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On Site in Jordan

This fall, Going On Faith brought a group of 15 people to explore Jordan as part of our OnSite FAM program. This group included several professional tour operators and travel agents, as well as numerous pastors from a variety of denominations representing churches from across the country. The delegation traveled as guests of the Jordan Tourism Board and were hosted by Zina Ammari, the organization’s faith-based tourism manager.

During the 10-day journey, the group visited Jordan’s most renowned spiritual sites, such as Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Mount Nebo, as well as significant historical and archaeological sites such as Petra and Jerash. The tour also included natural wonders like the Dead Sea and the incomparable desert at Wadi Rum.

Throughout the tour, participants reveled in spiritual experiences and came to love the warmth and hospitality of the Jordanian people. Here’s an overview of some of the trip’s highlights, along with personal reflections from some of the pastors who participated.

Jerash

Often referred to as the Pompei of the Middle East, Jerash is the site of the region’s most preserved Roman city, East, which was contracted in the second century A.D. The group walked the streets of this historic city, stopped for photos at Hadrian’s Arch, hiked up to the Temple of Diana and enjoyed a brief concert in a 3,000-seat historic amphitheater.

Tel Mar Elias

Tel Mar Elias, or the Hill of Elijah, commemorates the life of the Old Testament prophet who spent much of his life in Jordan. From the hill, visitors can see the area where Elijah was born. Tradition also holds that this hill was the site where Elijah was taken up into heaven after crossing the Jordan River. The group explored the archaeological sites on the hill, which include the ruins of two historic churches.

Umm Qais

Referred to in the New Testament as Gadara, Umm Qais is both an archaeological and a biblical site. It was one of the cities of the Decapolis, and visitors will find extensive ruins from the Roman period as well as the Ottoman period. This is also the place where Jesus drove demons out of two demented men and into a herd of pigs, who then raced down the mountain and into the Sea of Galilee.

Amman

Jordan’s capital and its largest city, Amman is home to 4 million people. The group stayed three nights in Amman and spent some time exploring the Citadel, its historic center dating back to the Byzantine period. Ruins at the Citadel suggest earlier civilizations on the site as far back as 1200 B.C. Next, the group toured the Jordan Museum, where participants saw artifacts from across the country, including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Iraq al Amir

In Iraq al Amir, a village not far from Amman, a group of local women have formed a crafts and hospitality co-op. The organization is one of several sites listed on the Meaningful Travel Map of Jordan. The group enjoyed opportunities to work closely with local women creating handmade paper crafts, ceramic figures and delicious Jordanian appetizers.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan

For many people, the spiritual highlight of the trip was a visit to Bethany Beyond the Jordan. On the banks of the Jordan River, this site preserves the cave where John the Baptist is believed to have lived, as well as the place where biblical and archaeological evidence suggest Jesus was baptized. The group got a guided tour from the site’s passionate director, then took some time for an impromptu baptism service at a quiet place on the river.

Mount Nebo

Visited by three popes, Mount Nebo is one of the most important religious sites in Jordan. According to the Old Testament, Moses stood on this mountain and overlooked the Promised Land at the end of his life; then God buried him somewhere in the valley below. The group took in the view at sunset and saw detailed mosaics in the ruins of two historic churches built on the site.

Petra

Jordan’s most famous tourist site, Petra is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This city was carved into rose-red cliff walls by the Nabatean people who lived there from the eighth century B.C. to the eighth century A.D. The group spent a whole day exploring the site, including the towering Treasury that appeared in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Many group members also hiked up to the Monastery for breathtaking views.

Red Sea

After spending the night at a resort in Aqaba, Jordan’s only port city, the group ventured out on a yacht cruise to a coral reef in the Red Sea. The waters were calm and crystal clear, perfect conditions for swimming and exploring the sea life below. Some participants snorkeled on their own, and others opted for a guided scuba-diving exhibition. The crew also prepared a delicious lunch of fresh grilled kebabs.

Wadi Rum

Among the most stunning landscapes in Jordan, Wadi Rum is famous for its towering rock formations and red desert sands. It’s a favorite shooting location for movies such as “The Martian” and the Star Wars franchise. The group explored the area on an open-air jeep tour at sunset. That evening, the group stayed overnight at a Bedouin encampment, where everyone enjoyed traditional food, music and dancing.

Dead Sea

Sitting on the border between Jordan and Israel, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth. Its waters are very salty, which creates ultrahigh buoyancy. The group spent nights at two of the world-class resorts on Jordan’s Dead Sea shore. The group members enjoyed floating in the seawater and coating themselves in the Dead Sea mineral mud, which has restorative properties, as well as dining in the resort restaurants.

Bryant Collier

House of Hope, Atlanta, Georgia

What did you expect to find in Jordan, and how did your experience compare to those expectations?

I’ll be honest — because Israel is the destination everyone talks about, we really don’t pay attention to Jordan. So I didn’t know how important Jordan was until I got there. I went in blind. So to watch the Old Testament and New Testament come alive was an eye-opening experience. And the hospitality was inspiring. It was one of the most pivotal parts of the experience — from the tour guides to the merchants and even the security checkpoints, it was hospitable the entire way.

What was a spiritual highlight of the trip for you?

Mount Nebo, hands down. It was amazing. For me, it was very big because that’s where Moses stood, where he was able to overlook the Promised Land but not go into it. That’s a very big moment. Then to know that somewhere in that terrain is where he was buried — nobody knew where God took him. I’m so familiar with Moses, and I have a lot of emotions about his story. This put things into perspective.

What experiences stand out as a lot of fun?

I had a lot of fun. Our wonderful hostess Zina took me out in Amman. We were able to go and be part of the normal Jordanian culture. We went to a restaurant and then a lounge, and we got shawarma late at night. We saw the city still full of life. The streets were safe. And it was really fun to watch their culture. There were no strangers anywhere. People were just friendly.

How could visiting Jordan impact people in your church?

Pictures can’t do the place justice. You get to see historically what it means for Christianity. When you’re there — it’s amazing — you see how much of an impact Jordan has had in our faith. The ingenuity and rebuilding of the historic sites is really significant. If you want to walk through the Old and New Testament, Jordan is something you should consider.

What would you tell people who have concerns about going?

I have no safety concerns. It’s a peaceful experience. I didn’t fear anyone’s feelings toward me. I felt more safe walking the streets of Amman than I feel in some of the major cities here in the States.

When are you bringing a group back?

We’re already working on getting some dates for my church. There’s also a group of pastors and some social groups I have contacted about doing a trip to Jordan in 2020.

Mark Polson

First United Methodist Church of Idabel, Idabel, Oklahoma

What were your expectations of Jordan, and how did they compare to what you experienced there?

I expected it to be much more similar to Israel, where you’re in a military occupied area and you’re aware of that constantly. But I was really comforted by the fact that there wasn’t a heightened military presence. And even though it was a 92% Muslim country, it was extremely hospitable to a bunch of Christian clergy and friends. It’s ironic that we perceive ourselves as a Christian nation, but we don’t have the same level of hospitality toward other faith groups that I experienced in Jordan.

What was an impactful spiritual experience during the trip?

The most powerful moment for me was the Jordan River site. We had a great tour with the director and saw the likely site where Jesus was actually baptized. That was incredible to look at all the evidence in one spot. Then when we went to the private baptism area on the river, I went ahead of everyone to have a little moment with God. I stuck my hand in the water and had a little moment of prayer. It was a reminder to me that this place was the beginning of Christ’s ministry, and it could be a new beginning for me in my ministry and relationship with God.

How about an experience that was just plain fun?

That was snorkeling in the Red Sea. I found Nemo, and I could see the coral and the colors and a couple schools of fish. The water was so clear. Then I went back on the boat and fell asleep on the bow for about 30 minutes.

How can a trip to Jordan help people in their own faith journey?

I haven’t quite been able to articulate that yet in my own mind. I think it will happen in the intentionality of creating some type of study or worship time on the trip. The living word of God comes to life in a real way when you’re standing on the sites where the Scriptures were living at the time. There’s something magical about reading a passage where it took place.

How will you talk people through their concerns about going?

I’ve talked to several people who say they were worried about me, but I tell them I was more comfortable there than in Israel, way more comfortable than Paris and so much safer than New York City. That’s a way to set them at ease.

What are your plans to return to Jordan?

I’m testing the interest at my church. I’ll try to get a core group of around six from my congregation, then open it up to other Methodist churches in my county. And I won’t be able to go again without my wife.

Aaron Kruse

Parkade Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri

How did your experience in Jordan compare to your expectations?

I thought it would be a lot wealthier, like Saudi Arabia. And I thought it would be a lot more dangerous. But our guides helped us understand that Jordan doesn’t have oil like other Middle Eastern countries. There is some poverty there, but the hospitality is amazing. Even in their poverty, the people were very generous and kind. They went out of their way to take care of things.

What spiritual experience from the trip stands out to you?

Bethany Beyond the Jordan made a big impact, and the director of the site really added to that. His passion for the area was such a testimony of faith. But the most personal part was when [fellow group member] Victoria was baptized in the Jordan. Nobody had planned any songs or prayers. But when she came out of the water, she couldn’t stop praising the name of Jesus. It was a very special and holy moment that we were invited into. It moved me to tears. It was a really precious moment to see her faith encouraged.

What parts of the trip were the most fun?

One was scuba diving in the Red Sea. That was amazing. I’ve never been scuba diving before, but our dive master was fantastic. I would have no concern sending someone with him to scuba dive. Also, Wadi Rum was a lot of fun. I can’t believe that you can sit in the back of a pickup truck in the desert, going around at 40 to 50 miles per hour with no seat belts. I also ran down a tall sand dune there, and it felt like walking on the moon.

How do you think a trip to Jordan can enhance someone’s faith?

The baptism site is the primary thing you go to see, but so much of the Old Testament happened in Jordan. Elijah is a great example. I have become much more aware of geography as I read the Bible because the biblical map is not overlaid on the current geographical maps.

How would you allay people’s fears about traveling to Jordan?

Through the media, we have scared ourselves to death about this area. But it felt safer than walking the streets of New York. It was worth the journey.

Will you be bringing a group from your church to Jordan?

I’m in the middle of that right now. This was as impactful to me as a mission trip. So it needs to be worked into churches as a possibility for travel — go over to see Israel and Jordan, and have your life changed.

Mark Harrell

Hickory Grove Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina

What were your conceptions of Jordan before visiting?

I knew of the geological and biblical sites, but I was a little hesitant to go there. My friends were telling me it wasn’t too safe. But I’m adventurous. I wanted to see and stand in Old Testament and New Testament places and places where the Bible says things will unfold in the future.

How did those perceptions change during the trip?

Everywhere we went, we were met with friendliness and hospitality. It was also interesting to watch the topography change. It was more mountainous than I thought. It made me think about how Old Testament prophets had to be in shape to get around this stuff. It gave me a lot of respect for these people.

What was a spiritual highlight of the trip for you?

It’s hard to narrow that down to one thing. My mission is to enjoy life physically and spiritually. I had prayer times at Mount Nebo and Gadara, where things in the Bible happened. Praying while I was there made me feel a lot closer to God. It’s awe-inspiring. Being there is so different.

What about a fun experience?

I just finished a video from my run at Petra, from the Treasury to the Monetary. I’m getting ready to share that online. Then a couple days later, Zina and I got up around 5:30 for a three-mile run in Wadi Rum. We turned the corner and went around one of the rock outcroppings, and the sun was just coming out. It was beautiful. And when we went to the women’s co-ops and did crafts and cooking with them, that was very enjoyable. You need to visit these co-ops and spend time with the Jordanian women.

How do you think a trip to Jordan can help enhance people’s faith?

The way it was explained to me was that “you have to go see it yourself.” There’s no other way to put into words what you’re going to experience.

What do you tell people who have concerns about going?

When people talk to me, their big concern is finances. So I’m going to try to plan a trip that includes all the major areas but takes out things that make the cost go up, so you can have an epic trip without the high prices.

When do you think you’ll be back?

I’m already talking to my friends in Charlotte about going to Jordan on a fitness trip in the future. I have four or five who want to go, so far.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.