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Report from Jordan, Day #1: Why I came to Amman. Why this country matters.
First and foremost, I am deeply concerned about the future of war and peace in the Middle East, and I’m intrigued by the efforts that Jordan’s King Abdullah II has taken to promote peace and reject extremism. The fact is Jordan is our most faithful friend and ally in the Arab world. More precisely, the King has emerged as the leading Reformer in the Arab and Muslim world. I mentioned him briefly in my 2009 book, Inside The Revolution, but since then I’ve realized that while others are trying to reform their countries, this King is actually doing it. Yet few Americans know much about this country or how serious and incredibly dangerous a blow to our interests and security it would be if Radical Islamic extremists were to topple or destabilize this Kingdom. What’s more, I realized there is so much more I need to learn. So I came to make some friends here, to build relationships with senior Jordanian officials and try to really understand who they are and what they face and how the West can — and should — help them stand strong as Reformers in a region beset with Radicals. I am currently writing a new book dealing with these critical issues, which I expect to be released next spring.
Second, and deeply important to me as an evangelical Christian, I am intrigued by the biblical significance, ancient history and great beauty of Jordan and the importance of promoting Christian tourism to the Hashemite Kingdom. Aside from Israel, no other country is actually mentioned more often in the Bible than Jordan (via such ancient names as Ammon, Moab, Edom, and so forth). It was here that Moses brought the people of Israel and died on Mount Nebo. It was here that Joshua and the children of Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the prophet Elijah was born and was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. It was here that the mantle of prophetic leadership passed to Elisha. It was here that John the Baptist lived and ministered, “beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28). It was here that John baptized our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. Then there is 2,000 years of Christian history here, and 1,400 years of Islamic history. At the moment, I am doing an exhaustive personal study on the Biblical prophecies about the future of Jordan in what the Scriptures call the “last days.” It’s a lot of material, more than I realized. Then, of course, there is the modern history of Jordan, the wars, insurrections, upheavals and triumphs, and then an historic peace treaty with Israel signed in 1994. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to visit Jordan several times, including Petra, and pass through Jordan en route to Iraq four times. In the process, I have to say I have fallen in love with the Jordanian people and geography. The more I learn, the more I realize that more Christians need to come visit here and understand why this country matters to God, to the West, to the region, and why it should matter to us.
On Thursday, my first meeting was with His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a member of the royal family and a descendant in the line of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prince is the Chief Advisor to the King for Religious and Cultural Affairs and the King’s Personal Envoy to Islamic, Christian and Jewish leaders all over the world. He helps lead Jordan’s initiative on inter-faith dialogue, which is a special priority of the King. As such, he has played a key role in the visits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict to visit Jordan. He is currently overseeing the upcoming trip of Pope Francis to Jordan later this month. He also oversaw the King’s initiative to grant land to several Jordanian Christian church denominations to build worship centers along the Jordan River and facilities at the “official Baptism site.”
My conversation with the Prince was off the record, but I can say that we met for over two hours and I was deeply impressed with this man, his intellect, and his personal warmth and hospitality. I was also intrigued by how passionate he and his King (who also happens to be his older cousin) are to battle against religious extremism, define and defend a moderate expression of Islam, and to build bridges of friendship with the Christian world. Amen.
We come from different worlds. He is Arab and I am Jewish. He is a devout Muslim follower of Muhammad, and I am a devout evangelical follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is royalty, and I am definitely not. Yet we are not so different in age. He was born in 1966, and I was born in 1967. He loves reaching out to people of different faiths and backgrounds and getting to know who they are and what they believe and makes them tick, and this is something I love, as well. I was grateful for his time, and his insights, and I hope we have the opportunity to spend more time together in the months and years ahead.
A few last thoughts on Day One of my trip.
In preparation for coming here, I read King Abdullah’s book, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace In A Time of Peril, published in February 2011. Then, because I was so intrigued with it, I purchased the unabridged audio version on CD and listened the book. Now, to be honest, some books by political leaders are lame and boring. It’s just a fact. Believe me, I’ve read many of them. I wasn’t sure what I would find in this one, but believe me, it wasn’t boring in the slightest. To the contrary, I found it fascinating, especially as I was reading several other books about the modern history of Jordan. If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend you take the time to read this book.
I was intrigued by many things the King wrote, but for now, let me finish this column by citing a few key points His Majesty made:
“I believe we still have one last chance to achieve peace. But the window is rapidly closing. If we do not seize the opportunity presented by the now almost unanimous international consensus of the solution, I am certain we will see another war in our region – most likely worse than those that have gone before and with more disastrous consequences.” (p. xi)
“After the Amman Message, which aimed to discredit the takfiris within the Muslim world and to bring Muslims together in protecting their faith from distortions, we wanted to do what we could to bring Muslims, Christians, and Jews together in peace as religions. We called this initiative the Amman Interfaith Message. On my trips abroad we met with priests, preachers, rabbis, and imams….We invited the pope to come to Jordan and he accepted our invitation….The pope received a very warm welcome in Jordan, with tens of thousands of Jordanian citizens, Christians and Muslims alike, lining the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of him.” (p. 259-261)
“Although it is not widely known in the West, we have in Jordan a small but thriving Christian community that is perhaps the oldest in the world. The Baptism Site is Jordan’s most important Christian site. It is here on the East Bank of the River Jordan (“beyond the Jordan,” according to John 3:26) that John the Baptist baptized Jesus and where Jesus’s mission started and Christianity began.” (p. 261-262)
“My dream is that we will link the economies of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan in a common market – patterned on Benelux in Western Europe. We could combine the technical know-how and entrepreneurial drive of Jordan, Israel and Palestine to create an economic and business hub in the Levant. The potential for joint tourism is massive, as is that for foreign investment.” (p. 174)
What brings me to Jordan is a desire to understand who this King is, who his people are, what they want and need, and what dangers and risks they face. Both as a Christian, and as an American, I believe something good is happening in this place. I believe there is more we can and should do to help the King and his people be a force for good in this region, and I promise to keep you posted on what I learn.
Please join me in praying for the King, his family, his government and the people of Jordan, that the Lord may show grace and mercy to them in these difficult times. Please pray, too, for the Christian community here, that they will walk closely with the Lord Jesus Christ in a land where Jesus walked and ministered, as did so many of His prophets and friends. Thanks.
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