more update before I get on a plane. I look forward to seeing family, but I will miss these new friends. I can't wait for students to meet (and learn to speak to) these people.

May 13

Well, my time here has come to a close, and I am getting on a plane in a few hours. It would probably be helpful for me to review a little of what I have learned this week.

I have learned:

- A few necessary Arabic phrases
- The CGE (Consortium for Global Education) program here offers exceptional Arabic instruction.
- The leaders of the CGE program here are good people who care a great deal about the students and Jordan.
- The Jordanian people are hospitable and friendly. They love Americans and go out of their way to be helpful.
- Jordan is the safest country I have ever visited.
- Christians in Jordan are a loving, welcoming people with a faith that I look up to.

When you consider over 300,000,000 people speak Arabic, the importance of this program seems obvious. If we are truly committed to excellence in education, we need to prepare our students for the world as it exists. If we are truly committed to be Christians in the world, what better way to show love for our neighbor than having respect enough to speak our neighbor's language.

I look forward to coming home and seeing my friends and family.

Until then,

Sunday, May 4, 2008

‘Twas the Night before Graduation

After several requests, here is the poem I wrote for the baccalaureate service.

'Twas the Night before Graduation, by Robert Wallace


Twas the night before graduation and all through the school,

Some students were packing and acting like fools,

The graduates were nestled all snug in their beds

while dreams of diplomas danced through their heads.

Where professors in regalia and Tam-o-shanter hats

just pray and hope the speeches aren't flat.


But just before bed, they had all said their prayers

Because some of them still had a touch of despair

For years now they had labored, with no end in sight

But, this year they graduate. They really just might!

They no longer cared about becoming wise or sage

Now it only mattered to get across that stage.


They prayed that Steve Sheeley and all of his staff

would find them all worthy and not simply laugh

when they looked at the transcript they had amassed.

Surely they wouldn't make me take just one more class.

"Dear Lord," they would pray, "Heed this prayer of mine,

Don't let Dr. Sheeley pull me out of the line."


So they went on to bed with anxiety and doubt

Just hoping and praying that all had worked out.


But what they didn't know was that faculty pray too.

They pray something else before they bid you adieu

And, despite what you think, some prayers are quite sad,

As we begin to think of you new Shorter grads.


We pray you'll be faithful, and truly fulfilled

We pray you keep working and improving your skills

We pray you savor each day that you find

In this world that can so often be so unkind.


We pray you know love, and that whatever you do,

You'll always love others with love God gave you.