The Trials of Being a Leader

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Hello, my name is Samuel W. Montgomery, I am studying Homeland Security and Applied Intelligence and minoring in Psychology at Roberts Wesleyan College and am currently in the last semester of my senior year. I am participating in MESP as an extension of my studies dealing with intercultural exchange and diversity. The head of my department always stressed the ability to socialize in an intercultural situation because as a Law Enforcement officer I will be engaging with such people for a multitude of reasons all throughout my career; MESP was the perfect opportunity to accomplish this. This past week MESP went to meet with a Sheikh, a Middle Eastern tribal leader who leads a tribe of 10,000 people that live in at least three different countries. Afterward, we went to Mt. Nebo, the supposed place where Moses stood when he has finally led the Israelites into the promised land after their forty years of exile. Moses was the Human leader of one of the oldest peoples in history and like the Sheikh, he to bore many burdens.

One of the most important lessons taught in Homeland Security and Applied Intelligence (HSI) is how to work with the community, any community to accomplish whatever goal is at hand. This is most definitely applies to Middle Eastern and Arab culture. It is possible, in the future, I will be required to speak with local or tribal leaders in America, as Arab communities tend to be closely knit. By conversing and asking questions of the Sheikh I gained an understanding of his responsibilities as a leader and the trials he faces on a daily basis. For example, in many communities like the one we went to, the village where the Sheikh lived, there is seldom need for the police force because any crimes or offenses are handled by the community, with the Sheikh as a mediator, this understanding will be vital for any police interaction in the future. Additionally, the Sheikh usually speaks to the government on behalf of the people.

Similarly, Moses was the intermediary between the Israelites and God, he would often plead on the people’s behalf for mercy or petition God for the wants of the community. He was also the adjudicator of any crimes among the twelve tribes just like the Sheikh. It was the responsibility of both to take care of their community and lead it in a just way that complies with the will of God and Allah.

Holy Land Sites

PHOTO-2020-02-19-11-05-07I am far from home here in the holy land. My name is Morgan and I attend Gordon
College in Massachusetts. It’s a bit cold for me up there, so I’m enjoying the more mild winter in the Middle East. While I study business, my minor in Middle Eastern Studies is where my true passion lies. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed trying new foods, bargaining in the markets for beautiful trinkets, and attempting to speak Arabic in complete sentences.

The most prevalent lesson MESP taught me is that nothing is as simple as it appears. We
had the opportunity to spend twelve days exploring the holy land and seeing the Bible come to life before us. Emotions are running high from exhaustion, the awe of the views, and the many different speakers we have the privilege of hearing from. While I’m going to share a little about two important holy sites, each visit is far more complex as we approach it from a biblical, historical, and political context.

In the little town of Bethlehem just off of Manger Square is the Church of the Nativity.
With imposing walls that loom over tourists, the first impression you have is that the doors are awfully short. The symbolism of this architectural style is so simplistic yet beautiful. No matter who you are and what your background is, we are all humbled before God. The inside of this spectacular church is filled with tourists and ancient mosaics. Lights hanging from the ceiling give it an air of reverence despite the chattering of the crowds. The line wraps around the entirety of the church as people from far and wide wait to descend to the cave where Jesus was born over two thousand years ago. To give some context, this church was built by Constantine’s mother, Helena. A woman of great faith, she convinced Constantine to legalize Christianity and then recovered this holy site and had a church built atop of it. Now, visitors pour in to get a glimpse of where our Savior began human life.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:6-7)

I first saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the National Geographic Museum in
Washington, D.C. Standing in a room with virtual reality like glasses on, I watched in awe as the church was revealed from different angles. The architecture, history, and beauty of it all drew me in and I knew I needed to visit. However, I was sure this would happen sometime in the future, most likely years. About 18 months later, I physically went inside and explored this holy site. Virtual reality of any sort does nothing to prepare you for the actual represented image. The slightly unkempt walls of the church gave way to splashes of color in art and design. The inside was massive and yet felt secluded due to the many divided rooms. While the church is split amongst several denominations of the Christian faith, there is a sense of oneness in it as well. From all around the world, pilgrims journey to this church to see, touch and pray at the places where Jesus spent His last moments. Tradition holds that this church was built upon the grounds of Jesus’ death and burial, and while that may not be the exact location (everything is always
disputed when it comes to holy sites), the symbolism of it is still holy and fills one with awe.

The creation of man only reminds one of the creation of God in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. (John 19:17-18)

At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. (John 19:41)

“Look Up!”

Shalom, my name is Simps Bhebhe and I am a first-semester senior at Olivet Nazarene University in the small town of Bourbonnais, Illinois. I am in the process of completing my undergrad degree in Intercultural Studies and Political Science. Being on MESP has undoubtedly been my most insightful college learning experience. It has taught me a whole lot about culture and politics but more importantly, I’ve learned more about myself and God. In the past two weeks, MESP went to Jerusalem to study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This trip was the perfect culmination of religion, culture, politics
and self-development. But for me this trip was more than just a study of the conflict, it was a long-held dream of mine fulfilled in visiting the Holy City, Jerusalem.

Just like anyone you might know who has realized any of their dreams, there are a million things I could say but, in an attempt not to be too long-winded, I will leave you with my Jerusalem phrase: “look up!” The first reason to look up is because Jerusalem is a city built on a hilltop and it is a spectacular sight to behold. Jerusalem is breathtaking! It is so beautiful you almost feel guilty for touching it and being on it. It is like using mom’s special china set to eat cereal or ramen noodles or like wearing your most
expensive attire to go dirt biking. One of the reasons Jerusalem has this esteem is because almost any religious figure worth mentioning has been to Jerusalem. All to illustrate that Jerusalem’s position on the hilltop is very fitting as it reinforces the glorious nature of the Holy City. Its beauty is meant to be marveled by all.

The other reason to “look up” is to recognize the diversity of religions that are housed in Jerusalem. The Old City of Jerusalem is separated into quarters. There’s the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter and the Armenian quarter. It is literally a melting pot of cultures and religions and above numerous buildings in Jerusalem, you will recognize many different symbols identifying which religion and/or people group a building belongs to. If you go to Jerusalem as a member of any religion, don’t be
surprised that you will be rubbing shoulders with pilgrims of other faiths. One of the main reasons I beckon you to look up when in Jerusalem is because in the various holy sites the most beautiful artwork is adorning the ceilings of religious places of worship. One of my favorite things is to go into a holy place and take in the majesty of the domes and ceiling tapestry.
However, the most compelling reason to look up is to be reminded that God is above! Jerusalem is a place of hustle and bustle, a place that is Holy, yet where people don’t behave so holy like. People barge their way through into buildings and they push you and shove you while you’re trying to take in the significance of a place. After learning about some of the struggles of the people of the land, looking up to God is the only thing that gave me peace.

Simply Laughing at the Same Joke

Hello everyone! My name is Becca and I am a sophomore at Point Loma Nazarene University studying International Relations with an emphasis in Peace Studies. Before coming to MESP, I knew very little about Middle Eastern politics and culture. I actually decided to come to MESP very last minute because my previous study abroad options fell through and I had a friend that invited me to come on a study abroad trip to Jordan with her. I was curious about the Middle East so I said yes and quickly filled out my application. I am so grateful that my original plans did not work out and I am able to experience what the Middle East has to offer. In being here, I have grown deeper in my understanding of Arab culture and I have fallen in love with the welcoming hospitality that takes place here.
Another privilege I have here in my time at MESP is the ability to participate in a service project every week. Each Tuesday morning, I and three other MESP students go to a local church and teach English to Iraqi refugees. This is one of my favorite parts of the week because of the wonderful individuals I get to teach and learn from. I teach the advanced English class at the church, where we mostly practice higher-level vocabulary through lessons, writing, and listening. There are about seven of us in the classroom, with ages ranging from seventeen to sixty-five.
In practicing, I often ask my students questions about their lives and their goals. Through this, I have been incredibly touched by their spirits of perseverance and the sweet memories that they share with us. For a lot of them, they were forced to leave their homes due to the unsafe conditions of the cities they were living in. In the midst of loss and hardships, they still have the strength and drive to live their lives to the best of their abilities. They come to class smiling and with a hunger for learning. I love getting to know all of them better and hearing more about their lives. I think it is incredibly beautiful to build relationships with people whose lives are so much different than mine and discover how much we have in common, whether that be our favorite movies, our similar interests, or simply laughing at the same joke. I have truly enjoyed this experience and I look forward to getting to know my class better and I am excited to learn more from the wisdom and advice they give to me.
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Express yourself—the Hip-hop/Street Art Scene of Amman

Rap. Breakdance. Street Art. DJ. Have fun and go with the flow. These are the five aspects of hiphop as told by hiphop artist and Underground Amman tour guide, Ala-a-din. Last week, MESP students had the insightful experience of touring the street art scene in Webde. We saw many interesting and insightful pieces, including this image of a woman with Arabic calligraphy incorporated into her head scarf.Street art 5

There was also Arabic poetry, which Ala-a-din read and translated into English for us. Most of the art pieces had a story to tell. One of the artists used her images of children without eyes or hearts to show that children need space to express their emotions and that society needs to promote better mental health for children. street art 4

Most of the artist use a signature to distinguish their art from others. One of the signatures were these origami boats/hats.Street art 6

Ala-a-din also shared that 80% of street artists are women because it’s a medium through which they can express themselves without being on a big stage. I personally felt very inspired by the street art and by this quote: Don’t abandon the art in you.street art 2

The graffiti and hip-hop scene of Amman showed us a different side of the city and gave us more insight into what people are thinking here, and what Jordanians see as beautiful. Jabal Webde (Webde mountain) is a great place to visit if you want to experience part of the art world and get a sense of the spirit of Amman.street art 3

— Aziza Best

Indiana Jones Adventures!

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Hello everyone! My name is Andrew Leiseca and I am currently in my second year at Azusa Pacific University in the always sunny Southern California. I am studying International Relations which has been tremendously augmented by building relationships with our Jordanian friends as we visit historic sites such as Petra. The Ancient city of Petra, which is estimated to be almost 6,000 years old, is a marvel of not only architectural achievement but one of exquisite beauty.

 

Built by the Nabataens, Petra was a crucial trading post that laid on the routes that connected Europe and Africa to the Far East.  One of the many breathtaking architectural developments of Petra is the water and sewer system that the Nabataens built to survive in this harsh desert climate. They created a system that was able to bring pressurized water to households all over a city that spans almost 100 square miles. This incredible technological achievement, along with many others, shows the importance of the Nabataens, whose lifestyle may be perceived as nomadic, even though their technology and civilization overall was one to rival all civilizations, even the Romans.

 

Having spent most of my life growing up in an urban landscape, the desert terrain as well as many local Bedouins who work at the Petra site transports the mind back in time to what Petra must have been like all of those years ago. While we hiked these ruins, our friendships between the other members of MESP, and the Jordanian students from the University of Jordan, were forged in sweat, blood, and tears as we made the trek to the majestic monastery at the peak.

 

Ever since I first saw Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, I knew that I would one day be able to hike through the pristine canyons and the rugged desert landscape that brings over one million visitors annually from all over the world to visit one of the seven wonders of the world.

While having our minds enlightened on this ancient civilization, I began to ponder many significant comparisons from this experience to experiencing a semester on MESP or life in general. From the top of the ridge, Petra looked like just another spec of land among mountains in a vast desert. Yet once we ventured into those canyons and saw the view inside, we were able to see the beauty and the many other things that Petra has to offer. Embracing this experience inspired me to consider that if we have a top-down view on life, we can go days wandering through the desert without guidance and knowing what is beneath us. Yet, if we venture down into the canyon of life and relationships, then we are able to see life’s true beauty.

 

–Andrew Leiseca (Azusa Pacific University)

From Whom All Blessings Flow

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The initial weeks of my time with MESP have been all at once joyful, thought-provoking, and filled with hope. It’s hard to believe that only three weeks ago I flew out of the Indianapolis airport, heading towards the long-awaited journey that awaited me in Jordan.

One of my new favorite traditions of this program is our regular singing of the Doxology. The first time we sang the short song before our first meal together, I remember the uncertainty that filled many of our voices as we joined hands and started singing.

In light of much of what I am learning in the classroom and observing around me, the first line of the Doxology has regularly stayed in my thoughts throughout my days here: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

The other night, a new friend from the program and I processed through how individuals might find joy when observing and/or living through some of the world’s saddest and poorest conditions, be it refugee displacement, civil war, poverty, trauma, or loss.

Even between the 19 students and the 4 staff members in this program, I am humbled by the range of stories represented when we stand in a room together. I don’t have to leave our house to be reminded that the world’s hardships are unpredictable; nevertheless, the community here continually demonstrates that God’s love is always flowing, exemplified primarily through the Christ who came to bring forgiveness, repentance, and freedom to individuals and communities in need of hope.

When we wrap up MESP morning devotionals, I now look forward to the routine of grabbing the hands of those around me. I find strength in the words and voices that are familiar and comforting, representing a chorus of people that each sing of where they come from, and the blessings we each receive in equal portion.

 

-Kassidy Hall (Taylor University)

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow;

Praise Him all creatures here below;

Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Amen.”           

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Among the Stones: Thoughts of Pilgrimage and History on MESP

“Did you come for the shrines—or to see the living stones?”

(Elias Chacour, Blood Brothers)

            This past semester has been one of learning the art of pilgrimage.  While some grow up with dreams of visiting the sacred shrines of the Holy Land, I have found living and traveling in the Middle East to be the fulfillment of a dream to visit “the shrines of antiquity,” sites where the ancient Greeks and Romans and other peoples left their mark in now-ruined architecture or surprise Greek and Latin or Nabatean inscriptions.  Besides the famous Pyramids of Egypt and the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia, the country of Jordan itself boasts many sites including the treasured remains of a Citadel and Roman theater (in Amman) and, further away in Jerash, the ruins of beautiful temples, theaters, colonnaded streets, and the stones of a Byzantine Church.MESP Roman Theater altar

       However, learning to be a pilgrim in this place of wonders has been a challenge beyond decoding ancient stones and papyrus leaves: the challenge of decoding and learning wisdom from the culture of each country’s “Living Stones” who carry all the heritage and mystery of their ancient forebears along with important insight for living today.  In Amman, for instance, the average taxi driver will have a greater awareness and knowledge of Middle East history and the current foreign policy of the U.S. than I do myself, sometimes even knowing the names and numbers of UN Resolutions that affect his neighbors.  Living with the people here thus underscores the importance of the past as an inescapable point of wisdom for present decisions and the importance of listening to how it affects local people.

The “Living Stones” of this region are also privy to a unique window on the faith and practice of Bible times.  Meeting local believers in each country we’ve visited and hearing their story of each of the holy sites here gives greater context to understanding sites such as the Church of the Shepherd’s Fields, the Caves of Bethlehem, the churches of Coptic Cairo, and, a little nearer in time, the various Arabic-speaking Protestant churches in Amman.

Occasionally, there is an opportunity for an event in Amman where we learn about what the stones of Classical Antiquity do mean to the “Living Stones” of today. One lecture we spontaneously attended was on Greek and Arabic papyri rolls discovered in Petra (part of the old Nabatean Kingdom in Jordan).  As a linguistics major and classics minor (history and ancient Greek) at Gordon College (Wenham, Massachusetts, U.S.A.), I found these papyri exciting in their own right.  To the locals, however, the significance of this discovery was doubled by seeing how their country had hosted the civilization that gave their alphabet to the world (even influencing the Greek and Phoenician alphabets) as well as being the place where some of the earliest written Arabic was found. It took listening to these “Living Stones” for the papyri to come so much more alive beyond what I could have imagined by simply looking at their pictures on the black and white slideshow.MESP Petra Papyri

As I continue onward along my pilgrim journey after MESP, I want to challenge myself beyond the “academic pilgrim” mindset to continue to bridge the gap that sometimes exists between a country’s “stones” and its “Living Stones.”  Rather than merely soaking in the ancient/medieval history, I hope to continue meeting the people of today and learning from their perspectives on history, diplomacy, languages, and worship.

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Holidays and Hospitality

Though there is rarely a typical day in the Middle East Studies Program, holidays are notably special. Nearing the end of the semester, after being away from our people back home for a while, holidays can be a reminder of those we miss. But celebrating them together as a MESP community has been a wonderful reflection of the strong, close family we have built here, while giving us a greater appreciation for the culture of hospitality in the Arab world.

Our PA, Rachel, like many of us, takes Halloween very seriously. To prepare, we hung spider webs and tiny bats around the center, which may or may not still be there. A community trip to Carrefour, the local grocery store, resulted in purchasing every form of sugar we could find and realistically never finish eating. Traditional Bedouin robes could somehow be incorporated into a wide range of costumes—from Star Wars characters to Kanye. However, two students dressing up as spitting images of Dr. Doug and Patti definitely stole the show. We ended the night watching a movie together, which is very typical of our group.

Thanksgiving was a reminder of how thankful I am for this community and the fact that our papers were completed and we could finally relax. People worked together in the kitchen in the morning, making dishes that are special to them or their culture to share with the whole group. The result was a feast that could feed a group as big as ours, our landlord, and more. After coming together as a community for thanksgiving dinner, we competed head to head in a ping pong tournament, which is also a favorite activity of our group.

We recently celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, which is a great way to begin scripture readings about the birth of Christ and get into the holiday spirit. Dr. Doug and Patti shared some of their culture, preparing a beautiful Scandinavian breakfast for us, complete with delicious Cardamom rolls and rice porridge. Following advent readings, candle lighting, and singing (gender-inclusive) Christmas carols, we exchanged our “secret Santa” gifts, which were difficult to keep secret because we all live in the same apartment.

Though many of these holidays are not as widely celebrated here, they give us the opportunity to participate in and demonstrate the culture of the hospitality that is such a central part of the Arab world. We have received the hospitality and generosity of so many of our Arab friends throughout the semester. People have graciously invited us into their homes and prepared beautiful meals for us, introducing us to their traditional foods. It feels as though every day is a celebration of community. Celebrating these holidays as a community has allowed us to appreciate the value of hospitality and importance of simply being together, sharing a meal and each other’s’ company.

Even though we are away from our families, which can be hard especially at times like these, we are reminded of how amazing this family is that we have here. We went from complete strangers to close friends in only a few months, which is crazy to think about. When we come together to plan these celebrations, make dishes, and sit down at the table together, the family-like atmosphere of MESP becomes even more apparent.

–Emma Van Drie

 

The MESP Cohort and (one of) the Last Crusades

Hey! My name is Luke Taylor, and I am currently in my third year at Seattle Pacific University in the gorgeous Washington State. I am studying for a degree in Business with a minor in Global Engagement, and what better place to study people and culture than within the Middle East?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I just want to start by saying how amazing this semester has been, looking back on it. It has been a period of growth in many areas; I’ve learned how to ask better questions, care for my friends better, and be more observant to myself and the world around me. I guess you could say that I’ve learned ways to learn better while having a blast in Jordan and all of the places we have been throughout.

This can be reflected in the time that we most recently spent at Petra! It was a day full of sun and hiking up old Nabataean trails, but it was also a time that was full of good talks with the others here in the MESP cohort, as well as experiential learning through visiting one of Jordan’s most historic sites.

(look at the people near the base for a point of reference)

Having lived the majority of my life in the Pacific North West, I am very used to seeing multitudes of evergreen trees and general greenery wherever I go. Seeing such a stark contrast in visiting Petra amongst the rugged desert canyon, it gave me such an appreciation for the world around us, and just how different “different” can be. This has been a lesson that I have been learning all semester, from the new foods to the new faces, and the cultural significance and history behind both. It has been an absolutely wonderful time and an experience that I definitely will never forget. Thanks so much for reading!