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Baptist school in Jordan known for academic excellence

AMMAN, Jordan (BP)–It is an oasis in the Middle East — a haven for Muslims and Christians, Arabs and Anglos, boys and girls.

It is the Amman Baptist School of Amman, dedicated in 1974 high atop one of the seven hills in the Al Rabia area of the kingdom’s capital. An educational powerhouse in a small cluster of buildings inside a high white wall, it now houses more than a thousand students.

At the helm of the school is Florida-born Brian Barlow, a Southern Baptist missionary from Pensacola, Fla., who left a prosperous banking career in 1989 to answer a call to missions.

“God spoke clearly to me and told me that He had enough bankers, but not enough missionaries,” Barlow told the Florida Baptist Witness in an interview. In 1990, with degrees in history and finance from Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., Barlow left Florida where he was a deacon at First Baptist Church Indian Rocks in Largo, for Liberia, West Africa, to serve as the mission treasurer.

By 1994 Barlow and his wife, Vicki, had expanded their family to include John, born in 1991, and Anna Beth, ’93, with Sarah on the way. Due to unrest in the part of the world where they served, however, they had been constantly on the move.

“At the end of our first four-year term, we have worked in four different countries, moved 18 times [and] lost everything we owned — which made it easier to move,” Barlow said. During their first furlough as missionaries, they went to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where Barlow earned a master’s degree in Christian education and a doctorate in education in 1997.

It’s been a steady pace for the Barlows since then. Named the academic director of the Baptist school in 1997, Barlow has since become its general director, serving in a capacity comparable to a school district superintendent in the United States. He and Vicki and one other American, Barbara Johnson, who serves as the school’s music education director, are the only Southern Baptist missionaries assigned to the otherwise self-supporting school.

A vision for the school took hold in the 1960s when Baptists providing medical services in north Jordan felt the kingdom’s government would welcome an additional avenue of ministry. Working with then-Jordanian Minister of Education Zoukan Hindawi, Southern Baptist missionaries Paul and Virginia Smith began to look for land for the school in 1966.

In the nature of many countries where time often seems to stand still, however, the school did not open its doors until 1974. In its first year, the late King Hussein and Queen Noor brought their children to the school along with King Hussein’s brother Prince Hassan and his sister Princess Basma.

“It was a daring act of leadership, courage and vision on the part of the royal family to educate their children in an evangelical Christian school,” Barlow said. “Leading by example, the royal family made it socially acceptable for boys and girls, Christians and Muslims, to be educated together in hopes of fostering better relationships between all the peoples of Jordan.

“Since that time, the Baptist School has been entrusted with educating the sons and daughters of some of Amman’s finest families,” Barlow said.

The school accepts students as young as 40 days old and educates students through the 12th grade. Preschool is completely bilingual in Arabic and English and grades one through eight are taught primarily in Arabic although there are classes in English. French language study begins in the fourth grade. The student uniform is green pants and green and white striped shirts. Most students are computer-savvy, thanks to the school’s hookup to high-speed Internet and techie-friendly classrooms and labs.

Barlow said the school’s curriculum is aligned with the national Jordanian curriculum, but it also offers the only comprehensive high school in the kingdom with three different programs in Arabic — in the sciences, arts and management information systems. An all-English language curriculum sponsored by the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom recently was developed along with a vocational program in hotel management.

The school also has the largest and “best” music program in the kingdom, Barlow said, and offers band, guitar, piano, hand bell and choral instruction. The relatively new music wing is home to several instrument practice rooms and a spacious band room.

Consequently, a typical graduate of the school can expect to be tri-literate, and currently 100 percent of its recent graduates attend a college or university in Jordan, England, Italy, Lebanon, Germany or the United States. The school was rated number one in the kingdom based on last semester’s exam results, and Barlow said more than a dozen “first” and “only school” labels fit.

“Our school attracts students by being academically strong,” Barlow said. “We keep students by providing a loving and caring family atmosphere.”

The teachers and principals at the school are familiar with all of the students and their family members “by name,” Barlow said, and the school has a strict discipline policy and a character education program. And with a count of 1,120 students — 50 percent each boys and girls, 40 percent Muslim, and 60 percent Christian — the problems appear minimal.

“Our biggest discipline problem is students talking in class,” Barlow said. “We live in the middle of the Middle East and you have seen the news. Imagine, with our school’s cultural and religious makeup, that our biggest problem is talking.”

The school’s focus hasn’t been limited entirely to education, however. Members of the school’s staff are directly involved in more than 30 ministries throughout Jordan and the region and about 65 decisions were made to follow Christ among students, teachers and parents during the last school year. Motivated by the need for a strategy of evangelism and church planting in the region, Barlow said he and Vicki wrote a comprehensive master strategy plan in 1999 to catalyze believers there.

“To date, God has blessed the work tremendously and we have been able to see approximately 80 percent of the plan come to fruition,” he said. “We are thrilled. … Suffice it to say, God is moving!”

One of the results of the strategy Barlow envisioned for Jordan and for surrounding Arab countries has been the creation of the Baptist Union of Iraq. Barlow is a member of the advisory board for the new organization and as such has had significant input into the proposal for the creation of a Baptist school there.

“That God put Vicki and I in the right place at the right time is a testimony to His wisdom and love for us,” Barlow said. “As the only non-Arab, I am very honored at being allowed to participate as a special adviser to the initial governing body of the Baptist Union of Iraq.”

Though prostletyzing or using undue pressure to persuade Muslims to convert to Christianity is outlawed in Jordan, Barlow said he and Vicki are two of the very few Southern Baptist missionaries who minister “very publicly and boldly in the Middle East.”

“Our ability to minister was not affected at all [by Sept. 11],” Barlow said of the tragic day when terrorists wrought havoc in the United States and beyond. “9/11 actually gave us a more visible platform to share God’s love and His forgiveness.”

Barlow attributes his family’s ability to withstand the pressures, partially due to the fact that they are totally “enculturated” into the local Jordanian community.

“All of us are Jordanian and we spend most of our time out in the community,” Barlow said. “Since we are well-known by many, we have never faced any problems.

“It is a great blessing to be living in the Middle East at this time and to see all the great things God is doing that are not being covered in the press or on the television,” Barlow said. “The only that we are truly afraid of is disappointing God by not being able to live up to His expectations of us.”
For more information about ministry opportunities related to the Amman Baptist School in Jordan, go to: www.baptist.com.jo or e-mail [email protected]. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE, MAKING MUSIC and VITAL VERSES.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan