It’s good to be back on American soil! Despite all the problems and challenges our country faces, America is still a blessed nation. It’s an exceptional nation. For the disciples of those who have spent the last decade denouncing America and apologizing for what it stands for, here’s a suggestion. See for yourself how the majority of the rest of the non-radicalized world doesn’t hate America, they appreciate America; this is what I see almost every time I travel beyond America’s borders.
Yesterday, our private, unofficial delegation of evangelical leaders wrapped up our week and a half trip to the Middle East where we met with church and government leaders in Egypt and Jordan. Our final meeting was a working lunch with Jordanian King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace in Amman. The discussion over a traditional Jordanian meal covered a variety of topics including terrorism, human rights, and a particular focus on the continuing refugee crisis in the Middle East. During our three days in Jordan, we met with top cabinet ministers who provided very informative and comprehensive briefings on the state of affairs in Jordan and the broader Middle East. The heavy emphasis in various briefings was on the refugees that have fled war-torn countries, primarily Syria, and the state of religious freedom for all people in Jordan.
Appropriately, on Sunday, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we were able to visit Al Zaatari, a United Nations refugee camp located about nine miles from the Syrian border. Al Zaatari presently serves as home to about 80,000 refugees, both Christian and Sunni Muslims who fled the terror of ISIS. We spoke to some families who have been there since the camp opened six years ago and listened to them explain their desire to return to their home country if and when it became safe again.
According to Jordanian officials, who have done a remarkable job of securing their border to keep ISIS and other terrorists out, this vast refugee camp only reflects about 10 percent of the refugees who have come into Jordan. Ninety percent are now living in Amman and other Jordanian towns and villages, integrating with the local population. In total, there are approximately 1.4 million refugees who have fled into Jordan. Based upon previous refugee patterns, Jordanian officials are anticipating that 40 percent will permanently settle in Jordan. Here’s the challenge for the Jordanians — that 1.4 million represents a population increase of nearly 25 percent in less than six years.
Jordan’s capitol, Amman, which is home to nearly half the country’s population, is a thriving, modern, and clean city. Like Egypt, which has a historic Christian population, there is a peaceful coexistence between the various religions in most parts of Jordan, especially in Amman. By Middle Eastern standards, Jordan is one of the safest and most accepting of Christians next to Israel. Jordan is the Muslim nation in the Middle East that has been the closest ally to the U.S. and, despite the shooting of two Jordanians by a security guard at Israel’s Amman embassy, maintains very close ties to Israel.
King Abdullah and his father, King Hussain, realized that in the absence of natural resources like oil, water, etc., their people were their best resource, so a major emphasis has been made on education. As a result, Jordan has a literacy rate of 98 percent. This focus on education factors into the Jordanian response to the current refugee crisis, which is the largest migration of people, 65 million, since World War II. To help bring greater future stability, the Jordanians are educating and providing some vocation training to the refugees who are coming from regions with high illiteracy rates. At present, they have taken over 200,000 additional students into their educational system.
This commitment, which is being financially supported by the U.S. government, still comes with a high price. Before the Arab Spring in 2011, the Jordanian economy was experiencing an annual growth of six percent. With their major markets cut off for the sale of their goods, the influx of refugees, loss of energy supplies from the embattled countries and a 67 percent rise in food cost, unemployment has soared to over 15 percent.
In addition to our meeting with governmental leaders in Jordan, we met with leaders of the five evangelical denominations in Jordan. Meeting with these Arab Christian leaders, many of whom deeply love their neighbor Israel, was one of the highlights of the trip for me. They shared remarkable stories of what God is doing in the Middle East and how the people are open to the gospel in ways unseen in the past. But they also shared the ongoing challenges of living in a country where they represent only two percent of the population. They are very grateful for the protection and freedom of worship that is extended to Christians in Jordan by King Abdullah. However, unlike the mainline and orthodox denominations, they do not have a voice in or access to the government. They, like us, want to see all people enjoy the freedom of religion, including those born Muslim. These are issues we hope to work on in the weeks and months ahead.
But most importantly, they wanted us to convey, just like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, that there is a window of opportunity to bring help and hope to the hurting people of the Middle East, which could reshape this region of the world and bring greater stability. While nothing we do will result in the perfect peace that is yet to come, our prayers and our efforts should be focused on what this opportunity does present — the possibility of a more peaceful world.
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