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“Ahlan. AH-LAN. Somebody say, ‘Marhaba,’ you say, ‘Ahlan,’” said Julie, struggling to find the right English words to communicate her point. She decided to intervene after listening to me butcher the Arabic ‘hello’ ritual with two guests of the Global Hope Network office here in Jordan.
“Allan. Ahalan. AHlan…good, right?” I said optimistically.
“Ok,” she conceded.
Moments later, another guest arrived and offered the expected, “Marhaba!”
“Ahlan,” I replied, trying to mask my enthusiasm for nailing this critical Jordanian greeting.
“Keef eck?” he shot back. I just smiled blankly, wishing I knew the next part of the ritual.
Julie rushed around the corner and ushered the guest into another room for his meeting. She walked back to me, leaned over and annunciated, “Temam. Te-mam. Keef eck? Temam.”
None of these things are in my pocket-sized Arabic phrase book. In fact, everything I say from that darn book— complete with world’s best-selling phrase books boasted across the cover—is met with blank stares, a combination of my horrible accent and the evolving, slang-laden language itself.
Obviously, words will not serve me well here in Jordan.
A Different World
Much of the Jordanian life is new to me. For starters, it’s not just a country—it’s the ‘Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.’ The capital city, Amman, carries itself with as much poise as being a ‘kingdom’ suggests. The streets are clean, pedestrians saunter on smooth sidewalks, occasionally interrupted by a carefully placed tree, and beautiful Arabic script accentuates the arches of stone buildings. There’s still bustling traffic and open markets, but they bristle with life instead of chaos.
The rituals enthrall me—the two or three or more kisses for hello, the right word for thank you when someone feeds you (as opposed to other expressions of gratitude) and how people can enjoy hours of conversation around a cup of tea with cardamom.
I’m also enthralled by the omnipresent politics. Politics are big here in Jordan. Even the 11 year-old son of my host family loves watching the news (a close second to Turkish soap operas).
Jordan is the Switzerland of the Middle East, sitting precariously between Israel, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The nation enjoys amiable relations with all of them, aided by the fact that it’s accommodated millions of refugees over the years. The situation makes for an interesting political, cultural and religious dynamic.
Before arriving in Jordan, I knew it had a good reputation for freedom of religion. The country is over 90% Sunni Muslim, but it respects the rights of people who practice minority religions.
That tolerance opens the door for organizations like my host ministry, Global Hope Network International (GHNI). GHNI is working outside of Amman to support development in rural Jordan, to bring hope to the hidden and hurting—and they’re doing it because of Jesus.
But what does religious freedom look like in a place where you must register your religious status with the government? Where “proselytizing” to Muslims— but not to any other group—is against the law? How does an organization like Global Hope Network pursue relief and development with Gospel-based principles without mentioning…well, the Gospel?
I asked Rami, Global Hope employee, that very question.
“We just show love,” Rami told me. “I don’t say a thing. We just love them.”
For me, that’s easier said than done. Being in a foreign land reminds me how much I rely on words. The Global Hope philosophy causes me to reflect on my own spiritual life. Are my words doing the talking when it comes to my faith? Do my actions alone reveal what I believe?
Actions that Speak
If I follow a doctrine that calls me to be among the afflicted, then I want to be there. It’s so easy to get hung up on intellectualizing our faith, but in the grand scheme of things, arguing about the proper distribution of the sacraments might hinder the broader, more important messages we have to share.
Christians in Jordan may be limited by the powers that be, but the problem calls them to step up. Their actions must speak. Not only must their actions speak, but Christians here must be in communion with all people—of all faiths—to end poverty and injustice, to focus less on the title of “Christian” and more on the universally accepted teachings of Jesus.
And the teachings of Jesus call for action. We have much to learn from Global Hope and others working for social justice here in Jordan. I’m excited to follow in the wake of people who speak daily with more deeds than words.
- Start learning about Global Hope Network at globalhopenetwork.org
- During the course of the day, consider how many things you do that speak about your beliefs. What are your actions saying?
- Ever get confused about the difference between words like Arab, Arabic, Muslim and Islam? Take three minutes to learn: Click here.
- Pray for the work of Global Hope here in Jordan—that they continue to show love and strengthen communities.
About the Author: Laura is a journalism fellow with World Next Door. She graduated from the University of Arizona, Tucson with a degree in Animal Sciences and a minor in Spanish. She is constantly learning, making friends, dancing, and trying to understand her role in alleviating the suffering of others. Laura also attracts a lot of awkward situations.