WADI HADADA, Jordan (BP)–On the anniversary of a day many remember as a turning point for America, Baptist relief workers in the Middle East brought a message of hope and reconciliation Sept. 11 as they delivered food and supplies to Iraqi and other refugees living in Jordan.
Working with local charities, 19 volunteers — from Florida, Virginia, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina — delivered 50 boxes of food, which mirrored the contents of 46,000 food boxes from Southern Baptists awaiting delivery to Iraqi families.
Initially, the work had been interrupted when security concerns arose after the terrorist bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq in late August. Instead of going to Baghdad, the workers were diverted to Jordan Sept. 2 where they engaged in a variety of relief projects among the estimated half-million Iraqi refugees there.
In other projects over a 10-day period, the relief workers visited an Islamic women’s center to deliver diapers and other baby items, went on home visits to help build relationships with families, assisted with healthcare assessment among the poor, completed projects at the Amman Baptist School, and brought food and supplies to a nearby orphanage. The team began their orientation to Middle Eastern culture and religion by visiting and praying at sites in Jordan with special biblical tie-ins — Petra, Mount Nebo and Umm Qais.
At the group’s debriefing, the team coordinator* said despite the logistical challenges and last-minute changes, the volunteers had benefited from being in a foreign culture and dispelling stereotypes.
“God taught you to love the people of the world,” he said. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Expressing disappointment in not being able to go into Iraq, he reminded the team that God nevertheless had been in control.
In Jordan, though Arab and other Christians are allowed to worship and teach among themselves, proselytizing and direct evangelism of Muslims is strictly prohibited. In Iraq, the situation is complicated because of constantly shifting political pressures since the liberation by coalition forces. Additionally, the need to adhere to traditional dress and mannerisms can quickly become a security issue.
In both cultures, the need for relationship building is of paramount importance and drives the need for social ministry, especially among the displaced Iraqis. This need for relationship building was understood by the workers to be in the context of beginning to build a bridge from West to East, but not necessarily being able to see the end results.
“We were on Mount Nebo and I was thinking about the Son of God orchestrating world events — and the thought of our predicament came up,” one worker* recounted. “… For all of that, it’s a God thing that this trip came about, and one day I’ll see it,” the worker reflected.
Another worker said it didn’t take long to focus on the needs in Jordan once the team began to take in the countryside and the culture.
“I forgot about not going to Iraq,” he said. “It was on Mount Nebo that I really turned the corner and gave it to God that day. I had just forgotten about it. God has done some incredible things.
“We came to minister to people who were hungry, not so much to the Arab peoples,” he said. “God makes no mistakes; His sovereignty is at work and it’s up to me to look at what is happening.”
Another worker, in sharing about her own quiet time and reflection, said she discovered that to “show people Jesus, I have to know enough about Him.”
Commenting also on Middle Eastern hospitality, she said she was impressed by the fact that in the homes she visited the families would stop what they were doing to honor their guests with tea, coffee, water or juice.
“We have such a fast-food Gospel. We don’t spend enough time discipling people and building relationships,” she said. “And the same is true in our relationship with God, who tells us: ‘I don’t want your favor. I want you. Have tea with me,'” the worker said.
Walking through the streets and coming face to face with the people in the culture prompted one worker to say he believes many of them are no different from the lost who pack the streets in the United States.
“These people here are starving for the same sense of direction that only comes from the living God,” he said. “We need to take this experience and learn from what we have seen every day.
“I truly believe we are on the forefront of a great spiritual awakening in the Middle East. God’s hand is all over this and we have been at the forefront of that,” he said.
Many of the workers realized that an important part of their assignment had been to be available to answer questions about their personal faith and, though they may never see the results of the seeds they planted, to be faithful in their sharing.
“[The people we ministered to] saw people who love them, not hate them,” one worker said. Telling about a woman who had a son facing a long prison sentence, one worker said she was moved to tears by her chance to share of her own similar experience and to comfort the mother.
Unconditional love and acceptance was what one of the team’s Iraqi translators picked up on as well. From a Kurdish background, one young man* said he hasn’t quite decided which religion to follow — but he believes the team is on the right track.
“God loves you; you are something special,” he said. “God has blessed you.”
Recounting some of his doubts about how he would relate to such a group, the translator said he was “happier” than ever before and felt a new openness toward God as a result of not being “judged” by members of the team.
“I feel like I’m with my people,” he told the team.
*Names of relief workers have been withheld for security reasons. Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, online at floridabaptistwitness.com. (BP) Photos posted in the BP photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CHILD’S PLAY, MOTHER’S HELPER, MINISTRY DETOUR and AT MT. NEBO.