I was an intruder. I didn’t belong. Someone will surely figure it out.
What was I thinking?
I walked up to the simple concrete building with the illuminated cross on the roof. As I looked out across the skyline, I spotted two other buildings, adorned with crescent moons on their ridges. I heard calls to prayers echoing across the city. Like a children’s book, it didn’t take long to see what wasn’t the same.
I walked into the Melkite Greek Catholic
church in downtown Amman, Jordan, graciously invited by others. The St. Peter and Paul church was small, with probably 150 people already gathered. We were late. The service was led by Father Nabil Haddad, a gracious man who is working at bridging the gap in the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian world as the leader of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center
I resisted the urge to find a way to make my way outside. I was so out of my element. This was a different culture, a different faith expression in a middle eastern tradition. And the service was in Arabic. To an outsider it was nonsense. Chants. Singing. Repetition. Kneeling. There was no music except for the melodic, hypnotic voices of chants that seemed to bring in a mix of Gregorian, Semitic, and Arabic influence. I irreverently imagined a Jew in a vestment singing from a minaret. It was disruptive and disquieting. But as the service continued, it was powerful.
I’m not all that cross-cultural. I have a little bit of an attitude. And I can quickly wrap myself in plain coverings of a redneck. I’ve heard the warnings about the Middle East, and as a voracious reader of the news, understood the perception. I didn’t have to go. I heard from friends and family around the globe. They all told me to ‘be careful’ in the same way you tell a little boy who’s riding his bike to town and isn’t quite savvy enough to stay away from certain neighborhoods. I admit, I’m still that boy and it’s okay to give me warnings.
Yes, this is the Middle East. ISIS has brought the world to it’s knees, finding easy targets: embassy personnel, US servicemen, contractors and — gulp — journalists. And if someone hates you, then you can probably expect them to find you at a place you love. Christians go to church on Easter. The thought crossed my mind.
But let me tell you something. Jordan is amazingly different. even though the Christians number in the low single digits they enjoy a respect. Not because they downplay the religion; not because they’ve given in to political correctness; not because they pretend to fit in. They are respected because they live out their faith and truth and honesty. they are given respect. I spoke to several people who commend King Abdullah, who goes out of his way to protect Christians both at home and abroad. It’s leadership.
Known for their love
In our country we are being told to shut up and sit down and that we don’t have a place the table. But across the MIddle East, the birthplace of Christianity, believers are becoming a smaller and smaller slice of the population, losing they baby war. And they are oppressed and tormented and killed in some places. Yet, they survive and even thrive because of their love for each other and for God.
So here I am, standing among Christians who have been in the area for more than a thousand years. I unworthy, ignorant, and just a little shocked. Who do I think I am? I have no idea what these people have to endure on a daily basis. and yet they embrace me and call me – brother.
As the service proceeded, I still felt a little silly with no clue or context. The liturgy, the songs, the tongue – what to make of it all?
Then I looked at the cross on the stand, draped in a white ribbon. I saw an older woman, her head covered in a white lace, standing next to a pretty teenage girl. They were singing and then repeating the words from the Arabic book in front of them. I looked around. I was surrounded by men and women, young and old, and together, we had a bond of a common need and a Savior that met that need.
The salt I tasted trickled from my eyes.
We were one in the cross