Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Jordan Stories

The Jordan trip was an A-MAY-ZING experience. There is so much to say! This is a HUGE blog – so hang on tight and maybe read it in shifts…

First of all, there were 9 students who went – 8 others besides myself. We thought we were going to go to Karak, Jordan to help at a church’s medical clinic. However, we arrived and found out the medical clinic had been postponed until November. It happens that we’re sending another team sometime in November and they may be the ones to help at the clinic.
We were staying in Karak with Dirk (pronounced with a German accent it sounds more like the name Derek) and his family – wife Manuela, and 4 kids. They are an amazing family who God is using in tremendous ways to reach all kinds of people. From what I observed over the 6 days we stayed with them they seem to be willing to open their house to just about anyone in need. When we arrived there were already two Egyptian ladies and their very young children. One of them, her husband had died a while back leaving her with several children and not much else. I don’t know much else about where they came from or were going to, but the joy of the Lord was so obvious in their lives I would never have known the toughness of their circumstances if I was not told.
There were also several Arabs there when we arrived, and a couple of Iraqis came while we were there (a mother and son who ended up adding to our adventure – but more on that later…).
Dirk’s kids range from 2 to 7, the youngest is a boy, the two middle kids are girls and the oldest is a boy. They are all very brilliant and full of crazy amounts of energy! They are growing up in a house that speaks 3 fluent languages – German first, Arabic, and English. They are very well behaved kids, just rambunctious and full of energy.
From my understanding, Dirk’s main purpose in being in Jordan is to help the medical community – but he also spends a lot of energy in a youth pastor position at the church. It seems that the youth of the city (especially the Christian youth) don’t have places to hang-out together besides home. So every evening after school, instead of spending all their time at home, the youth begin to gather around six at the church where they play basketball or football/soccer or play guitar or sit and chat, as well as have Bible study time and worship. While we were there we got to lead in the English portion of worship, as well as Bible study time (which was translated for us by Dirk or one of the older kids).
A day-by-day of the trip…
The first day we left Jerusalem early in the morning (a little before 7am) and headed toward the Jordan River Border Crossing. This turned out to be a point of confusion for our hired shrute driver – who was told by his dispatch that we were going to the Jordan River. When we entered Tiberias we were finally able to communicate to him – No, we are going to Jordan the country, not the river, and we need to turn around! You’ll have to look at a map to understand where we were, and where we were supposed to be, but we were about an hour out of the way…
We got to border control and entered through the big intimidating gates – past the burly guards with aviator shades and large rifles – and in through the double doors to Line #1. We were told when going through border control to try not to look like such a large group – so we split up into multiple lines. The line I was in took forever! It so happens that we arrived just after a large tour group of Asian tourists… and I can only imagine that they didn’t speak any English because they were at the window for nearly ½ an hour. Altogether that line took about 45 minutes to an hour… and when we finally did get to the window we each spent less than 5 minutes at the window getting our exit-visa and exchanging money. Then next line – passport control – worked out much faster. We were able to by-pass the Asian tourist because a new window opened just before we walked up… praise the Lord!
Once we were all officially signed out of Israel we took the border control’s official bus to the Jordan side – where we had to be officially signed into Jordan. This side of the border was a little faster – but much more bizarre. There were no actual lines anywhere – more like mobs of people crowding around different windows. We kind of had to muscle our way through to finally reach the window… but that’s just the way the culture is – it seems to be very much a “me first” mentality – no “excuse me” or “I guess you where here first” – really it’s a “snooze and loose” mentality.
The greatest thing – not one person in our group was stopped and questioned on our way in! Not a thing! It seemed the most anyone was asked was their name and birth date, and maybe what they would be doing in Jordan – but we were given no trouble at all. Praise the Lord again!
Dirk was there to pick us up within 20 minutes and we were on our way to Karak. Along the way we stopped in a small random town for lunch. We had no idea what we were in for! At this place we ate rotisserie style chicken cooked with some unknown Jordanian spice. We each had nearly half a chicken put in front of us, along with fresh pita, hummus, and veggies – cucumber and tomato. This meal will be in my memory as some of the best chicken I have ever had in my life! It was AMAZING!! Very moist… mmmmm J SO GOOD!!
With Dirk was a young Jordanian man – Ashraf (pronounced Ashroff) – who has been a friend of Dirk’s for 6+ years. He is a Muslim man who lives in Amman, but while we were there we had a lot of opportunities to talk with him about Jesus and even to lay hands on him and pray for him! Originally he was only visiting Dirk for a day or two but he ended up staying to hang-out with us for 4 days! It was amazing how fast he became our friend, and he was a great help to us all too as he explained a lot about the Muslim culture and the lives of Jordanians. Another friend we met – Essa (pronounced EEssa) was very similar. Essa is Catholic, not Muslim, but he also became our friend quickly and helped to show us the ropes around Jordan…
Day 2-5 a lot happened and I’m going to just sum it up…
We spent every evening with the kids at the church – playing with them, talking, leading Bible study time and doing worship. The daytime we spent visiting with other local kids who were not a part of the church, visiting families in the area, sometimes shopping and sight-seeing.
The family visits were one of my favorite things! What happens: We would walk into a house and sit down and drinks would be brought in (normally some kind of soda – Pespsi or Sprite) and we would sit and drink for a little while. Soon some kind of food was brought in – cookies or fruit or whatever. We would keep chatting and generally play some music for them. Soon coffee and/or tea would be served. Culturally, when the coffee was served it was a sign that the meeting was over. As soon as the coffee/tea was finished it’s time to go. This is what happened at nearly every house we visited – and the amount of food we were eating began to become overwhelming! Looking back it feels like all we were did was eat and sleep and hang-out with people…
It was very “honoring” to the families for the special American group to come over. Generally the only Americans they see are looking at them from the inside of a tour bus – never people they talk to. So it was very special for us to be there just to be with the people. Jordanians are naturally very hospitable and open people, and it seemed no matter how hard we wanted to bless the people they always managed to top us and bless us 10x more! We knew that what we were doing was a ministry to the families of the area and truly was blessing them – but it seemed backward for us to be doing that simply by entering their house and fellowshipping/eating with them… but that’s what was important to them! I really like that about their culture.
We spent one day cleaning the church too. In the past there has been a person or two living at the church doing cleaning/maintenance work in exchange for the place to stay – but it was several months since anyone had lived there and the building had several big cleaning tasks… it was wonderful for us because not only did it turn out to be fun, but we also felt like we were finally DOING something besides eat.
A few other fun things we did include visit the Karak Castle and shopping… The castle is the same as the movie Kingdom of Heaven is based off of (for anyone who has watched it)… it was built by the crusaders and is an amazing place to climb around! There are tons of pictures coming from this place! Really, there were very few limitations to where we could go – only areas with obviously crumbling rocks had bars or fences around them… It was very, very fun to be free as we looked over the top of VERY high walls!! Some of them 200+ feet straight down!
Shopping in Karak was also something of an experience… if I was to ask any shop keeper a price he would quote me some number, but if a Jordanian were to ask the price would be considerably lower. This is for several reasons – 1) they see English speakers as ignorant, and 2) Tourist simply have more money than Jordanians.
Jordan is a place where people live off of very low incomes. It is strange because the Jordanian Dinar (JD) is worth about $1.40 but the average living wage is only about 200 JDs a month, the wealthier families have about 500 JDs a month. That’s the equivalent of about $300-$700 a month! So all of the prices are directly relative to the income of the people, but to us as Americans the prices were very, very cheap. I bought a ½ a kilo (about a pound) of cinnamon for 2 JDs = about $3. That is SO cheap to me as an American, but to the Jordanian people it is expensive. They only have 200 JDs to live off of each month, so spending 2 whole JDs on cinnamon would be ridiculous.
About day 4 of the trip, a mother (in her 60’s) and son (about 35) joined us at the house. The son has a tumor in his stomach and he is in very serious condition. He’d been receiving treatment in a hospital in Jordan for the past two years but they weren’t able to help him anymore – but there was suddenly promise for him in Israel. There’s a specialist who offered to help him if he could make here into the city. So it was presented to us to try to bring these two with us back over the border into Jerusalem! It would be risky for several reasons – 1) Both of them, the mother and son, were not in great travel condition – she’s old and he’s very sick; 2) Iraqis coming into Israel are often severely questioned and not always allowed in; 3) It could jeopardize the entry visas of us as their travel companions. On top of this – they would need to enter the country through a different crossing than we were planning. We would be going to the closer Allenby (pronounced Allenbee) crossing, but there is a special permit required for Iraqis to go through there – so they would need to go way far north to cross over. And even more exciting – they would need a place to stay for several days before there would be a place for them at the clinic so they would be staying with us in our dorms! After much prayer we were all confident this was a divine appointment and we would help them. Two of our guys, Jonathan and Daniel would travel with them up to the north border, through border control and bring them into Jerusalem. A shuttle took them up to the border, and there was a car waiting for them on the other side waiting to take them south to Jerusalem.
In the meantime the other 6 of us would go through at the Allenby crossing. A friend of Dirks from the church drove us to the crossing – and that was a very interesting car ride! He ended up stopping for directions several times… and we finally got the crossing around 9:30 or 10. That day held a little extra stress because it was the Eve of Yom Kippur – the most holy day of the Jewish calendar. On Yom Kippur everything stops moving – especially in the traditional and orthodox areas. In fact it’s even illegal to drive that day and all the street lights are turned off! Everything begins to close early the day before (it’s a sundown to sundown holiday) so we also knew the border would be closing early that day and lots of people were trying to push through.
There weren’t many people exiting Jordan, but tons of people waiting to get into Israel – but at least there were actual lines and not just mobs of people. And this time there was also no huge Asian tourist group. Getting out of Jordan was not a problem – no questioning, just a little confusing which windows to go to in which order, but hardly anyone in the buildings so there was no stress involved. The Israel side was just a matter of waiting in lines again for several hours. There was some minor questioning involved in receiving our visas – but nothing significant and we all made it back in with the 3 month tourist visas we need. We exited the building and were waiting for the shrute that would take us to Jerusalem – about ½ an hour past and we found out that everything inside was closing down. We had no idea how close we were to not making it though…
Jonathan and Daniel were also questioned some but were able to make it through just fine with the Mother and Son. They found their ride just fine and really didn’t have any significant problems…

There are several more stories to share – but this is quite long enough for now! So much has happened since we got back – we had the Iraqi Muslim lady – Nuria - living with us (living with 11 younger women in a small apartment with 1 bathroom!) and Yom Kippur happened too!
Those stories will come soon as well as pictures on photobucket!
Until then, Shalom!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Sis,
I was thinking about you today and came to read up on how things are there. The time has been passing fast and you will be home soon with new found wisdom and passion.
Missing your grace in the valley,
Jeremiah and Jenna