And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of The Lord appeared to them, and the glory of The Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, The Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
I was first introduced to Tony Campolo’s ministry when I was about 13 years old. I attended the Christian music festival – Creation – somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. I was mesmerized as Tony talked about our call as Christians to love and serve God… and also to respond to the needs of the world’s poor. Tony’s message might have been the first time I heard about how it is a critical part of our Christian walk to live out the words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “Whatever you do unto one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me.” Other than the News Boys entering the main field by helicopter, Tony’s message is the one that I remember most.
A couple of years ago, I met Tony in Bethlehem at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference. There I heard him speak a similar message of love, reconciliation, and forgiveness… and also a call to live out God’s heart for mercy and justice in the world. During the conference we ran into each other a couple of times. At one point, we were on the elevator and started to chat. I told him a little bit about my work and ministry… and he said something to the effect, “I know… I have your book on my desk.” I will carry those words with me forever! What a great and humbling privilege!
This past March, Tony was once again at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem. He gave a powerful message: “Using the Red Letters of the Bible as Guides to Peace and Reconciliation.” You can watch his message here:
What does it mean to be a Red Letter Christian?
The goal of Red Letter Christians is simple: To take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings as set forth in Scripture, and especially embracing the lifestyle prescribed in the Sermon on the Mount. I consider it an honor to be friends with many others who share similar values and are committed to living out Jesus’ call to meet the needs of the poor. Visit the Red Letter Christian blog and website to learn more about this amazing community!
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at the University of California – Santa Barbara’s Luce Project on Religion in Global Civil Society. The topic of discussion was “The Role of Religion in Global Society: A Focus on the Middle East and Africa.” The dialogue was very thought provoking and included questions about the significance of religion in international development.
Participants included academics, practitioners, and religious leaders from various cultural backgrounds and faiths.
Here is a brief response to one of the questions I was asked:
Role of Religion on World Visions’s work in the Middle East:
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization providing hope and assistance to tens of millions of people in nearly 100 countries around the world. Motivated by our faith in Jesus Christ, World Vision serves alongside the poor and oppressed as a demonstration of God’s unconditional love for all people. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. We seek to honor God in all that we do; to honor our donors and the public by being transparent about our motivation; and to honor those we serve as well as our colleagues in the field. Our passion is for the world’s poorest children. The ability of these children to reach their God-given potential depends on the physical, social, and spiritual strength of their families and communities. To help secure a better future for each child, we focus on lasting, community-based transformation. We partner with individuals and communities, empowering them to develop sustainable access to clean water, food supplies, health care, education, and economic opportunities. World Vision works in several regions of the Middle East including Afghanistan, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. Throughout the years World Vision has been involved in the Middle East, serious conflicts throughout the region have had profound impact on the lives of children. As a Christian organization, World Vision affirms that all people have the right to life, food, liberty, security, education, and adequate health care. These rights also have been enshrined in such international agreements as the UN International Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), highlighting the responsibility we all have to ensure these rights are protected for all children throughout the Middle East.
Please note: While the above paragraph speaks to World Vision’s work in the ME, this blog is personal and the views here represent exclusively the owner of this blog.
I have now been back in the U.S. after spending a month in the Middle East… first in Egypt… and then in Israel/Palestine. I wanted to write almost everyday that I was on the ground, but found myself caught up in activities of work, ministry, and life. Nonetheless, I am committed to writing about some of the things I saw and experienced.
It was a great privilege for me to participate in this year’s Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem (March 2012). The first conference was hosted in 2010 by Bethlehem Bible College, an evangelical organization committed to spreading the light of Christ through Biblical education and training. There is a great book available which highlights some of the talks from the first conference called Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace. I wrote one of the chapters.
This year’s event was the second conference and it was amazing to notice many of the differences. It seemed twice as many people attended. The tone of the conference was intentionally focused on empowering and encouraging the Palestinian church, creating a platform for open dialogue and engagement for evangelicals, and motivating participants to become advocates of reconciliation… while also calling attention to the reality of daily life for Palestinians, particularly those in the Christian community. While I don’t agree with everything that was discussed at the conference, I do believe the platform is a critical one from which the Palestinian evangelical community can use their voice and engage in the public sphere. Biblical scholars and Christian leaders from around the world came to talk about the Scriptures, the people of Israel in a theological context, the land, and God’s heart for righteousness and justice. I was one of the “speakers” and led an hour panel discussion of Palestinian women leaders. Here is a video of the panel that I facilitated:
The participants on the panel were Diana Simaan, Grace Al-Zoughbi, Dina Katanacho, and Shadia Qubti. A brief biography of each of these women is provided below. They are amazing leaders who are doing great work on behalf of the kingdom!
Diana Simaan: Diana is the program director of the Palestinian Bible Society. She is currently involved in a project dealing with the building of Palestinian families by developing communication skills within the family. Diana has a M.A. in Health Administration from Tel Aviv University. She oversees other projects that involve empowering youth.
Grace Al-Zoughbi: A Christian Palestinian from Bethlehem, Grace serves as a teacher at Bethlehem Bible College. Grace was an undergraduate student at the college and finished her M.A. in the Theology of Transformation: Church, Scripture and World from the London School of Theology in 2010. Her dissertation entitled: “A Study of Six Influential Women: Evaluating their Personal Impact in Old Testament Times and in Palestine Today,” sought to explore the idea of the dignity of women and ways in which women can seek to defend and promote values that are associated with this idea, specifically within strong patriarchal contexts. In addition to her teaching position, Grace takes part in leading a varity of programmes through her local church in Bethlehem.
Dina Katanacho: Dina Katanacho is a Palestinian Arab Israeli leader. She has earned her B.Ed. at David Yallin College (an Israeli college) and is finishing up her M.A. in Christian Ministry at Bethlehem Bible College (a Palestinian college). Dina works now as the director of the Arab Israeli Bible Society. She has led many projects empowering women to serve God and advocating family oriented ministries in which both men and women are advocating the Kingdom of God. Dina is responsible to make the Bible available for 1.5 million Palestinian Arab Israeli Citizens. She is married and has three boys.
Shadia Qubti: Shadia Qubti is a Christian Palestinian living in the Galilee, Israel. Qubti works with Musalaha, a faith-based organization that promotes reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. She was born and raised in Nazareth. She finished her undergraduate degree at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in International Relations and English Language, and her postgraduate degree in Conflict Resolution and Nonviolent Action in Trinity College University in Dublin, Ireland. In her free time, she is a member of Alphateam, a worship team that produces and composes local Palestinian Arabic songs (www.alphateam.org.).
Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was Al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, “Probably.” Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.
According to the New York Times (NYT), the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind “a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination.” If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century. Anders Behring Breivik was described by police as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian. He is said to have been obsessed with guns and the “threats of multiculturalism and Muslim immigration” (NYT). This was a far cry from the Islamic extremism that I had initially suspected of being responsible for the crime. Honestly, I am ashamed that my immediate assumptions when hearing of an “attack” turned to extremism in the Arab world. This led me to want to learn more about the motivations for the horrible incident and how news media is reporting about it.
In an article from today in Al Jazeera (English edition), Norway’s Mass Murder and the Mass Media, the opening statement says: “When news of the bomb blast and shooting first broke out in Norway, media organizations the world over were quick to suggest that the people behind the attacks were Islamic terrorists.” Apparently I was not the only one. Interestingly, Al Jazeera continues and states that when news organizations found out the attacks were not caused by Islamic extremists, but rather a “white, anti-Muslim Christian” the word “terrorist” was quickly replaced by “extremist”. Interesting. Why? Al Jazeera doesn’t expound, but these circumstances seem a telling reminder of the way many in the Western world view Islam. When westerners (more specifically whites) complete a heinous crime the media tends to write about it differently than if the perpetrator was non-white, particularly if Arab, even more so if they are Muslim. Scores of articles have been written about the growing anti-Arab sentiments in the Western world and the increasingly powerful Islamophobia that is sweeping through “Christian” nations. For example, see MJ Rosenberg’s The New Rhetoric of Islamophobia (also in Al Jazeera). Some of this is certainly an effect of post-9/11… however, I believe this trend should be a cause of great concern.
Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers, writes of Iran’s perspective, blaming Zionism, on the Norway attacks. Haaretz quotes a lead Iranian official: “The world should be on alert of the Zionist regime attempts to create deviation with Christianity and spread Christian Zionism.” I haven’t yet read, nor do I intend to, the more than thousand pages left behind by Anders Behring Breivik further outlining his motivations. I do not know if he is a Zionist. Could be. More importantly, his actions, astoundingly horrific, sadly remind us that extremism exists on all fronts – regardless of Christian, Muslim, or whatever other belief system. May Christians discard our own superiority complex and embrace moderation as we seek peace with our brothers and sisters across religious divides.
One of the challenges in coming back to the United States has been the way happenings in the Arab World are recorded by American media. Many of the “topics” in the news are similar… however, often U.S. based reports provoke further fear and discomfort in regard to the dynamics at play in the Middle East. During my recent travels, many family members and loved ones have expressed “fear” at my safety… particularly because “Muslims are killing Christians all over the Arab World”. These are some of the sentiments that have been expressed… and sadly, they are very untrue. There are instances of violence… but in general, particularly in Egypt, there is still an overall sense of religious solidarity and commonality… even bridging the often wide divides between Christians and Muslims. Here is a report from Paul-Gordon Chandler, Rector of St. John’s Church in Maadi, Cairo. He has been living in Egypt for more than ten years and I respect greatly his opinion and interpretation of what is happening there on the ground.
Recent religious sectarian conflict: Many of you have written about some of the recent sectarian conflict here in Cairo that the international media has reported on, and were concerned for our safety, for which we are most grateful. Writing about “persecution of Christians” can be difficult as can perhaps be imagined. Both sides are often at fault, to one degree or another, and also the contexts for any conflict are each so varied. Regretfully, both in Egypt and the West there are groups that tend to “exaggerate” the tensions and the gravity of the situation, thereby sadly hurting the legitimacy of some of the true problems that do exist here and that need to be seriously addressed. In short, our experience is that the general inter-religious solidarity within the majority of the populace is deeper than it ever has been. And many wonderful and encouraging things are taking place, in the midst of some of the recent tensions, and I will share a few of them below.
The recent conflicts have largely involved the Salafis (a ultra conservative fundamentalist sect with Sunni Islam heavily influenced by Wahabism from Saudi Arabia, that even has a hard time accepting the Grand Imam of Al Azhar…who is the spiritual and intellectual leader of Sunni Islam, the majority of Muslims in the world) and who are known here as “counter-revolutionary thugs”…those wanting to create conflict to destabilize the country for their own gain. Both can be dangerous groups. However, thankfully, both are minorities in terms of the population. The most recent major conflict (May 7) was the burning of two churches (St. Mina and Church of the Holy Virgin) here in Cairo in an area within the Giza governorate called Imbaba, It is an extremely poor neighborhood and one of the country’s hottest spots of Islamic militancy. The reasons for the conflict are complex. It is important to understand that the Coptic Orthodox Church does not allow divorce. So it is quite common for Coptic women to convert to Islam in order to get out of abusive marriages. Recently this happened with two spouses of Coptic priests. This is of course something the Coptic Church doesn’t acknowledge, but it is common knowledge here. This was the initial reason for the conflict; a Coptic women, married to a priest, left to live with a Muslim man, then left the Muslim man to return to the Coptic husband, and the Muslim man shared publicly that his “wife” had left him and was being held hostage by the Christians. Obviously, this caused a lot of tension in the neighborhood. It was believed the Copts where holding the woman in the Church of St. Mina, and so Salafis Muslims came to “free” her. It is also known that sometime the Copts do “hold” women at times who do this, or want to do this type of thing. Just weeks before this recent church burning incident for example, some Coptic brothers killed their sister and her son over her alleged conversion to Islam and marriage to a Muslim man.
In regard to the recent conflict, in fear of the Muslim mob gathering in front of the church, and most were Salafis, a gun went off…said by the investigation team to have been fired first by a Coptic Christian from the nearby roof, so the Salafists and thug mob went to get guns themselves and then returned and eventually burned the church and another one nearby. Tragically, seven Christians and five Muslims died, most by gunshot, and hundreds were injured, some seriously. The subsequent investigation team learned that the Salafi mob, mixed with counter-revolutionary “thugs” believed there was a cache of guns in the church. It is also important to remember that these kinds of tension almost exclusively take place in highly uneducated areas and hence rumors quickly become “factual truth,” and then can become “threats” very quickly.
One thing that is helpful to understand when hearing about religious conflict here in Egypt is often the Copts (the historic Christians in Egypt) see themselves here as a “different people,” and not just a different religion, and therefore one has to see the their pope (the pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church) as not just a religious figure, but also as a political one…quite similar in many ways to a “king” of the Copts. The Copts see themselves as the descendents of the ancient Egyptians prior to the Islamic incursion in the 7th century. This of course further complicates any tensions that surface. In reality, in today’s context both the Copts and Muslims are considered “Arabs”. And of course one cannot therefore tell the difference between them. It is this perception of themselves that can often heighten the tensions.
Positive outcomes to the tragedy: The reaction by the Egyptian masses was again one of shock and deep sadness. It resulted once again in proactive mass demonstrations of religious solidarity and unity, which in our experience here, is the true heart of the majority of the Egyptian people. It was quite moving to see veiled Muslim women with the cross painted on their niqab (face veil) parading throughout the streets…saying “we are all ‘one hand’–Muslim and Christian.” Additionally, as a result of this most recent tragedy, some very encouraging developments have taken place.
1) The transitional government, also in shock about this recent conflict, with a desire to ease the sectarian tensions, promised within 30 days to draft both a unified law for building houses of worship and a law criminalizing the use of religious slogans in electoral campaigns (to keep religious propaganda out of the political sphere by fundamentalist groups on both sides). Regarding the new houses of worship building law, in the past, Christians have been discriminated against (under the Mubarak regime) in obtaining the right to build new churches or restore current churches. It was very difficult to get permission to do so. However, mosques did not have the same constraints. Now the government is planning to equalize it. This was unheard of pre-revolution.
2) The Cabinet (the transitional Prime Minister’s Council) announced that they will reopen churches which were closed for “security reasons” under the Mubarak regime. Faithful to their promise, within one week’s time, the Prime Minister Esam Sharaf, in his first ruling on this subject, issued a decree to have 16 churches re-opened, scattered around six governorates. This was most encouraging news and a wonderful sign.
There are of course some really amazing stories. For example, those that are currently restoring the icons within the churches in Imbaba, Cairo that were recently burned are largely Muslim. It is seen by them as an act of love and solidarity. That is a brief overview of the quite complex recent conflict. In short, yes, there are real tensions…with some tragic consequences, especially in some slum areas. However, everyday there is more and more encouraging news.
See also my recent article in Prism magazine (of Evangelicals for Social Action):
Mae Elise Cannon. “A Revolution Unites: Will Interfaith Harmony Be Part of the Liberation of Egypt’s People.” Prism. Vol. 18. No. 3. (May-June 2011):20-23; 44.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to get to know a Muslim named Mohammad from the Old City of Jerusalem. He is the proprietor of a new hotel in Jericho who graciously gave me a ride back to Beit Hanina in Jerusalem.
The ride from Jericho to Jerusalem is one of my favorites. It is through the Judean wilderness – the desert. Every time I travel along that road the mountains of sand, rock, and stuble are different. Depending on the time of day, the light reflects different colors across the miles of wilderness. The desert of Judea is where John the Baptist preached and cried out “Make way for the Lord.” The mountains surrounding the city of Jericho are where Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. And somewhere along that same road is where the story of the Good Samaritan took place. What remarkable history.
As we were traveling, Mohammad and I started to talk about Jerusalem. He grew up in the Old City and told me stories of what things used to be like when he was young. He told me some stories that he had heard from his grandparents about the way things were during the early 20th century. More than a hundred years ago… Jerusalem used to be a city where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side by side in peace. Mohammad’s family lived in the Muslim quarter of the Old City. They had neighbors who were Arab Christians. When his great-grandfather was a baby, his mother was very close to her Christian neighbor who had a baby around the same time. Mohammad told me that the two little boys were brought up together. Their families were so close that the Muslim little boy was fed milk from the Christian mother’s breast. Just as the Christian little boy was fed by Mohammad’s great-great-grandmother. As Mohammad told me this story, I was a bit incredulous. When I asked if he was speaking literally, he affirmed that the story was true. Because both Mohammad’s great-grandfather and his Christian neighbor were raised in this way, taking milk from each other’s mother, they are brothers. Such was the way things used to be in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Similarly in regard to their Jewish neighbors… Mohammad’s grandmother had a Jewish neighbor with whom they were very close. So much so that his grandmother learned Yiddish (pronounced ee-dish in Arabic). Every week during Shabbat, the Jewish family could not light the oil for their lamps because it would be a violation of the Sabbath. Thus, Mohammad’s grandmother – week by week by week – had the role of bringing light to the Jewish family who were her neighbors. Such was the way things used to be in the Old City of Jerusalem.
As Mohammad was telling me these stories, I must confess, I was a bit enraptured. The images he created gave me a glimpse of what things might have been like generations ago in this Holy City. One of the final stories that I heard from Mohammad is a sort of fable… I am surprised that I had never heard it before. It is about the land:
There once was a man who lived in a village. He was Jewish. The Jewish man believed that the four corners of the land belonged to him. There was another man who lived in the same village who was an Arab. The Arab believed the same four corners of land belonged to him. Because the men were fighting over the land, they decided to bring a wise man to settle their dispute. The wise man could have been a sheik or a priest or a rabbi. The wise man came and met with the two men. The Arab man told the wise man, “This land belongs to me.” The Jewish man told the wise man, “No. This land belongs to me.” The wise man was very gifted. He could hear quiet whispers of truth and knew how to interpret the whispers of creation around him. The wise man told the two men – enough of your fighting about the land. Let us hear what the land has to say about all of this. The wise man then went to the center of the four corners of the land. He laid himself down on the earth and put his ear to the ground. He lay their quietly for a long period of time. The two men began to become impatient and they said, “Who does the land say it belongs to?” The wise man told them to be quiet… that he needed to hear the whispering of the land. After even more time had passed the wise man got up from the ground. The Jewish man said “Does the land say it belongs to me?” And the Arab man said “Does the land say it belongs to me?” The wise man responded… “No. The land says that you both belong to it.”
As I have lived here in the land for the past five or so months… I am starting to feel like I too belong to the land. The land is holy. Holy for Jews. Holy for Muslims. Holy for Christians.
Holidays in the Holy Land are both inspiring and depressing. Today I had the opportunity to go to the Old City of Jerusalem for Holy Saturday. In the Orthodox tradition, this day is full of celebration in anticipation of Easter morning. I am told in years past that thousands of local Christian communities with international pilgrims from around the world would gather in the Old City for worship and celebration. Processionals with dozens of different bands and Boy Scout troops (with boys and girls) would lead the way in preparation for Easter. Today is particularly special because it is the only day of the year when the sacred light or “Holy Fire” – the fire that lights the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – comes out into the world. The fire from the tomb is spread from candle to candle all over the church and throughout the streets of the Old City – a symbol of the way that Christ’s light is spread into the world. However, holidays in the Holy Land are also stark reminders of the reality of military occupation and the darkside of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Signs of the fortress… open conflict between the army and Christians attempting to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to worship. One elderly woman was weeping as she attempted and was unable to pass through the barrier on her way to the church.
Leaving home today, I was told that we may not be able to enter into the Old City. In the past several years, military presence has been so strong that only a few hundred people have been allowed to enter. The city is surrounded by Israeli police and military and there are checkpoints at every entrance…
Today the gates of the Old City were blocked by guards and police who restricted entrance to the Sacred City. When we arrived at the New Gate there were several dozen people pushing toward the gated entrance – many (if not most) of whom were told that entry was not possible. Absolutely no foreigners were allowed. Most of the people trying to get in were local Palestinians. I was with two Jerusalemites – who graciously told me to be quiet and not speak any English. Fortunately, they (and thus me) were allowed entrance through the throng. I heard stories today of people who traveled around the world to be able to be a part of the Festival of Holy Fire – only to be turned away at the gates. One woman, a Syrian Arab living in Australia, has been rejected three years in a row. It is her dream to be able to worship on Holy Saturday in the Church of Holy Sepulchre. I was privileged to be one of the few who made it into the Old City even though we were restricted by several checkpoints along the way. We were not able to go to the church, but we were able to see some of the days celebrations. As we were waiting for the parade to come by the section where we were standing, I was overcome by the reality of “force” present with the military. Why are people not allowed to travel freely to worship? Today is one of the most holy days for Christian Arabs who live in Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank. And the pressure put upon them, limiting their movements – even their worship, is difficult to describe. The military presence was only in the city from early morning until 2 p.m. – the military presence begins during the specific hours when worship is scheduled and ends when all of the parades and celebrations are supposed to have finished. A friend described the scene as a military fortress – a terribly accurate description. I have never quite seen anything like it…
However, I saw a glimpse of what things might have been like a decade ago… I saw young boys and girls wearing beautiful Boy Scout uniforms smiling while having their pictures taken with their parents. I saw young and strong men and women playing the bagpipes and shouting over and over again “Sabt el Noor, Ou Ayyadna, Ou Ayyadna Issael Masih” which means “Saturday of Lights & the holiday, the holiday of Jesus the Messiah.” I saw the Holy Fire – taken from the sacred space at the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre passed along candle by candle through the crowds… a beautiful image… Light in the midst of darkness… May the Light of Christ truly come to the Holy City…
Participants sharing the Holy Fire as the Light is spread
throughout the Old City of Jerusalem.
I saw many things today. I was reminded once again of the fortitude of the Palestinian people… a people removed from their homeland who have been displaced since the 1948 war… Many of the residents of the Holy City of Jerusalem do not have any nationality; no status of citizenship. Most do not hold passports – they are not Jordanian – they are not Israeli – they are Palestinian. Yet the world has still not yet recognized the degree to which they have sacrificed… and the degree to which – day by day – they continue to sacrifice. Today, as I saw the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem gather for worship… I am reminded of the great hope that Easter represents. As the sun breaks forth upon Easter morning, we are reminded “He is Risen”… Christ was not defeated on the cross… the worldly powers did not have their way… injustice will not reign for ever… there is hope on the horizon… May it be so for the Holy City of Jerusalem… and may it be so for the people of Israel and Palestine.
When I was in Lebanon, one of the most exciting ministries with whom I was introduced was Kids Alive (or Dar El Awad).
Kids Alive has been working in Lebanon for 62 years and has a school and residential program for troubled children. The Lebanese school has students from Kindergarten through 6th Grade with 75 children attending. The residential program is not an orphanage as the children return to their families on the weekend and the program is designed to help rebuild relationships between troubled children and their families of origin. Most of the children in the residential program are not Lebanese, but are Sudanese, Palestinian, Sri Lankan, or some other minority. In Lebanon, the darker the color of one’s skin, the more vulnerable a child (or adult) is to abuse and discrimination. Sadly, this color differentiation seems to be the case in many parts of the world. One of the primary ways the school is funded is through child sponsorship with 450 global donors and funders from all over the world. The staff of the school are all Christians although children are of all different religions. The children in Dar El Awlad have daily chapel services where the love of Jesus is shared through teaching and worship. Fifty percent of the residential children are Muslim. The programs at Kids Alive were among the most impressive that I saw in Lebanon. The school is committed to working with a terribly marginalized community by providing education, support, and care for children who are deeply troubled. There are many amazing avenues for involvement including teacher training, special programs for children, and also involvement in a new project that is beginning through Kids Alive (and Heart for Lebanon) in the south.
For more information about Kids Alive visit: http://www.kidsalive.org/around-the-world/middle-east/lebanon/.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is a small country with a population of only around 6.5 million people – for reference, that is a smaller population than the city of New York. During the past few months, I have been in and out of Jordan several times. Each time I visit, I have come to appreciate the country more and more. During my first trip to Jordan (Spring of 2009), I did not get the best impression. Our tour guide was obnoxious – I don’t mean to be so blunt – but it is true. Our driver was a maniac – we saw our lives flash before our eyes several times during that trip! In case you think I am exaggerating, the accident that we got into on the Kings Highway helps to prove my point. When we went to visit Mt. Nebo (where Moses died), one of the Jordanians at the gate made some rude comments to me including “Hey baby, my name is Moses… let me lead you to the Promised Land.” An original pick-up line, if nothing else. All that to say, I wasn’t all that impressed. However, some of the biblical history of Jordan caught my attention. Below is something that I wrote after returning from that first trip which tells a little bit about some of the things we learned about Amman, the capital of Jordan.
April 19, 2009
One of my favorite things about our time in the Holy Land was that almost every place we visited had not only one story… but perhaps two or three that happened in the very same place. The Judean Wilderness is where the Israelites traveled under the leadership of Joshua toward the town of Jericho… where David ran and hid from Saul amongst the rocks and the stones… the same place where John the Baptist had his ministry… the same place where Jesus was tempted… the same desert where the Dead Sea scrolls were found along the coast of the Dead Sea. This blew my mind!
We arrived in Amman, Jordan and traveled toIsrael following a similar path to the way that the Israelites would have entered the promised land. Amman is one of the oldest and longest inhabited cities in the world. In the OT – it is referred to as Rabbath Ammon, the capital city of the Ammonites (around 1200 BC).
The Ammonites were descendents of Lot– the nephew of Abraham. In Genesis 19, we learn a bit about their origin. Sodom and Gomorah had been destroyed… Lot’s wife had died – you may remember she turned back to look at the destruction of the two cities and was turned into a pillar of salt. Lots two daughters were afraid. One of their fears was that everyone had been destroyed – so they would not be able to have children. So… what did they do (this is actually a rather horrific story) – they got their father drunk and both slept with him. They both became pregnant and each had a son. One daughter had Moab– who became the Moabites and the other daughter had Ben Ammi – whose people were known as the Ammonites. Amman, Jordan still carries their name even to this day.
But my favorite story about the city ofAmman has to do with King David. The King of the Ammonites had died – and the kings son took over the throne. 2 Samuel 10 verse 2 tells us that David decided to show kindness to the new king – so he sent out a delegation to express sympathy to the son (whose name was Hanun) concerning his father. But… some of the Ammonite commanders didn’t trust David (by the way – they were known to be a ruthless bunch)… they thought that David was sending his people to them to spy on them. So, they decided that they were going to disgrace David and his men… So, do you know what they did? I can’t believe that I had never read this story in the Bible before… The Ammonite king and his commanders seized David’s men and shaved off half of each man’s beard… but that wasn’t all! They cut off their garments at the buttocks… and sent them back to David.
During that time – the only time a man’s beard would be cut off was if a man was in mourning – or if he was a slave. This was a defaming thing to do to David’s delegation. So much so that when David received word of it – he told his men to wait in Jericho until their beards could grow back so that they would not return toJerusalemin shame. Cutting off the clothes of the men – especially at the buttocks – made David’s men look ridiculous and was similarly a sign of shame.
Such was my first encounter with the Biblical history of Amman… a story with which I was not at all familiar prior to my visit! All of this reminds me of God’s words to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 2:18-29: “When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendents of Lot.”