Wood beads, lasers, and service

Salaam alaikum! I could begin by saying that among the sundry wondrous and exciting experiences of this semester, one stands out, and that’s what I’ll write about… but that would be a lie. So many of the experiences define themselves as “unique in a lifetime” that they almost begin to blend together. But in the interest of time, I’ll choose one.
Each Tuesday, I’ve taken a taxi to the Desert Rose Holy Lands Designs olive wood workshop for my service project. Each Tuesday, I’ve been surprised by what I get to work on and touched by how God uses the time. I entered the service project ecstatic with enthusiasm (I love woodworking), and the projects I have been given have not disappointed my joy. Some days I’ve made coat toggles on the lathe, and other days I have been occupied turning out wooden beads on the drill press.
IMG_5584My true love lay with the laser cutter, though. With one hundred watts of concentrated photons, the beast can cut through thick wood like butter. Many days have been spent engulfed in the smoke and haze of the laser room, carefully tending the machine as it eats up fresh olive wood slabs and spits out final products blackened by the power of the laser. I thought it strange that I could stay in the same room for four hours straight, doing the same thing every few minutes, and yet not bore myself or become weary of the work. The power of the laser is mesmerising, enticing, captivating.
As I fed the great machine its daily rations of olive wood one day, I began to ponder service (it was a service project, after all). Entering the service project, I had some idea that service should be the use of skills or knowledge to improve the entity you serve in some permanent manner. Examples I thought often of were roofing and painting houses for people unable to do so, or installing clean water systems in impoverished countries. These were both instances of people of greater qualification producing lasting effect on the communities they served.
While watching the tiny red dot of laser light devour another victim, I was struck by how much this service project was out of alignment with my conception of service. I was certainly not the most qualified person to make olive wood beads, and operating the laser cutter was as simple as the push of a button (not entirely, but the idea is there). Nothing I was doing would make a permanent improvement to how the business was run, and most of my work would be finished and sold on the next shipment to America. What, then, was I doing? In the most literal sense, the effects of my service were as transient as the wood passing the laser machine.


In the wood-scented haze of the laser cutter room, God showed me true service.  Service that is true is not oriented around accomplishing something lasting but around helping out where the project needs you the most. Certainly, this might involve making permanent improvements to your place of service or operating as the most qualified person for the job. But equally likely, service might just mean doing someone’s work for them, so they can work on other things. You may know you are qualified for other things. But service, true service, is as easy as feeding the laser cutter one more time.


Joshua Dunbar, junior student of chemistry at Wheaton College (IL)

American Academy Jordan


When I first started my service project volunteering at American Academy Jordan in Zarqa, I was intrigued by the idea, but I really had no desire to help teach. However, it has proven to be quite a meaningful and enjoyable experience. Every Tuesday morning, myself and the three other students in my service project group take the bus from Amman to Zarqa, and then taxi from the bus station to AAJ. We stop by a café for coffee/tea and doughnuts before heading to our respective classes.

I sit in on the 2nd– and 4th-grade English classes. During the kids’ writing exercises, I walk around the classroom and help them with spelling or other questions they have. During the kids’ break time, my service project group and I hang out with the kids, talking or playing soccer or chess. After the school day has ended, our service project group eats a delicious, home-cooked meal with some of the teachers, most of whom are expats.

Before beginning this service project, I did not think that I would enjoy helping to teach, but the experience has exceeded my expectations. I still do not see myself teaching long-term, but as a temporary volunteer opportunity, it can be quite rewarding. One of my favorite experiences is seeing how much the kids enjoy us being there and interacting with them (I have gotten a few drawings and appreciation notes from some of the kids in the 4th-grade class that I help in). I would definitely recommend giving this experience a try, even if working with kids is not your really your thing. You never know how it might change your opinions.

By Justus Gauss

Speaking the Language

Hey y’all! Im here for another blog post about a day in the life as a MESP student. My name is Mary Shirley and I go to school at Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi. After discovering my passion for the world and the mosaic beauty of diverse cultures, I chose to pursue the international studies major. My hope is to one day work with a globally minded company, corporation, organization, business, or government. I made the decision to embark on this adventure of a lifetime to explore a land I’ve never been to and learn about a culture I knew little about. After being here about a month and a half now, I can’t believe the semester is halfway over. So far, we have been on full speed so that we can soak up as much knowledge as possible. Reading, traveling, eating, experiencing, presenting, and lots of listening has been our life lately. It’s amazing how much the world has to teach us if we are willing to engage.

My favorite part of our journey thus far is learning the language, Arabic. Even though it is one of the most challenging aspects of the experience, it is simultaneously the most rewarding. Being able to communicate with locals we meet at the café or in the taxi makes me feel as if I’m connecting with them on a deeper level. Not to mention how encouraging the Arabs are to us as we stumble around to make cohesive sentences. We attend Arabic class two times a week for 4 hours each session. This may seem like a long class; however, I crave more. The reward of building relationships with Arabic speakers greatly outweighs any amount of time we have to spend in the classroom; it’s an investment that bears much fruit. Speaking of fruit, one of my favorite ways to practice my Arabic vocab is by going to the grocery or local market to ask how much every fruit and vegetable is. The store associates or venders normally find it entertaining and will sometimes teach me even more words to practice.

My deep hope is to continue pursuing Arabic and ultimately one day return to this region for work or even for travel. I want to be the key to unlock this region for the people I know and love back home in the U.S. Just as I was a few months ago, they know little about the culture and peoples here and I can’t wait to share the beauty I have seen and experienced here.

Much love and many blessings,

Mary Shirley

All That and a Bowl of Rice

Hello everyone! This is another installment of A Day in the Life of a MESP Student. My name is Meg, and I’m a junior at George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon. 73342366_792904304476257_4306429691834662912_nBefore I arrived in Jordan I may have told you that I thought God was calling me into politics, foreign policy, maybe even cross-cultural work with an NGO. Like a typical college student, I too am plagued by a certain degree of ambiguity when I consider my future options. However, never would I have suspected that God was simply calling me to eat a heaping plate of rice.

You might be inclined to say, “what’s the big deal, it’s just a plate of rice?” But my friend, let me tell you that the steaming mountain of white grains that is rapidly being pushed in front of you by a beaming Arab woman is not just a plate of rice. This plate is rather an extension of this woman’s heart, her family, and ultimately the efforts of her entire country to welcome you in. In Arab culture it is not the handshake that signifies trust and respect, but rather it is the breaking of bread or the sharing of a meal that indicates true honor and relationship.

Last week the students of MESP had the opportunity to travel to a village in Irbid to share mansaf with the tribe of Bani Issa or the Children of Jesus. Not only were we welcomed by Abu and Om Nidal, but their 12 children and a sampling of their 43 grandchildren made an appearance as well. No ordinary meal, mansaf is the national dish of Jordan that often symbolizes both hospitality and respect. This dish includes lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and is commonly served with rice. According to the locals, eating mansaf is not an authentic experience unless you find yourself sitting on the floor covered in rice from your fingers to your elbow. From the looks of the students at the end of the meal, we had accomplished both an authentic and delicious experience.


Throughout this semester we have had tremendous opportunities to engage with the political and cultural dynamics of the region firsthand, to listen to speakers working in every field, to meet with organizations approaching change from every angle. One might think that one of these numerous experiences would clarify the area God is calling me into. But, in His traditional manner, God instead used the sticky fingers, rambunctious children, and the mountain of rice towering in front of me to point to the truth. Before any career, before I make any choices to determine my future path, I am called to love and to eat with people. Void of any intentions or expectations, besides a full belly of course, the simple act of eating with one another has the capacity to strip away all barriers and leave us hungry for authenticity and relationship. On the other side of the table, the act of making food for another is a place of vulnerability and an extension of hospitality that begs to be answered. In a time in my life where I am frequently asking what the next step should be, God is calling me to stop and slow down. In this, I will arrive before the snowy mountain of carbohydrates and should look to the hand reaching into the plate next to me – how can I love them?75443058_2118103448497506_8569260023891361792_n

Great Expectations:

A famous book that I read in early high school and of which I have very little memory. But, the name behind it comes to mind when I think of this amazing experience that I have to study in the Middle East.
I certainly had some great expectations when I first signed up for the program. I most definitely had some great expectations when I stepped on the airplane on my way here. And I had nothing but piles and piles of great expectations when looking forward to our almost two week trip to the Israel/Palestine region.
Well, I can tell you that all of these expectations have been met and then some. I have had the opportunity to begin learning an incredibly challenging and beautiful language (Arabic), the likes of which I would never have hoped or even wanted to learn before coming here. I have traveled around the region and seen the old ruins of Jerash and the beautiful canyons of Wadi Mujib. We’ve been to the Old City of Jerusalem and to the Sea of Galilee. Not a day goes by that I am not blown away by these experiences.
But, none of this would be worth it without the people. The people of Jordan are beyond hospitable and are some of the nicest people to talk to. My fellow students and the members of the MESP staff have made this one of the most formative and joy-filled times of my life.
All in all, day in and day out, being a part of MESP is surpassing all of those great expectations that I began to form that first day that I turned in the forms to begin this journey.
Ben Oliver, signing out.

Olive Shoots: on Yad Vashem and The Avenue of the Righteous

Rochelle Arend van der Helm

I didn’t know if I would be able to see the tree.  I had seen a picture of it and I knew it was somewhere in Jerusalem.  I didn’t know if we would be able to go to the place where the trees are.  I didn’t know if I could find it.  I had seen a picture; I knew it existed and I would be so close but I did not know.  I hoped I could see their tree.

Opa’s name was Arend, I was named after him.  In 2012 I got to go to the house that my Opa grew up in.  The house that his family hid Jews in during WWII.  Opa was five when the Dutch, Nazi sympathizers came and killed my great Opa and took the Jewish family away.  The little Jewish boys survived.  Because of Jan and Johanna van der Helm, they survived and planted a tree on the Avenue of the Righteous.

There is a saying, “Whoever saves one life saves the entire world.”  There were photos hanging on the wall of the office at Yad Vashem.  The families of people who were saved came back and took pictures by their memorial tree.  Whole families that were saved because of one person’s sacrifice.  Finally, the woman at the desk said she had found my great Oma and Opa’s tree.


It felt so close to home when I saw the tree.  Their names were on the plaque, Jan and Jo van der Helm.  My Opa’s parents.  My Opa’s blood.  My blood.  My name.  They refused to give in.  They rebelled against the evil of their time.  How can I live up to that legacy?  When it comes to it, will I make the same sacrifices?  I can almost feel the sting of their blood in my veins.  I have the same life fire they did.  The same will.  They convict me so I cried.

The olive tree symbolises life.  It is the lifeblood of the Middle East.  The tree planted for Jan and Johanna van der Helm has little seedlings growing all about its trunk and I cannot help but think about those little olive offspring.  It was a miracle my Opa and Om Albert were not killed by the men who came to take away the Jewish family.  It was a miracle that the Jewish boys survived the war.  I do not know if they have any children or grandchildren, but I feel like we are bound together by our histories.  Jan and Jo’s sacrifice gave them a chance at life, and they gave me a chance at life.  We are all like the olive shoots getting life from the Father tree.

Day in a Life – Aqaba

This is the first blog post in the Fall 2019 series ‘A Day in a Life”, which will document events on the MESP program from the perspective of different students.

Anyone with travel experience would be the first to tell you that some of the greatest moments come when you are least expecting it, and sometimes you need to relax a bit in order to fully enjoy the time you have.

This certainly was the case for all 19 of us just two weekends ago, when we braved the four hour trek to the southernmost tip of Jordan. Once there, we realized we had stumbled upon Aqaba, Jordan’s one-stop destination for beaches, snorkeling, and duty-free off-brand clothing.

We spent all of Friday snorkeling among stunning coral, eating together on a boat, exploring downtown Aqaba, and finding the cheapest and best quality gelato imaginable. We all crashed for the night at a Bedouin-styled hostel before walking the beach Saturday morning. The more adventurous of our group went snorkeling a second time, and may have seen a sea turtle!

Our weekend excursion was relaxing and refreshing, but it served a deeper purpose too. After spending nearly a month in a foreign land studying difficult geopolitical issues, a new language, and interacting with people of different religions, the trip to Aqaba reminded us that we as a community continue to grow closer together even as we struggle through the new information all around us.

In the next several weeks we will begin to travel to all of the places we have studied and learn from people directly impacted by these issues most people only read about from a distance. Please pray for us as we struggle to understand difficult issues and we continue to work through our own preconceptions about the world.

This is Patrick of Milligan College, Tennessee, signing off! Ma’salame!

Mental Health & Rest

Living abroad is full of thrills, adventures, and new things wherever you go. But MESP particularly is known for enriching cultural experiences and Christ centered community. Everyone comes open handed expecting to grow and to be challenged. 

Before leaving for Jordan, my university suggested a mental health plan while traveling. And because I am passionate about rest, mental illness, and anxiety, I wanted to share my experiences so far. 

Culture shock, adjusting to new normals, and living in community all add to daily stressors that require gentle care and attention. Time is managed differently and is much outside of my control. My ways of coping and who I go to for help have changed because of the new location and emotional needs. As an introvert, I like taking time in the morning before the day starts to enjoy coffee and fresh bread from the bakery down the road. In the evening, I like to journal about all parts of my day. I make rest a priority to always work from rest and to take care of myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Long walks and time spent in the garden are my new favorite hobbies. Knowing my own limits and being self aware has been very helpful. I still have mental health days and deal with homesickness. But I remind myself that a successful day is measured differently than back home.  

Each day is new, a reset, with grace in its own. This semester has been really fun and I am determined to get the most out of it. I am thankful for such a supportive community while living in the Middle East. 10/10 recommend, it’s so worth it!


Mosque visit


Ola and Savannah at service project


Time for rest

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan

Originally posted on Facebook by current MESP student Josh Cayetano:


At first glance, there’s nothing special about this photo. Nothing stands out. There’s no glitz, no glam. But this photo is everything.

When I heard the news of the ban on refugees, I was in church with many from Iraq. And before I continue, let me share some facts about them I’ve learned since I met them:

1. They’re better than me at pool. One said in terrible English, “You play billiard as good I speak English.”

2. They love Jesus. In fact, for many, it’s the only thing they carried with them from Iraq. Many go to church every day, because they have nowhere else to go.

3. They are beyond generous. I learned refugees get $14 a month. And still they insist on giving.

4. They are resilient. I interviewed 15 Iraqis in 2 hours and every one of them was determined to learn and adapt.

5. I love them. I had never met any of them before today. But I love them.

6. They don’t want to go to America. They say Canadians and Australians are friendlier.

Shame on us. Shame on our government. Shame on the Levite who lifts his skirt and crosses to the other side. Shame on me for my apathy and shared guilt. Blessings on the Samaritan, Jordan, who has taken in more than her fair share. Blessings on those speaking up. Blessings on the peacemakers. Blessing on my brothers and sisters who have fled, may you run straight into the arms of our Father.

Adventures in Alternative Style

p_20161002_180407Hello from the Fall 2016 MESP ladies!

(and gentlemen, of course. This post is just highlighting our journey as women.)

We are having a blast here in Amman this semester.

Efforts to adjust to the local culture come in different forms. Saying “Marhaba, keef halak?” instead of “Hello, how are you?” is just the beginning.

For us women, the adaptation of dress is a bigger hurdle to jump over. I for one have found the stretch surprisingly enjoyable- it’s an opportunity to be creative and thrifty.

Before coming on the semester, I hit up my local Salvation Army and Goodwill. Which is what I do on the regular anyway, but this time was different: I had specific guidelines in mind. It was more like a treasure hunt than it had ever been before.

I ended up having to stop at Kohl’s for the necessary ankle-length-with-no-slit skirt. Soon, I was on my way to Amman and cultural adjustment and adaptation.


on the wain hada? scavenger hunt

We quickly learned that what we wear here is not just a matter of style, but of cultural respect. In the Middle East, the culture of the majority Muslim population puts an emphasis on physical appearance, and how that interacts with honor and respect.

I know, coming from an American, Christian perspective, the first concern on your mind when you get dressed in the morning is not “how do I make sure to respect others and honor my family” but “how can I fit in and not look like a freak.”

But if you think about the idea of respecting others, and even ourselves, in the way we dress, I’m leaning towards the idea that we could learn something from this value in Islamic culture.

I’ll let you work that out for yourself. For us here, it’s about making sure we show others that we have come to enter in to their world, to meet them where they are at. We want to make sure others feel respected and comfortable while we learn from them. We appreciate our hosts and don’t want to make them feel like they need to bend to our preferences.

That being said, it’s a different system than ours back home, so it takes some getting used to. After being here in Jordan for about 2 months, here are some examples of what we’ve come up with:

p_20160909_121422  p_20161026_184009  p_20161027_213527

p_20161026_183831  p_20161002_173753  p_20161026_183754


p_20161027_212502  14723585_1170402809672073_3617781803894439936_n1    p_20160909_121440


As you can see, it’s about higher necklines, longer sleeves, and long pants. This can be a challenge when living in the desert, so you learn to choose thinner, lighter fabrics (which travel better anyway!) and stay inside during the hotter parts of the day when possible.

The wonderful thing is, if you arrive and realize that you may need a few more items to supplement your wardrobe, you’ve always got Souk Juma to fall back on. Otherwise known by it’s English translation (Friday market), this magical marvel of a secondhand bonanza is open every Friday and is just a short taxi ride away.

I’ve bought a few things there, and I’m not one bit ashamed of it. I’ve gotten 2 JD pants, 5 tunics for 5 JD, purple suede shoes for 4JD… guys, a deal is a deal! When you pay a buck-fifty for a shirt, you’re not going to feel bad if you can’t fit everything in your suitcase on the way home (at least, I won’t… those purple suede shoes are gonna make the cut, though).

Even if I don’t bring all the apparel home with me, I’ve enjoyed exploring this fashion that convenes with Middle Eastern cultural standards. I have a new appreciation for personal presentation, which is something we tend to neglect in the States when we “just don’t feel like it.”

We’ve already joked about how we are taken aback when we see pictures of our friends in (reasonably) short dresses and how weird it will be to wear shorts in public again. I won’t have to worry about that for a while, heading back to Michigan in December, but it’s an interesting thought. We’ve come to a point of seeing our own fellow Americans, our friends and family, and having the same gut reaction as a Muslim, at least for a second.

As we live in Amman, we learn to straddle two worlds. We come from one, work to understand the other, to function in it but not to forget our own. Welcome to the Middle East Studies Program. Ahlan wa sahlan.